Three Trips to Finland

The following are observations and facts about Finland and the Finnish people.

Finnish is what everyone speaks, although most Fins can speak English flawlessly. They take 12 years of it in school (before college) and speak it whenever they deal with anyone from outside Finland. English is the official language at ABB, but it’s because ABB’s headquarters are in Switzerland, with operations in many countries all over the world. ABB is a large manufacturer of industrial equipment with products that range from trains to nuclear power plants. The ABB facility in Fort Collins manufacturers robotic welders.

ABB and Nokia are the two largest companies in Finland. Nokia is the largest Finnish company, although I believe ABB employs more people in the country. More than19,000 people works at the ABB facility that I visited, where they design and manufacture large electrical frequency converter, generators, and motors. The rotor for one generator the I saw weighed 16.5 tons. Nokia is most known for its line of cellular phones, but they also manufacture many other products such as computer monitors.

Many Finns are shy – so shy that it's often difficult to get them involved in a seminar where interaction is helpful. After the first hour of a company seminar I was conducting, I found it disturbing that no one was asking questions or offering comments. No one had warned me that Finns are shy. In an effort to get them involved, I asked each of the individuals in the room to introduce themselves, tell what they do, and say what they hoped to get out of the three-hour program. Nearly half of them left the room.  Later, they returned.  A young non-Finnish instructor told me that he quit teaching at Helsinki University of Technology because his students would not ask questions, offer comments, or participate in discussions.

University education in Finland is 100% free. Students only have to pay for books. This means that everyone in the country is entitled to a full college education, although they must pass an entrance exam. They admitted that the free tuition gave them more money for beer, ….. and some students might not take classes as seriously as those that have to pay for at least part of the education themselves.

Doctor visits and hospital stays are also free in Finland. My hosts explained that this and the free university education is why they don’t have a navy and other expensive military and defense programs. He was half joking and half serious.

There’s only 5 million people in the entire country, yet it’s one of the largest countries in Europe. If Fort Collins (population: 103,000) was in Finland, it would be the country’s fifth largest city.  Helsinki is Finland’s largest city with about 500,000 people.

You can walk and park under much of downtown Helsinki. They’ve built tunnels and parking lots, in part, to keep people out of the cold. Temperatures are so extreme that the sea is frozen during the winter months.

You wouldn’t think of Helsinki as a place to go scuba diving, yet it has five dive shops. One of the guys I met is a scuba diver and said that he’s seriously considering a dry suit. His 7 mm wet suit (14 mm above his waist) doesn’t keep him as warm as he’d like.

Finnair’s in-flight magazine had an article titled Finland Still a Congress Magnet. The article said that Finland was expecting 45,000 conference and exhibition attendees this year. That’s not many. Single shows in Chicago and Las Vegas routinely draw more.  Multiply that times *many* (maybe hundreds) of shows each year at many convention centers across the U.S.

Finns enjoy liquor, including a drink or two in the morning. At the airport, I noticed an elderly couple sipping on large beers and it was 7:15 a.m. Less than two hours later on the plane, every person in sight had ordered wine, Baileys, Amaretto, cognac, or some other alcoholic beverage.

Other facts and figures …

Finland and the Finnish people are interesting and I would definitely return.

—Terry Wohlers

Copyright 1998 by Terry T. Wohlers