Monthly Archives: August 2017

What does being Finnish mean to me?

Based on my life experience I would consider myself a rather international person. I went to an international IB high school, I spent a year as an au pair in the United States, and now I’m spending my second summer at a Girl Scouts camp in New Hampshire in the US. Last year I was a general counselor and this year I am the business manager so I can count it towards the placement for my degree. Through my travels and international experiences, I have made friends from nearly all the continents and gained amazing experiences I would not have gotten back home in Finland.

However, during each of my international experience I have most of all learned how Finnish I am and how I am rooted in Finland. For me being a Finn is something that is hard to explain. It is something wholesome, that truly affects all aspects of life. It is the way I interact with people, it is how I react to events in my life, it is my hobbies in Finland and what I miss when I am not there.

Often it is said that Finnish people do not know how to talk small talk. I do find false, though I am much better at deep meaningful relationships than casual conversations with random people. When I am abroad I sometimes find it hard to just have a quick conversation with someone because I am too interested in actually hearing what they would have to say. To me, that is very Finnish, and I appreciate our meaningful relationships with other people.

More practical Finnish things that I always find myself valuing while traveling, are definitely our sauna and coffee cultures. Finnish sauna culture is rather self-explanatory for a Finnish person. I count myself to be from a family that really enjoys saunas, summer cottages and winter swimming, so it is hard to spend a whole summer in place where you can’t find a proper sauna.

Finnish coffee culture is also very one of a kind. Somewhat similar culture might be found in the other Nordic countries, but that is probably the extent of it. Even though Americans love their coffee, they drink it on the run in take-away cups they get from drive-ins. In Finland relaxing over a cup of coffee is so rooted in the culture we even have mandatory coffee breaks in the work time law. Making a pot of coffee for any guests is expected and not questioned at all. That does not happen in America, or in other countries where I have been a house guest to a local, even when the hosts have been the most welcoming people.

 

The darkness and survival

Let me tell you a little about the cycle of Finnish mood. I am writing this in July, which is the peak of Finnish mental happiness. The dark, long period of coldness and grayness is contrasted with the most beautiful couple of months. Like a lover returning to you from the darkness you once thought had digested her/him. The peak is short but sweet, followed by a positively melancholic autumn which slowly dips you back into the cycle of seasons. Accompanied by a warm, loving embrace telling you that the good times will come again but until then you must find the beauty from places where it´s rarely searched, but where it has learned to survive the harsh environment.

 

The road to true ecstasy is hard and torturous. We call this torturous period the “kaamos aika”, aka the polar night, aka a period of darkness north of the Arctic Circle when the sun does not rise over the horizon. It is still enough to feel the effect if you are just close to the arctic circle. There is a place in southern Finland that got a majestic two hours of sun light in a period of three months from December to February in the winter of 2014. It is within these kind of periods that one might suffer from “kaamosmasennus”, aka winter depression.

There are ways to treat the “kaamosmasennus” but the best one is just to get the hell out of here. If you however don´t have the financial situation to balance this out, you might want to try something out of the ordinary. Embrace that beast of darkness and dig a hole through that frozen lake and go for a swim! I´m not even joking. In a situation like this it is very nice to have a sauna near by to relax your tortured soul. It is called avantouinti (winter swimming). It feels really good to take your body through those extreme temperatures, and when your body feels good your mind feels good. There are places in Finland where people go to do this, if not every day then every week. It buzzes you up and makes you feel alive and relaxed both at the same time. If you are really lucky you might escape into the finish wilderness and heat up a mökki (cottage) which usually includes a sauna by a lake. You will feel super authentic as you heat up the sauna, make a hole in the ice with a chainsaw, get naked and dip yourself into the cold lake. Gaze up at the non light polluted starry sky keeping that nice hot sauna in mind. This is something that keeps me going through the sunless season and something that I miss during the sunshine season.

