Monthly Archives: October 2016

My Finnishness

I’ve never really felt connected to ”Finnishness” or as I’ve thought it to be before. I hate the violent sullen attitude towards other cultures and I never saw much point in being proud of a nation and a people just because I was born into one.

I’m not saying that all, or even most Finns are weird nationalists, but they are the loudest ones in media when Finnishness is being discussed, and for the most part of my life I honestly haven’t felt good about being Finnish.

What I do feel connected to is nature and some traditions that have been a part of my life since I was just a baby. I believe they make up the best part of being Finnish.

Nature

Finnish nature is all about them lakes. (And swamps, I’ll get to that later)

Finland is the country of thousands of lakes. Here in Tampere we are surrounded by them and I swim almost every week.

After a swim in August
After a swim in August

Even though it’s mostly me and some senior citizens swimming in the cold water, I enjoy it.

The cold is incredible.

Earlier I went in slowly and relaxed in the water. I would find my center and try to keep my breath steady, because the cold pressure tends to make me panic and start hyperventilating.

Now in late October the water is already really cold and I need the sauna to warm my feet in between dips to the lake.

Lake Tohloppi in August
Lake Tohloppi in August

I’ve talked with some people there and one older lady really impressed me; she said that she swam all through the year because it was the best way to keep the pain off her joints.

We talked about nature and how people today seem to be too busy to see the living, changing beauty around them, and how you can really see and feel where all the art and music comes from when you just take the time to look at the nature all around us.

She was special.

Duckboard trail in Turku, Finland
Duckboard trail in Turku, Finland

And then swamps. Melancholy, eerie, unsafe for the unwary, glorious.

Here’s a video:

 

Snowy view in Epilä
Snowy view in Epilä

I like walking in my neighbourhood in the winter. Tampere is really beautiful when covered in snow.

Heritage

My grandfathers are really the ones I have to thank for my appreciation of nature. They taught me to swim, to build a fire, to recognize different trees and to move in the woods.

I used to go on long hikes with my grandfather on my mother’s side with his dogs and If I could choose one childhood memory to relive, one of those hikes would be it.

My grandpa with his dog Jesse
My grandpa with his dog Jesse

 

Traditions

Christmas, or yule, is my favourite. I am not religious, but I still go crazy over the decorations, foods and presents. I sing christmas songs already in October and I love the warm cozy feeling of christmastime. I try to tone it down but it just makes me giddy.

The first christmas tree I bought myself
The first christmas tree I bought myself

In Finland education is still valued highly. That may change in future years, but now at least the matriculation examination is a big deal every spring.

My grandparents were pushy about me going to upper secondary school to put it mildly and my graduation was probably a bigger deal to them than it was to me.

The parties after the ceremony are big deal.

Our matriculation examination graduation ceremony
Our matriculation examination graduation ceremony

To sum it up, these are the things that come to my mind when I think about true Finnishness. The world is changing and I hope that people won’t forget the things that are important: our connection to the nature and kindness. Talking to children about their culture and teaching them to accept others as well as themselves.

In my opinion Finnishness should be about just that. Acceptance.

 

 

 

Few reasons to love Finland

Nature is always near

It’s really easy to take forests and lakes for granted when you are living in Finland. Wherever you are, there is always nature near you. Even if you are living in some of the biggest and most crowded cities in Finland, there is always a forest or a lake nearby. For me that is one of my favorite things about Finland, because nature makes me feel so at ease. It is really hard for me to imagine not having nature close by since I have lived my whole life swimming in clean lakes and running in forests. In Finland air is fresh, lakes are mostly very clean and there is trees as far as the eye can see. And not to forget about Lapland which is one of the most magical places on Earth with its northern lights, snow and majestic landscape.img_3786

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Holidays

I feel like there is always some kind of a holiday going on in Finland. Even though we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and Valentine’s day and Halloween aren’t such a big deal in Finland, we have our beloved holidays, that we celebrate with all our passion. May Day with Sima (special lemonade made from lemons, brown sugar and yeast), balloons, picnics and students in their coveralls. Gathering in a summer cottage with your friends and family on Midsummer, swimming in a lake, barbecue food and (most likely) some alcohol. And as the land of Santa Claus, Christmas is obviously a big deal in Finland. There are some Christmas-crazy people (like me) that start impatiently waiting for that magical holiday in October. Christmas carols, advent calendars, cookies and chocolate.. Best time of the year!

