Monthly Archives: February 2017

Finnishness

When I think about Finland and Finnish people, the first thing that comes to my mind is how we act when we meet new people: the silence and not talking to strangers. For example, if you are in a store line, no one askes from a stranger that “how is your day” or something like that. We just don’t do small talk at all. I don’t know why it is like that, maybe we feel like there is nothing to talk about. Finnish people also don’t want to tell personal things for others. Definitely when it comes to our personal problems, except when that person is really close to us.

We don’t say negative but also not positive things for strangers. When you are abroad, you can hear a stranger say like “I like your shirt” and it really lifts up your mood. In Finland we don’t do that. The good think is that you don’t have to talk all the time and it is not weird to be quiet. Having an own space is also something that I think is part of Finnishness. For example, we don’t give cheeks kisses or hug every time we see someone.

The second thing that comes to my mind is something that we like to do: spend some time in our summer cottages. There are four seasons in Finland, but I think there is especially one season that almost everyone enjoys the most: summer. Everyone seems to be happier and relaxed when the sun comes up. We don’t have much sun, but when we do, we enjoy it fully. When you are for example in a store, I think you can notice from people´s faces that the sun is shining. What would be a better place to enjoy about summer than in your own space and peace. So we like to combine these two things, warmth and own peace, and we love to spend our time in summer cottages. It is very relaxing when you can swim in a lake, grill, and enjoy the silence. We also appreciate nature and like to go for a walk to the forest.

 

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Finnishness

Finnishness – what it is? Each of us is different, but generally we love our own peace and space. Many Finns dream of their own cottage in a quiet place without the city noises, and possibly with no neighbors at all. Finnish National Landscape could be a summery calm lake, cottage’s sauna, and a loon that breaks the otherwise perfect silence. We enjoyed the quiet of the nature and we respect the personal space of others. We don’t bother even there is silence with other people. Many foreigners may keep us as boring and calm and become anxious of a quiet moment. While the Finns get anxious when someone comes too close to us or an unknown person starts chatting with us.

Public transport

Small talk is an abomination to many Finns – we do not have it in Finland, so we do not know how to act in these situations. Often Finnish respond very briefly and unnaturally conversation to partner or talking too much. In both cases, the Finnish feels uncomfortable and of the conversation. We aren’t intentionally rude we just do not know what should we do.

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Finns do what they have promised. Being Finnish also includes to be at the agreed place at the agreed time – not late, but not too early at all. This is why it is sometimes hard for us to understand the concept of time in different cultures or even if the bus is late.

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Although the Finns can sometimes seem like toneless and serious we can also lark around. It tells many special competitions such as Air Guitar World Championships, Wife Carrying and swamp soccer. Air Guitar World Championships is known internationally and the event attracts participants from around the world. Today, many countries have even qwife carryingualifying for the finals.

Wife Carrying is also well-known competition in the world. In this competition a man carries a woman through an obstacle course as quickly as possible. The Wife Carrying World Championship is held every summer.

 

Finnish Sisu (a word that can’t be translated directly, but which could be described with the words: tenacity, perseverance and willpower) partly based on The Swamp Soccer World Championship also attracts competitors from around the world in Finland. Those competitions reveal that Finnish humor is very personal and the Finns are adept users of sarcasm.

I believe that Finnishness and getting to know Finns requires perseverance and patience from a foreigner. However, after winning the trust of Finns people get a reliable and long-time friend.

Finnishness

When I have a chance to show the best things in Finland, I´ll definitely show sauna, frozen lake (avanto) and winterswimming. I think that’s the best way to discover Finns.

Sauna

Sauna and the frozen lake

When I was a young girl I barely swam in the lake in July. I thought the water was too cold. I couldn’t understand how people could swim in the lake during winter. It’s freezing! But be careful: once you try it, you want to do it again and again. After swimming you´ll go to the sauna and sit there with others. There you can relax and throw your worries away. That is how my winterswimming story began.

