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Finnishness

Finnish are often described quiet and grumpy. It’s probably just because we behave a bit differently in social situations. We don’t have a small talk culture. If you ask a Finnish person how they are doing they will explain you what is actually going on in their life at the moment. In my experience Finnish are very friendly and respectful to others, they just need some time to warm up.

 

Sauna

Finnish love their sauna. It’s also a good way to explain the two sides of being a Finnish person. Sometimes you go there to have some peace and quiet and relax and other times you go in with a group of friends or strangers and socialize with people. It’s a part of your day to day life but it’s also an important part of any celebration like Christmas or Midsummer fest. One thing that seems to be a shock to people from other countries is that we go in naked, but to Finnish it’s completely normal. Usually Finnish respect others personal space and don’t go too near to others. However when you go to sauna suddenly everything changes and you find yourself sitting next to a stranger chatting about life.

 

Endless winter and summer that is too short

I love Finnish summers and I love our white winters (when they are in fact white). But I hate the darkness. It changes everything. During the winters you’re more tired and getting things done is way harder. You could sleep for the hole day. Winter however is really beautiful and when there is snow it isn’t as dark. The best thing to do during winter is going ice skating on a frozen lake or on an ice rink or skiing and then go to a hot sauna after. 

During the summers when the light never goes away you feel super energetic and feel like you can do anything. People are happier during the summer. It’s easier to get to know new persons during the summer. But of course part of it is explained by the fact that you are just able to see more people outside because everyone is not inside hiding from the cold. One thing especially that I love about the summers are the endless amounts of festivals going on everywhere in Finland. I feel like my city alone has some festival going on every week of the summer. One festival especially is interesting. The midnight sun film festival that happens in the north of Finland is something quite unique. It’s in the middle of nowhere in a small village. The films are going on 24 hours a day and the sun doesn’t go down for the hole festival. Nothing else happens in the village during the hole year but for one week of June it’s filled with life. 

This picture is from Midnight sun film festival and it’s taken at 3 am.

 

Finnishness from a Non-Finn

As I am not Finnish, nor am I particularly adept at making friends locally, my idea of Finnishness is mainly based on observations, small everyday life interactions and being absorbed in a Finnish environment within the past few years. Based on that, the following are the 2 things that come to mind the most when I think about what it means to be Finnish.

  1. Social Awkwarness

Having lived in different countries and met different people from many different places in the world (yes, the word “different” comes up a lot), I would say that very few cultures and people would compete with Finland when it comes to social awkwardness. This is a country where sitting on the bus next to someone is its own relam of taboo, and where emotional expression is largely under the jurisdiction of alcohol consumption. Finland strike me as a place where social interaction flows like a river of bricks, and people are as comfortable about it as it sounds. I may make it sound like a bad thing, but as a socially-awkward person there is something rather relaxing about being surrounded by other socially-awkward people in public spaces. There is less of a covert expectations of being outgoing and expressive, which is a problem I had in other countries. In Finland, people are too awkward to not leave you alone to be whatever it is you are, and that is kind of great.

  1. Quiet

Finland is a quiet place. Sometimes it is silent. It is a place where people do not speak loudly or plays obnoxious music on the bus. It is a place where old people don’t tell you their life story if you so much as briefly look at them. It is a place where you can go outside and enjoy the sounds of wind and water, or stay inside and not hear your neighbours complain about who left an empty cardboard of milk in the fridge for the 74th time. In fact, writing this very sentence I am unbothered by the unwanted noise of other people. I am sure that some may find this boring, or in some cases depressing. The darkness of winter and freezing temperatures (though not in this so called “winter” of 2019-2020) are extreme enough for many that the frequent silence becomes unbearable. Personally, I love it, and I wish more people around the world would feel more comfortable to shut up more often.

You may notice that these 2 themes of Finnishness are related. Social-awkwardness is a good facilitator of quiet environements. Quiet environments may attract socially-awakward people. It is my opinion that culture is a lot like a spider web, in the sense that every phenomenon is somehow closely related and connected to another. Finland is no exception.

Finnishness

First things that came to my mind were our ‘national sport’ ice hockey and our different traditional food.

Ice Hockey

Finns are one of the craziest ice hockey nation in the world. In every May, when the World Championship starts, Finns gather together and watch ice hockey. It’s time when the beer flows and everybody is having a good time, at least if Finland is winning matches. One funny phenomenon is that Finns become some kind of ice hockey experts. Suddenly they “know” everything about it. This expertise last about month until Finland drops out from the tournament. The best way to get Finns crazy is winning the whole tournament. After winning the final game thousands of people goes to the market square in Helsinki and celebrate pretty heavily there through the night.

Finnish cuisine

 Finnish has many odd traditional dishes which foreign people can find disgusting. Finns use lots of potatoes, different meats and fishes, milk and wholemeal products such as rye, oats and barley. Traditional dishes are often eaten only in a specific holiday, for example mämmi in Easter.

I gathered a list about typical Finnish dishes and products so you can get familiar with Finnish cuisine.

