Thoughts on Finnishness

Finnishness describes the culture and identity of Finns. It can mean a lot of things but there are a few that stand out to me. Here are a few points on these matters and what I think of them.

Honesty is a practice that I feel Finnish people master. Either way looking at it from a positive or a negative perspective. It can be seen in different aspects of a Finn’s everyday life and attitude. For example, if they have an appointment, they are on time. You can depend 100 % on what they say is honest. Also, they get straight to the point when talking and that’s why they don’t have the skill of small talk.

Practicing “every man’s right” by hiking in Lapland

On the other hand, the prospect of freedom is seen in few examples. When considering rights and laws for instance Finnish have the “every man’s right” which means we are allowed to roam freely in the forests. Then looking at it from a social perspective, in Finland you are free to be whatever you desire. No need to fit in a hierarchy system. Also, the social security helps with everyone being able to achieve their freedom by themselves and not being held down by their past or history.

Lastly the classic word connected to Finnishness, Sisu. It translates to e.g. resilience, bravery, and grit. It is something we have seen throughout history, say in wars and athletics, but also just in everyday life. You can also say it’s how Finns fight through the dark and cold winters including the polar nights.

Finnishness

Finland. Finnishness. Finn-ishness? A Finn can freely describe themselves as hard work-ish,  talkative-ish, sport-ish. However, we have a great tendency not to put ourselves fully out there. We find it uncomfortable to label ourselves into something too specific, especially if that something could, in any way, be understood as something admirable. No Finn has ever said that they are good at something, maybe good-ish but definitely not good or great. We don’t like to put ourselves to a pedestal. You can just picture a Finn responding to a reporter after winning the Olympic gold medal saying “well that went pretty well”, or as the Finnish F1 driver Kimi Räikkönen well put before a race “I’d rather be probably out of second and third place so I don’t have to go to the prize-giving”.

Finnish people sometimes feel inadequate in front of the big world stage. We’re always interested in what other people think of us. Our culture’s DNA has a certain kind of self-regulation encoded into it making it difficult for us to shine as the main star. We are great workers, reliable people and over all else, we achieve as much, if not more, than all the big players in the world. A great amount of inventions and cultural aspects affecting the whole world have originated in Finland. There are even many fields where we continuously hover around the number one spot in the whole world: education, healthcare, technology… We Finnish people deliver it all. For a nation as small as Finland that’s an astonishing feat.

We might be hesitant over labeling ourselves most of the time. However, there has always been one thing which “-ishness” we aren’t ashamed of and will proudly declare ourselves as such. We are, and will always be, proud Finnish people, no doubt about it. We are proud of our country, we are proud of handling the coldness of the north, we are proud of being a tiny nation. That is something no one will ever be able to take away from the Finnish people.

Finland- home of punctual people

Finland is a place for people who enjoy meaningfull conversations, occasional silence and cold weather. Finns don’t like to fill the silent pauses in a conversation with meaningless chit-chat, when we talk, we talk about real stuff. Sometimes the ”realtalk” might even be while we are drunk.

FInlands nature in my oppinion is one of the most beautifull one in the world beacause of the variation of it. We have four very different seasons that all show different things in nature. In wintertime everything is frozen and covered in white. All the hundreds of lakes we have are frozen and filled with holes to go swimming to after you’ve gone to sauna. The spring bring all the color back in the nature and all the trees and plants start blooming. Summers are warm and lures most of the Finns to bar terraces to enjoy a good beer and laugh woth friends. Autumn brings forward the beautifull fall colors wich we call ruska (thats when all the leafs turn brown/red).

Finnish mindset is very work and goal oriented. I think when finnish people start doing something, they do it all the way trough. We are very precise with our time management. Allmost all the time we are punctual if not a little early. No one will be very happy or understanding if you get to a meeting fifteen minutes late.

If you think you can have good conversation, be on time and enjoy some dark humor you will get along great with finnish folks.

My Experiences of Finnishness

Finland has been perfect place to live sor far. We have everything you need for a healthy life. Our education is the best of the whole world and public healthcare works pretty well even though we complain from it all the time.. If you compare it to some other European country you’ll see that we don’t have anymore anything to complain about. We have just got used to so good and practically free healthcare.

When you talk about Finnishness with other people around the world, there are always few common topics: Sauna, drinking culture, weather and nature.

Sauna is the most finnish thing that you can imagine. Finns love sauna and there are saunas in almost every apartment. Well… not in every apartment but we still have a lot of Saunas 🙂 People go there together totally naked and I think that is weird thing to foreign people. Man and woman together in the small hot room and totally naked is really Finnish thing.

If you go to drinking with a finn you’ll see that the drinking culture is totally different compared to other European countries. Basically the main mission is just to drink as much as you can and getting drunk. In other countries the purpose is more like meeting friends, having couple drinks and have a lot fun at the same time.

