Finland? It’s somewhere up in the north, right? Isn’t it like really cold all the time? Quite typical questions to be said by foreigners after telling them where I come from. The world seems to be quite unaware as to where Finland is or what even is there. Of course, during the past few years, the most enthusiastic global citizens of the world seem to be slowly realizing the high potential of for example the Finnish nature and design.
Those people in the know of the wonderful things Finland has to offer, usually agree on how underappreciated Finland is. Overall people seem to have heard about Finland in terms of primary education, mobile games or the drinking culture. All true in their own nature, but they usually give rather lopsided image of Finnish people and the prominent characteristics. It is true that some Finnish people are very quiet and unsocial, some even rude as the quietest are often understood by foreigners. But definitely not all of Finland.
People in Finland might be more introverted than in many other places around the world, and people here are used to being quiet in a social situation. In my opinion Finnish people are quite composed and very rational in their decisions, and when something is said, it is actually meant. When foreigners casually ask, “how are you?” as a part of a greeting, Finnish people will likely start actually telling about their current mood instead of just automatically answering something they don’t really mean. While being rational Finnish people do still care deeply, and are very warm and welcoming. When you get to know Finnish people better on a personal level, prepare for in depth conversations about any topics.
There is definitely a Finnish mindset and mentality amongst Finnish people. It is actually scarily easy to spot another Finn in a crowd around the world, and with one look with them you can easily show how you are feeling then and there.
The vibrant yet serene nature, the innovative design, the technological expertise and much more should be broadcasted to the world, so Finland could be recognized as an overall interesting and diverse country.
“If you’ve ever met a Finn, chances are they’ve mentioned the reserved nature of their countrymen. Be not afraid – we’re not taciturn brutes. Finns are talkative and hospitable, but the myth of the withdrawn Finn is still alive and well inside Finland. And Finns, with their self-deprecating wit, will be the first to let foreigners in on it. An example of a Finnish joke: “An introverted Finn looks at his shoes when talking to you; an extroverted Finn looks at your shoes”.
That is what webpage www.visitfinland.com wants to tell tourists who are planning to go to Finland. Most of the people (even the Finns themselves) really think that Finns are not only shy and introvert but also anti-social or even rude to strangers. The stereotype of Finns being closeminded and stone-faced is partly true, but it is also extremely important to remember that in every culture there are also a lot of different kind of personalities. To reduce these prejudices, I’d like to introduce you a few Finnish celebrities who are not the most typical Finns.
Sara Maria Forsberg, also known as SAARA or Smoukahontas
Sara Forsberg became famous on March 2014 after posting a video “What Languages Sound like to Foreigners” on Youtube. Forsbergs ability to mimic accents and speech melodies of different languages is something very remarkable, especially when she happens to be from country where people are terribly shy to use their language skills. Now the video has been seen over 20 million times and she is doing an international music career after becoming famous on Youtube.
Are Finnish people defined by silence? Not all of them:
Next time someone calls Finnish people boring and shy, they have to meet a Finnish singer and songwriter Alma. Usually her look is daring, defiant and stands in the face of fashion norms and current trends. Her top hits are also a perfect example of Finnish music that success abroad, and she didn’t even make rock music to break through internationally. Enough reasons to be proud of her!
At the end of 2014, the average size of a family in Finland was 2.8 persons. There are a lot of Finns who come home after a long, hard day at work and want not to be bothered by anyone. Most Finns live alone or at least without children cause they like their own space even it may seem lonely at times. But there are exceptions. Tanja-Licciardo Toivola is a Finnish vlogger who has ten children and is married to their father. And when you look at her videos you can see that her family is anything but withdrawn, shy or introvert.
Those are only few examples why we should focus on one’s personality more than stereotypes.
I asked my friend what finnishness means to him. His answer was: ruisleipää ja salmiakkia. Rye bread and salty liquorice. Personally I hate salmiakki, so that does not belong to my finnishness. What finnishness means to me? That’s hard question because I always say I was born to wrong country because I hate snow and cold weather. I’m from Tornio, Lapland, so winter sports are familiar. I am not outdoors person, but I appreciate our pure nature. I appreciate the solitude what nature gives us. And I love sauna.
I’m not stereotypical Finn; I talk a lot and I am loud. I am open to new experiences, I don’t drink that much and I don’t listen heavy metal. For me finnishness is stubbornness. And we are very proud. Sometimes (read: usually) those two things are same. Finnishness to me is night less nights, midsummer, dark humor, honesty, melancholy and turkish pepper candy. Also we have this thing called sisu. There is not English word for sisu, but it means determination regardless of cost, so we don’t give up easily. And that trait makes me proud to be Finn.