It’s very difficult to explain the feeling when you go to the hole in the ice. (As they say in my favorite winter swimming place, in Kaupinoja) First it’s freezing and then it tingels and when you get out from the lake it feels warm. Maybe you still think that finns are carzy and maybe you are right but it makes us Finnish.

sisu

Sisu is the most common way to explain finnishness. It is our national character and because of that Finnish people has survived many things. Our forefathers has needed sisu to defend Finland in wars and now we have it in the blood. That’s why Finnish people are capable of anything.

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Monument of Sisu

In the end,  I’m proud to be Finnish. I’m proud of every single thing that makes us Finnish. Finnishness is something which you should get to know better.

My experiences in Finnishness

Own experiences

I used to travel quite much when I was young. My grandmother lived in Stockholm so we spent a few weeks in Sweden every summer with my younger sister. I lived in Kenya for one year when I was 16 years old.

I remember how it felt to be a foreigner. In Stockholm we didn’t look like strangers but I still felt like an outsider. All the young people in Sweden seemed to be more loud, social, confident and joyful compared to us. The Finns had a reputation of being big fighters, heavy drinkers and hard workers back then.

In Kenya I stood out from the crowd because of the skin color. To my surprise the culture shock was much stronger when I returned to Finland than when I arrived in Nairobi. I remember the feeling of experiencing everything from outside and being extremely critical to most Finnish habits and traditions.

Keep calm

Finnish qualities

Honestly I don’t feel like a 100 % Finnish person. I always felt that I am more like a world citizen. I don’t identify myself with the Finnish majority. For example, I don’t watch ice hockey, I don’t like skiing, I don’t have a summer cottage, most of my friends are foreigners, I don’t miss any certain things when I’m abroad.

To me the most typical Finnish qualities are being uncomfortable in social situations, love of nature, long quiet moments in the middle of the conversation, honesty, true friendship, individual life style, good social welfare system, respecting times and agreements, good education system and democracy.

Feedback from foreign friends

Most of the time I’ve got only positive feedback from my friends from other countries. But sometimes they say it’s very hard to get new friends in Finland. Most people want to hang around with their old friends and they are not socially open. It seems that when you once break the ice and find a Finnish friends you can probably expect them to stay forever.

Some people might find Finland quite depressive, dark, racist and cold place. If you have bad luck you only meet the most patriotic people who tell openly all strangers to go to h***. Especially during the last couple years the two extreme groups have grown even more apart: the tolerant, liberal and open-minded people who have an international lifestyle and on the other hand the group of people who hate everybody who comes to Finland to take our jobs and women 😉

A year in Finland

For me the word Finnishness crystallizes in the four seasons. Finland wouldn’t be Finland without the seasons. They bring out the different sides of the Finns and their character, the nature and the culture.

Winter

IMG_6959When a Finn thinks about a winter, he often imagines an idyllic landscape with snow and frost. We remember that when we were children we could go skating, skiing and snow sliding the whole winter time but that doesn’t necessarily hold true. Especially nowadays the snowy winter is guaranteed only in the middle Finland and in Lapland.

In southern Finland there’s often frost but only a little snow. If it’s snowing heavily it probably also melts quit quickly. The temperatures range between degrees below and above zero and it’s also raining so the roads are very slippery. What we do? We complain about the weather and wish for snow and frost, like in the old days. And then it snows and gets cold (under -20 °C). And what we do? We complain because the cars stuck in the snow and it’s too cold to go jogging outside.

Some Finns living in the southern areas like snow when they want to go out for winter sports or when they wish for white Christmas. In the everyday life it just causes too much trouble. Many people living in the northern parts are so used to the snow that they don’t waste their time complaining about it.

WP_20150207_005The middle winter is quite dark in the whole Finland. The real polar night (the sun doesn’t rise at all) can be seen only in Lapland but the daylight is also quite short in the southern Finland. In addition to that there isn’t necessary snow in the South what makes the view even darker. The weather in the middle winter is often also quite cloudy.

