Last night I watched Michael Moore's Where to Invade Next. I had avoided watching it for quite some time because I didn't feel like getting angry and annoyed with the state of the world. I was sure he'd show us all the shit going on out there in his usual “I am fed” up kind of way and I'd end up feeling frustrated and upset. Instead I was inspired by the world. Inspired the way that travel usually inspires me. I was inspired to make change. And Scandinavia played a huge part in that inspiration.
We can All Learn from Life in Scandinavia
We just returned from a trip to Scandinavia. Our journey took us through Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. Plus a quick stop in Estonia. What we saw there was almost a Utopian society. We actually found it a bit creepy at times. Why were so many people out on the streets in the middle of the day? Why was everything so expensive and yet the public didn't seem to flinch? Why was everyone so healthy and good looking? Why did it seem that everyone was out for a run in the park or a walk in the woods? Shouldn't they be staring at their phones or watching TV like the rest of the world? It just seemed perfect.
We only had a few days in each country as we were on a sampler tour with GoAhead Tours so we didn't get to dig too far into the mystery, but we did get enough of a taste to see that the people of Scandinavia are happy, healthy and wealthy. It wasn't until watching Moore's documentary that I realized just how functional and well managed their society is.
What About Canada?
In Canada, we know we get a lot of things right. We are proud of our country. Our Prime Minister spoke about how well we get things right at the United Nations. We embrace our diversity and we have a strong country because of it. Canada has opened up its doors to refugees while other countries fight to keep them out. But the Prime Minister also spoke about how we get a lot of things wrong too. We have a dwindling middle class, there is growing poverty, job loss and anxiety. Yes, Canada gets a lot of things right, but we can do better. We should do better and we should follow the lead of the likes of Scandinavia and the other countries that Moore highlighted.
Watch the full speech by Prime Minister Trudeau.
Not just the sound bites on social media that have been edited to suit everyone's needs and views.
Back to Scandinavia
Scandinavian countries consistently rank at the top of the world for highest standard of living. Norway is number 1. They are considered to be some of the happiest people in the world, and the best and brightest in education and commerce. They have the lowest crime rates, low unemployment rates, high education standards and well paying jobs. I never really understood what measures they took to make this happen, until I visited Scandinavia and then watched Where to Invade Next.
Let me tell you a little bit about the movie….
Michael Moore decided to leave America and gather up all of the best things from countries around the world, and then bring their best ideas back to America where they can begin to repair the problems that the USA faces each day. He went to Italy and France where we already know that they eat well and have a joie de vivre unlike anywhere else. They have free health care and they receive eight weeks of paid holidays each year. We already know that Europeans have a high quality of life. They “work to live” as apposed to “living to work.” I loved watching the energy of the Italians he spoke with talking about love and life. I loved watching the French children eat gourmet meals prepared by a chef during their school lunches. I enjoyed seeing CEOs of companies such as Ducati and clothing manufacturers for Dolce and Gabbana say “It is their pleasure to pay for their employees 8 weeks' worth of holidays and two hour lunches” while reiterating that rested and relaxed people are happier and more productive.
This I already knew. Most European countries have a high standard of living.
Read: Meet Fabio Lambourgini
So how is Canada? Canada does a great job for being so highly influenced by the United States. A country that has very different ideals from us. We have held on to free health care even though we have American politicians and the likes of Fox News constantly blasting how terrible “socialized health care” is. We've managed to avoid too many gun related deaths even though the guns cross our borders each and every day from a country that seems hell bent on upholding their outdated Second Amendment rights. And we've worked hard to keep our own joie de vivre even though each day our economy is threatened with US companies buying up our water and Canadian owned businesses being taken over by Chinese, European and US corporations. It's tough, but we're managing.
Click here to sign the petition to stop Nestle from taking the water from an Ontario Town.
We Canadians are not doing good enough. Scandinavia is doing better and we should all follow their lead.
Scandinavia has a low crime rate. We felt very safe. We were constantly reminded how safe it was. We saw how safe it was with our own eyes, but it wasn't until I watched the movie that I realized just how progressive Scandinavia is.
