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Little parts of Finnishness

Travelling to and living in different countries can really make you appreciate the culture you have grown up with. At least for me that is the case. Listed below are a few “features” of Finnishness which I really appreciate especially compared to other cultures and countries.

Personal space

One unique feature of Finnish culture is the value of personal space, as shown in the picture below. This actually is a common sight at bus stops in Finland and it is hard for some people from other cultures to understand. A part of Finnishness is appreciating the quiet moments and not feeling the pressure to socialize if it is not necessary.

People can just quietly pass each other and still acknowledge the person they are passing,  in the Finnish culture, without it being considered rude. In some other cultures it is common to greet people on the street or  at the bus stop, this is considered common courtesy. For example passing a person in a supermarket at an aisle in the US, they would say “Excuse me”, this was strange to me because there was plenty of room for them to pass and in Finland people would just quietly pass behind the person.

This ties into the lack of small talk in the Finnish culture and a key part of Finnishness for me. People can take the same bus with the same people for a year and never talk to each other because there is no pressure for that. This might be perceived as shyness or being rude which might be hard to explain to other people. Instead it should be considered as a good feature in people, because once a Finn starts a conversation with someone else it usually has a purpose and is not just forced small talk. Also when asking someone how they are, a Finn truly wants to know how have you been and are expecting a better answer than just “good”.

 

Nature

The other thing I really appreciate in Finland is the nature. I know this is a common answer among Finns but there is not many places that have similar nature opportunities like in Finland. You do not need to go far to find a quiet piece of nature, even if it is just the park or a small patch of forest. There are always trails near by where you can for example take your dog for a walk and it is not hard to find.

The distinctive four seasons are also very valued here, even if the summer is short and winter is dark. I could not imagine myself living somewhere where I could not experience both the warmth of summer and the beauty of snowy winter.

These are the things that come to mind when talking about Finnishness to myself. I hope people visiting Finland get to experience these in a positive way and Finns remember to appreciate these features even in the darkest times of winter.

Performativity: dealing with cultural stereotypes by living up to them

One can come across the term ‘performativity’ in many fields of study ranging from anthropology to economy and linguistics, but I heard it for the first time in my course on Central European cinemas. We were discussing national cinemas and how might they reflect their source cultures, and in this context the term means something along these lines: to emphasize, through one’s own action, typical stereotypes and traits associated with one’s national culture.

Something clicked in my head. I remembered the times I had felt a bit uneasy witnessing Finnish people, especially when they’re abroad, engaging in a performance of ‘being Finns’. Or the many times I had done it myself. How lovely that other nations share this hobby as well! (The cinematic culture we deemed extra-performative was, by the way, Slovakia.)

 

 

Ritual costume helps with the performance.
Czechoslovak actresses ridiculing gender roles by performing exaggerated versions of the emotional, hysteric, non-rational roles society gives to women. Věra Chytilová, Daisies (1966).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performativity can be a nice, humorous way of dealing, through self-ridicule, with partly accurate stereotypes, especially the not so flattering ones. If you cannot deny it, embrace it. So when my Balkan friend teased me for my perceived ‘Finnish negativity’ I decided to play along, perform, and proudly linked him this article about toxic positivity. Damn right we’re negative: positivity kills!

Learning this term helped me also, for example, to contextualize the innumerable Finnish films sharing one or (usually) more of these national traits: nudity, being drunk, fighting, and fighting naked while being drunk. “If this is what they think of us, here comes” seems to be the motivation of authors producing this kind of content.

A case study of the performative traits of Finnish cinema:

Having this new perspective in my arsenal hasn’t made me necessarily love the beforementioned traits or their portrayal in Finnish culture. But seeing that this play with negative stereotypes is an international phenomenom makes it maybe less red-neckey and more.. symphatetic. We’re not alone!

Kippis sille!

Pakistani way of enjoying Finnishness

When talking about Finland often you will see people talking about how they are introverts and how boring it can get in Finland, if you do not know how to have fun that might be true.

Being a person who was born and raised in the hot region of Saudi Arabia while being from Pakistan, I already had a pretty high tolerance for weather and different kinds of people. Coming to Finland was more of an adventurous experience for me, with a mindset of achieving what I had in mind and making loads of connections which was a must given the studies at TAMK.