I will do my training in hotel named Viura, Logroño, Spain. I am bit nervous because Spanish people are quite different than we finns. And I will miss finnish solitude, rye bred and sauna. I’m sure I will learn many things abroad about my future profession, Spain and myself , but mostly I think I will appreciate finnishness eaven more.
Sitting on a deck by a still lake, you can hear the calm water dancing beneath you. Sun has just set and the sky is still red, giving the lake a warm appearance. You can see some black shapes of birds flying around and hear their occasional croaks getting delivered over the water. Evening swim was relaxing but it is starting to feel a bit cold outside, it is time to leave. While walking up the wooden planks back to the warm cottage the wind is picking up and giving life to birch leaves all around. You get inside and pick up a piece of Donald Duck that aired 25 years ago.
Finland is a country of lakes and cottages. It is a special atmosphere that you can feel at a cottage. It differs between people and their own cultures. For some it is the feeling of connection they get when drinking and swimming through the night while getting stuffed with grilled sausages. Others get their doze of Finnishness by finding the coziest corner with a pile of old-ass comics while listening to the wind through thin windows.
It is not that uncommon to warm up the cottage during winter time either. In the winter you can take a swim in an ice cold lake, build an ice skating area or ski around. We used to have a tradition to make the best sledging hills to slide down in big groups and play ice hockey on a pond.
Cottages are a way to get away from the urban life and relax. That is why they often are close by the lakes or at least forests. Wherever you go in Finland, you can usually see nature around you. Finland without vast forests and lakes would not be Finland. In my opinion Finnishness is strongly connected to our surroundings, which just happen to be something more than grey cubes.
Often when meeting people from different countries I come across with the question about Finnish education system. Questions like “What is in it, that it’s so good?” or “What is the difference that makes it the best in the hole World?” Even though Finland is a tiny country in the North, it is known for its World’s best scholar system all over the world. Why? Well here are some main points about Finnish education system that make our schools so good:
Finland offers high-class and affordable early childhood education for all kids. Before going to school, every child must attend preschool where they learn by playing and get a good base for actual school. Compulsory education starts at the age of 7 and ends after the elementary school. Finnish children start their school comparatively late at the age of 7. In many other countries, children start school at the age of 5 or even earlier.
After the 9-year elementary school students can decide between high school and vocational education that offers a wide range of qualifications. Even though it is not compulsory, almost every student goes on to secondary education. It is also possible to combine high school and vocational education.
Compared to other countries, Finnish students have a lot less homework and school days are shorter. The idea is that students can focus better in school when they have plenty of time to do other things that are important to child’s development. Students have subjects like PE, music, arts etc. that are excellent to make the brains work better. Also the Finnish school year is one of the shortest in Western countries.
Students in Finland don’t have standardized tests. All school in Finland are equal and private schools don’t exist. It has been said that the neighborhood school is the best school.
Teachers in Finland are highly respected, and it require a master’s degree to be able to teach. Teachers spend less time teaching in class rooms, so they will have more time to develop their own teaching strategies and finding ways to meet students’ learning needs.
Finnish food respects traditions. There are few traditional dish and they are rarely eaten on a daily basis. These are often regional, associated with older generations or confined to a specific holiday. Example: Mämmi (It’s traditional sweet dish, which especially eaten at Easter. Its mainly made from water, rye malt and rye flour.)
Most popular meats in Finland are pork, beef, chicken and duck. In Lapland, the greatest delicacy is the sautéed reindeer.
Arctic wild berries are distinctively featured in Finnish cuisine with their strong and unique flavor and high nutrient content. In summer you can eat fresh berries and dried or froze at other times of year. Its very common to go picking berries straight from the forests. You can use berries in pies, smoothies or eat as such. Also various species of mushrooms grow in abundance in Finnish forests. Chanterelles and ceps pop up after Midsummer and are popular in the whole country. Mushrooms are used in sauces, soups, stews, pie fillings or simply fried in a pan. In winter they are preserved by pickling or drying.
Finnish bread is mostly dark and fiber-rich rye bread. Breads are made from grains like barley, oat, rye and wheat or by mixing different grits and flours. One popular and oldest traditional pasties is Karelian pasties. Most familiar and common version is has a thin rye crust with a filling of rice porridge. Karelian pasties are served with spread made of butter and hard boiled eggs. Here’s a video where they show, how to make Karelian pasties.
Traditional Finnish breakfast includes porridge. Rolled oats, rye or multi-grain porridge are most common to see in Finnish breakfast table. Water and coffee are the most common drinks in Finland, but during meals milk and sour milk are also popular. Finnish people drink coffee often several times a day and served everywhere and tea is available in most homes.
Ice fishing is fun!
Ice fishing is one of the Finnish favorite hobbies at the winter time.