Michael Moore took us to a prison in Norway. A prison that focused on rehabilitation, not lifelong incarceration and suffering. Inmates are rewarded with good behaviour and sent to live on a farm where killers handle sharp knives, are free to go for a run, and have their own houses with their own keys. When he visited a maximum-security prison, we learned that inmates, once again, have their own keys to their rooms. They have private bathrooms and they have computers, TVs and a library that looks like a public library in a small quiet town. Modern art hangs on the walls and criminals are rehabilitated. A crime was committed, yes, often times a brutal crime, but instead of being tossed away, they are given a second chance.
Norway's Utopian Society as told by Michael Moore
Start watching at 4:32 to learn about Norway's prison system.
There isn't police brutality, there aren't gangs fighting to survive, guards don’t even wear guns. They replied to Moore “they talk to the inmates if there is a problem.”
Respectful of all Human Lives
All lives are treated with respect. When people get out of prison in Norway, there is only a 20% chance that they will be arrested again as opposed to the 80% repeat offenders in the United States. The maximum sentence in Norway is 21 years. Even for Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian right-wing extremist, who was found guilty of taking 77 lives in a 2011 attack. He was sentenced to 21 years (it can be extended in 5 year increments if the courts feel he is still a threat to society). Moore interviewed a father that lost his son in those attacks. The father agreed the man was despicable, but he cannot sink to his level and feel that he has a right to take a life. Instead of the Death Sentence, Breivik was sentenced to 21 years of preventative detention.
When Moore asked Norwegian leaders why they do this, they stated, “This is an American ideal. America's forefathers stated that no man should face cruel and unusual punishment.” The movie then went on to show the cruel and unusual punishment criminals face in the US justice system and it was difficult to watch. I am sure that Canada treats inmates the same.
Safety in Scandinavia
I don't think there has ever been a place where I've been so comfortable outside in the open and late at night. All of Scandinavia has a low crime rate. (Except if you are a sitting duck on a tour bus.) If you go to the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen with 300 other tourists at the same time, you are going to be a target. So watch your cameras and belongings when you get off that bus. No matter how much of a Utopian society you visit, a mass of people descending on a place at the same time attracts petty crime. This type of petty theft and pickpockets are no different than the thieves at the Colosseum, Notre Dame or The Vatican. They're everywhere and according to the Scandinavians, it's not them. They are quick to point out that it is the Russians, Albanians or Romanians. This was something I wasn't comfortable with and this is something Scandinavia gets wrong. Accept responsibility and fix the problem. Please don't blame immigrants.
But when we got away from the tour groups (which we had the opportunity to do often on our GoAhead Tour), Dave and I walked everywhere alone. We walked at night and in the wee hours of the morning. We even set our bags down on the sidewalk and relaxed as we ate Pad Thai on a busy street with our friend Alex Berger (by the way, if you are interested in learning more about Scandinavia read Alex's travel blog from Denmark and our friend Lola's travel blog from Norway). These are two of the best people we've met in the business of travel. They are grounded, humble, well spoken, inspiring and intelligent. Hmm, there is a theme here. They both have chosen to live in Scandinavia, the most well educated, highest paid, and well-balanced society in the world. It's no wonder they are so happy and healthy.
But I digress, my point is, I felt safe. I was never worried about someone mugging me, or bothering me. The countries of Scandinavia may have a different system than what we are used to, but it is definitely working and we should take notice and have respect for all lives.
While traveling through Scandinavia, we regularly commented on the amount of students walking around outside. Were they on holiday or something? Why weren't they in school? They all spoke perfect English, they were well behaved and they weren't getting into any trouble. Young students were taking the subway alone. Moore's documentary touches on this, and we saw it in action. Scandinavia is that safe. Older students were civilly hanging out on park benches. We now know they were probably not on some sort of Autumn holiday, but instead were at school that morning and were only there for a few hours so they had the rest of the day to be kids.
