Monthly Archives: September 2019

Nature: a part of Finnish identity

There are a lot of things that people relate to Finnishness, the image of introverted people who like their personal space and sauna after a long day of work. I wanted to focus on Finns and our relationship to nature, as well as my own relationship towards it.

Historically Finnish people have always had a strong relationship with nature. Before the spread of Christianity, Finns practiced polytheism, meaning they believed in many different gods, most of them somehow related to nature. There were many gods, creatures and spirits that ancient people believed in. The most important one is probably Ukko, who was the supreme god, in control of the weather, crops and thunder. Tapio was the god of forests from whom hunters asked for good luck in their hunt. Ahti was the god of the sea and people prayed to him for good luck in fishing. (Kalevalanassikat 2014)

There is a deep respect towards nature and the animals that live in the forest. A great example of one of those creatures is Finland’s national animal, the bear, which is featured in the folklore epic called Kalevala. (Weaver 2014) Bears are seen as the most powerful, mythical creatures that live in Finland. A long time ago when a bear was killed, there would be a special celebration called “karhunpeijaiset”. During the celebration there is a deep respect for the killed animal and almost nothing goes to waste, because that would be very disrespectful to the spirit of the bear. Finns have come up with many other names for bears partly for respect, and partly for the fear that the king of the forest will hear its name being spoken and bring bad luck to whoever spoke its name. Even the typical word for bear in Finnish, “karhu”, is not the original word for a bear. (Taivaannaula 2014) Of course, today these traditions have changed but from my own knowledge if an animal is killed not much will go to waste because hunters still respect the animals they kill.

I believe that due to urbanisation and the growth of cities, the relationship between people, especially young people, and nature is weakening. However, interacting with nature is still a huge part of peoples’ past time. From early on children get to develop a bond with nature, some of this comes through physical education in schools where kids are, among other things, taught to ski on an open field and orientate in the forest with a map and a compass. Both of which I was taught in elementary school and I learned skills from both activities that have helped me later on in life as well, whether I was skiing with friends during the winter holidays or trekking in Lapland with a compass in my hand. The photograph below is from one of my trekking trips in Lapland.

Another way that we Finns nourish our relationship to the environment is by exercising our every man’s rights, (in Finnish “jokamiehenoikeudet”) which allows you to enjoy many aspects of the outdoors. This includes the freedom to roam the countryside, go berry picking, foraging, and fishing with a line and rod. Of course, you must be respectful to the environment (no littering, picking protected plants or disturb nesting birds) and stay out from peoples’ yards. Many people go pick their favourite berries, such as bilberries and cowberries among others, as well as foraging for mushrooms this time of year. It is a great past time that many families and friends do every fall, and even if you don’t find the berries or mushrooms you were looking for, it is a great way to hang out, get some exercise and enjoy fresh air. If you wish to learn more about Finland’s every man’s rights, there is a link at the end of this blog post.

Not only is nature great place for doing all sorts of physical exercise, it also increases our mental well-being. Research shows that being in nature lowers blood pressure, decreases stress, and increases happiness. (mielenterveystalo n.d.) For my own part I can say that when I have gone trekking, the everyday worries vanish almost completely, and my mind feels light and my thoughts clear from stress. Whenever I feel stressed about something my immediate reaction is always to go outside, get fresh air and walk or cycle in the forest, perhaps along the shoreline.

Finland’s nature is a source of pride for Finns and based on a study conducted by the Association of Finnish Work, the majority (51% of Finns) feel that nature is the biggest source of pride for us. According to the study almost half of Finns’ ideal mental landscape is a forest, the second most common mental landscape is that of the sea. (Viher-ympäristöliitto 2017) My ideal mental landscape has always been of the sea or a lake, probably because I grew up next to the sea and there is something about living next to it, this great openness and freshness that comes from it that I really appreciate. Another reason for my mental landscape being that of the seashore might be because my family’s summer cottage is right next to the sea. In Finland it is very common that families own their own summer cottage which is a place for relaxation during the holidays and to go swimming and to the sauna, of course.