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Feeling of safety

In this crazy world I can’t help but be thankful for being born in Finland, which was recently named as the safest country in the world. Here we can walk outside when it is dark without feeling scared, here children can walk home alone after school and people can get cash from the cash machines without the fear of getting robbed. Of course there is awful things happening here also, but the criminal rate is very low in comparison to other countries. It is a luxury to feel this safe in today’s world, and we should appreciate that.


All pictures are taken by me.

Finnish Winter

(The song is not very Finnish, but otherwise it depicts the our winter pretty well!)

The winter in Finland can be as magical as it can be dark and cold. Here I have listed some essential things in experiencing the Finnish winter. Be prepared!

The Cold

Talvi (winter) takes up to one third of a year, it starts around November and lasts until the beginning of April, which I feel is a very long time. During that time the time of daylight is short, and the weather may change drastically. Temperatures may vary from – 0 to – 20 degrees celcius, sometimes going down to -30 celcius. We tackle pakkanen (the cold, the minus degree temperatures) with warm, thick clothes and go to work and school. Yet, because of the melting of the North Pole, the winters in Finland are slowly getting milder so the actual cold periods are getting much shorter. I wish that meant we could get the summer earlier, because that’s even more beautiful than our winter!

Winter sports

Many Finns do like talviurheilu (winter sports), especially during January and February when the snow and ice are strong enough to carry people’s weight. Skiing, skating, downhill skiing, snowmobile driving, downhill sledging and ice hockey are popular pastimes you can enjoy during winters. In northern Finland you can also go and try riding a dog sledge! Those can be really fun if the weather allows it.

Sauna

After a long day in the cold a sauna is a must, especially a wood-heated sauna. The heat, the wooden planks, dim lights, sound of crackling fire and a sauna drink (of your choice) will make you feel very relaxed. It is enjoyable both going alone and together with friends and/or family. I haven’t met a Finn who has never been to a sauna, so it’s quite an essential experience.

Christmas

My favourite holiday! The celebrating of joulu (Christmas) doesn’t differ from other countries that much, except have a thing called ’pikkujoulu’ = ’little Christmas’ which is celebrated on the last Saturday of November. It’s a non-formal party day held by organisations, companies or just among friends, with some Christmas treats like gingerbread biscuits and glögi (mulled wine).

The Christmas we spend with family and/or friends in our homes, decorated with many Christmas lights to lighten up the darkess. We share the presents on the Christmas Eve (or Joulupukki = Santa Claus does!), take a joulusauna, and make and eat lots of good food. Joulupöytä (Yule table, a table the Christmas food is served on) usually includes ham, many different casseroles, fish, cranberry jam, steamed potatoes, salads, cinnamon buns, gingerbread biscuits, glögi, boxes of chocolate, green marmelade balls and many other. I also play a lot of tabletop games and card games, visit my grandmother and watch lots of movies with my family.

Personally, the winter is awesome until the New Year’s Eve; after that it starts to feel like it never ends. I’m glad we have all four seasons!

December in Helsinki:

Few things about Finnishness

Our clean nature

Very often when you talk about Finland, you tell something about our nature, and I understand that very well. Nature is thing that finns are very proud of. Here you can enjoy cleanliness of thousand lakes, see the beaty of countryside or enjoy a rugged landscape of Lapland. Also the differences between seasons is quite impressive.

Many finns has a hobby that is connected to a nature. You can fish, hunt, pick berries or hike, and those are just a few example. I like to move in nature by walking or with my mountain bike. Its just a great way to get away from it all for a moment and just enjoy silence and peace of nature. I live in Finlands third largest city, just two kilometers away from the central and still I find lake, park and jogging path just few meters from my apartment.

luonto
View of finnish lake

 

Midsummer – celebration of light and summer

Midsummer, juhannus in Finnish, is important celebration for many finns. Usually finns celebrate it in musicfestival, or then they go to countryside where they have summer cottage. I belong to the latter group. Finns gather around with their friends and relative to celebrate midsummer. Midsummer has a many traditions, but also many of the oldest traditions has been lost. But still, when you celebrate midsummer, you often see that birch tree has been brought near the house and people make bath whisk and go to sauna. And in the evening or near the midnight people gather around to see Midsummer bonfire. The Midsummer night is famous because there is just a few hours when the sun is down. Also, when you speak about midsummer, you cant speak about it by not mentioned the large amount of alcohol that finnish people drink.

