Bus stops, personal space and Santa Claus

Every time someone talks about Finns, it’s always ice hockey, sauna, midsummer’s eve, long winters, Lapland…

But when you think about Finnishness – what makes a Finn – you might have to go out on the street and look at the “agreeable gaps” between people on the bus stops:

Kuvahaun tulos haulle finnish people on a bus stop

One thing that sets us apart and builds on what can be considered “Finnishness”, is our unannounced respect for other people. Of course there are always outliers, every society has its share of people who lack mutual respect, but there still lies an almost subconscious habit of keeping and giving personal space to one another. A feeling that makes us try and not to be a bother to others, even up to the point of sometimes being afraid of it. We don’t greet with cheek-kisses, we don’t sit next to people on the bus if there’s an empty row available and we most definitely don’t strike conversation with strangers – not that we don’t like them, but because we feel like they might be bothered or thinking about something really, really important.

Not every Finn likes ice hockey or sauna either. And being Finnish doesn’t mean you have to live up to the exaggerated reputation of being introverted and afraid of change. That’s why I think Finnishness stems more from what kind of people we are rather than what we do, our values, and our ability to take the best out of the worst situations.  On the contrary to what others commonly say, I do not think that Finns are slow to open up or skeptical towards other cultures. We just happen to have this stubborn, serene piece of home inside all of us that we won’t trade away so easily, a piece which keeps us level-headed and appreciative of the simple comforts of living. Nothing like sitting indoors on a dark, wet November afternoon and realizing you’re happy just because you’re at home.

Also, we have Santa Claus and a dark sense of humor. Maybe an unfair advantage?

About Finland…

After years of travelling around the globe and exploring different cultures few thoughts have come to my mind. There are many things that I would like to change about Finnish culture, but also many that I am truly grateful and proud of.

I love our nature. Me and my friends have often joked about how most of Finland is only forest, but I grew up in a small town and my house was in the middle of forest and I have to say that some of my best memories growing up was playing with my friends in the forest making tree houses. We have many beautiful lakes, and during summer the colors are amazing. There is nothing better to do during summer than to go to a cabin in the lakeside and just relax and enjoy the calm environment. The Finnish nature is also one of the most recognizable and curious part of Finland for foreigners. Whenever I am abroad and tell someone that I am from Finland, they point out the beautiful nature.

I also appreciate our healthcare. As someone with a disease that will last a lifetime, I am truly grateful of the medical care and reduced medicine costs I can get here. I often wonder how I would survive living abroad where the medical costs can be very high. Here in Finland we get good care, and everyone has access to it.

Today’s world is full of conflicts and war, so I would also have to point out how great it is that it is so safe here in Finland. We don’t have any big natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes, and crime rate is relatively low, and you can usually trust people. For example, in many other European countries, you couldn’t leave your bag unattended without someone stealing something. Security is very important to people’s wellbeing, and you can really feel that in Finland.

Something more carefree I also love about Finland is ice hockey. It is the only sport I understand and love to watch, maybe that is because it is one of the few sports that Finland is actually good at. When Finland is playing, almost the whole country goes insane with nothing but hockey in mind.

Part of Finnish culture that I don’t like is our eating and drinking culture. In Finland we eat dinner rather early in the day, around four or five, and we eat pretty quickly and then carry out with our day. In many other European cultures they eat dinner late, with whole family or with friends and spend time together. It would be nice to apply this more in Finland as well. I think Finnish drinking culture is a bit too much, as here many people drink just with the purpose of getting drunk, which is very unhealthy and bad habit.

Midnight sun and Polar night

In Finland we are so lucky to have four seasons. To me winter and summer are especially the ones that comes to mind when thinking Finnishness. These are the opposite of one another and we as Finns are very different in these two seasons. I am going to focus on these two seasons in my post.

Midnight sun – “Yötön yö”

During summertime in Finland we can enjoy light around the clock and that is what midnight sun describes. In Lapland there are times when sun does not go down at all. In the Southern of Finland, we are not that lucky, and the sun does go down, but the sun will rise again quite quickly. In my opinion Finnishness is very different in every Finn during summer compared to what Finnishness is in the winter. Finns are more open, more smiling and talks to one another.