A few things about Finnish culture

When i read the assignment, i thought: “Oh know, do I HAVE TO write about the nature and the weird language and the moomins?! Yes i do. And actually, they are pretty rare and lovely things, which too often are taken for granted. So here we go.

THE NATURE

Yes, we have a lot of lakes and woods in Finland. Research shows that spending only 15 minutes in the nature releases hormones that release stress and makes you feel good. We have the possibility to easily “use” the healing nature. I think this is very much true, just a walk outside few times a week makes you calm and happy. And when going hiking for a few days, the mind just gets satisfied and kind of silent.

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/1d/7d/c5/1d7dc5a08883e0a23fdf1dbc6c75a862–finland-our-life.jpg

The finnish desire to go in the countryside is easily seen by the amount of cottages we have. Everybody has either a cottage or a friend or a grandmother who has a cottage where to spend summer days and especially the mid-summer-fest: juhannus. Juhannus is usually celebrated on the third weekend of June and usually consists of spending time with friends and family: eating, drinking, going to sauna, having a good time on the cottage.

The ancient religion before Christianity was the animistic religion. We believed in elves, fairies and such. And some of use still believe in them. 😉

 

THE FINNISH LANGUAGE

I’ve heard a lot of funny comments about the Finnish language from people who are from elsewhere. One of the best comments’ is: “Finnish sounds like The Lord of the Rings-language. Especially when you are talking it, Heljä.”

But actually J.R.R. Tolkien did read Kalevala for inspiration, when creating the language of the elves on Lord of the Rings. Pay attention next time when Legolas is speaking. 😉

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/86/69/3d/86693d873af23922ada01b3f7841829f.gif

One said that Finnish sounds kind of painful, because of so many consonants in the words. Maybe for the same reason it also sounds an angry language, like someone once told my mom. On the other hand, finnish has once been chosen the most beautiful language in the world for it’s great number of vocals. “Alavilla mailla hallan vaara” sounds to a poem to my ears too, actually. A lot of letters “A” and “l” make this weather forecast sound so soft. At the same time, when you know the meaning of the words (and if you want to see symbols everywhere…), it also tells something about finnish mentality: there’s always the fear of cold and sadness, when you are feeling down…

 

http://www.antikvaari.fi/imagesproduct/1195_WP_001371_20138265315.jpg

THE MOOMINS

For third, I decided to write about the Moomins, mainly because yesterday I visited the new Moomin museum in Tampere. Which was lovely btw, I warmly recommend it, if anyone ever reads this thing. 😀

The moomins are created by Tove Jansson, who is a Finnish Swede, that is why it’s been originally written in Swedish. Moomins started as books and pictures but as they became popular they can now be seen on tv, mugs, keyrings etc. Pretty much every Finn knows the moomins and has seen a few tv-episodes.

http://www.muumimukit.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/rakkaus.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowadays there are also a lot of funny moomin memes on the internet.

https://media.riemurasia.net/albumit/mmedia/lp/8kv/hggt/3175/1475991519.jpg
https://media.riemurasia.net/albumit/mmedia/lp/8kv/hggt/3175/1475991519.jpg

 

Just joking, nice assignment.

-Heljä

 

Finnish Calendar – the Traditions

Runeberg’s day 5.2.

Johan Ludvig Runeberg was a finnish poet, teacher, journalist and professor. Finland’s national anthem, Maamme laulu, was originally a swedish poem written by Runeberg. His birthday is traditionally celebrated with a baked good Runeberg’s – tart, which was invented by his wife Fredrika Runeberg.

Shrove Tuesday (Laskiainen) Seven weeks before Easter

On Shrove Tuesday Finns go sliding. Traditional treat is a bun filled with jam and whipped cream.

Kalevalan päivä/ finnish culture day 28.2.

Finnish culture day is to celebrate Finland’s national epic, Kalevala. Kalevala was assembled by Elias Lönnrot and it’s based on Finnish-Karelian folk poetry. Kalevala tells how world was created from a bluebill’s egg and about the adventures that happened after.

