The makings of a Finn

What is Finnishness to a Finn? If you ask me, or pretty much any Finn around, there are certain things that will always show up: sauna, sisu, salmiakki. The “Three S’ of Finnish Survival”, if you will. But those three words are already quite well known and connected to Finnishness, so why wouldn’t I look into some other concepts that define a Finn?

Space

Finns are all about that space, whether it’s personal space or space for living. Personal space is well defined and wide-ranged, and entering it without permission is a cardinal mistake. It isn’t to say that Finns are rude – that is, most of the time – but we just simply enjoy our solitude when we are not actively engaging in a conversation with someone. Naturally, this wide personal space of Finns is also a source of many jokes as the one below (which, by the way, is painfully accurate):

Finnish Nightmares: Sharing a bus stop

Aside from valuing our personal space we also value the space around us. Finland is the eighth largest country by area in Europe yet our population is way smaller than any of the countries of the same scale – and even out of that the majority is concentrated in the southern coastline, leaving the northern half mostly natural and sparsely populated. Even in cities you can usually reach a forest quite easily, without the need to travel for hours on end. It isn’t unusual for us Finns to spend our holidays in the nature, away from the constant rush and stress, possibly relaxing at a desolate mökki cottage where the nearest neighbour can be kilometers away. After all, being constantly near other people can be very draining for a Finn!

Pride

Finnish pride is a concept that manifests in several ways. First of all, Finns are awfully proud to keep their face and will not ask others for help. In any situation. Ever.

If you see a Finn fall during winter they won’t wait for you to help – no, they glance around to see if anyone noticed, then scramble on their feet and pretend it didn’t hurt a single bit.

Finnish Nightmares: Being offered help

Finns are also very proud as a nation, which shows especially well whenever our weird little nation gets recognized in the world news, referenced in a work of art, or – and this is the real deal – whenever Finland beats Sweden in any sport ever, but especially in ice hockey. A common phrase for these occurrences is “Torilla tavataan” – “We will meet at the market square”, which means a great celebration is in order.

Coffee

Let’s face it, we just love our coffee. And not just any coffee, but the kind that doesn’t taste quite as rich as southern European dark roast, that makes your hands shake after a couple of cups, and that can be consumed without milk or sugar but only by those who have a stomach of steel. Perhaps it comes as a surprise, but Finland is on the top of the list of biggest coffee consumers in the world! Nowadays several different blends and special espresso-based coffees have taken their place in the café blackboards, but when it boils down to it, it’s the good old, slightly bitter cup with milk and/or sugar that really defines the Finnish coffee scene.

Finnish Nightmares: No coffee

 

(All images are from “Finnish Nightmares” by Karoliina Korhonen!)

“Kursailu” Finnish formal socially-established behavior

Imagine this. You are at a party and there’s food. A lot of food. Over 15 different type of sweet and salty. You are looking at the table filled with your favorites. You are having these huge cravings and you are eagerly waiting for your turn. But wait! No one is taking the food even though it was announced five minutes ago to help yourselves. What’s wrong?

Well nothing! Obviously, you are at a party, filled with Finnish people, and they do it every time. It’s called “kursailu” in Finnish. There isn’t a translation for it. Closest definition might be ceremony as a formal socially-established behavior. Behavior itself differs from other cultures. As far as I know.

Basically “Kursailu” is a strange way of behavior. The food is served, and it has been announced that quests can help themselves. No- one wants to be the first one to make a move. Some odd way it is considered being rude. If you are the first, you might seem greedy and bad mannered.

Since, nobody wants to be impolite and be the first, we have unwritten rules for that. Usually elderly people are the first ones. If there is someone, who is being celebrated, he or she is the first one. In christening and confirmation godparents are priority. Big parties, where there is over 30 persons, they go table by table in order. Usually the host is the last one to take, unless she or he is being celebrated for. If you are at a Finnish party and don’t know what to do, just follow the lead. Don’t be the first one!

There’s a tiny pit of Finnishness now shared with you dear readers! Hope you have great fall 2018!

What is Finnishness for me

Finland for me is the best place an earth. We have everything one could possibly need to live a healthy and wealthy life. There is free education and healthcare. We have great welfare and clean nature. Anybody can choose anything they want to do with their life and you really can have it all. Of course we have pretty high taxes and a lot of rules but when compared to almost any other country in the world, we have it good in Finland.

