Hi from Rick: Northern Exposure
|Generous benefits are helping fuel a new baby-boom in Scandinavia.|
A few weeks ago I was crisscrossing Scandinavia, updating my northernmost guidebook. I was charmed by small nations dealing with problems in unique ways. In Helsinki at the market all the stalls were tented. Locals bragged Sweden had cases of bird flu and they didn't. In Stockholm, the pubs were wonderfully smoke-free (packets of chew tobacco rather than cigarette butts littered the urinals). In Oslo, the parks have the smoky smell of countless tiny disposable barbeques, as locals who can't afford the expensive Norwegian restaurants improvise their own "night out" in the late-setting sun.
Scandinavia also seemed to be full of Italians on this trip. Locals told me they're enjoying a tourism boom as Mediterranean Europeans are traveling to Nordic countries in record numbers...escaping the unprecedented heat of warmer summers.
Every time I come to Scandinavia, I'm fascinated by their experiment in government. When I report on it, I routinely get fellow Americans angry at me for bringing home news of a land where the desired alternative to Big Bad Government isn't smaller government — but Big Good Government.
I'm not necessarily in favor of Scan-socialism (and I certainly wouldn't want to run my business here). But I don't find it offensive either. In fact, I'm challenged by creative solutions that would be unthinkable in the USA but which seem to work for other people. For example, November is "half tax month" in Norway, where the government wants people to have some extra money for the upcoming holidays. Also, paternity leave is generous here. Scandinavian families get nine months leave at 80 percent pay, which the mom or dad can split as they like. On top of this, men are required — use it or lose it — to take a paid month of paternity leave when their baby arrives. Finland just re-elected their woman president for a second six year term. Her approval rating: 80 percent. What's with these people?
While our tours are as packed with pretty sightseeing as anyone's, our tour guides are specially versed in European perspectives on day-to-day issues that don't make the nightly news over here. So every trip you take with us doesn't just fill your camera (and stomach) with local delights — we feed your head, too.
In this month's Tour News, we're focusing on Scandinavia. Ya sure, you better take a look. No matter where you travel with us, you'll come home knowing our planet a little better.