Easter

Traditional decorations are yellow chicken, painted eggs and rabbits. Children dress up as witches and go from door to door with decorated wickers, saying traditional poems and getting chocolate egg for return.

Mämmi with vanilla sauce or milk and sugar is a traditional easter treat.

May day (Vappu) 1.5.

May day is the day for Finnish students. On 30.4. we put on our overalls, pack our mead bottles and doughnuts and head for a nice picnic.

There’s a ceremony in many cities, in which a special hat is placed on a special statue. In the ceremony all Finnish graduates (ylioppilas) put a similar hat on their head. The celebration lasts till 2.5.

Midsummer (Juhannus) close to summer solstice

Midsummer is a feast of a midnight sun. A huge bonfire is gathered and set on fire, young women make spells to find out their true love and sauna is full with people hitting themselves with birch whisks.

Also Moomins made Midsummer spells

Finnish Independence Day 6.12.

Independence day is probably the most serious feast for Finns. Finns visit at soldier’s graves, lay down garlands and light up candles.

Unknow soldier and Finnish defense forces have a parade are shown in television.  Graduates march through cities in a torch parade.

Two blue and white candles are light and placed in front of a window. Largest occasion is held in President’s castle, where members of the parliament, ambassadors, war veterans and other guests celebrate.

Christmas Eve 24.12.

Christmas starts, when Christmas tree is fetched and decorated. In addition to candles, traditional decorations are lanterns made of snow and special decorations made from straw.

A bunch of grains can be left outside for birds to eat.

Christmas Eve’s morning starts with rice porridge. An almond is hidden in the porridge, and who ever gets it, can make a wish.

Christmas dinner is eaten with family. Traditional Christmas food are carrot, rutabaga and potato casseroles, smoked salmon and ham.

Gingerbread and Christmas tarts are for dessert.

In evening comes Santa Claus with his presents and for him children must sing Joulupukki -song.

New Year

Finns celebrate New Year quite the same it’s celebrate all over the world. Small tin horseshoes are melted in fire and used to predict the future.

Fireworks are to be seen at midnight, glasses are raised and new years kisses given.

Finnishness for me

Finnish language

Finnish is a unique and strange sounding language. It doesn’t remind English, Swedish or German at all. Finnish has only five million speakers in Finland so Finnish is a real secret language. When you are abroad you can talk with your friend and you don’t have to worry about your sayings because nobody will understand you. But you have to be very careful because one day there can be a Finn in the same restaurant!

Safety

Finland is considered as a safe country and that’s why I love to live here. Of course we aren’t an isolated country and something terrible can happen here too but in general Finland is a safe country. It is safe to walk around the streets and you don’t have to care about the pickpockets. Children go to school alone by foot or bike so parents don’t have to give them a ride to school every day. Finnish kids walk to school every day even in the winter.

Nature

Finland is such a big country but there are few people in here so we have a lot of forests here. Finland’s nature is amazingly clean and the Finns are very proud of it.  Finland is known of its thousands lakes and they are a big part of Finnishness. Many of the Finns spend their summer holidays in their summer cottages near to some lake.

In Finland we have all four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. Every season have its own special things which make it so unique. Spring is beautiful when all starts to grow. Summer is warm and we have that nightless night when the sun never sets. In the autumn there are some beautiful colors in the trees. Winter is very cold, dark and it feels like it will never end. But I like all of the season because I think it would be very boring without them.

My home in Finland – where my story began

For me being a Finn is a weird concept. I can’t seem to relate to most of the stereotypes of Finnish people on a personal level. I am social and outgoing, I don’t mind people entering my personal space (if I know them), I am very affectionate and I am loud and giggly and I actually don’t like sauna that much. The stereotype of grumpy Finns who prefer to grunt in response and avoid interaction with other people whenever possible doesn’t seem to suit me. But I am still a Finn and it means other things to me as it is different for everyone. I guess belonging somewhere comes from yourself and what you believe it means and requires. In a way I am a Finn because I was born in Finland and lived here most of my life. But my times abroad and meeting international people have changed me as well as a person. So it’s not just about where you come from, it’s about who you are and want to be.