There are a lot habits I may have picked up on to better understand Finland and enjoy its all year round winter and most importantly keeping yourself warm and motivated in such weather. Although, coming from a hot place such as Saudi, my cold tolerance should have been little to none but even my Finnish friends are surprised as to how much I can take tolerate. On the other hand, I just believe Finnish people have low tolerance for cold at least the Finns in my circle.

MUNKKI

Image result for munkki

This treat that is much more than just a sugar coated doughnut is the perfect combination with your morning coffee. Although I have not seen a lot of Finns do that but I guess I can get a bit creative when it comes to mixing up cultures and creating new combinations in general. Of course one is not enough and if you eat too much then you would be ruining your summer body, luckily for you there is a lot of time until summer, here in Finland. A fun challenge could be, as the famous saying goes you are a legend if you can eat munkki without licking your lips (as in cleaning the sugar that gets stuck to your lips and mouth), Try it the next time you have one or the first time you have one!

 

AVANTO

What I am about to tell you is going to blow your mind and you might think that is crazy talk but here in Finland we actually can prove that nothing is crazy talk we do crazy on daily basis. One of the best activities and a great way to bond with your friends or friends you just made is to go to Avanto. Although I am not quite sure what the activity is called but my friends and I have been calling it Avanto and that’s what we would like to call it for forever more. This is also a very interesting activity as you may learn a lot about your new friend circle or just a great way to better understand your friends and their personalities.

So imagine having -15 degrees which is not a lot in Finnish scale and image there is a hole in the lake within the ice/snow and you have a sauna that is almost always 95 degrees hot, now imagine combining these into a crazy adventurous activity cycle that lasts for usually an hour. Apart from the health benefits you can gain from such an exercise, you need to have certain amounts of guts and daredevil attitude to do something crazy like this. You start off by taking a shower and then relaxing in the sauna when you feel your body is  getting to hot or you feel as in you have enjoyed enough then you go to the hole or body of water in ice which is actually warmer than the temperature outside (usually 1-3 degrees) and you take a dip. I have not dip my head in the water all these years but I have been told you feel like you might pass out so remember, other than your head you can go crazy and dip in for as long as you want and then you come out (not to forget all of this happens outside so the -15 is not a foreign factor playing a part but your best pal in a way). After the dipping and if everything including your hair hasn’t already frozen and is about to fall you go back into the sauna and basically “melt off” and relax.

Although you can repeat the cycle as much as you want but do remember to take some sausages with you to fully enjoy the experience and needless to say all this hot and cold mess is going to make you very hungry. Image result for avanto

SOLU

I still remember having a group with my friends called SoluBois, but this if you know TAMK you would know where to get your free coffee from and if you did not know, well now you know. Not only is it a place to just get free coffee but the Student Lounge is so relaxing and calming that it does give you a bit of extra motivation during your lecture breaks. I have been in various parts of the world in very interesting situations but Solu is by far the best place to meet new and interesting people, where you do have the sign of “No discrimination” but you still do discuss heavy politics and in general heavy topics with a person you JUST met. Of course all of that while respecting the other person and keeping it a healthy debate, however, time spent in Solu has definitely made it worth the while and almost certainly guarantees a smile on your face even if you have 10 minutes to spare.

My advice would be, before listening to people’s opinion about how boring it can get and how there is almost nothing to do in Finland try the activities locals do, the culture is filled with different sorts of vibrant and colourful stuff even if the weather is not so colorful. Definitely, trying avanto will grant you a lifetime experience and will certainly introduce something about your personality that you were not aware of.

Also don’t forget to eat a lot of munkkis and drink a lot of coffee so that you are hydrated and warm within your winter jacket.

