The Nordic Theory of Everything

Posted by in Book Cover Design, Culture, Publishing

At last a teaching job that really does come with benefits like this chalet at a spa resort.


In 1997 I had the option of doing my masters degree. Swayed by peer pressure I chose not to and this has proven to be a big mistake (one of many). In China for example, a masters would have provided work in a proper university (rather than the colleges calling themselves universities). A feat I achieved only once and by fluke.

The difference in how a teacher is treated in a real university was certainly an eye opener eg trips to spas and private chalets! But ultimately one I was unable to follow and in any case after five years’ it was time for a change. 

After the middle kingdom I sought a country where teachers were equally respected and one country above all others was ringing out loud and clear, punching above its weight in several surveys and polls: Finland. 


It is with that in mind that I visited Helsinki twenty years later in 2017. There I was again thwarted through lack of the essential masters.

Nonetheless the country has been a firm favourite and I always smile when I see something Finnish or meet someone from Finland which, as observed in Anu Partanen’s tome The Nordic Theory of Everything, is not easy to do. 

Case study, the Helsinki metro where I ask a passenger if it is the right train for where I am heading to absolute ignorance, a stoic face of stone! Thankfully another passenger intervened to say it was the right train. 

Still love the city and ironically the Nordic sense of introversion was another reason I considered it a potential home – it would after all suit me (except for the long dark and freezing winters).

The Nordic Theory of Everything (except design) and cafe artwork from Helsinki.


In her book – coincidently published in 2017 – journalist Partanen explores in minute detail the differences between her life in Finland and her adopted homeland of America. She explains how the Finns came to dominate in life happiness and education. 

Both of which America’s politicians are slow to embrace. Ironically it was from America that Finland adopted some of the ideologies that now make it so advanced, if only America had stuck with their own theories. 

Anyways, the book mentions that Finland avoids any trouble by not hiring sub standard teachers in the first place. Something I wish the Chinese had adopted which would have saved me working with paranoid schizophrenics, brown-nosers and those who were more interested in having an adventure than teaching. 

Though as mentioned it would also have killed my chances of work too (because of the masterstroke of not having a masters). Of course the educative sphere was not my only interest in Finland, my first degree in design was (check out the Helsinki blog for that). 

While Partanen does not speak about that world she does give a run through of Nordic pop culture in the prologue, and to some extent in the chapter Business as Unusual, that is to say Nokia, H&M, Spotify, Volvo, IKEA, and architects Aalto (after which the university is named) and Saarinen who designed TWA’s iconic JFK terminal (now a hotel). 

Be afraid! Nordic Noir is coming to get you!

She also touches on Nordic Noir books (and movies) such as Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on a level of Nordic creativity. I’ll add another one not mentioned in the book, The Bridge, set in Copenhagen and Malmo and for additional measure my poem Genevieve Ice could be considered Nordic Noir from a Welsh perspective.

So aside education what else does the book explore? Child and elder care, ok that’s a pass for me, health care? Yes I’m getting old and the bones are beginning to creak. And taxation, if only we Brits could get that one right. 

more funky Finnish artwork.


She describes beautifully The Nordic Theory of Love amid a backdrop of Pippi Longstocking (actually Swedish) whose books I can vaguely remember from my own schooling in NZ but I instantly recognised the name. However it is much later in the chapter entitled OF US, BY US, AND FOR US that the truest sentences are spoken. 

These are (referring to the American government) 1 The nine most terrifying words in English are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’ and 2 in reference to the UK by ‘How could you judge each individual on his merits when dunces went to Eton and geniuses were sent up Chimneys.’ How bloody apt is that! 

The latter by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (of The Economist magazine). Good call guys. This chapter is all about the theory of BIG GOVERNMENT versus SMART GOVERNMENT and features a bewildering amount of text on taxes. To the extent I began to fall asleep reading it. In short…


Micklethwait and Wooldridge call the Nordic countries ‘The Place Where the Future Happened First.’ Partanen may not mention the arts or design in themselves but in the following chapter The Lands of Opportunity she touches on a couple of subjects that have in some way effected me or encroached on my own journalistic mind. 

The view from my homeless shelter in Badalona (Spain) and right one of the churches in Helsinki.


One is homelessness – she describes a man peeing his pants on the New York subway and that in Helsinki you would not see that. And the other is artists who seemingly live an idyllic existence but are really funded by well to do relatives. 

Partanen says witnessing the two extremes is like arriving in a banana republic. She also gives mention to the fact that hedge fund managers make around a billion dollars each while homeless shelters are overflowing. And I’m especially glad she describes the fact that those homeless are NOT drug addicts but working families! 

In my experience there are two forms of homelessness: the ‘drink and drugs’ related and the ‘fell through the cracks of society’ related. It was this that led me to get out of teaching and the TESOL world, an industry riddled with cowboys. 

Anyway I digress back within the pages of the book and it’s plain to see the kind of divide between the uber wealthy and the poor continues apace, even more so now in the time of Covid crisis. The Lands of Opportunity is one of the books shortest parts but one of its most powerful.

Interestingly I was until very recently considering America as the next step but a few messages from the Welsh in America Facebook group soon put paid to that. The recent US election showed that it along with the UK is a bit of a mess. 

From where I am now, I still fancy the Nordic countries and Ed Miliband’s advice ‘if you want an American Dream – go to Finland!’ is appealing. It’s just a question of whether Brexit will allow it and what to do with winter. 


Do you like this? Need a cultural teacher? Check out my UNIVERSITY page. Meanwhile, please also explore  The Atlas for more cultural shenanigans!

Further still, if you like what I’m doing please consider hitting the social channels: Kulture Kiosk on Facebook and Twitter, and Instagram. Playlist and Photo Credits to follow…

Making a Big Mistake – Mike Rutherford
Movement – Przemek Straczek + Asian Strings
Land of Confusion – Genesis
Living with the Big Lie – Marillion
The Mess That We Are – Blackroom
The Future – Prince
Atom and Cell – Nine Horses
American Dream – Jakatta

Photo credits: Chinese chalet and bath from my personal archives. Anu’s book cover photographed by me, Sisli Cafe wall art, Helsinki by me from my visit in 2017. Badalona homeless shelter, 2018 and St John’s Church interior, Helsinki by me.