How to live the Nordic way? What is the recipe for the balanced living in the countries of almost nearly perfect people? I moved to Denmark from Uzbekistan at the age of 18 and still, I am fascinated daily how the culture, system and society operates.
Below are my 9 personal takes on Nordic living so thought after. I refer my list to my life in Denmark and Finland (so I am not referring much to Norway, Sweden and Iceland, though there are quite many similarities among Nordic neighbours as I have visited them all on business and friend visits).
Besides topping the list of the world’s happiest nations list, Nordic countries are also leaders in education, gender equality, cleantech, healthtech, biotech, food sustainability and more. But what is everyday life like?
Setting the scene!
Nordics! For me it is a space, where world of information is almost free and flows wherever you go. It is an open atmosphere, which promotes learning at work, at school, even at the airport. A man and a woman equally can walk with a baby stroller and it is normal. A space, which is also surrounded by great nature (I only envy Norwegians for their mountains).
Nordics represent a true knowledge society, the high tech and the charm of bustling cities, well-preserved countryside, summer cottages and castles. To this I can add with big letters Freedom and Feminine values! The simplicity and ease of life here does not stop inspiring me even if I lived 12 years in Denmark and 3,5 years in Finland. Though, it is COLD, it rains on average 179 days a year in Denmark, a bit less in Finland and sun is rarely seen from October to April in any of the Nordic countries. Therefore, people love to talk about the weather anytime here. You can start by checking out probably the two most-visited websites: of course, the weather channels: www.dmi.dk and www.foreca.fi On the up side, the summers are mild, this place has world’s best strawberries as sun stays up until late (or in Finland doesn’t get dark at all). With short summers, there are tons of festivals and concerts to choose from.
In this part of the world, considered some of the happiest, there are as many social ills as anywhere else. It is also a known place of melancholy, winter blues and the world-famous Nordic noir crimies and movies. Alcohol addiction prevails here, though alcohol is heavily taxed. It is not easy to be an immigrant in such monolithic societies, but working with various diversity initiatives, I can tell you there has been a lot of progress has been done since 2002. However, focus on representation, inclusion must and will continue.
Take #1: People of the Nordics / an egalitarian flock
I believe there is no other region is as down-to-earth and egalitarian like the Nordics. Again with my upbringing, this was another cultural shock: age and titles are less important than your knowledge and your positive attitude. I had to get used to call teachers and older people by their first name.
In this unique social hotspot (ok not quite Palo Alto but still) I have been able to connect to teacher heroes, activists, businesswomen, politicians, thought leaders, Michelin restaurant cooks and start-up millionaires.
They are normal people like us who ride same buses, walk their dogs next to yours or run in the same park. They are approachable! I have always been fascinated by their informality and generosity to share knowledge and stay humble.
While they are humble, don’t get them wrong, they are very proud of their heritage and if you meet first time they will most likely pop out a question:”How do you like living in Denmark, Finland, Sweden etc.? So, if and when you are asked about it (it will happen) remember, people are genuinely interested. I have understood my own Uzbek identity by living here and l respect that each nation has something unique, fabulous and equally unattractive (think of bad weather and lever paté meals: yes/no?). Think what side of your national heritage makes you proud?
However, it took me a long while to understand the culture and its people. I came closer to the people and culture with learning their most difficult languages and challenging my understanding through humor (read: stand-up comedians) – I am still mastering my Finnish 🙂
Take #2: BIKING as a way of life!
One of my first cultural shocks was ”WOW – girls on bikes!” It is not commong to ride one back home if you are a girl. Below article is from Århus Stiftiderne from 2002.
Biking is a highlight of my whole Nordic experience. How can you not enjoy exciting and simple activity as biking (though I get it, biking can be fatal in many counries in the world)?! It was always easy to get by in the city, so whether I headed to a meeting, business or just out to eat, bike has always been a constructive means of transport. Something they would probably laugh in those countries, where a solid car is the norm.
Take #3: ”My home is my castle” – Mun koti on mun linnani (in Finnish)
People are private here so to get invited home is a big deal. This is where the focus on the home and interior and ”hygge” comes in. No wonder they have a saying, my home is my castle. Any TV channel will show a program on home interior or auction sales of the fanciest homes filled with classic iconic items from Republic of Fritz Hansen or contemporary pieces from Bo Concept, Bo Concept just opened a showroom in NYC. Design thinking is deeply rooted in the culture not only in Denmark but across the Nordics. I have got a slight affection for durable and timeless Finnish ARTEK ADEA, Lundia. Nevertheless, I always been a fan of Swedish IKEA is a famous worldwide design crowd pleaser.
What does design mean to me? I am nowhere near in obtaining the Egg chair. Though, when I moved in, I got a special gift: a chair ”STOOL 60”, which connects both Finnish and Danish designers, Alval Alto and Mads Nørgaard J Hvor hyggeligt!?
The chair theme is so big in this region that it has its own 110- chair permanent exhibition: The Danish Chair – International Affair, at the award-winning Designmuseum in Denmark.
Nordics have a deep respect for their history and environment. After living here for a while and recognizing design at my friends’ homes, I understood the love for these timeless design items is a sign of respect for good quality work that lasts forever. This does not mean that each person can afford this expensive stuff but somehow, people from the young age seem to know these almost poetic pieces of furniture by heart. Did I have to feel upset when I didnt know what a PH5 was? It is a lamp designed in 1958 by famous Danish designer Poul Hennigsen for Louis Poulsen light manufacturer.