Sauteed reindeer (poronkäristys) with mashed potatoes and lingonberries

Salmon soup (lohikeitto) with potaoes and vagetables

Fish pasty loaf (kalakukko)

Bread cheese (leipäjuusto) with cloudberry jam

Mämmi Easter dessert pudding (usually served with milk and sugar)

Karelian pasties (Karjalan piirakka)

Salty black liquorice candy (salmiakki) and salmiakki vodka (32% vol)

Something about “Finnishness”

To me the term “Finnishness” means modesty, summers at the summer cottage and everyone being equal. It is also much more, but those three things came to my mind first.

MODESTY

We Finns don’t like to make a number of ourselves or talk loudly in public places. If someone is praising us loudly for something we have done, it can actually make us feel a little uncomfortable. And even though we know that the praise is to the purpose, we need to belittle it a bit. A part of Finnish modesty is to work hard and not to whine about little things. We have respect for each other, and we value modesty highly as a personal quality.

SUMMER COTTAGE -THING

We Finns are nature loving people and even though most of us live in cities nowadays, we do need some privacy and being close to nature, so on summer weekends many of us go to summer cottages. Usually a summer cottage locates on lakeside remote from cities, so it is a perfect place to relax and stop stressing from work, studies or whatever for a while. For me there is no better place to spend my summer weekends than my family’s summer cottage. Also, it is a perfect place to go to the sauna and have this famous “personal space” that the stereotypical Finn needs.

One summer night with friends at our summer cottage.

EQUALITY

For me the best thing in Finland and Finnishness is the fact that everyone is equal. We value each other as equals despite one’s gender, religion, origin or whatever. Our sense of justice is fair, and we all are on the same line according to law. We have free education and health care, so it doesn’t matter what your social status is, everyone has an opportunity to become what they want and live healthy life. Nice, huh?

Finnishness

When I’m thinking the people and the society around myself here in Finland, first things (or attributes) I would bring up are reliability and friendliness. In other countries people have stereotypes that Finns are not friendly, because we don’t always talk too much and are not approachable. In my opinion those stereotypes are just false claims, because we just don’t want to reveal too much ourselves before we know if we can trust the other person. When you get that trust and loyalty with a Finnish person, you know you probably have a friend for the rest of your life.

Other thing that describes Finnishness well is the surviving of our four semesters; spring, summer, autumn and of course the endless winter. All semesters have their own kind of “theme”. For example, in winter we really love that sauna, hot tub and ice swimming combo. Not to mention outdoor ice hockey and cross-country skiing.  Spring is the time of the year, when the dark and cold winter is ending, nature is getting green and people are waiting for summer. Summer is probably the most exciting time of the year, most people having their summer holidays and heading to their cottages near lake or sea. It’s a shame that summer is so short here in Finland. Last but not least, autumn. Nature turns into some kind of color palette, because all the leaves change their colors and fall down in the streets. Day is getting shorter and weather is rainy and chilly. Also, between September and October people are starting to dig their Christmas decorations out from their cabinets to get ready for Christmas.

Finnishness

When I think about Finnishness, thoughts that come to my mind are all the opposites we have. I mean at least for myself I can say that I love to be all by myself in the nature and peace, but also going out with my friends and having a good time. We have winters with the even -30 degrees weather and summers when the temperature sometimes rises up to +30 degrees (in both cases we are able to go swimming in the lake :D). Many of us love the dark and salty liquorice but also the taste of light and sweet vanilla.

 

Of course these are just some random examples, but I think it shows that we have variation in our lives. Many may think (probably mostly Finnish people themselves) that we are just average people who live a very monotonous or unvaried life, but I think that we don’t always realize how varied our life is. I believe that we are just used to all the things happening around us, such as the four completely different seasons (ALWAYS check the weather forecast before leaving the house).

Anyways, I really appreciate Finland as my home country. I have been able to grow in a land that has a lot to offer in a safe and open way.

Finnishness – nature and safety

For me the Finnishness means quietness and safety. In Finland we have plenty of land, but we do not have many people living in here and that is why our population density is pretty small compared to many other countries. Quietness and nature both are a big part of Finnishness and these things might be the most common things I would mention when needed to describe Finland and Finnishness. It is so easy to find a place where to be alone and listen to the silence. In Finland I enjoy that here is a lot of forests and lakes. It is quite confusing to think that even in Helsinki you do not need to drive for more than 10 minutes and you will find a forest where to walk and clear your mind. For me especially forests are important because I like to be in the nature and be active. There is nothing more relaxing than running or skiing in the forest and afterwards go into a sauna with ice cold beer and go ice swimming.

                             

Another thing that is important to me is the safety I feel in here. In Finland the crime statistics are quite low, but I do not know is that the only reason why Finland feels safe and even tourists feels safe while they are travelling in here. I am sure that the safety is one of the things which I will miss when living abroad. Here in Finland, I do not need to look back even if I am walking alone at 4 am in the dark streets of Tampere. In Finland it is quite easy to trust people, for example in trains you can easily leave your bags to your seat while you crab a coffee from the restaurant, and you do not have to worry that there are people who is trying to steal your bags.

