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News, 23/02/2011

Defending Finnish culture

There has been sharp response to a column on Nokia’s “sauna culture” published last month by the Daily Telegraph. Written by Matthew Norman, the column on Nokia’s troubles was a tasteless attack on Finnish culture, says Richard D Lewis, author and cross-cultural expert.

“I fail to understand why, Mr Norman, in an era in which Britain’s critics and enemies abound, would choose to snipe at the way of life of a country whose inhabitants, along with the Norwegians, are probably our best friends,” says Lewis.

Richard D Lewis was tutor to Prime Minister Dr Johannes Virolainen and other well-known Finnish figures such as Timo Sarpaneva and Viljo Revell. (c) Richard D LewisRichard D Lewis was tutor to Prime Minister Dr Johannes Virolainen and other well-known Finnish figures such as Timo Sarpaneva.

The article, which stated among other things that “Nokia executives devote almost all their working days to frying in the sauna”, reflected ignorance of Finnish society, counters Lewis. “Finns retire to the sauna in the evening, almost never before, so Mr Norman’s assertion seems a little inaccurate. Finland’s biggest sauna is run by the Army in Suomenlinna Fortress, not in the Nokia HQ.”

“If Matthew Norman would take the trouble to acquaint himself a little better with Finland and her people, he would learn that they have achieved a few things when not sitting in saunas,” says Lewis.

“He may well know that the country usually tops the PISA International Student Assessment list every year. (United Kingdom 25th in 2009). He perhaps does not know that Finland leads the world in environmental sustainability and water management, ranks third in global competitiveness, is the fastest payer in the EU, is number one in network readiness, has the highest tertiary enrolment in universities and colleges in the world.”

“Her social indicators are as solid as the educational and economic ones. The welfare state has been a reality for years. Medical treatment is free, practitioners and hospitals are of the highest standard, infant mortality is the third lowest in the world, instances of crime, violence, terrorism and drug abuse are low, bureaucracy is minimal, her musicians and conductors are world class.”

Lewis continues: “Mr Norman says he would bore us with a detailed technical analysis of how Nokia lost their way, but admits that his grasp of commerce and technology is “as fluent as his Finnish”. One wonders, then, why he bothered to write his piece.”

“If Finns spend so much time sitting in saunas, how did they manage to emerge as the best athletes in the world? Since the beginning of the modern Olympics, Britain has won 12 medals per million inhabitants, USA 9, Germany 14, Australia 20, Hungary 45, Sweden 56 and Finland 106."

"And how did London succeed in landing the 2012 Olympic Games? It was a close contest between London and Paris. Berlusconi and Chirac chose the moment to say Finnish and English food were the worst in the world. The Finnish delegate, with a late pivotal vote, cast it for London. That is what friends are all about!”

Text by Richard D Lewis

Richard D Lewis has been active in the fields of applied and anthropological linguistics for over forty years. He is widely considered one of the world’s most renowned interculturalists and linguists. 

Mr Lewis first went to Finland for the Olympic Games in 1952 and has maintained a close relationship with the country since that time.

In 1997 Mr Lewis was knighted by Martti Ahtisaari, the president of Finland, in recognition of his services in the cross-cultural field relating to the training of officials for EU entry (1995) and the EU presidency (1999). In 2010 he was accorded the rank of Knight Commander, the Order of the Lion of Finland.

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Updated 02/03/2011

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