I believe nature is a core part of Finnish peoples’ identity. It is reflected in the ancient peoples’ beliefs of gods, creatures and spirits that were believed to roam the forests and it is reflected even today when people spend time outdoors, perhaps picking mushrooms with their friends or family. It is reflected in my eyes as I walk through the forest and smile when I hear a bird singing.

More information on every man’s rights:

Everyman’s rights

References:

Kalevalanassikat. Suomen muinaiset jumalat. 2014. Published 31.10.2014. Read on 30.9.2019. https://kalevalanassikat.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/suomen-muinaiset-jumalat/
Mielenterveystalo. n.d. Luonnon vaikutus hyvinvointiin. Read on 10.9.2019. https://www.mielenterveystalo.fi/aikuiset/itsehoito-ja-oppaat/oppaat/tietoa_luonnon_hyvinvointivaikutuksista/Pages/luonnon_vaikutus_hyvinvointiin.aspx#sosiaalinen_hyvinvointi
Taivaannaula. 2014. Karhunpaijaiset. Published 31.1.2014. Read on 10.9.2019. http://www.taivaannaula.org/2014/01/31/karhunpeijaiset/
Viher-ympäristöliitto. 2017. Luonto on suomalaisille ylpeyden aihe. Published 30.5.2017. Read on 6.9.2019. https://www.vyl.fi/uutiset/luonto-on-suomalaisille-ylpeyden-aihe/
Weaver, F. 2014. Iconic Finnish Nature Symbols Stand Out. Published August 2014. Read on 13.9.2019. https://finland.fi/life-society/iconic-finnish-nature-symbols-stand-out/

Finnishness

When I am asked of typical aspects of Finland and Finnishness, the first things that come to my mind are sauna and nature.

Sauna

Sauna is likely the best known part of Finnish culture around the world. There is no better place to relax after a strenuous day or to warm up on a cold winter day than a 100° hot sauna. Whereas a sauna is considered as a luxury in most countries, it is completely normal in Finland, which is proven by the fact that there are about 2 million saunas in Finland, even though Finland only has a population of 5.3 million. Most houses/apartments are equipped with a sauna which is pretty unique when comparing that to other European countries. In my opinion the best sauna experience is staying in a summer cottage by a lake, when you can mix sauna sessions with an occasional round of swimming in the lake.

Nature

Finnish nature is unique and known for its forests and lakes. Around 78% of the land is covered by forest and around 10% by lakes and other waters. So regardless of where in Finland you live, the distance to lakes and especially to a forest is usually very short. Also, the mix of forests and lakes makes the Finnish landscape a beautiful one. It’s amazing! Especially when you’re standing by a lake (e.g. Saimaa), you will usually have a great view over the lake and the adjacent forests.

Jonathan Hucke

Country of thousands of lakes

Finns are humble. They don’t boast about what they have done. Actually they rather underestimate their skills. Example, almost everyone knows Angry birds, but only few know they are made in Finland. Because Finns keep it low. Finns are also a bit quiet and thinks carefully what they want to say. Most of us are better listener than speaker. So don’t think we are rude if we aren’t much about small talk.

Nature
Finnish nature is so beautiful with thousands of lakes, large archipelago and lovely coniferous forests. We love to spend time in nature and have some activities over a year. At winter we like to go play ice hockey, snowboarding, skiing or just playing in the snow. At summer when the sun begins to set later and later, Finns spend a lot of time in their summer cottages with their family or friends. Summer is also time for outdoor activities like boating, swimming, fishing, playing football, golf and almost everything you like to do. There is so many possibilities for different kind of activities in Finland.

Food
Finnish food is one of the most safeties and healthiest culinarians in the world. But Finnish traditional foods taste don’t tickle foreigners taste buds…

Here is one one example, when Gordon Ramsay is testing traditional Finnish food:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4S-8gF9GFJo

 

Finnishness

What is” Finnishness”?

When someone asks me how Finland is, my answer usually consists of Finnish nature, sauna, and its people’s unique character.

