Thursday, September 19, 2013

Finnish "jokamiehenoikeus"

If there is one word that nicely summarizes life in Finland, it might be jokamiehenoikeus.  Not only is it a hilariously long word (at least for English speakers), but it describes a mentality and way of life that is very Finnish.  The word itself is a compound word (as so many of the long Finnish words are): joka + miehen + oikeus = every + man's + right.  Surprisingly, the literal translation describes the concept well.  Jokamiehenoikeus means that anyone can pretty much go anywhere (in nature) they want and do whatever they want, so long as it isn't disruptive/destructive to other people or to nature.

Basically this means that if you find a nice camping spot away from any houses, go for it and don't worry about getting permission from the landowner.  If you find a nice patch of berries or mushrooms in the woods, you do not have to figure out who owns the land before you pick them - just go ahead and take as many as you want!  Oh, and if you want to sell them afterward, that income is tax free (probably the only thing in Finland that is)...  This may not seem that cool to my American friends because we do not have too many wild berries anywhere that I know in the US, but here in Finland there is something like 1 billion pounds of berries [source and more info here] that grow every year.  That's 1.5 Empire State Buildings weight in berries!  I have been hiking a few times already here, and every time I get stuck eating berries the whole way along the trail because there are so many that even if other people have been through and picked a bunch, there are still plenty left.  Seriously, it's awesome.  The only things you can't do without permission/permits are cut down trees, hunt/fish, or drive off-road and the only thing you can't do at all is destroy property/nature or invade people's privacy.

Typical Finnish trail in the woods.  Most are not heavily traveled (there are only ~5 million people in this country), but this is the trail up to the highest peak in the Turku area (a whopping 71 m above sea level...) which has a nice view.
Mushrooms are everywhere right now! There are more kinds than I have ever seen before.  Many (but not all) Finns know which ones are good to eat and which will make you sick.  Not sure which these are...
It is interesting the way that nature is treated under this concept - it belongs to everyone, and you have to consider how your actions affect it as well as other people.  This is in contrast to the American concept that your property is 100% yours, only for you to enjoy, and you can do whatever you want to it even if that affects other people.  The concept even shows Finland's economic principles in natural resource utilization - anyone can collect the berries and mushrooms that regrow year after year even if harvested, but hunting and fishing are regulated, and forestry is left up to professionals who know how to properly harvest to maximize yields and minimize disturbances.  I am curious how jokamiehenoikeus and the attitudes behind it shape actual laws and regulations, so hopefully I will have more on that later!

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