But enough of that philosophical blabbering, let’s get down to the things that I think make me a Finn.

Nature

Whether it is camping outside and gazing at the stars while roasting marshmallows or sausages on a campfire or skinny dipping in a lake and running back into a sauna on a clear summer night, nature has always been close to me. I grew up in the country side so I got to experience it on a whole new level. There’s nothing more calming to going into the forest on a clear snow day and just listening to the sound of nature while admiring the view that unfolds before you. Snowy landscape is one of my favorite sights to see and it holds the candle to the other wonders of the world. This part of Finnishness also holds the sports we get to do during winter time. Ice skating, skiing, sliding down the hill on a sleigh, all of these and many more would not be possible in many other places.

Food and drinks

There are quite many foods that you wouldn’t come across elsewhere or there might be something similar. I know these names won’t mean much to you but for example karjalanpiirakka, piparkakku, karjalanpaisti, mämmi (which is disgusting by the way) or salted liquorices. We Finns do love our salted liquorice, we put it into almost anything; ice cream, chocolate, alcohol etc. Salmari, the alcoholic drink, is good by the way. Which brings us to the drinking culture in Finland. In a lot of countries drinking is a social thing where as in Finland we can also just do “kalsarikännit” which basically means getting drunk in our underwear alone at home. That’s another thing we do, we get drunk. Sometimes might enjoy a glass or two when having food or going to sauna but if we go out we go all out. During the weekend around 4 am you can find Finns queuing up to a pizzeria or some snack kiosk with greasy food to get something to fill their alcohol infused bellies. And that’s when we actually talk to strangers even if they wouldn’t want you to.

 

Language

I can’t even count how many times I’ve enjoyed listening to foreigners trying to speak Finnish. I really appreciate the effort though and I congratulate you for trying since it’s definitely not the easiest language. Even Finns have trouble understanding each other depending which part of the country they come from. To many Finnish just sounds like a really long word since we do not tend to breathe in between while talking. We take a deep breath and let it all out in one go. No wonder we don’t talk much. If we don’t have anything to say why say anything at all. Words hold quite a lot of power and verbal agreements can be almost as binding as written ones. If you make a promise you are excepted to hold true to your words. But Finnish language can be quite funny once you learn it (if you learn it).

So I would proudly say, yes I am a Finn. But I am also me and that is so much more.

My Experiences of Finnishness

At first

First and foremost I have to tell you that my view of the topic ”Finnishness” is influenced by my background of growing up with two different cultures, the Finnish and the German. I will spend my exchange year in Mannheim, South-West Germany.  I got a room in a student home named Afred-Delp-Haus where there are living ca. 140 students from Germany and all over the world. The great thing about ADH is that it unites students from different universities and colleges in Mannheim. My room will be in the 4th floor and I was asked to join the ”4th-floor-group” at Facebook where I could introduce myself to my future floor mates. When writing my post I got the idea to ask them what they know about Finland without using Google and my post here is partly based on those answears (nature, school system, character, alcohol).

Copyright: Johanna Toivanen

Nature

”Finland is the land of the thousands of lakes.” Untouched nature is nowadays something rare and precious which we here in Finland are fortuned to have. Almost everywhere you live you can find untouched nature near you (at least after a short drive) and you don’t have to think about whether it is allowed to take a walk there or not! You can even collect some berries and mushrooms if you want and in most parts of our nature it is also allowed to spent a night in a tent and do a little fire. This is a special freedom we have to take care of to keep. Our tourism is also more and more  based on this untouched nature and it has become our brand in the world which is positive I think. On the other hand we have to be careful with our nature that it doesn’t suffer from tourism. Every Finn has to be careful not to loose the connection to our nature because the positive effects of for example a walk in the forest are huge. I think everyone can agree with me that there comes thins special feeling and ”vibe” of home when we stand on a rock and look over the incredible view of the lakes and small islands in front of us.

