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Finns on Finns: "We're hard working, but greedy and intolerant"

A new survey of how Finnish people characterise themselves has yielded few surprises, with long-held beliefs that Finns are diligent and work-centred continuing to dominate Finland's self-image. The poll, by business think tank EVA, paints a picture of a country where nationalism and a fixed sense of what it means to be Finnish are still widespread, even among the young.

Suomen maajoukkueen kannattajia Suomi-Slovakia -pelissä 4. toukokuuta.
Suomen maajoukkueen kannattajia Suomi-Slovakia -pelissä 4. toukokuuta. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

The majority of respondents to a survey of Finnish self-image continue to hold deeply ingrained and even stereotypical notions of what it means to be a Finn, a new report has found.

An attitude survey published on Tuesday by business think-tank EVA found that most people considered Finns to be hard working, yet also greedy and intolerant.

Respondents were asked how much they agreed with a series of 21 statements describing Finnish people and Finland. Replies therefore relate to the views that Finns have of themselves and their countrymen and women.

Most Finns described themselves as work-centred, with 84 percent of those polled saying they thought of Finns as hard working. 77 percent said they believed Finns value work.

In a sign that long-held notions of "Finnishness" are continuing to dominate Finland's self image, the report's authors say there were no significant differences between the views of different age groups, with attitudes of young respondents also very much focused around the value of work.

"If our own image of our relationship with work is true, then we’re in good shape," EVA’s head of research Ilkka Haavisto said.

Greed more common than generosity

When it comes to teamwork, Finns do not rate themselves so highly, the study found. Only 43 percent of those polled said they saw being co-operative as a national characteristic.

”Even fewer people defined being generous or charitable as Finnish traits. You could say that people think greed is more common than generosity for Finns,” Haavisto says.

According to the survey, over half of people polled – 56 percent – saw their compatriots as greedy and self-serving. Only 41 percent thought that charity and generosity were Finnish characteristics.

Many respondents, however, saw room for improvement in the so-called Finnish national character. 68 percent of those polled said they thought self-interest had too much of an effect on society. Only four percent said they would like to see Finns being more greedy.

Tolerance isn’t our strong point

73 percent of respondents said they believe Finns respect basic values. Patriotism and nationalism were also described as defining traits by 81 percent of those polled.

Far fewer people, however, thought that Finland is a nation of tolerance and open-mindedness, with only 37 percent of those questioned by EVA  ascribing these qualities to the Finnish national character.

Haavisto says the results suggest that Finns are less tolerant than their Nordic cousins – though they do at least recognise this fact in themselves.

”Tolerance clearly isn’t our strong point,” He says.

As for whether this is a problem, opinions of the public were evenly divided.  One in two respondents said that there is too little tolerance in Finnish society, with women being more likely than men to see shortcomings in this area.

Over 2,000 people responded to EVA’s survey in January. The margin of error is between 2 and 3 percentage points.

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