To take a talking point from America’s former ambassador to Finland, Bruce Oreck, Finland should be better at promoting itself. When most Americans think about Finland images of reindeer, Santa Claus, and perhaps universal education and healthcare come to mind. But Finland has so much more to offer, but most people are simply unaware of them. So here are the top ten things that I see as being Finland’s best kept secrets.
#1 Angry Birds and Rovio
Everyone knows about the game Angry Birds. Chances are even your grandmother plays it from time-to-time on a phone or tablet. But did you know that it is from Finland and the company behind it, Rovio, is also Finnish? In all likelihood you did not. Angry Birds will eventually be remembered along with the likes of Packman as a game that got the whole world caught up in its fun. There is even a movie out now that did quite well. So the next time you pull out your smart phone and start playing Angry Birds you will now know where the geniuses are who created it.
Just like Angry Birds, it is likely that you know about or have played the app-based Clash of Clans game. And also just like Angry Birds the company making it, Supercell, is Finnish. In fact, if you visit Finland via the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport you will likely drive pass Supercell’s offices on your way to your destination. Supercell makes many mobile app games, but Clash of Clans is the most popular. What surprises me is that even fewer people seem to know that Finland is behind these games than knew about the Angry Bird connection to Finland. The theme here is that Finland is an awesome tech hub that few people really know about. Millionaires are made here quite often in the tech field; they are just lower profile than some of the start-ups in Silicon Valley. The reason is that Finland has great programmers and a culture of simplicity combined with hard work.
The next time you are riding and escalator or are in an elevated look at the floorplate or logo. You might be using a Kone escalator or evaluator. Kone is perhaps Finland’s best success story of late in manufacturing. They have a global market that has even made deep inroads into America. The word “kone” in Finnish means machine and so it makes sense that the company Kone makes machines that we all use almost every day. In Finland, every elevator I have used is a Kone and in malls back home in America many escalators are also made by the same firm. So just start looking around and see if you can spot a Kone. My bet is that it won’t take you long if you live in Europe or North America.
Okay, this is the big one. Nokia phones were from Finland. Until Nokia’s cell phone unit was bought by Microsoft a few years back they were one of the largest cell phone manufactures. In fact, Nokia was the largest cell phone producer for 14 straight years until 2012 when they were overtaken by Samsung. Many people thought Nokia was a Japanese company because the name sounds Japanese, but it was based in Finland like so many other tech companies. The simple design, affordability, and quality of Nokia’s handsets revolutionized the world, bringing cellular handsets to most of the globe on a scale that should win them a Nobel Peace Prize. Additionally, it was Nokia that invented text messages. I think part of what made Nokia a success was also what brought it to an end. Nokia was the epitome of a Finnish firm. They focused entirely on quality. Selling their product appeared to be almost an afterthought. Quality brought them success, but in the end more bullish companies won the day. Finns can learn a lot from this and need to stop being so humble and passive about promoting themselves. The fact that many people thought Nokia was Japanese cost the Finnish economy untold millions if not billions of dollars in investment. I miss Nokia phones and still have some old brick phones that continue to work great.
#5 Fazer Chocolate
This is a personal item for me. I love Fazer chocolate and find it far superior in taste and quality to most of the world’s chocolate. The fact that you would be hard pressed to find it outside of the Nordic counties is a true travesty. Fazer offers a wide variety of chocolate ranging from the classic Fazer Blue chocolate bar to many flavors and chocolate confectionary boxes. If anyone from Fazer is reading this, you need to start selling your products in more countries. Say… in America. We have more than 300 million people who eat a huge amount of chocolate each year and most of us are stuck eating subpar chocolate, because we don’t have other options. Not sure how to break into the American market? Contact me through this blog and I will help you out of the goodness of my heart. Seriously, I will do it.
If you use a sauna in your home, at a gym, or in a spa it is almost certain that you are using a Finnish sauna. Many peoples around the globe, including Native Americans, had various versions of saunas, but the modern sauna is Finnish. It consists of a burner or furnace topped with rocks that heat up surrounded by wooden benches for sitting. Here in Finland there is vast selection of furnace types and sauna building kits to choose from. Something that I find interesting is that a vibrant sauna culture hasn’t caught on in the northern United States and Canada. Sure some people do it, but given how cold it gets in many places it would make sense if more people started using saunas after skiing, hunting, snow shoveling, etc. Maybe you should try it. One of the first things I will do when I eventually return to the United States is build a good sauna. Lastly, using saunas lowers your blood pressure after use.
Patria is a small Finnish defense manufacture that deserves a mention, because I think they make quality defense systems. In particular, Patria makes excellent armored personnel carriers (APCs) and mobile mortar systems. I recently had the chance to compare some Patria systems to Russian ones at the Parola Tank Museum near Hämeenlinna, Finland. Of course I was not surprised that the Finnish APCs were superior, but I was surprised at just how much better they were. They cost more, but hey, if the shooting starts, costs don’t matter so much (at least for the people inside). This is the only thing on the list that is the purview of nations, but I thought it warranted a mention anyway.
#8 The Finnish Institute of International Affairs
If you are a political or foreign policy wonk like myself then this one is for you. The Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) is a great source of foreign policy analysis which I think does not get enough attention. They provide lots of good analysis on security and foreign policy that extends far beyond the Nordic region. If you are an American like myself you might be thinking, “why should I read something from a bunch of leftist, socialists, wimpy Europeans who cannot even agree if Russia is a threat.” Well, Finland is not the rest of “Europe” and FIIA is actually very well balanced and I have found them to be very grounded in geopolitical reality. This is probably because Finland’s geopolitical reality is quite harsh. You can sign up to receive their free reports and analysis here. I would recommend it; you might find it quite to your liking. At a minimum, you will have one more citation source for any work you are doing.
#9 The Linux Operating System
The free operating system Linux was invented in Finland by the Finn Linus Torvalds in September 1991. It is the most ported operating system in the world and is the basis of the Android operating system that is used on more than 1.4 billion smart phones. So just like Nokia, Linux was a game changer in technology. It is fair to say that Finns helped revolutionize the tech world in ways that rival their American counterparts.
#10 Molotov Cocktails
Okay, while this one didn’t revolutionize the world, it did play a decisive role in keeping Finland a free nation and out of the USSR. Petro bombs existed long before Finns thought of using them, but Molotov cocktails as the world knows them today made their debut in 1939 during the Winter War. Heavily outnumbered and outgunned and without tanks, the Finnish Army had to innovate to stop the masses of men and machines that the Soviet Union was throwing at them. Enter the Molotov cocktail. Many a Soviet T24 tank met its wintery end at the hand of a Finn with a Molotov cocktail. In an act of poetic justice, the device was named by the Finns for the Russian foreign minister at the time Vyacheslav Molotov.