When I talk to foreigners about Finland and Finnishness and they don’t know much about it, I usually explain that Finland is kind of like a cross between Russian and European influences with its own flare. It probably gives them a pretty good image of what we are working with, but I believe it is much more than just that.
When I think what Finnishness means to me, many things come to mind. For me Finnishness stems from family, friends, the language, the culture, the nature and the very land itself. It comes from the songs my mother and grandmother sang to me and the stories my father told me when I was little. One example of a song that my grandmother used to sing to me when I couldn’t sleep below.
Traditionally there are a lot of songs in Finnish and they have a strong influence in the culture and folksongs show how people used to see the world around them. Many of them are melancholic, which in it self is a stereotype of Finnishness, but it does have a little truth in it, though there are a lot of happy folksongs too. These songs have a strong impact on my image of Finnishness.
A lot about Finnishness comes from geography both physical and political. And from history. Without history there would not be now. What sets us apart from our neighbors is in the end our language. The sayings, poems and such reflect the Finnish personality, and there is no shortage of sayings, there are lists online that have literally thousands of them. Next couple of sayings freely translated by me.
-Kell’ onni on, se onnen kätkeköön. (Eino Leino)
The ones who have happiness, shall it hide.
-Minkä taakseen jättää, sen edestään löytää.
What you leave behind you, you will find in front of you later
A lot of Finnishness comes from our geography as I said earlier. For example, the stable of Finnish culture, sauna, wouldn’t really be the same if we lived somewhere, or especially going for a swim in a lake after it. Sometimes it is easy to forget how many we actually have compared to most places.
A lot of Finnishness, or what I experience as Finland, comes from the general feeling of the country. For example, the nature or the architecture. It is just the familiarity, that makes me feel that way. When going somewhere farther than Sweden the difference in overall feeling often becomes pretty clear. This, of course, comes from the people too since we are after all pretty reserved around strangers.
I do find other cultures very interesting and really like learning new things about them, which is why I’m going to go and see the world. I believe that it will make me appreciate my own culture more and in a new light.