While watching Michael Moore's documentary, I sat up and listened when he spoke with the ministry of education in Denmark and she told him that students don't receive homework. They only go to school 20 hours per week (on Mondays, they have education for a whopping 3-hours and they encourage students to find their passion). They don't have private schools where the rich pay for a higher education while others fall behind and they don't have multiple-choice questions for standardized tests. The Scandinavian countries constantly rank at the top for best education because everyone has access to it. They don't spend 80 percent of their time preparing for a standardized test that pigeon holes everyone into the same system. Instead they find what the child is good at and encourage them to seek out what they want to do with their lives. I'm proud to say that Canada is in there too, but we don't have free education and we definitely don't have the quality of life.
Did we tell you that all education is free in Scandinavia? From primary school to university, education is free. As a matter of fact, when I did a Google search, the very first thing I saw was a list of the top five countries where University is free. Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark took up four of the five spots. Germany was number 2. When I did further searches, Estonia was in there too. (The fifth country we visited.) Moore also highlights Slovenia as another country in Europe that offers free higher education. Even for foreign students. But there are at least 20 countries around the world where university is free. In fact there are 11 that have both free education and universal health care. Why doesn't Canada have free post secondary education? We get so many other things right, we should follow the lead of the countries mentioned above and the others.
Out of Scandinavia
Speaking of Germany, let's go over there for a few minutes. Michael Moore visited Germany too and they are also doing something right. They don't ignore their past; they learn from it, discuss it and vow to accept responsibility. In both Canada and the US, we sweep our crimes against humanity under the rug. It wasn't until Prime Minister Trudeau came into office that the First Nations received a proper apology and a pledge to make their lives better. According to Moore, the American education system barely discusses their crimes against African Americans and slavery or their own Aboriginal atrocities. We know that people cannot move forward if they don't accept their mistakes of the past. It's important to learn about your mistakes and discuss them. German children and German people have taken responsibility for actions that happened long before they were born. Isn't it time for us to accept the actions of our grandfathers in the case of Canada's Aboriginal people?
I used to be one of those people. A person who said that Aboriginals were lazy, that we were paying for them to not have to pay taxes, to go to school for free and give them free housing. It wasn't until I learned about their hardships and suffering that I learned that all my views were wrong. I wasn't taught anything about Canada's atrocities in school. I didn't learn about the internment camps Canada set up for Asians during the war. I didn't learn about the residential schools where white people tried to breed out the aboriginal heritage of students, abusing them, and not letting them speak their mother tongue.
Read about our Manitoulin Island experience with the Anishinabek People
I learned everything through travel. I learned it from visiting First Nations people and talking to them. I felt ashamed of my ancestors and of my own beliefs growing up. But by learning about their oppression and persecution as recently as the 1990s when the last residential schools were finally closed, I have taken responsibility and joint our Prime Minister in a sincere apology.
And what about the actions of the United States? Racism has never been properly dealt with. It is obvious when I turn on the news and see what is going on down there. It seems to be worse than ever in certain parts of the United States of America. I know that most people in the world are good and that these incidents are an isolated few. I know that most people want all oppression to stop and the way to make that happen is through an open dialogue. Instead of sweeping problems under the rug, we need to learn about the past, distant and recent. We need discuss our mistakes and then accept responsibility and move forward. We need to have respect for humanity. The way Norway has respect for their criminals. The way most of Europe has respect for their people by giving them ample holidays, fare pay and free education. We need to hold on to our free health care and find ways to make it work better.
While the world seems more divided than ever, it is time to learn from the best of what countries have to offer and take the best of those countries and apply it to our own lives, society and governments. There is still time we can make the world a better place by following the lead of those who are doing it right. Let's start today.
Read Next: Freedom to Travel, Never Take it for Granted
Our trip through Scandinavia was sponsored by GoAhead Tours, visit their website to book the Captials and Fjords tour that takes you through the best and most popular stops in Scandinavia.
You can rent Michael Moore's Where to Invade Next on Amazon