School system

Finland is also famous for its school system which makes it possible for everyone to be educated no matter what their financial background is. From grade 1 to 9 we go to school together and there is no separation. This ensures that everyone is treated the same way but at least I felt during 8th and 9th class that it were the average students who dictated the teachers. Gifted and weak students were somehow forgotten to my mind but nevertheless it is important that there is no early  separation of the children.  As I study besides TAMK also at the university of Jyväskylä to be a music teacher I am aware that there is a big problem in our school system: boys need more attention because there are less and less boys who continue school after 9th grade especially to high school. There are also big differences between cities and the countryside and not everyone has the same possibilities.

Character

”The weather in Finland is cold.” This summer I can agree to the statement with the cold weather, it has been so cold. The annoying thing about it is that the winter is dark and grey. It somehow also affects our mood I think. We are said to be shy, modest and often negative. I have often found myself in the situation that I am being too loud or too enthusiastic. It is great that we Finns don’t tend to brag about our achievements but sometimes we should also be proud of ourselves. It is also rooted deep in our culture that we don’t complain about things which are unfair and I often see a lack of braveness behind it. We Finns are often comfortable with silence and don’t do useless talking. It is also often said the we are reliable, never late and not getting too emotional. Sometimes I think that it is weird that the sauna seems to be the only place where Finns can relax and from moment to another they loose all the awkwardness and inhibitions especially if alcohol is involved. At the same time many people for example from Spain or Brazil feel very uncomfortable in the sauna.

Alcohol

There is no sophisticated drinking culture in Finland. Too many of us don’t seem to be able to relax without alcohol. Many Finns seem uncomfortable with alcohol if the intention is not to consume it a lot. This is sad and a topic we could learn a lot from other cultures and I think we are improving in for example just going for one beer after a concert for example. My view is influenced by the fact that I study music where drinking a lot of alcohol without sense often is involved (at a young age already). It is often explained by talking about taking pressure away or something similar (not only among musician) and this is where we should stop for a moment and think if we want this behavior to be a part of our Finnishness. It is a great improvement that small breweries have started their business because it makes people to learn about different beer or cider sorts.

Common safety and health care system

We are in the far North of Europe and often the things that take place in North Africa or in Middle Europe feel far away. This month we were woken up by the fact that the world is changing. The tragedy of Turku is testing our society and I truly hope that we don’t let terrorism or violence split our country. We have to be brave and instead of blaming all refugees here for what happened we should stay strong and become more tolerant to our multicultural society.

In Finland we have an exceptional health care system where everyone gets help. This is incredible and also prevents the society from separating too much and we all can hope that the politicians also share this opinion.

Copyright: Johanna Toivanen

My Experiences of Finnishness

Summer in Finland

Although people in Finland complain that summers have been getting colder and rainier year by year I would still say It’s my favourite time of the year.  It’s the time for festivals, long summer nights, midsummer celebrations and going to the summer cottage.  Many families in Finland own a summer cottage often located on a nice and peaceful lakeshore or on an island. Every summer cottage must have a sauna because It’s such an important part of the Finnish lifestyle.  Midsummer is a big celebration all around Finland. Finns gather all their friends to a summer cottage or to a festival to spend it together. Even though Finns are hard workers and the summers usually go on the job I think It’s still the time for vacations and relaxing summer days.

Sauna

Like I said before Sauna is a very important part of the Finnish lifestyle.The sauna is a steam room where Finns go to sweat, relax, drink beer and clean themselves. It is very common to have your own sauna in your home. Sauna is definitely something I grew up with and I would say many others do too. When I was younger my family would go to the sauna literally every day of the week and later on as I got older always on the weekends. In my opinion the best place to go to a sauna is on a summer cottage. When the sauna is near a lake It’s common to take a dip in the water, no matter if It’s winter or summer.