Finnish nature is really beautiful. We have thousands of lakes and that’s why Finland is also called “the country of thousands of lakes”. Most of the Finns also have summer cottage next to a lake and we go there on summer weekends with friends or family. Normally those cottages are out of use in the winter time.

What comes to a Finnish weather.. Basically there are normally really short summer and the temperature is rarely more than 25 degrees. Normally there are also a lot of rainy days during the 3 months long summertime. There are also really cold in the winter but Finns are used to it so it’s not that bad for us. in the winter the temperature can be up to -25 degrees.

Being Finn

For me Finland is a extremely special and unique country. Our country is tiny but despite of that it has so much to offer. Rich nature, high-level school system, its citizens own way to do things and everything is well-organized. In my opinion, that is rare when you understand that there is only five million Finns in the world.

I love the things that perhaps no one else than Finns understand and value. One of the things is of course sauna. Finns can not live without their saunas. In saunas, Finns get relaxed and warmed up after a long and cold winter days, what we have a lot. The another thing, you can find from the kitchen. Finns have many different and little bit weird dishes and ingredients. Rye bread, salty liquorice, mämmi and the list goes on.

Finland – The land of thousand lakes

What are my experiences of Finnishness?

 

Nature and cleanliness

We have a beautiful nature and cleanliness makes it more beautiful. Finnish people do care of their environment and you can see it. We like to be in nature because it is so peaceful place with nature’s fresh air.

I lived in shared flat with African and her mother mentioned that it’s so clean here and we also have great trees. Cleanliness and for example green trees are sometimes taken for granted in here.

I appreciate our nature and I’m very grateful that Finland is my home country. There are countries in the world where the air is so dirty and unhealthy that you can´t always go out.

Mid summer

I have these words: summer cottage, sauna, lake, good food and friends.  These are things that everyone Finn knows. You can imagine the moment when you´re in summer cottage with your friends, beside of you is a beautiful lake and you’re going to swim after sauna.

Midsummer is the time when I also see my relatives. We come together to my grandparents’ summer cottage. We eat, talk, swim and go to sauna. It is a multiyear tradition although I wasn´t there in this year. The picture on the left has taken from the same lake (like the other picture on top) where the cottage is located. It has become so important place to me!

Finnish breakfast

I already miss Elovena porridge, cottage cheese, rye bread and Finnish berries! Like nature, food is also very clean and fresh here in Finland. You don’t need to buy all berries or mushrooms from grocery when you can pick these delicacies up from forest at autumn. But now I must admit I don’t pick them up from forest. It’s easier to buy Finnish blueberries from grocery…

 

Bus stops, personal space and Santa Claus

Every time someone talks about Finns, it’s always ice hockey, sauna, midsummer’s eve, long winters, Lapland…

But when you think about Finnishness – what makes a Finn – you might have to go out on the street and look at the “agreeable gaps” between people on the bus stops:

Kuvahaun tulos haulle finnish people on a bus stop

One thing that sets us apart and builds on what can be considered “Finnishness”, is our unannounced respect for other people. Of course there are always outliers, every society has its share of people who lack mutual respect, but there still lies an almost subconscious habit of keeping and giving personal space to one another. A feeling that makes us try and not to be a bother to others, even up to the point of sometimes being afraid of it. We don’t greet with cheek-kisses, we don’t sit next to people on the bus if there’s an empty row available and we most definitely don’t strike conversation with strangers – not that we don’t like them, but because we feel like they might be bothered or thinking about something really, really important.

Not every Finn likes ice hockey or sauna either. And being Finnish doesn’t mean you have to live up to the exaggerated reputation of being introverted and afraid of change. That’s why I think Finnishness stems more from what kind of people we are rather than what we do, our values, and our ability to take the best out of the worst situations.  On the contrary to what others commonly say, I do not think that Finns are slow to open up or skeptical towards other cultures. We just happen to have this stubborn, serene piece of home inside all of us that we won’t trade away so easily, a piece which keeps us level-headed and appreciative of the simple comforts of living. Nothing like sitting indoors on a dark, wet November afternoon and realizing you’re happy just because you’re at home.

Also, we have Santa Claus and a dark sense of humor. Maybe an unfair advantage?

About Finland…

After years of travelling around the globe and exploring different cultures few thoughts have come to my mind. There are many things that I would like to change about Finnish culture, but also many that I am truly grateful and proud of.

I love our nature. Me and my friends have often joked about how most of Finland is only forest, but I grew up in a small town and my house was in the middle of forest and I have to say that some of my best memories growing up was playing with my friends in the forest making tree houses. We have many beautiful lakes, and during summer the colors are amazing. There is nothing better to do during summer than to go to a cabin in the lakeside and just relax and enjoy the calm environment. The Finnish nature is also one of the most recognizable and curious part of Finland for foreigners. Whenever I am abroad and tell someone that I am from Finland, they point out the beautiful nature.