 

 

The cold and dark days have had an influence to our WP_20170121_003culture and customs, too. In the winter the Finns spend more time indoors. We live our everyday life, children go to school, adults go to work. We also celebrate our Independence Day and Christmas quite peacefully. Some may, however, have more hilarious pre-Christmas or New Year’s Eve parties.

The late winter is often the best time for winter sports. Then the days are brighter and warmer and sun is shining more often.

Spring

20070505_0086When the summer is coming and snow is melting the nature wakes up and so does the Finns, too.  We make plans for the IMG-20150316-WA0002summer and enjoy the sunny spring days. Many Finns like to spend time doing garden work or walking in the woods and spotting the first spring flowers. In the spring many pupils and students also have a final stretch at school because the summer holidays often begin already at the end of May.

Summer

In the summer Finns are often more relaxed, spontaneous and cheerful. That may be due to the summer holidays. There’s of course many ways to spend a summer holiday. Some people want to stay in a town. They can go to a café or restaurant and e20080523_0048at at the terrace. Or walk on the town, listen to the busker and go to a park to read a book and sun themselves. Many music festivals gather people around Finland to the towns to enjoy music and the festival atmosphere.

One way to spend a summer holiday is to drive around with a caravan or a motor home. There’s a few caravanners who spend all of their free time on the road but many Finns also hire a caravan and make a one week trip to view Lapland or visit relatives for example. Or instead of a car some Finns choose a motor bike for their road trips.

But certainly one of the most popular things in IMG-20140813-WA0003summer is to go to a summer cottage. Especially many Finns want to spend the “juhannus” in a summer cottage. It’s a midsummer fest and also the day of the Finnish flag.

2014-06-27-287In many summer cottages it isn’t possible to use electricity, running water or indoor toilet. But nowadays the ever growing part of the “cottages” has the similar equipment as the primary homes and they can be used year-round. A lakeside view is a very important thing for many cottagers. In a summer cottage Finns want to enjoy the silence, peace and nature. Some just want to relax, swim and take a sauna, some want to work in the garden. Physical work outside can be a good counterbalance to indoor office work for example.

In the summer there are hundreds and hundreds of different events around Finland. Every weekend there’s something going on. Many little villages seem to be death silent in the winter but in the summer they all have their own little summer festivals. There’s many summer theatres with non-professional actors and actresses. Finns also have many crazy competitions like wife-carrying, rubber boot throwing and swamp soccer.

Autumn

IMG_0538In Finland the autumn is a time for a new start, like IMG-20141016-WA0008probably in many other countries, too. The schools begin after the summer holidays and many children and young people start at a new school with new classmates. Also many adults return to the everyday life and routines. Many social clubs reassemble after the summer break.

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The autumn and late summer is the harvest time for home gardeners. The forests are also full of different kind of berries and mushrooms. In Finland it’s a public right of access to pick them up free of charge.  The IMG_0563public rights of access include also for example swimming, hiking and angling almost anywhere. Of course it isn’t allowed to disrupt others or cause damage to forest or fields.WP_20151015_012

In the autumn when the evenings get darker and the weather get colder it’s again time to prepare yourself for the winter and light some candles.

 

 

 

I hate to generalize. I can’t imagine any characteristic or custom that all the Finns would have in common. Every Finn is an individual and they have a different culture depending on their background and the area where they live. But we all share the seasons. We don’t live in the same way year-round, the seasons influence our lives one way or another.

What Finnishness is to me

People

SuomalaisetFinnish people are more quite people than people in other countries. Finnish people also like their personal space. If you go to talk to a stranger people think there is something wrong with you. People don’t talk to each other if they don’t know each other. Finnish people don’t have idea how to small talk. In Finland that doesn’t happen or if it does it’s usually akward. In Finnish culture it’s also ok to be quite and not to be akward about it. Finnish people are proud of what they have created like Nokia, Rovio and Kone but we don’t like to brag about it. That’s why everyone automatically thinks those companies are from the United States or from Asia.

