Anu Partanen’s new book challenges “socialist nanny state” stereotypes of her native Finland, and its neighbors.

Canada and the United States have taken a lot of flak from critics who’d like them to be more like the social democracies collectively known as the “Nordics”: Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. Now a naturalized American from Finland has made the strongest case yet that the U.S. (and by implication Canada) really need to go Nordic.

Anu Partanen was thriving as a journalist in Helsinki when she met and fell in love with an American academic. She followed him back to New York City, where she suffered severe culture shock. Aspects of life in Finland that she’d always taken for granted were now gone: health care, free public and post-secondary education, affordable day care and reasonable job prospects – not mention housing.

She was now in a country where all those givens had to be fought for, and paid for. If Partanen had taken her Finnish benefits for granted, Americans seemed to take it equally for granted that such benefits must depend entirely on having a good employer or a good family.

Stranger still, the Americans thought themselves super-individualists when their well-being depended entirely on such relationships. Question those relationships for a moment, and you might lose your job, your family, your status, and your home.

“I was used to hearing the Nordic countries dismissed as ‘socialist nanny states,’” Partanen writes. “But ironically it was here in America that businesses trying to manufacture products and make a buck had somehow gotten saddled with the nanny’s job of taking care of their employees’ health.”

Partanen turned to Nordic thinkers to make sense of her situation and discovered what she describes as “the Swedish theory of love”:

“The core idea is that authentic love and friendship are possible only between individuals who are independent and equal. This notion represents exactly the values that I grew up with and that I feel are most dear to Finns as well as people from other Nordic nations, not just Swedes, so I like to call it ‘the Nordic theory of love.’”