If you are like most Americans, your knowledge of Finland probably doesn’t extend beyond the word sauna (yes, a Finnish word) and perhaps the name of a hockey player or two.
Finland is a country of 5.5 million people with an area slightly less than the state of Montana, making it the most sparsely populated EU country. While 25% of Finland lies above the Arctic Circle, the population is more heavily concentrated to the south. The capital city of Helsinki is home to 600,000 people, with twice that living the the greater Helsinki region.
Finland became an independent nation in 1917, having been previously occupied by Russia and Sweden. Due to the ties with Sweden, both Finnish and Swedish are official languages, and both languages are studied in school. The Sami language is the third official language and is spoken by a small population in Lapland. Nearly all Finns are also proficient in English. Compared to other European countries, Finland has few immigrants; only 3.4% of the population is foreign-born.
Finland has a comprehensive social welfare system, funded through high income taxes and a 24% sales tax. Benefits include free health care, education for children (including lunch and books), and higher education. University students even get a stipend each month to help with living expenses. New parents have generous maternity/paternity benefits and get a baby box to provide each new Finn with some basic necessities.
Workers at minimum-wage jobs are paid a living wage, but those at the higher end of the salary scale tend to earn less than those at comparable jobs in the US. Sick days and a minimum of 25 annual vacation days are required by law. Manufacturing and forestry, along with services, form the bulk of the economy. Nokia (now owned by Microsoft), Rovio (creator of Angry Birds), and KONE (producer of elevators and escalators), as well as the design-centered firms Fiskars, Artek, and Marimekko are all based in Finland.