Finnishness, can it be said to exist?

A word such as ‘Finnishness’ seems to contain the idea that there is one or more characteristics that every person born in Finland to Finnish parents and raised in Finland has somehow encoded into their genes or something. But it can also just mean the quirks or distinctive features of the culture, which may or may not be found in some other cultures as well. Being a Finn, it is perhaps harder for me to recognize these features as I have lived surrounded by them my whole life. But I chose the following two topics because those are the ones that I like about Finland and have also noticed to describe myself in one way or another.

Not really ‘Western’ nor ‘Eastern’

Someone once said that a funny thing about Finland is that it can’t really be called a Western nor Eastern country. We are heavily under the influence of American pop culture but then again, we drink vodka. We have the slavic influence and no matter how hard we try, we just are not the shiny happy people that our Nordic neighbors are. We are somewhere in the “gray area”, and I think that’s one of the things, in addition to nature, that appeal to many Japanese Finland fans. Both are more or less unique and isolated countries.

Melancholy

This is a thing that must have been already mentioned by other people but I can’t talk about Finland without mentioning it. It’s present all the time, often in Finnish art as well. It’s probably the most Finnish characteristic I recognize in myself, or the characteristic that keeps me feeling Finnish. I don’t really know. But I think this has something to do with the weather and the seasons. If I wanted to explain it scientifically I’d say it’s because of the lack of vitamin D that people in sunny places get from sunlight. But that just sounds too simple. I think it’s something that has deep roots in our culture. Finnish people have gone through rough times and during rough times you don’t complain, you just focus on surviving instead of showing your feelings. This might have resulted in the concept of ‘sisu’ but also in bottled-up emotions which take the form of melancholy, silent sorrow and longing for something better.

This scene from Aki Kaurismäki’s Ariel is a great example of not only Finnish melancholia but also of a dark sense of humor. Notice that the song on the background is Finnish tango!

 

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