All posts by Oona Paavilainen

My thoughts on Finnishness

When I describe Finnish people to others, I usually just say that we’re quiet or shy. I don’t personally really think that, but compared to other nations we really seem like it. But I think what really defines us more than “quiet” is “honest”. There’s no need for courtesies or small talk: we just say what we have to say and that’s it. It might come across as shy, quiet or reserved but to me it’s all I need. The concept of small talk was so unfamiliar to me that I’ve really had to put my back into learning it! I still struggle with it from time to time. It’s also hard to tell sometimes if a foreign person is qenuinely interested in talking with me or if it’s just small talk. Usually with Finns I don’t have to worry about that, which is relieving. If somebody asks you how you’re doing and you answer with how you actually feel, it’s only normal and even expected.

Even though the way Finnish people speak can be a little short on words, our language is really versatile. It’s wonderful that a lot of Finnish people can speak many different languages beside Finnish, but sometimes I wonder if others have noticed the beauty of their own language. I find constant joy in all the wonderful little phrases and words that have gained their meaning in the older times but which are still used today. Sometimes while talking I realize what the words we use actually mean. For example “marraskuu” means “November”, but what it literally means is “moon of the dead”, but you never really stop to think about it!

To me Finnishness culminates in how our language could bend into so much to best fit what we’re feeling inside and yet we choose to say so little. Only the necessities.

That… And the completely bright nightless nights when you can just sit on a dock watching insects fly over a lake, hear a faint cuckoo from the forest and smell the smoke coming from the chimney of a sauna. That too.

Summer in Finland, view of a lake