I also appreciate our healthcare. As someone with a disease that will last a lifetime, I am truly grateful of the medical care and reduced medicine costs I can get here. I often wonder how I would survive living abroad where the medical costs can be very high. Here in Finland we get good care, and everyone has access to it.

Today’s world is full of conflicts and war, so I would also have to point out how great it is that it is so safe here in Finland. We don’t have any big natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes, and crime rate is relatively low, and you can usually trust people. For example, in many other European countries, you couldn’t leave your bag unattended without someone stealing something. Security is very important to people’s wellbeing, and you can really feel that in Finland.

Something more carefree I also love about Finland is ice hockey. It is the only sport I understand and love to watch, maybe that is because it is one of the few sports that Finland is actually good at. When Finland is playing, almost the whole country goes insane with nothing but hockey in mind.

Part of Finnish culture that I don’t like is our eating and drinking culture. In Finland we eat dinner rather early in the day, around four or five, and we eat pretty quickly and then carry out with our day. In many other European cultures they eat dinner late, with whole family or with friends and spend time together. It would be nice to apply this more in Finland as well. I think Finnish drinking culture is a bit too much, as here many people drink just with the purpose of getting drunk, which is very unhealthy and bad habit.

Midnight sun and Polar night

In Finland we are so lucky to have four seasons. To me winter and summer are especially the ones that comes to mind when thinking Finnishness. These are the opposite of one another and we as Finns are very different in these two seasons. I am going to focus on these two seasons in my post.

Midnight sun – “Yötön yö”

During summertime in Finland we can enjoy light around the clock and that is what midnight sun describes. In Lapland there are times when sun does not go down at all. In the Southern of Finland, we are not that lucky, and the sun does go down, but the sun will rise again quite quickly. In my opinion Finnishness is very different in every Finn during summer compared to what Finnishness is in the winter. Finns are more open, more smiling and talks to one another.

As summer is the season when Finns likes to spend more time with each other – we have a summer celebration called “juhannus” which is Midsummer in English. This celebration is spent in the middle of the summer. Most Finns have their own traditions in Midsummer. The most traditional things that belong to Midsummer are Midsummer bonfire, sauna (of course) and a birch whisk used in sauna. I think that Midsummer is the most Finnishness celebration we have in Finland.

Polar night – “Kaamos”

Polar night is the opposite of Midnight sun. Polar night is experienced during the winter and actually it can only be experienced in Lapland. Although this phenomenon is only in Lapland, in Southern of Finland there is also very dark in the winter months. Kaamos begins in the end of November – in the beginning of December and ends in the end of December – in the middle of January – depending on which part of Lapland you are staying. In 2017 Polar night in Nuorgam started on 24th November and it ended on 17th January. Although it sounds bad and maybe even a bit depressing that the sun will not rise once – there is a time during the daytime when it is not that dark. On top of that, snow lightens the view. During Polar night you can enjoy the Finnish nature by skiing, skating or watching the northern lights. Despite of the lack of sunshine this time of the year can be beautiful as you can see from the picture below.

 

 

A Peek into the Finnish cuisine

I decided to introduce four very traditional Finnish foods that you should taste if you ended up in this country for some reason.

 

Mustamakkara (black sausage)

Mustamakkara is a specialty from my home city Tampere and has been produced by Tapola’s legendary family business for over 60 years. It’s a blood sausage filled with hulled grains and pork. Classic way to eat this delicacy is to buy a couple of bars of it from the market place and enjoy it with lingonberry jam and cold milk. The most traditional market places with Tapola’s stalls are Tammelantori and Laukontori.

 

Jaloviina (precious liquor)

Jaloviina (nicknamed Jallu) is a Finnish cut brandy, a mixture of cognac and vodka. It was released into the market in 1932 by Altia after the prohibitionary liquor law. Nowadays, Jaloviina is a very popular drink in Finland with half million bottles sold per year. Especially engineering students are well-known for consuming this precious drink.

 

Hernekeitto (pea soup)

Pea soup is a food that is served on almost every single lunch restaurant in Finland on Thursdays. It’s made of dried peas and usually includes pork.  Traditionally pea soup is enjoyed with mustard and sometimes with raw onion too. As a dessert, you will have pancakes with strawberry jam. Must try this combo!

 

Ruisleipä (rye bread)

Rye bread, the most loved bread in Finland. In fact, the bread in this picture below (Vaasan ruispalat), is the most sold bread in Finland. Rye bread is a good choice for breakfast or snack, or to be enjoyed with lunch. It’s usually eaten with butter, cheese and ham, maybe also with some vegetables like sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. And for some people, it’s a serious topic of conversation which is the correct order to place ham and cheese on the bread: ham on the top or cheese on the top. Rye bread is the first thing I miss in Finland when I’m abroad!