 

Finnishness – Freedom, Equality and Nature

When I’m thinking what Finnishness really means to me these things come in to my mind first: freedom, equality and clean, beautiful nature.

Finland is an independent country where we have a freedom to choose. The state gives us good basis for living. We have a free education and Kela gives benefits and support for families, pensioners, sickness, the unemployed and students. We have free municipal health services for people under 18 and after that costs also are low compared to other countries. In our country woman can be a president and we have the democracy.

We have four seasons in Finland which differs quite a lot. In summer the days are long and at the midsummer the sun doesn’t go down. Summer is the time of the light. There are a lot of flowers and green trees everywhere. My favorite thing in summer time is go to sauna and swim in the lake (and there are lot of lakes in Finland). After that we usually make food in the grill outside and play “Mölkky” together, the game where you try to push over the wooden blocks of numbers with a block of wood. Okay, it sounds very weird when explaining that… Anyway, don’t forget to go to the marketplace and buy some strawberries, peas and early potatoes. The best smells in the summer are just cut grass and the moment after the summer rain.

In autumn the nature shows its wonderful colors! The migratory birds prepare their travel to south and most of the animals prepare their nests for the hibernation. The nature offers berries, mushrooms and grains. The days get shorter, darker and colder and we are moving forward to winter.

In winter there are snow and frost outside. In the evening or night time you might see the northern lights outside. Winter is time to ski and ice-skate (Finns loves ice-hockey!). A real winter wonderland you can experience in Lapland. Go and meet Joulupukki in Rovaniemi, sleep in a glass igloo, swim in the ice hole, take a husky safari and pack hot cocoa to the thermo and wander to the tipi-like hut.

In spring the nature is waking up again and the snow has melted. Cleanliness and freshness describe the spring time. “Hiirenkorvat” or the new leaves are coming to the trees and catkins have their time to cheer up the nature.

Greatness of Finnishness

It is not my first time living abroad, and before for me Finnishness has always been about food and nature. Main things I always miss are the dark bread, sauna and quiet forest. Maybe it is the fact that those things are also available here, I can find “hapankorppu”, “salmiakki” and “savulohi”, also in Germany. I can go to sauna, and the nature in the Alps offers me the quietness, calmness and fresh air I love. So, for the first time, these kinds of things are close to me.

Then what does it mean, this Finnishness now for me?

I have been learning German and struggling with genders of the words. We don’t have that in our language. Our language is equal in a very unique way. I know, it’s in many languages the genders, it’s always been like that and so on, I know, I don’t need a lecture about that.

It is just an insight, that we don’t have that, and I am very proud of it.

It makes many things easier, it makes our country also even more equal in my eyes. We don’t need to define anyone’s gender, workers, family members or friends. We are free from defining us because of the language requires us. We can be whatever we want to be.

Overall this freedom of speech we are having, freedom of being individuals and speak out. When living in Finland, we always talk about how we need to be more forward, be more politically open and so on, but trust me; we are very ahead, in many things! In how many countries could government be run by young women?

Our whole society is so advanced when it comes to digitalization, it phenomenal! Everything is smoothly working, after few clicks you can do most of the official things instead of queuing in various office buildings. Information about important things is available in many languages. And not to even start to talk about sustainable development, and the actions towards it. How our work life and study life is done, how we believe in open conversation, teachers and student are equal and we are being encouraged to think ourselves and to question the knowledge we get. There is no more old-fashioned stiff way to talk, addressing people with their titles and last names.

So for me Finnishness is state of open mind, creativity, equal mindset and freedom.

Finland, The Land of Darkness and Light

Personally, when I think of Finland and the culture I was born and raised in, I think of the straight-forward attitude of people and the untouched nature, but also the crippling sense of loneliness. I’ve had many conversations with people both Finnish and foreign, about how Finnish people are raised to not make noise of ourselves. You have to always go with the safest option, to not take too big of a risk, to stick to what you’re used to. Finnish people are encouraged to be introverted, calm, quiet. A loud person is commonly frowned upon. This kind of mentality creates a lot of shy people, and with a lot of shy people, no one makes connections and people become lonely. When we don’t encourage expressive communication, we stop expressing our emotions. And then it turns into loneliness that can lead to depression that can lead to substance-abuse, something Finnish folk are notorious for. It is the dark side of this dark country.
I realize this is a very heavy image to portray of my culture, but it’s something I think about often and I believe it’s not talked about enough.

On the brighter side, this kind of sullen way of our people can also create unexpected connections. Finnish folk like to make fun of the depressive state of our personal nature, and humour is what truly brings our people together. It can be seen even on this blog: many of the posts feature “Finnish Nightmares”, the humorous comic about Finns struggling to be social. The humour is often tied to the straight-forward honesty that Finnish people value. It’s like in our very nature to tell the truth, no matter how it looks like. And that is something I cherish in Finnishness.

Here’s an uncannily Finnish picture of my brothers from this past Yule. I think it fits into this theme wonderfully.