Helsinki (14.09.1998 - Juhani Artto) For most working Finns the holiday period is now over and soon the Summer will be as well.

There is a noticeable contrast in Finland between summers, when the sun stays above the horizon until late at night, and the dark, cold winter months. Correspondingly, ordinary Finns have two widely varying ways of life. One consists of work, bills, hurry and noise causing a dangerous degree of stress, while the other is more or less opposite to all that with leisure, long unhurried days and little stress. With reason, one can speak of a double life lived by a whole nation.

For most Finns the best place to spend the vacation is at the mökki, a modest log cabin or chalet in the country, or at the kesähuvila, a larger and better equipped version of the summer cabin. For a country with only 5,1 million inhabitants, there are 430,000 second homes in the countryside, mostly near to lakes which are good for bathing, fishing, boating and enjoying the spectacular scenery that Finland is famous for.

Many working class families also have their own summer homes, while many of those families who do not may stay a week or two at their relatives' or friends' places.

Many Finnish families even spend weekends in their cabins outside the vacation period, unafraid of snow, frost and modest facilities.

The length of holidays has long been an important issue in collective bargaining. Union members have clearly expressed their preference for long vacations and this has given the trade unions the strength needed for success in struggling to secure them.

In Finland five weeks annual leave is normal. The average holiday is shorter than those of Germany, Italy and Austria but longer than those enjoyed by Belgians, Spaniards, Greeks and Portuguese. Britain, France, The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark have the same length of holiday as in Finland.

In the State bureaucracy there are groups which have six weeks or even longer annual leaves. This fact recently caused Helsingin Sanomat, the leading national newspaper, to print a headline claiming that the Finns have the longest annual leaves internationally. The source of the article was an annual comparison made by a German employer organisation.

In Finland practically all wage and salary earners get at least two days fully paid holiday per month at work. In most jobs this rises to two and half days of holiday per month in the second year of service, meaning a five week holiday. In some cases this is extended to six weeks after 15 years of service. In practice, however, there is a lot of deviation from the basic rule.

Certain new factors now threaten to destabilise the idyllic side of the Finnish "double life" model, however. There is pressure to move the holidays from June-July - when the days are longest - to August, as August is the main vacation month in several Western-European countries. Also the rapid increase in atypical employment and the employers' strong push for greater flexibility tend to undermine opportunities to have, as a norm, five weeks uninterrupted holiday.

This year, however, these threats were marginal. The holidays were as long as ever, but were marred by bad weather. After several record sunny and warm summers, this year's holiday period was cloudy and wet.

For those who sell cheap vacation packages to Mediterranean holiday resorts, this means good business, as occurred once again this year. Sales of package tours to foreign holiday resorts increased by 30 per cent.