Finnishness – suomalaisuus



Finnishness, how I experience it…

I shall turn on Finlandia by Jean Sibelius and wait for the midnight sun to get into that inspirational mood.


Having a sauna, throwing away your winter fur (to swim outside for the first time after winter), swimming in an ice hole, speaking Finnish, having a free education from preschool to university, environmentally friendly consumption, Summer hymn at the end of the school years, forests and drinking pure water straight from the tap. All these have a special meaning for me, which might be confusing for someone who has not experienced them in their childhood. I find it rather difficult to give concrete examples that would explain the impression of Finnishness in a way that people all over the world would understand. I will try to do it by going through a short history lecture. 


We are old and odd as a nationFinnish genetics go back thousands of years. Although the difference between Eastern and Western Finnish genome is greater than difference between German and English genome, researchers have noticed that Finnish genome diverse from both European and Russian genome significantly. Nevertheless the seed for independent country was planted only 150 years ago when Finland was a part of Russian Empire. Before that we were used to be part of Sweden or Russia or both, depending of the last peace treaty.

“Swedes we are not / no-longer, Russians we do not want to become, let us therefore be Finns.”

-Adolf Ivar Arwidsson

When Russian Revolution in 1917 took the power from Tsar, Finnish government declared independence.  After few wars and crisis hundred years have passed.


Finland is the most stable country in the world.

Finland is the safest country in the world.

Finland has the least organised crime in the world.

Finland has the third least corruption in the world.

Finland has the fifth lowest income differences in OECD countries.

Finland is the second most gender equal country in the world.

Finland has the most forests in Europe.

Finland’s primary education is the best in the world.

Mothers’ and children’s well-being in Finland is the second best in the world.

Food in Finland is the cleanest in Europe.



I could continue this list for ages. During the hundred years of independence Finland has grown from a poor rural country to one of the best countries in the world. But I would like to add one empirical study that I have been doing for few years with sad results.

Finnish people are the number one of the whole world when it comes to not understanding the value of being Finnish.

It feels like many people in Finland has no idea how great things are in our country. I do not say that everything is perfect, and we can stop developing. I mean that sometimes you will hear unnecessary whining about good things that are rare in most parts of the world, like the amount of the student allowance. Every Finnish person has heard that it is a lottery win to be born in Finland and yet too many Finnish people want to win in a another lottery. We don’t know what will happen in the next hundred years, but for sure we should be happy and proud of where we are and what we have achieved as a nation. I guess the odd mixture of ambition, perfectionism and humbleness is a big part of Finnishness.


In the end I want to add one study that Finns really can relate to. 

Finns drink most coffee per person in the world.







6 thoughts on “Finnishness – suomalaisuus

  1. Elmer, You are the only person who mentioned Sibelius in your writing. I’m a little surprised that others did not. Here in the USA, Sibelius is well represented by the Minnesota Orchestra in Minneapolis. Osmo Vanska has been their music director since 2003, and the Orchestra has recorded all of Sibelius’s symphonies with him as conductor.

    1. Hello Bess!
      Lovely to recieve a comment from you! I never thought that anyone(except for my teacher) would read these 😀
      Its sad sad thing that Sibelius isn’t so well represented here. I guess alot of writers here just want to talk about sauna 😀
      There is alot Finnish Conducters like Osmo Vänskä all over the world, here is a short story about them.
      If you are interested for more good Finnish composers check out Toivo Kuula and Oskar Merikanto for example!

  2. Thanks for the link, Elmer, there is much good information in it. Several years ago, I began really investigating Finnish composers. I was introduced to a friend’s cousin here in the US who is of 100% Finnish heritage; he was my guide. Consequently, I own recordings by Kuula, Klami, Melartin, and Madetoja in addition to lots of Sibelius. I love Madetoja, especially! I wish Vanska would play his works with the MN Orchestra. John Storgard has made terrific recordings of Madetoja, but does not play them with orchestras outside Finland. This bothers me greatly! Kuula and Madetoja were both students of Sibelius, and I think he would be angry if he knew their works are recorded
    but not celebrated abroad by Finnish conductors. I wish I could get a message to Hannu Lintu, because he conducts in the US frequently–I saw him conduct the Detroit Symphony by live stream two years ago and he fantastic! The Swedes should not complain if they are hiring Finnish conductors. Can’t they produce any of their own? I have wondered about that situation myself. Finns may be silent people in public, but their music is magnificent!

  3. I would like to add a little more to my previous comments. There is another orchestra I like in Minnesota, the Duluth-Superior SO. It’s not fancy, has not made any recordings, but they program with a lot of imagination–especially with Nordic composers. Sibelius does very well with them. They go beyond the works most often played in the US; for example, last year they played the symphony No. 7. That’s rare. This year they played several shorter works that other US orchestras typically overlook.

    I’ve also collected music by composers from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. I discovered that we don’t do justice to those countries. It’s interesting that Sibelius and Carl Nielsen of Denmark were born in the same year, 1865. So 2015 was the 150th
    celebration for both. We did the honors for them I’m proud to say. The Seattle Symphony in Washington played all the Sibelius symphonies in one season and the Utah Symphony did the same for Nielsen’s six symphonies. Sometimes we “get it right” here in the USA.

  4. I don’t want to forget a great Finnish pianist, Olli Mustonen, who is now around age 50
    and still going strong. I have two of his recordings, one is piano works of Sibelius. He comes to the USA sometimes. Both recordings are from Finnish recording company Ondine–always technically top-notch.

  5. Elmer, Today I shared the link you gave me with a friend in California who is a music professor at the University of California at Riverside. He said the article was very impressive! He said, “When Salonen conducted the LA Philharmonic, no one complained.” They had no reason to complain! Salonen is a legend with that orchestra. Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt is also a legendary man in California’s musical history for the time when he led the San Francisco Symphony. However, he did not promote Swedish composers there or anywhere else abroad. In
    Sweden even today he conducts their native composers lovingly. I have observed that other Nordic orchestras do not play Swedish composers. Every orchestra plays Sibelius

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