Finnishness Through My Lens

The People

I’m always impressed by the honesty and kindness of Finnish people. I still remembered the first day I came to Finland which was three years ago. Arrived alone at the airport in Joensuu, I did not know what to do next after picking up my luggage. I just stood, looked around and found very few people at the airport. I had to ask for help from the airport supervisor to call for a taxi. He was willing to lend me his phone and assisted me with putting my stuff into the car. When I reached my place, I met my flatmate who was also a Fin. She was friendly and always tried to create the warm atmosphere to welcome me as a newcomer. We were talking a lot about our own cultures and why we decided to stay in this city. To be honest, on my first day in Finland, I felt homesick a little bit in the first place, but then I felt warm after meeting the local people who were always hospitable towards the visitors. Another thing to mention is what I learned from my university. I attended a course which was called “Intercultural Communication”. My Finnish teacher said that a Fin was very honest and straight. If they complimented someone on something, they really meant it. On the other hand, if they were not satisfied with anything, they might show their expression on their face or tried not to talk about it. And I love this character of the Finnish as I thought, although sometimes it might be frank, I still preferred what would be real, coming from the bottom of the heart. Moreover, when I moved to Tampere from Joensuu, I got help from a Finnish old lady on my first day to TAMK. At that time, I did not acknowledge about the bus schedule system in Tampere so I was lost. Luckily, the old lady was enthusiastic to help me although she only spoke Finnish. She was supposed to get off to her place, but she still stayed with me until the end of the trip. When we got off the bus number 3 to catch another bus to TAMK, she held my hand and said in Finnish. I knew some Finnish and said “Kiitos paljon” to her. I just felt like I was her niece and taken care by a grandmother. I felt grateful to receive help from the local people in Finland.

The Winter

There is a joke on Facebook, “When months in Finland are different to months elsewhere”.

Source: Very Finnish Problem – Facebook

It means that the winter in Finland lasts for months, more than six months. Everything will be covered by the white snow and the darkness will dominate the whole thing for such a long time when it comes to winter. To be honest, I get depressed from time to time because of the coldness and silence. However, I still know how to enjoy the winter here. If it’s cold, I’ll go to sauna to warm myself up. Sauna is part of Finnish culture and Finland is the homeland of sauna. I love the heat, sitting by the heated stone in one corner and pouring the water down the stone. I don’t know if anyone has tried this before. It’s kind of going to the winter lake, dimming oneself into it and then go for a sauna and just take turn like that. If you stay in Finland, you should definitely try that once. 

Joensuu Polar Bear – Source: Joensuun Jääkarhut

Besides, another winter activity I love most is sledging. At first, I was very scared, but after that I got used to it and tried doing it many times. I also take an interest in walking on the frozen lake although I am afraid that this activity might be dangerous. I feel like I have a superpower to step on the water. I find it interesting to walk on the lake because it will save time to go from place to another.

Sledging in winter – Source: Google

The Landscape

Finland is considered to be the land of thousand lakes. Everywhere I go, I always see lakes. I never row a boat on the lake, but only stand on the bridge and look at the surroundings, especially in summer. The atmosphere is fresh, I can smell the lake and the trees.

Pyhäselkä in summer – Source: Taken by me

The view is bright with the sunlight and blue sky, but in winter, the lake will be covered with white snow.

Pyhäselkä in winter – Source: Taken by me

In autumn, I love the yellow leaves falling down from the trees. It looks romantic. Yes, it is indeed. I also want to take a rest at the lake again to enjoy watching the breathtaking view again. I can see that the lake view is quite typical in Finland. It is different from other places that I have ever been to. I find it peaceful and colorful with blue and green. It gives a relaxing atmosphere whenever I feel depressed.

Autumn trees – Source: Taken by me

 

Finnishness from the viewpoint of a German

I still remember how people looked at me when I told them that I am going to live in Finland. And even after three years I still hear myself explaining why I didn’t choose a warm country with sunny beaches. The questions are always the same: Isn’t it very cold and dark there? Is the language really so hard to learn? Are the Finns really so quiet and restrained?

To be honest, the long darkness is a serious struggle for me and the Finnish language often drives me close to insanity.

However, this does not define Finnishness for me.

For me, Finnishness means:

Nature: Wherever you go in Finland, the next lake or forest is always close by. In Germany, if you are living in a bigger city, you often need to drive somewhere to be in nature and the few lakes we have are usually overrun with people.

 

 

Sauna: When I was a child I sometimes went to public saunas in Germany, but I never really enjoyed them. First of all, people must be naked (also in mixed saunas) and secondly, others will look sharply at you if you make a single sound. In Finland going to the sauna is more like an event where people are not only relaxing, but also socializing. Since I am living in Finland, I became a true sauna fan – especially during the cold winters.