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Midsummer bonfire

 

Finland – my home

Honesty

I love Finland for it’s honesty. Finnish people are not particularly polite and they might lack the understanding of small-talk but they are usually very honest and trustworthy people. I have heard Finnish people described as rude and quiet and I think that’s easily the first impression, because they tend to open up slowly. Finns don’t care for jibber-jabber so if they have nothing important to say, they stay quiet. I find that to be a good quality but that might be just because I myself am a Finn. To me Finns are down to earth and they don’t get particularly franctic about anything and like to live their own private lives. Finns like to complain about things and I find them to be quite complexed about many things such as the weather. Many say they love our four seasons but yet it always comes as a surprise when days get shorter and the fall comes. Winter is always too long and summer is never sunny enough. If there is a Finnish small talk issue, it’s most certainly about the weather.

Nature

Finland has beautiful nature and especially Lapland with it’s Northern lights is magical. Finland consists mainly of forests and lakes so nature describes Finnishness to the fullest. Finns are not afraid to get down and dirty and the cabin culture here in Finland is blooming. Us Finns we love our own space and don’t feel so comfortable in crowded places. Cabins are just the places to be one with the nature and relax in a small group of people. Sauna, lake and beer, that’s all a Finn would ever need.

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treats from the forest

Tampere – the best city in Finland 😉

And then there is also a major part of the essence of Finnishness and that’s Tampere, for sure. 😀 The people in Tampere are warm, relaxed and helpful. If one is visiting the beautiful country of Finland, one should make sure to stop by at Tampere, drink some local beer at Plevna and get to know some locals to know more about Finnishness. It’s an ever-changing subject and I believe that slowly but surely Finns are also adapting to a more diverse and international culture.

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Tampere

A few words about Finnishness

I have been envied for being a Finn. I was told by a British friend of mine that I should be proud of having a nice culture, beautiful nature and Santa Claus. I have travelled in many countries and I must admit that I DO feel proud every time I tell people that I am from Finland.

In the following chapters I will tell you about things that came to my mind when thinking about ”finnishness”.

 

Sisu

Many of my foreign friends know what the word Sisu means – it summarises the Finnish spirit into one word. Sisu is determination and inner strenght. Sisu is when you start something and you don’t quit no matter what happens. Times can get tough but you stay focused and keep trying until you have achieved whatever it is that you wanted to achieve. As the Japanese proverb goes ”if you fall seven times you stand up eight”.

A funny fact is that we have sweets in Finland which are called ”Sisu”. They are very popular amongst the Finns as the name and flavour of the sweets match the Finnish taste. 12 million cartons of Sisu sweets are sold every year! Pretty impressive for a country with 5,5 million inhabitants.

sisu 

  Winter sports

Winters in Finland are usually long, cold and dark. I find winters very beautiful (when we have snow) and the fresh and crisp air makes you feel refreshed. There can be periods when it is very cold outside and you really need to find some Sisu (and many layers of warm clothes) in order to go outside.

The climate in Finland is pretty unique combined with the beautiful nature. As the winters can be very long it is important that people don’t just sit indoors but also go outside and make the most of it! There are lots of different sport activities that can be carried out in winter. Ice skating, skiing and snow shoeing are probably the most common sports.

I had an Australian friend visiting me one winter and she really wanted to go to sauna and ice swimming. She said that her Aussie friends would laugh at her if she didn’t go into an icy lake and sauna while she was in Finland. This was a very exciting and unique experience for her as she could not experience the same anywhere in her home country.

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Minding one’s own business

 My Australian friend soon noticed in the big public sauna that we visited that people like minding their own business in Finland. This is definitely not the country for so called small talk. People only talk when they have something genuine to say – they usually don’t speak just to fill in the quiet gaps. This doesn’t mean that all Finns are quiet and shy; it’s just that we don’t think that silence is always awkward – it can be quite enjoyable too.

The beauty of being beastly

When thinking about Finnishness and how I personally differ from other nationalities as a Finn, one of the first things that comes to mind is definitely the utter need for personal space. Fear not, I’m not about to give you the old fashioned lecture on the stereotypical Finn that represents an unsocial and quiet people of the North. On the contrary, I find our need for a refined me-time an underrated characteristic. I for once am extremely outgoing and obnoxiously loud, so the stereotype clearly doesn’t apply. Yet I sometimes feel the utmost need to unwind alone after a long day or simply because I happen to feel like sulking at home by myself. In Finland it is not a problem. In Finland we simply say: *„Vittuun täst keilahallist!“ and leave. In my experience foreign people often feel a much stronger obligation to put up with their undesired surroundings and other people’s company even if they’d much rather be at home making pizza or drinking tea or whatever the hell they do in their spare time. I believe all people should take a leaf out of Kalevala and learn to value their right to be alone every once in a while.