When I think of finland, three things come to my mind straight away.

  1. Sauna

Sauna is the absolute number one thing that comes to my mind when I think of Finland. I have been going to sauna ever since I was a baby and it is just relaxing. There is no other place in the world where you can get the same feeling than what you get from a sauna. I don’t think of it as a relic or the eighth wonder of the world. It is just a sauna but important for me and I like to relax in one.

  1. Winter sports

The second thing to come in my mind is winter sports. Whether it is ice hockey, skiing, ski jumping, I like to watch them all. Of course I have done sports my whole life and had these winter sports as hobbies but I think also a lot of other Finns like to watch them cause it is something we are good at (or at least used to be).

  1. Nature

Nature is so pure and clean in Finland and it is different compared to the places I have been. There are a lot of lakes, thick forest and a little lighter forest. It is a place where you can go relax and get away from the city. Also, nature is close everywhere you are, even if you are in the city it is a maximum of 1 hour drive away and you’re so deep in the forest you might get lost!

Overall Finland has it good and I hope it stays that way. Even though I might move abroad someday again, Finland will always be a home for me.

Three parts of Finland

For my list of Finnishness, I tried to pick topics that reflect very different parts of Finnish life and consider how they affect us. Here we go:

Nature

Traditional bonfire marks the midsummer festivities at Joensuu in 2014.

Four distinct seasons

Living at the northern regions of our globe means we Finns can enjoy – or suffer from, depends on who and when you ask, the four seasons in our country.

Each season is quite different from each other: we have summer when we can enjoy the light and warm days in the middle of vivid nature. Autumn, that asks you to marvel its colorful ruska scenery and grasp on its great mushroom and berry picking opportunities. We have winter, although very dark, that gives you many reasons to go out and enjoy the snowy environment – or stay indoors, away from the freezing death! And spring that, uh… ummm, is rather muddy, ugly and dumps guerilla-like mini winters at us multiple times. But to be fair, it is nice to observe how the spring pushes through the waning snow and the nature comes alive again, getting us ready for the warm and light-filled summer after a long dark season.

All in all, the seasons in Finland have their own lovely and not-so-lovely characteristics that have molded the Finnish lifestyle over centuries. We have many habits, activities, jobs, holidays etc. that fit each particular season. I think Finnish seasons with their many aspects and impacts are worth praising even though it’s just easy take them for granted.

And sorry, no glaciers and polar bears.

Society

Freedom to choose your occupation

One of the best cornerstones of Finland are the vast and equal opportunities for every Finn to study for any career they like, anything from highly demanding job of a doctor to an easygoing artist. No matter what the personal background is. But of course, individual’s health or family’s financial factors might hamper the opportunities but luckily Finland’s welfare system tries to tackle those issues as best as it can.

We are fortunate that Finland’s education system does not have high tuition fees or class or caste barriers. Basically the only thing that matters is your willingness to work hard for your own education and future.

Socioculture

The Finnish language

As I have gotten older, I have started to appreciate our language more and more. There are so many different grammar rules, word structures, dialects, meanings etc. that are unique to our language. Especially our extensive use of compound words might seem daunting to foreigners. For example, what do you think about our probably longest word lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas? (=airplane jet turbine engine assistant mechanic officer student). Some words even lose their “essence” if you try to express them in another language, like Finnish curse words or very popular noni.

Humorous picture demonstrating the complexity of Finnish language. Originally posted by Embassy of Finland in Washington during the day of Mikael Agricola, which is the national Finnish Language Day, in 2015

I think it’s important to cherish our language and keep it alive during these days when our world becomes more global and digital era slowly kills old words. You never know when you can amuse your friends and acquaintances or teach them something new by dropping an odd Finnish word or proverb!

INDEPENDENCE DAY

Finland gained its independence in 6.12.1917, so just over 100 years ago. How do Finns celebrate this fine day?  It might be surprising.  There is no big parties outside and get-togethers (compare to Vappu for example which brings people to the city to party). No, Finns’ favorite activity on independence day is to stay at home in front of TV.