Language

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Finnish language is one the hardest languages in the world. To make it even harder in different parts of Finland people talk differently. You can say the word I so many different ways: minä, mä and mie. When learning Finnish it’s extra frustrating to foreigners to learn the right form minä in class and then realize that nobody uses it. Also Finnish language quite doesn’t remind of any other major languages like English or Spanish. In Finnish language we don’t have a word like please so we might come out as rude when we travel. Also if we didn’t catch what other person said we just say what not sorry or I didn’t catch that could you repeat.

Observations about being a Finn

Free time activities

We young Finns tend to value our personal space. We love to hang out with our best friends but as valuable for us is the time that we get to spend all alone. We all have some hobbies such as reading, listening to music or playing games in which we can dwell in our loneliness. It is almost as we need time to charge our batteries to face other people. Because of this it is important to keep in mind to give Finns the personal space and time they need so they won’t get anxious or frightened.

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Rentable sauna

When the Finns got the energy to go out with their friend, they like to seek for new experiences. Going to club gigs and concerts, trying new sports and restaurants and going to saunas are typical ways to pass time with buddies. Basic stuff will also do, like going to bars, playing some games or watching films together.

The punctuality of Finns is questionable. At first, they always seem to be in time but as you get to know them better, they start to arrive late and forget about meetings. But if it is something formal, they will be there exactly in time. All and all, Finns are quite trustworthy people.

 

Student food culture in Finland

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Delicious falafel pita in Zeytuun

When it comes to food, “as cheap as you can get it” seems to be a typical approach for most students. They do not usually have lots of money to spend on it so they try to buy economical ingredients. Pasta casseroles and soups are usual solutions for this problem as they do not cost much to prepare and you can make a lot of it at one time. Porridge, canned food and seasonal vegetables are also popular choices.

If there is some extra money to spend, students might use their precious pennies to eat out. They might pick something fancy, but not too expensive for sure. Asian restaurants, pizzerias and vegetarian restaurants are favoured by Finnish students. After the night out they often find themselves buying suspicious looking pizzas from the nearest kebab places.

Finns are well known milk-drinkers. Students drink it too but they prefer water (for it’s price obviously). Lemonade is usually more of a thing you serve for your guests in a party. Alcohol is usually consumed with friends at nighttime, not as much with meals.

My experience of Finnishness

Intro

Some of these examples are based on the prejudice of Finnish people, and of course not every Finn fits these descriptions.

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Business Life

In Finland it’s one of the main things to be on time for example in business meetings and job interviews. If you’re late, it seems you don’t value other peoples’ time. We Finns are used to being on time but for many foreigners it might cause troubles in the beginning. In schools some teachers might not even let you come inside the class if you’re late.

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Personal Space

When Finnish people wait for the bus at a bus stop, they stand at least a few meters from each other, even if it’s raining we don’t squeeze under the same shelter . Also remember this unwritten Finnish rule: the ones first at the bus stop enter the bus first. When you see someone for the first time or you are not so familiar with them you automatically shake hands and not for example kiss them to the cheek. Also in this occasion remember other peoples personal space. Finnish people never use shoes inside their homes but some important parties or events might be an exception.

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The Finnish Sauna

Sauna is very important to Finns and almost every Finnish home has a sauna in it. Most Finns go to the sauna at least once a week. You always go to sauna naked, even if you are in a public sauna with strangers. At midsummer Finns make a “vihta” (also called “vasta“, depending on what region you come from) which is made of birch twigs and you kind of “beat” yourself with it in the sauna.

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Awkward

Finnish people are a bit shy and we aren’t good in small talk. Some Finns like to avoid neighbors in the hallway, or even pretend they didn’t see you at all. And if you accidentally run into your neighbor some won’t even greet you, so don’t be offended. Finnish people don’t want to speak to strangers, and what it comes to elevators everyone is quiet and stare at the floor. It’s one of the most awkward moments you can face in Finland.