*(roughly translates to: „To hell with this bowling alley!“. Doesn’t really make sense in Finnish either, but people tend to get it.)

Here is another topic i feel especially strongly about. As a young Finn in my early twenties I have learned two different versions of Finnish: The one I was taught at home and in kindergarten, at school and in books. The proper Finnish, which as it happens is also the language taught to foreigners. Then there is the domestic slang learned in the streets, from friends and from the occasional cool aunt that shows up in family functions drunk and ready to stir shit up. This I believe is the real and far more colorful version of my dear mothertongue.

The most common urban legend about the Finnish language is that we have a thousand words for snow. Or a hundred, or maybe it was 55, no idea. Whether it is true, I don’t know and to be quite honest with you, I don’t really give a flying rat’s ass about it. What I think should be celebrated is the fact that in Finland we have such a vast vocabulary of swear words. I could start listing, but it would take all night and I probaly wouldn’t even get halfway. Not only do we have hilariously descriptive terms for swearing such as ** „vittujen kevät“ and ***„paskanjäykkänä“ but we also have linguistic masterpieces like the word „vittu“ which can be used as a noun, an adjective, a verb or pretty much anything one wishes. That is a rare richness people usually look past. I mean there’s only so many times you can talk about snow without coming off as a hydrophiliac weirdo, but swearing never gets old. Ever. I swear.

**The spring of cunts – a common phrase used to describe deep frustration

***Stiff as shit – describing the way one looks when, well, scared shitless

„If you’re happy and you know it, DON’T.“ In the heart of Finnishness is also a huge oxymoron that separates the real Finn from the movers and shakers. Whereas a Finn in its natural habitat is prone to all kinds of shenanigans, the leading elite uses most of its precious working hours on restricting and restraining the beautifully beastly nation.
„If you’re happy and you know it,
DON’T.“
In the heart of Finnishness is also a huge oxymoron that separates the real Finn from the movers and shakers. Whereas a Finn in its natural habitat is prone to all kinds of shenanigans, the leading elite uses most of its precious working hours on restricting and restraining the beautifully beastly nation.

About Finnish education system

While travelling abroad people seem to be highly interested about Finland. Maybe it is because of the distant location or small number of population, maybe it is still quite surprising to bump into a Finn. Here is one of many topics that I have told about Finland during my travels abroad.

My experiences about Finnish education system

In 2016 while wandering around Bali I met a teacher from Singapore, which is one of the most developed countries in Asia, also in a field of education. He was adamant about the superiority of Finnish education system, and he was very eager to ask about my personal experiences  of the primary school. This takes me back about twenty years, but it is still easy to remember what I felt about studying back then. These were the main points I told him:

o Finnish kids learn by playing. The first years in primary school (from the age 7-10) are dedicated in social skills and the basics of being a part of a larger group. Of course we had to manage the basics of mathematics and learning how to read, but music, art and sports were also as important. The duration of the lesson was no more that 45 minutes at time, and after that we always had 15min recess. The school provided free lunch every day, and also some activities after school.

o We still don’t have school uniforms. This ment that kids were able to express themselves from the early age and feel comfortable in their own clothes. There were no stress about the clothes getting dirty, and playing during the brakes become more adventurous and diverse. Building a snow castle or a hut made of sticks was never a problem for me. Nevertheless I am aware that the school uniforms make everyone equal in countries that have large gaps in between the poor and the rich. This standard gives the possibility to blend in a group with different backgrounds.

young girl doing homework

o The amount of home work was quite decent. I do not recall having too much trouble managing my time after school, because the home work I brought back from the classes never took more than 20 minutes to handle. Things got a bit bigger and more challenging as I grew up, of course, but during the three first grades I remember doing easy and silly tasks that were more playful that hard studying.

These three aspects are just a few from many. I could also talk about the informality, safety and equality in Finnish education system, as for me they have always been essential. I am aware how lucky it is to be a part of this system, and I will always gladly tell the next Singaporean traveller about my experiences.