Every year, on December 6th, the president of Finland has a Independence day reception at the castle and there are invited all important people; ministers, veterans, people who have done notable achievements and celebrities…. The reception can be seen live on TV and lasts about 3-4 hours. The most important part of this is when the president welcomes and shakes hands with each of his/her guests. This takes at least two hours. Yes, this is what we think as fun independence activity: TV, couch, food, friends/family and judging guests’ dresses and outfits (on the news paper next day there is also big section dedicated to this party and the best outfits).

If you are in Finland on 6th of December, I highly recommend to take part in this. It sounds boring but once you get in to it, it is actually quite fun.

 

CHRISTMAS EVE

In Finland, the day is 24th of December. There are lots of traditions in a Finnish Christmas, with different variations of course and families have their own traditions too, but in general, the following things can be considered traditional here:

Santa Claus’ hotline -Christmas TV-program for kids (and for adults too…..). It starts early in the morning and goes until 12 am. The show is a “live picture from Korvatunturi (santa’s home)” and there  you can see elves going around and Santa himself answering (real)calls from children all over Finland. The kids sing to him, tell wishes and greetings and so on… very cute. Also, there are some cartoons etc. in between and the last show that ends the Hotline can be considered tradition itself too.

The last show is called “Lumiukko” (snowman) and it is the only show that comes every year. Nothing special in a way in the show, old, British-origin animation, which is most known of the song “Walking in the air”.

Rice-porridge is first food that belongs to Christmas. In my own family, it is the breakfast, but other families can have it also later or even as dessert. A good rice porridge takes a lot of time to prepare and is made of whole  milk and served with cinnamon or raisin/plum kisel. An almond is stashed in the porridge pot too and people compete who gets it.

Sauna. An important part of this celebration too and must do.

The most traditional parts of Christmas food in Finland are surprisingly mostly vegetarian. Carrot casserole, potato casserole, swede casserole, rosolli salad. These can be found in most Christmas tables and the set is completed with a big ham.  Of course there are much more of different dishes too depending on individual preferences, but these are the base.

Presents are also given on the 24th. In families where are small children, Santa usually comes to visit (Santa-business is a big business..) divides the presents and leaves.

Christmas music, not a thing in every family but definitely part of Christmas. In December, there are lots of “Kauniit joululaulut” (beautiful cChristmas songs) singing events at churches all over and they are really popular. They gatherspeople, also those not religious ones to church to be together and lift up the Christmas spirit with songs. To my opinion these really create the Christmas atmosphere, and I recommend it to all.

Finnishness in a nutshell

My experience of Finnishness 

  1. Sauna. Sauna is the key to any event in Finland. It is the place where you can finally relax and be yourself, after a long day. It is the place where you get to know people beyond “put together” image they show in the public eye. It is the place where people are not afraid to express their emotions and feelings, as if the stiffness that we see on surface melts with a heat of sauna. 

2.  Rules are everything. Without a doubt, Finland is a country where systems actually work because people tend to follow set of rules given to them. This also affects the trust within community. People believe you from words. Unfortunately, this rule obedience can go to extremes  in certain cases. As an example: A parent with a pushchair is rushing towards the bus. They are about to enter vehicle but the bus doors get closed in front of them. Why? Schedule shouldn’t be messed with. I’ve noticed similar situations on multiple occasions where human factor was less important than strict rule obedience.

3. Finnish people are really straightforward. You done’t have to beat around the bush when it comes to a feedback at work. People say what they mean. They might be silent if they don’t agree, but if they speak it is usually worth listening to. This way work gets done much faster and as a result the quality increases.

4. Weird obsession with liquorice and salmiakki. It is everywhere: in ice cream, toothpaste, alcohol, any candy. I wonder if it is some sort of parenting method that kids are taught from childhood that they should treat even the saltiest and hardest things in our life positively, and think of them as a decent candy. And with a time even learn to enjoy those.