 

 

 

 

Hospitality: Finns often seem very quiet, but their hospitality overrides this restraint. Before my studies I worked as au pair in a Finnish host family and from the first moment I felt welcomed there. During this year I received several visits from friends and family and my host family was always very happy to meet my guests and usually invited them to their summer cabin.

 

 

Finnishness in a foreign explorer’s eyes.

It’s kind of funny to be an international student studying abroad and go on exchange because I have to write the blog as if Finland is my home country, or I don’t.

After living in the 3rd country including my home country Vietnam, I have explored so many things about the world and people and myself. Even this year’s experience changed me so much that this blog would have been so different if I would have written it at the beginning of my exchange, but as usually procrastination won and things got in the way and now I’m spending my free days at the end of it writing EVERYTHING.

To the point, what is Finnishness for me?

Kindness and genuineness

Of course, there are different people everywhere but I believe in general the majority of Finnish people will return a wallet to the owner if they can. Or else how can this country be so peaceful? I forgot my wallet at the printer at TAMK overnight twice and always got it back at the info desk. Finland gained my trust in people but also spoiled me as it made me less cautious of the “dangerous world” out there.

Incredibly freezing winter

Experiencing half a year of snow then was so extreme that I don’t think I will ever forget the filling cycling across the city when it covered in snow or how my hand freeze after few second without a glove on. Being away for a year after 2 years spending winter in Finland, I did miss it quite a bit.

SAUNA

This is the thing I miss the most when I’m away. When I was in Vietnam, it was already so hot that I’m afraid of sauna but in Finland, it was so cold that it makes me freaking love sauna. I think, sitting in a sauna is meditation, I’m not patient enough to meditate myself but when you sit in a sauna, it’s so hot that you just want to sit there and breath. I also love the feeling when you go out to the freezing temperature and your body is still hot like a piece of coal from the sauna.

Summer sunset

I’m from the capital city in Vietnam where it’s packed with houses and building. The only place we can see the most of the sunset is near the biggest lake in Hanoi, West Lake, which is not even as big as Säijänselkä lake. I enjoyed every single time watching the sunset from Rauhaniemi where I used to live. When the sky is clear, the water is still, reflecting the orange ball slowly slides under the skyline. But the sun is too strong it can’t hide in the summer as you still see the light move under the skyline.

 <3Chi

Finnish pastries

A topic that isn’t much talked about is Finnish pastries. Finland has got some really unique sweet recipes that you can’t find almost anywhere else in the world. In this blog post I’ll introduce you to a few of them.

Tippaleipä
Tippaleipä is a pretty odd looking pastry that you traditionally eat on May Day (1st of May). Tippaleipä is a funnel cake and the name means “drip bread” which refers to how it is made. You make them by dripping cake batter into hot oil and serve them covered with powdered sugar and sima, which is a lemon-flavored mead. Tippaleipä can be very messy to eat so be careful while snacking on it! 🙂

Lusikkaleipä
Literally translated as spoon cookie, lusikkaleipä is a fine textured buttery cookie that is filled with jam or marmalade and covered in sugar. The name of the cookie comes from how it is shaped; you press the batter into a deep oval teaspoon and form the who halves of the cookie.

Lätty and pannukakku
Lätty (also known as lettu or ohukainen in Finnish)  is something you can find in almost every country but every part of the world makes them differently. Lätty is a thin pancake that is very popular in Finland. You could translate it as a crepe, but classic crepes are much thinner and made of a less buttery batter than hot the Finnish version is made. Pannukakku translates directly as pancake, but the way Finnish people make pannukakku differs from many countries; in Finland you fill the whole oven tray in batter and cook it in the oven.

Runebergintorttu
The Runeberg torte is a Finnish pastry that is flavored with almonds and topped with raspberry jam and icing. The pastry is named after the Finnish poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-1877) and are sold in Finnish grocery stores from the beginning of January to Runeberg’s birthday on February 5th when they’re traditionally also served in schools across the country. It is said that it was Runeberg’s wife Fredrika who created this desert and the very first version of it was made out of scraps she could find in her kitchen.

