What the Nordic countries think of us

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By virtue of my youth, having grown up in Astoria, I was afforded the opportunity to know a lot of immigrants because there were so many of long-standing, as well as recent arrivals,  living there when I was a child.  That exposure inspired an interest in international relations that has never waned.

The immigrants in my home town mainly hailed from the Nordic countries of Finland and Norway.  Thereby, I became an earnest and eager student of languages, having learned much of Finnish and Norwegian by way of my mother’s father, who came from Finland to Astoria as a young man while her mother, as a teenager from Norway, had followed her older sisters and brothers to Oregon’s northwest  corner.  For me, it was Little Helsinki and Downtown Oslo.

The upshot of my background is that I follow news stories from Nordic countries.  Recently  I have read of interests there in what’s going-on in America as reported in media from all the Nordic countries.  Questions about us from there may interest local readers.

You may know that, in the Nordic countries, universal access to free higher education is viewed as a no-brainer.  They say that they know how important education is: it’s the ultimate investment in the future.  Besides, in addition to not having any tuition fees, all post-secondary students, academic and trade school training, receive a monthly grant to help cover their living expenses.

Yes, they recognize that the condition of access to college and university result in higher taxes.  But free education, they remind us, reduces social inequality and benefits the individuals that go through it, the society in receipt of its graduates and the strength of any nation’s economy by it in the short and long run.  An educated population, after all, equals a strong, stable state, ready for the challenges of the future.  So, they believe, by the strength of the evidence, the investment is well worth it.

They say they’ve been doing a lot of wondering about America and its future.  So, they ask the same question about America a lot.  Like, what are Americans thinking in the way so many of their youth with evidential potential get denied access to a higher education due to the cost and the resulting fact among the population-at-large where only those with family financial means can afford to go or, in those cases where admission takes place due to loans and sometimes some help from grants and scholarships, graduates too often leave college with crippling debts that seriously constrains their buying power and their ability to get started in life.

Then there is the knowledge of America’s many expensive ‘for profit’ schools that simply prey upon their fellow Americans with no gain for those who take the bait.  Meanwhile, Americans spend more on the prisons in the country than on the cost of educating their youth.  Further, the fact that the U.S. is among the top 15 countries by military expenditures and spend as much as the other 14 combined.  Do not these matters of high ‘cost’ cancel the opportunity for more-promising futures, effecting the lives of Americans by the million and the ultimate fate of the nation?

Then there’s the patently transparent fact that the U.S. wealthy own most of the American politicians in the states and D.C. and are able by way of manipulative bamboozling the uneducated masses or those who know nothing but what they’re told, and who can be propagandized through the media, to keep it that way.  It is, as the Nordics see it, the recipe for a lost generation at best and a nation hurtling toward decline and eventual unraveling at worst.

Americans in huge numbers find value only in sports and are willing to spend super excessive amounts on coaches and players in college and professional play while the nation’s children by the millions are without sufficient food and a safe place to sleep and therefore perform poorly in classroom settings, if they get there at all, leaves people in the Nordic countries shaking their heads in confounded dismay.  Have those Americans no moral foundation on which to proceed with the wherewithal that anchors a nation, otherwise adrift?

Visiting the way Wall Street, national banks and investment houses operate in America today, where tens of millions of dollars go into the pockets of CEOs and executives who broke and  break the law, hurt their fellow Americans and can fail without consequences, like huge fines and jail time, yet still receive huge increases in salary, are viewed in the Nordic countries like messages from another world.  Hundreds of Americans and their families saved for years for the cost of college but had their savings wiped out by having it stolen by the unscrupulous money handlers in New York City and throughout the U.S.  The Nordics’ reaction?  Well, they just don’t get it!

Of course, there are additional matters—American that the Danes, Finns, Norwegians and Swedes find noteworthy; however, this is a newspaper column not a book.  Suffice it to say in ending this piece, whether as an American you care what foreigners think or not, the bottom line from media-based messages out of northern Europe is what they keep asking, and that is, “When is enough going to be enough for you Americans?”

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)

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