The nature in Finland is very different from other countries. Basically, everywhere you go in Finland you are going to be surrounded by forest. The forests in Finland are a nice place to take a walk, relax and you can even pick up berries and mushrooms! Apart from forests, Finland has over 187 thousand lakes. In the lakes Finnish people like to swim, especially after a hot sauna! If you want to have an authentic Finnish experience you must combine sauna, swimming in the lake and perhaps some alcohol with it. Finnish people are fun to hang out with, although they might give the wrong impression before getting to know them because they can be shy in the beginning.

Light show in forest

My finnish experience

I see Finland from the eyes of a foreigner since I moved from Italy to Finland to study in university.

The things that most represent my finnish experience are: sauna, nature and snow!

When I talk about sauna I can’t not think about the incredible experience I had in Rahuaniemi! It was such an unique moment, especially considered that in my culture there is nothing even close to “avanto”.

 

 

Second thing that represents Finland to me is SNOW! I never saw so much snow in my life! When I think about finnish winter I just picture in my head the color white.

 

And last but no least, nature!

If winter is white, summer is green.I love constantly be surrounded by nature and have the possibility to just walk in the forest.

 

There is nothing as green as Finland.

A few things about Finnishness

What is Finnishness? In my opinion Finnishness can be summarised with three things: sauna, nature and a lack of small talk. Here’s how those things represent finnishness.

Sauna

Sauna is perhaps the most known part of the Finnish culture around the world. Sitting naked with strangers in a hot room may sound bizarre for non-Finnish people, but for Finns sauna is sometimes a place to relax and shake of the stress after a hard week of work, sometimes it’s a place to socialise and have a few (or more) drinks with your friends. It’s pretty much the only place where talking to stangers is considered normal. For Finns, having a sauna in your home is something considered almost self-evident. It is estimated that there are two million saunas in Finland, which is a lot for a population of 5.3 million. The best way to experience sauna is at a summer cottage by a lake, with a possibility to take a dive in the cool lake water.


A sunset over a lake in Northern Finland

Nature

The Finns live close to nature. Approximately 75% of Finland’s area is covered in forests. Finland is often called “a land of thousand lakes”, which is actually an understatement (which is usual for Finns), considering there’s  over 187 000 lakes in Finland. Where ever you go, nature is close, whether as a small lake or as a piece of forest. The temperatures and climate between different seasons varies a lot. In summer the temperature can climb up to 30 degrees celcius and accordingly during winter it sometimes gets down to -30 degrees. The changes between the seasons require a skill to adapt to different situations, something the Finns have mastered.

No empty words

In most Western cultures people use small talk to avoid awkward moments of silence during a discussion, but not Finns. Moments of silence during a discussion aren’t really considered awkward, and they are certainly considered better than saying something you don’t necessarily mean. For an example, when asked a simple “how are you”, we have a tendency to answer literally.

Cartoon by Karoliina Korhonen

The lack of empty words means that when Finns say something, they almost always actually mean it. Finns are really honest people, and when they say they’re going to do something, they will do it. One of the most important traits for Finns is something called “sisu”, which is a concept of extreme determination and perseveranse.

Nature and good manners

When I think of Finland and what Finnishness means to me the first things that come to my mind are  nature and polite people .

Finland’s nature is one of a kind. Finland is known for its lakes, clean water, clean air and beautiful landscape. What makes Finland’s nature even more beautiful is the 4 seasons. During every season the nature changes and new colors come.

 

Finns are also very polite and have good manners, they don’t yell their orders in cafeterias or push to be the first one to get into the bus. They line up and wait for their turn. Finns are also very trustworthy people, if they promise something you can count on it.

Sports and saunas

Ice hockey, sauna, beer and beautiful landscapes of Finland are the first things to come to my mind when thinking of the word finnishness.

Ice hockey

You would be surprised that the Finnish baseball is actually the national sport. But instead of that almost everyone in Finland breaths the sport called ice hockey. Every year huge part of our population gathers around the pubs, bars and TV’s when Finland is taking part of the International ice hockey world championships. In those two weeks all the media is focused on our national team called “Leijonat”. In that period of time everyone turns into professional analyzers of this great sport. In social media people share photos, memes and highlights of the tournament. Except the matter we have never won the Olympics Finns are pretty good playing this sport. Finland has won three times total the International ice hockey championships, 1995, 2011 and 2019, which was this year!