Korvapuusti
Korvapuusti is Finland’s version of cinnamon rolls and the shape of this pastry is unique to our country. Where some countries like to drizzle icing on top of their cinnamon buns, here we like to top them with pearl sugar. Fun fact: the 4th of October is the national korvapuusti day in Finland.

Joulutorttu
Joulutorttu, meaning Christmas tart, is a traditional Christmas food in Finland. The jam in the middle of the pastry is usually plum jam. The traditional shape resembles a star or a windmill but you can get really creative when making them.

There are many other varieties of traditional Finnish pastries (hint: google pulla and mokkapala for example,  and don’t blame me if you start drooling). Why aren’t these sweets known around the world? I feel like Finnish people don’t really like to brag and and since we live so secluded from the rest of the world these pastries haven’t really been recognized in many countries. Promoting Finnish pastries is something we should definitely try to do more, go and tell the world about the greatness of pulla and korvapuusti!

I hope this post inspired you to do some more research about Finnish food or maybe try baking something yourself! All images have been found from Google’s image search. Didn’t bake any of them myself, sorry. 🙁

The culture and the feel of Finland. My experience of Finnishness through them

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.

What’s it like being a Finn – the most distinctive features which explain “Finnishness”

When someone comes up to me and asks me where I’m from, I automatically answer “I am from Finland. You know, the country up in the north. Near Sweden and Russia.” After hearing that, people often look at me slightly confused. I don’t look at all like a typical Finn. I am dark eyed, have dark brown hair and my skin is a warm caramel tone. I am half Finnish and half Sri Lankan. However, I have lived most of my life in Finland. I own a Finnish passport and I consider myself very much a Finn.

I consider myself a Finn, because I consider Finland as my home country. I have grown up with Finnish culture and I can find some very distinctive features and characteristics in me, that all Finn have. Those features are what makes Finns special.

   

Very often Finns are described as introvert and shy. However, I find this to be just a wrong interpretation of character. To me, Finns are original. We are genuine. As people, Finns are very modest and feel more comfortable not being the centre of attention. I can relate to that. I see quiet, modest Finns as people who respect others and who are truthful and honest about how they feel. I truly admire this trait about Finns and feel sad that we are often wrongly understood.

Another thing about Finns, that is very distinctive, is our sincere love for nature. In Finland we are surrounded by outstandingly beautiful forests and lakes. We all love going to the countryside and having our own private moments away from the cities and having to be with other people. Finns enjoy simplicity and also need private space, which is very often something I can understand myself, since I feel the need for it too. Finns find beauty in the smallest of things and respect nature. That is something very true to “Finnishness”.

Finnishness is appreciation of clear water and clean air. Loving the summery field landscapes while on a road trip. Longing for quiet moments in the woods. Missing the seasons change. Finnishness is longing for the warm rays of summer sunshine, as well as the refreshing feeling after a summer storm. Finnishness is loving the new snow that twinkles and blue moments during winter. Sitting by a warm fire, huggled up in a knit and a pair of wool socks. Enjoying the soft warmth of the sauna. Finnishness is loving warm rye bread, milk coffee and Fazer chocolate.

With all of the things listed above, I think one of the most important aspects of being a Finn is how well educated we all are. Also, Finnishness is knowing how to live in a country with a culture where everyone has equal rights and people are treated fairly.

 

My Experiences of Finnishness

We finns are often described as shy and untalkative persons. Well, I do think it is true that it takes time for us finns to come to trust other people so that we can start to open up to them. I wouldn’t say however, that we are untalkative. Once we get to know other people we talk as much as anyone from any other country.

It is common though, that when finnish people are having a conversation, it is polite to wait until the coversation partner has ended their speech before the other one starts to talk. Some people might consider this being untalkative even though we only belive this to be the polite way to have a conversation.

What comes to the shy part, I think the common opinion of us is quite wrong. We are not shy at all. When having a night out, we often go to sauna. And in sauna, we are naked often men and women at the same time also. Now, I would imagine that this can not be considered shy nor should it be. Sauna is something we finns cherish, and something we are proud of. All the shyness there might be to us, fades away when it comes to sauna.

I would also say, that finnish people are quite dependable. We might not talk to strangers alot, nut when one becomes our friend we defend them and when ever necessary we help them in every way we can.

All in all I think the common opinion of us is quite wrong and we finns are worth getting to know to.