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My Finland

What does Finland and being a Finn mean to me? The answer is – if I dare say – something that a lot of Finns could very well relate to: sauna, sisu, lakes and rivers, lots of trees, silence, and space. A Finns favourite scenery often has water in it, be it a lake, a river or the sea and perhaps some trees or some other kind of vegetation. This isn’t surprising since Finland is often called The Land of a Thousand lakes. It does describe Finland well because if you’ve ever driven through Finland during summer, all you can see is blue lakes, rivers and green forests and fields passing by.

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As lakes are everywhere, so are the summer cottages too. To me and a lot of Finns, retreating to the cottage during summer is a very important thing. The peace and quiet and the simple joys that the of the cottage offers is what makes them so attractive to Finns. Relaxing at the lakeside boating, fishing, barbecuing and most importantly going to the sauna and swimming are a must.

Sauna has been an important part of the Finnish culture for hundreds of years. It has been a place for bathing and curing different illnesses, but also a place where children were born and where the corpses of the deceased were taken before the funeral. Nowadays practically all houses and many flats have a sauna of their own and it is common practice to use it at least once a week.

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I’m originally from Rovaniemi, and after moving to Tampere I have come to really appreciate the two extremes that especially Lapland can offer. Snowy, cold and dark winters and the warm, green summers with the sun shining the whole night through. The difference in the light in the summer is very noticeably compared to Tampere even though Rovaniemi is in the southern part or Lapland.

In this blog a lot of people have talked about the Finnish people and our nature which is often silent, sometimes even a bit awkward, shy and always very straight to the point. Maybe because of the harshness of the the environment we have had to live in we have had to develop a strong mentality of perseverance, sisu. It is an attribute  that has helped us survive in the sometimes tough but beautiful nature surrounding us, but also other kinds of difficult situations in the past and the present. It is an positive attitude I can relate to and hold very dear, and I do think it somehow sums up what Finland and its people are all about.

My Finnishness: the Small Talk reality

I was at a New Look store buying some new clothes when it happened. At the counter, I gave my credit to the cashier and he smiled looking at it. He started complimenting the old-school cassette image printed on the card, asked where I got it from and when, and so on.

I just nodded and mumbled something about having it for a while.

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During the very first days staying in England I encountered my hardwired Finnishness in the typical way: trying to learn the (in)famous ‘small talk’ with Britons.

The topic of ‘small talk’ has been mystified, sort of. It’s something English teachers try to prepare us for and I remember us 16-year-olds thinking “what’s up with all this fuss”. Moving to England made me realize that the difficulty is not at ‘choose a common topic, not a personal subject’ or in the phrases and idioms one should be familiar with.

In England, one needs to be “ready to communicate” all the time. It might be the waiter asking about your card/accessories/anything or someone stopping by to ask where the train station/bus stop/closest pub is. And so on.

I haven’t gotten used to that in Finland. Sure, there are nice and talkative people everywhere and every now and then, and it’s nice to have chat with the person at a bus stop or with the cashier. But it’s more common to get into a discussion with random people in England, and that’s why ‘small talk’ is hard: I’m not mentally prepared to talk about something all the time thus freezing easily when someone sits right next to me on a bus starting immediately a conversation about the ticket prices.

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It’s not that I’m shy, quite the opposite. But it’s the mental state developed in Finland: people are granted solitude everywhere. My nervous system wasn’t expecting such social encounters by default. Being a loudmouth, I eventually adapted well into culture of having something to say all the time.

‘Small talk’ isn’t anything special or hard, but a state of mind. It’s definitely something that takes time to adapt to properly. It wasn’t a thing everyone was aware of or thought about at all. It’s just noticing how people just socialize a bit more.

For example, I learnt quickly that taxi drivers are real-life chat bots and taking a taxi is a highly communicative commuting method. One does not simply take a taxi without talking about the city experiences, where you are from (in case your accent reveals your Finnishness) and how students keep the city busy on weekends.

When I arrived to Finland, I took a taxi and started talking about the adventures, Finland’s weather (it was really grey and wet) but the driver just nodded back. Then I remembered, it’s all right. A taxi driver in Finland doesn’t get worried and nervous for me keeping it to myself.

I was home.

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