Finns celebrating at the market square.

Sauna

Sauna might be the most Finnish thing to do and experience, especially in the winter time with the hole in the ice called “avanto”. Nothing beats the feeling going to frozen water after warm sauna. You feel like a newborn after that. Some also says that there is three or even four saunas per capita in Finland. And when you think about all the private and public saunas, cottages and apartment buildings that has a sauna you are not so surprised about the quantity of them anymore.

The quantity of public saunas in Finland.
Sauna and Avanto.

Beer

Alcohol is also combined a lot to these two subjects above. Watching ice hockey with your friends at home or in a public place you could feel an urge to have a beer in your hand. When in sauna you might also need a one good cold beer to accompany you with. If you think closely there is always a good time for one good beer to have with your friends or by yourself. Also “Kalsarikännit” as a word itself is actually invented in Finland which came a viral hit in the world few years back. Yeah, nothing more Finnish than drinking yourself wasted home alone. Beautiful.

Nature

Finnish nature is actually mostly forests and lakes. You actually might have heard about the country of a thousand lakes. That’s Finland. They say Finland has also the one of the world’s cleanest waters. Can’t argue with that. Also almost everywhere you go you always have a forest not far away. There is also a plenty of places to go hiking in Finland. Especially the northern part is full of national parks, paths, forests and mountains to experience.  When arriving to Lapland you cannot miss the reindeer’s hoarding around. Just be cautious when driving a car.

The northern lights in Lapland.

Honest and curious Finns

Moi!

We wanted to open up a Finnish mindset and common behavior. We believe, it is very important to know certain things from Finns before you spent time with them, because we can sometimes be understood wrongly.

A Finnish person may seem like quiet and shy at first, but it is just our way of staying in our comfort zone for a bit longer than in many other cultures. We are listening rather than speaking at first. We don’t want to be in the spotlight or get too much attention, we like to listen other people and think our sentences before we say them. We also need a bit time to figure out what kind of a things we can say in different situations and with different people.

 

 

Finnish people may not speak much, but when they speak, they have something to say. We are not very good at small talk. It is strange to Finns that you ask “how are you” and actually not getting a real answer. We like to go straight to the point and usually if we say something, we mean it. We are very honest and straight with our words, so for some cultures it can be taken as rudeness even though we would not mean to say anything bad.

It might take a while to get to know our spirit, but when you get to know us, you’ll see that our mindset is something everyone can benefit in their lives :).

 

Best regards,

Iida Masonen and Anni Jalli

Sauna and the midnight sun

When I think about Finland and Finnishness the first thing that comes to my mind is sauna.  I don’t think there is a single Finn who has never been to a sauna in their life. It is a place to get  together and relax. In a sauna, you might even hear a Finn talking to a person they don’t know!  For me, sauna has always been an important part of my life. When I was a kid, my family went to the sauna twice a week,  always on the same days, Wednesday and Sunday.

Nothing still beats the good old sauna at a summer cottage. After a nice and relaxing time in the heat of the sauna, it is nice to cool down by jumping into a lake. Sauna and lake are indeed an amazing combination and luckily lakes aren’t hard to find in Finland. We love the combination so much that at wintertime we drill a hole in the ice and jump into the freezing water.  It is also good to bear in mind that in Finland you go to sauna naked. We Finns are very comfortable with nakedness and it is not uncommon to have both men and women together in the sauna naked.

Another thing that came to mind when I thought of Finnishness was summer and in particular the midnight sun. It is amazing how at the summertime everything in Finland comes so alive, even the people! In the south the sun still sets for a short moment, but in the north the sun will not go down at all during midsummer. Sleeping might come a bit harder during summer when your body doesn’t know if it is  day or night, but I absolutely love the amount of light we have during the summer. It is something a Finn must enjoy as much as they can, as the winter that follows won’t have much light to offer.