Finnish people

Finns are know to be people of few words. Small talk is not regular in Finland, especially with strangers. I think It’s true but somewhat a misconception. Finns are very shy at speaking English so I think sometimes foreigners confuse it with being shy overall. When you get to know a Finn they can be very talkative and outgoing. I think the best thing about Finns is their attitude and work ethic. Finnish people are know to be “sisukas”. There is no direct translation for the word “sisu” but it basically means strength, willpower, persistence and guts which are qualities that all the Finns own.

Finnishness

Nature

In Finland nature is important part of our every day life. That’s partly because we have so much space in here and so few people to fill it. Even the bigger cities have a lot of parks and forests nearby. But nature is more than just “being there”, it’s vital part of Finnish culture.

Many of  the “Finnish things” take place in nature. Our summer cottages and saunas are usually besides the lake away from the cities. Where we can enjoy ourselves with family and friends.

The seasons are also so distinct from each other that they affect your activities, mood and even sleeping patterns. People from other countries usually think that it’s always snowing here (to put it harshly) without realizing that we have a huge variety of conditions in here. It’s completely different experience if you come here in summer or in winter.

Silence

We as Finnish people have a reputation of being silent, distant and minimal with our expressions, and I have to confess that is true. We’re not just socially awkward people but we actually respect and enjoy the silence. That concept may sound weird to many foreigners and I can see why.

Because of our silent practices small talk is pretty much absent. If you ask something you better be prepared for straight answer. That may be intimidating at the start but when you get to know a Finnish person it’s easier get “real talk” instead of just wondering what the weather might be next week.

Language

Well it’s hard to speak about Finland without mentioning our weird and difficult language. In history there wasn’t any big trade routes through Finland and we’ve been living here pretty much isolated from other cultures. Even during Swedish and Russian rules Finland was always treated as it’s own region. That’s why Finnish as a language has been relatively unaffected from it’s surroundings.

Structure of Finnish is very different from Germanic languages that dominate Europe. It’s possible to form long words that can be only described with full sentences in other languages. Prepositions are sparse and base vocabulary is smaller than in English for example. On the bright side pronunciation is reliable.

Of course we have a lot different words  for things that are essential to our culture and every day life like snow (lumi, räntä etc), swamps (räme, neva etc) and being naked (alasti, ilkosillaan, nakuna etc).

I think everyone can get something out of visiting Finland and I’m proud to be Finnish.

 

 

Things I appreciate in Finland

Tranquility

I’m slightly intoverted person. I love spending time with my friends and family, but I also love being alone. I like how I can be quiet in a group and just listen what others say. I like to observe people and see how they act. I love how I can sit by the lake with a friend (or by myself) and just think and enjoy the beaty of Finlands nature or the city lights. You don’t always have to speak to make a moment memorable, just being there might be just as valuable. Ofcourse being quite is always good and I think it’s also important to be able to express yourself whenever you choose. The thing I love about being a Finn is that I can enjoy silence and listen more rather than speak.  Finns appreciate peace and straight-forwardness rather than fuss.

Sisu

Sisu means determination and perseverance. It means that you ride your bike to work even if it’s -18 degrees outside. It’s willpower to push trough challenges that seem impossible with a sense of direction and not with despair. Some say that Finns have more Sisu because of the nature and weather. The northern winter is mostly cold and dark so without some Sisu (and good food and friends) it would be hard to cope.

© Sini Ruuskanen
© Sini Ruuskanen

 

 

 

 

 

Food

In Finland we have variety of delicious foods. Popular dishes vary some between locations. For example here in Tampere many like to get together with friends over spicy chikcen wings. Other traditional local dish is “mustamakkara”, which is blood sausage. On the sweeter side finns enjoy salmiakki and liquiorice which come many different shapes and sizes. Most popular chocolate is definitely Fazers classic “blue” milk chocolate. In addition to traditional delicacies Finland has a lot more to offer; you can get almost anything you desire. We have great sushi restaurants, pizza, burgers and anything you wish.