If you wanna win – hire a Finn

Me myself, I’m very proud of being a Finn. Sometimes it’s not that easy, especially during big sport events like football European or World Championships in soccer or during big ice hockey tournaments when Finland loses against Sweden. However, when someone wins something under flag of Finland, doesn’t matter if it was World Championship in ice hockey or big tournament win in E-sports, the whole nation takes some kind of an pride of the success of it’s citizen, “TORILLA TAVATAAN”. Very often in big events of Finn’s beloved sports,  the nation seems to know the result in advance, but everytime they say it only after a win or a lose. For example, when Team Finland won ice hockey championships 2011, there were a lot of speculation that this team ain’t going nowhere. After the 6-1 win against Sweden in the finals, apparently everyone seemed to count on the team during the whole tournament (including me). So why the whole nation was spectating the tournament than if everyone was so sure about that there won’t be any success to expect? Well because Finns love ice hockey obviously, but I reckon “hoping for the best and expecting the worst” to be big stereotypical part of Finnishness. At least that is something that I can relate on doing all the time.  I’m not saying it’s a good or a bad feature, but I would argue that it tells something about us Finns. I would say that it’s because Finns are well aware, that nothing should be taken for granted. When looking 80 years backwards, it feels surreal to think about the fact, that how great our country is doing at the moment. I guess that all happened because our nation has noticed from the first years of it’s independence, that nothing comes without hard work and nothing should be taken for granted.

So why to hire a win? A Finn will respect the win or any type of reason for celebration because he knows it’s not something that happens everyday and you will have a great party. However, when losing… well the Finn already knew it!

My Finnishness

After visiting about 25 different countries and living in different ones like UK, US.

I can say Finland is one of the best places to be. Finland is a different world of its own with unique people, In general Finns are smart, intelligent, independent, trustworthy.

In my opinion, the quality of life in Finland is one of the best.

In terms of education, compared to all other places that I have had the privilege to study, Finland remains on top.

photo credit: internations_expat_survey.jpg

In my on words, i’ll describe Finnishness as strong, loyal , patriotic, peaceful, advanced, resilient, free and blessed with nature.

Finland is a beautiful country with a rich historical background, with Tampere as my base, I love my city. I cannot talk about Finland without talking about the Finnish winter ( It is a special experience). You want to experience it at least once in a life time. Make sure you visit Lapland in during Christmas period.

Photo credit: Online source

Moi – a touch of Finnishness

When I first got to Finland, I was amazed by the gorgeous scenery and how Finnish culture closely intertwines with the nature. The country boasts having the highest number of lakes in the world, which amounts to 187,888 official ones, and Finns like to gather at their cottages by the water to enjoy their holidays with quietness and relaxation.

In the winter when everything freezes over, a greatly enjoyed traditional activity is called “avanto”, which can be translated as “hole in the ice”, since Finns swim in a hole in a frozen lake, and it is usually paired with the other national love: sauna. Whether it’s sauna or ice bathing, it shows that Finns always take it to extremes and from that they have trained themselves to be strong, hardy, resilient and determined or “sisu” – the untranslatable concept proudly used by Finns to describe themselves.

There is also a significant number of forests in Finland and Finns also enjoy spending their time there, the activities mainly consist of walking, running, berry or mushroom picking. They even have a law called “jokamiehenoikeus” or “everyman’s right” that ensures everyone can wander around forests.

Another interesting fact about Finnish culture is that it is home to many eccentric competitions such as swamp soccer world championships, berry picking world championships, mobile phone throwing world championships and wife carrying world championships.

Additionally, Finland is where Moomin, Angry Birds and Nokia came from. Its northern city Lapland is also known as home of Santa Claus.

Finland, what a great place

As some foreigners have told, Finns can be quite introverted sometimes. On the other hand, I think this proves to be the case especially when a Finn must talk another language than his or hers mother tongue. It might be also because Finland isn’t really that large of a country compared to some other, and because of that, we might not encounter that many people a day. If the population of Finland would be let’s say four times bigger, I think we might have gotten use to chatting with strangers, and moreover, expressing our feelings. But then again, would the Finnish culture be like what it is today if the population was significantly higher?

When many exchange students at TAMK have told that many Finns “keep stuff to themselves” and don’t really talk that much, we´ve told them that you just might want to wait and see what happens at the first student parties that you attend to. It is weird how a few magical portions of a substance called alcohol can change a fairly shy human being into the most talkative person you´ve ever met. I must say, it is sometimes quite embarrassing that the few things exchange students get to know about Finland is the craziness of student parties and the awesomeness of saunas. The latter one, is in my mind, the best Finland has to offer. To top it off, a sauna next to a lake, and a traditional summer cottage – say no more.

I am looking forward to my first student parties at my exchange destination. More than that, I am looking forward to getting to know the German culture, the city of Frankfurt and to meet new people.