Take #4: Gender Equality champions
You all heard it, 2018 started with Island making it illegal to pay men more than women in through their gender pay gap law. Those companies failing to demonstrate pay equality will face fines. Denmark has had the same law since 1976 but despite 40 years in action, that there are is still gender pay gap. Nordic countries are generally known for their pioneering in gender equality and voted as the best countries for women with women present in workforce, political life thanks to great legislation in day care system and parental leave policy. One of the best examples in Finland is the Finnish maternity packages given out to all mothers since 1981 which is now has spread to other countries.
I have joined all kinds of women-empowerment and immigrant mentoring networks, got several mentors, taken part in negotiation training for women. I recommend it to all newcomers and who wants to get an easier start with living here. These programs gave me a better understanding about the norms and decisionmaking both in the society (the do’s and don’ts) and also a network to a great pool of role models. Stay tuned for a dedicated blog with focus on gender equality, women change-makers in education, enteprneurship, politics and media.
For now check these out these links to the best conferences and workshops are are held here with focus on women empowerment.
☆ Womenomics Copenhagen https://www.womenomicscph.dk
☆ Women Deliver global conferenec http://womendeliver.org/
☆ Finnish Women in Tech society http://womenintech.fi
☆ Mentoring in Denmark https://mentor.kvinfo.dk/en/frontpage/
☆ Singularity Nordic Summit http://sunordic.org/summit
☆ Mentoring in Finland: http://integration.luckan.fi/
CPH Containers is piloting student-houses in shipping containers. How cool is that!
Take #5: The system works for its people and children
Each time I had guests visiting from abroud, I was always asked: HOW CAN YOU LIVE HERE; when everything is so expensive? Well I say that we know our ways around. Social welfare functions well, even if with its caveats. Libraries are amazing, high quality, free and literally home away from home. Check these state-of-the-art libraries in Aarhus, Copenhagen and Helsinki.
Now back to cost of living, there are many ways to save money and live on budget. Even if living on a student budget of 4000DKK (ca.537Euro) it was doable! Social welfare system ensures free education, free healthcare, childcare (70% of day care e.g. is subsidized by the government), public roads, open access beaches. As a student in Aarhus, I used to live in a student dorm, which had been well equipped (almost like a hotel) and very cheap. Now due to shortage of student housing, there is a new cool option to live in a shipping container. Wonder if this goes big!
Take #6: Taxes!
So is it all about paying high taxes? Hmm, partly: Denmark and Finland and other Nordic neighbours are one of the highest tax paying countries in the world (45,9% and 44,1% respectively). Compare your country’s taxes here and choose rankings
Take #7: Healthy local food
Back to basic needs. Food.I have also fallen in love for their healthy, no-nonsense food based on local seasonal ingridients and the aspect that no need to fly food in from another continent, makes me think twice now. What is local actually can taste well and sustainable: think less CO2 emissions. Famous Danish rye bread is rich in whole grain and I must admit: I didn’t like it at first. Nowadays, foods that I miss when I am abroad are: icelandic skyr, low-fat cheese, lactose-free stuff and Danish bread :).
Besides gluten-free products and “all vegan” has taken a huge toll in setting the scene of a modern Nordic lifestyle with respect to all alergies, living animals and religions. While Denmark has become a gastronomic capital, there is a big difference from fast-food quality to NORDIC high-end food. So there is a bit for everyone: The White Guide Nordic guides you to over 340 Nordic best places to eat. Danes and Finns eat lots of rye bread, though Danish bakeries are unbeatable and don’t miss out to taste it at https://lagkagehuset.dk (ask for Skagensbrød) and here is an extensive list on insider’s tips to Helsinki.
My 2018 focus is to go to try vegan dish each time I have an opportunity! So far it was all delish!
Take #8: Work and Life balance
Similarities betweeen working in Denmark and Finland: it is okay to leave office at 16.00/17.00 and I mean it, people just leave. There is a space for both professional life and personal life. Bosses have a respect for family arrangements e.g. picking up the kids etc. I have joined a running club and also had time to engage in volunteer work, so that fit me schedule. The difference between working in Denmark and Finland: more small talk in Denmark and way less of it in Finland… A French lady living Finland has actually coined it well: “Finland a great place for introverts.”
Take #9: Design approach to life
So finally, what is the Nordic living all about. I believe there is no one best way to answer why Nordics are excelling in education, gender equality and have the happiest people living here.
But I have come to understand that it is a whole approach to life design and focus on their own choices, individual needs and still being part of a coherent society. Their inherent trust towards each other, towards each others’ abilities and the whole welfare system that still functions. In this demographic change, it is not sure how long will the Nordic phenomenon last. However, for now it is one of the most privileged regions to live in and with the privilege and opportunities, it enables its people to design their life within a Nordic frame of mind, the Nordic mentality.
Key take-aways from the Nordic living:
- Close ties with family, tight friendships from school, hobby clubs etc.
- Designing life to fit work, kids and hobbies, work&life balance
- Design is present in all walks of life, at home, school, design in public spaces
- freedom to organize or be part of an interest association,
- freedom of choice in education or career,
- freedom of speech and to engage in debates,
- access to sports and nature (ok you have to do sports here!)
- freedom to travel
- all in all, this becomes quite grounding and you may never want to leave (like me?!)
Now when it comes to branding Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland, bragging is not a virtue in any Nordic culture. Here are few links to the books about this (almost) democratic hotspot:
- art of Hygge
- The almost nearly perfect people of Scandinavia
- Short anecdotes about Finland from Finland with love
- the Finnish Miracle by Andre Noel Chaker, famous Canadian-Finnish businessman in Finland
- Lagom: the Swedish art of balanced living
- SISU: the Finnish art of courage
As Nordics are becoming more ethnically diverse, stay tuned for my next blog on how Nordics strive to be international in their race for global talent!