In Finland the winter time is long and there’s a lot of lakes and a long cost where the ice fishing can be done.
Basic equipments needed for ice fishing are ice fishing rod with a jig, ice drill, a box where to sit and save the catched fishes.
Ice fishing can be done alone or with others. You will need to dress warmly because often there’s cold and windy on the ice. It is much more comfortable, if it is not feeling cold. Spring times when the sun is shining it’s much more warmer then.
Initially, a hole is made in the ice with a ice drill where the fishing takes a place. Fishing does not require permission, but is a right for everybody. In addition to being fun, it is also useful. Almost all of the fishes are eatable.
Fish can be used to make different dishes. My favorite is creamy fish soup. Warm soup tastes good after outdoor activities.
Almost every time when I return back to Finland from a trip abroad, I realise how well things are in Finland. When I start thinking about what Finnishness means to me, these 6 things come up to my mind immediately.
Equal & free education for everyone
I feel privileged and grateful that I have had the possibility to get educated for free because that is not the case in most parts of the world. Education makes the whole country function better overall as people know what they should aim at in order to get along. It helps people to try to achieve the lives they want to live.
Free health care
Health care being free to every Finn is a big thing as well since insurances are quite expensive and every human needs to see a doctor once in a while. I believe free health care as well as education keep the country’s people all in all in better condition.
Every time returning back to Finland from abroad, I feel so safe after seeing what it’s like in other countries with totally different cultures and behavioral patterns. Of course, there are places and countries which are even safer than Finland but many times after travelling I feel safer in Finland. Although I know this is also partially because I have lived here my whole life and I know how people behave in this country.
Lapland is my favorite part of Finland because of the beautiful landscapes and peaceful nature. The clean outdoor air is something I am very grateful of as well. Go and explore it yourself! 🙂
Rye bread & homemade food
During my upcoming exchange I believe I will miss ryebread and homemade food mostly. They have a place in my everyday life in Finland and which I enjoy eating at home especially. In this case I could say that they are some kind of symbol of safety and home for me, so this is why I believe I will miss them during my exchange.
Finns love their own space, for example in public transport they usually prefer sitting all alone. I also enjoy having a few moments for myself during the day as it helps me to relax and calm down after a busy day at work or school.
When you start a new hobby like ice swimming, your probably have heared from your friends how great it is or you read about it. Ice swiming is good for your health and and peopele who like it tell that it eases pains in you body. They also say thatit is better to start this hobby in autum so you get used to gold watter before it`s colder. This time of the year there is 150.000 ice swimmwers.Especially young people are interested in ice swiming.
Ice swimming is good to star early in autum, then it is easier to go gold watter. Usually you go to warm Sauna before swimming. It is important go to Sauna also after swiming. You must wear a hat on your head when is freezing and wera sneakers or slippers on you feet.
There is also chance to do dipping yourself in cold public indoor swimmingpool which is almost the same thing as ice swimming but without the ice =). Using this cold pool is more possible to people who don´thave chance to go to ice swimming. But it`s more overall experience to go in middle of nature. This pleasant hobby is possible becauseof the Finnish nature and winter season.
I’ve been playing guitar my whole life and our home was full of great music. I recall the time when I heard Topi Sorsakoski & Agent’s song “Kaksi Kitaraa” coming from our stereo system and it hit me like ten thousand volts. I thought to myself: “What’s this? What’s that guitar sound? Why does it sound so beautiful? Why it sounds so melancholy and sad?” That was time before internet so I looked the CD cover and saw that it was and old folk song but Agent’s guitarist Esa Pullianen had re-arranged it. I wrote this blog about Esa Pullainen’s guitar sound because in my opinion it defines what’s “Finnishness”. And of course the band “Agents” is topical subject today and they released magnificent record with Ville Valo two weeks ago.
So, why Esa Pulliainen’s guitar sound defines what “Finnishness” is to me? Firstly, his guitar (Fender Stratocaster) is blue and it has Finland’s flag-sticker on it. Secondly, you just have to listen how his guitar weeps, moans and groans so insolently. Mr. Pulliainen uses his Fender Stratocaster as a brush and paints beautiful landscapes with his signature sound. And while he lets his guitar sing, you can imagine all the beautiful things about Finland: forests, lakes, fields, mountains, winter, summer, spring, autumn, etc. But it also sounds sad and melancholy at the same time. And that’s why when I think about “Finnishness” I think about Esa Pulliainen and his guitar sound. It’s simultaneously so beautiful and so melancholy. Just like Finns.
Funny fact: I have many friends who aren’t Finnish and when they ask me how to describe Finland to them, I play some songs by Topi Sorsakoski & Agents to them. Every time I get the same response: “What’s this? This sounds so beautiful and so melancholy at the same time. Wow!”