As summer is the season when Finns likes to spend more time with each other – we have a summer celebration called “juhannus” which is Midsummer in English. This celebration is spent in the middle of the summer. Most Finns have their own traditions in Midsummer. The most traditional things that belong to Midsummer are Midsummer bonfire, sauna (of course) and a birch whisk used in sauna. I think that Midsummer is the most Finnishness celebration we have in Finland.

Polar night – “Kaamos”

Polar night is the opposite of Midnight sun. Polar night is experienced during the winter and actually it can only be experienced in Lapland. Although this phenomenon is only in Lapland, in Southern of Finland there is also very dark in the winter months. Kaamos begins in the end of November – in the beginning of December and ends in the end of December – in the middle of January – depending on which part of Lapland you are staying. In 2017 Polar night in Nuorgam started on 24th November and it ended on 17th January. Although it sounds bad and maybe even a bit depressing that the sun will not rise once – there is a time during the daytime when it is not that dark. On top of that, snow lightens the view. During Polar night you can enjoy the Finnish nature by skiing, skating or watching the northern lights. Despite of the lack of sunshine this time of the year can be beautiful as you can see from the picture below.

 

 

A Peek into the Finnish cuisine

I decided to introduce four very traditional Finnish foods that you should taste if you ended up in this country for some reason.

 

Mustamakkara (black sausage)

Mustamakkara is a specialty from my home city Tampere and has been produced by Tapola’s legendary family business for over 60 years. It’s a blood sausage filled with hulled grains and pork. Classic way to eat this delicacy is to buy a couple of bars of it from the market place and enjoy it with lingonberry jam and cold milk. The most traditional market places with Tapola’s stalls are Tammelantori and Laukontori.

 

Jaloviina (precious liquor)

Jaloviina (nicknamed Jallu) is a Finnish cut brandy, a mixture of cognac and vodka. It was released into the market in 1932 by Altia after the prohibitionary liquor law. Nowadays, Jaloviina is a very popular drink in Finland with half million bottles sold per year. Especially engineering students are well-known for consuming this precious drink.

 

Hernekeitto (pea soup)

Pea soup is a food that is served on almost every single lunch restaurant in Finland on Thursdays. It’s made of dried peas and usually includes pork.  Traditionally pea soup is enjoyed with mustard and sometimes with raw onion too. As a dessert, you will have pancakes with strawberry jam. Must try this combo!

 

Ruisleipä (rye bread)

Rye bread, the most loved bread in Finland. In fact, the bread in this picture below (Vaasan ruispalat), is the most sold bread in Finland. Rye bread is a good choice for breakfast or snack, or to be enjoyed with lunch. It’s usually eaten with butter, cheese and ham, maybe also with some vegetables like sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. And for some people, it’s a serious topic of conversation which is the correct order to place ham and cheese on the bread: ham on the top or cheese on the top. Rye bread is the first thing I miss in Finland when I’m abroad!

What being a Finn means to me

Culture is, in many ways, subjective. People view and experience it differently and there are as many aspects to a culture as there are people in it. There is no right answers or definite truths, and even the most common traits in a culture don’t apply to everyone. The following things, however, are my thoughts and feelings about “Finnishness”.

Safety

This is one of the things that keeps surprising me over and over again. Most Finns take being able to walk around big cities at night for granted and they don’t think anything of it when the bag they left to their seat in a restaurant is still there when they come back from a bathroom break.

We trust that we can live our every-day lives without having to fear for our safety or the safety of our belongings. This, however, is not the case in many countries. The more I’ve travelled the more I’ve realised how good things are in Finland. I have witnessed street fights, heard countless stories of harassment and even know a person that has been robbed at gunpoint.

In Brazil, I couldn’t hold my wallet or phone in my hand while travelling by car, because that would’ve made us a likely target for robbery. This would’ve never crossed my mind in Finland because things like that rarely happen here.

So yes, safety is an important part of the Finnish culture and I am very thankful of it.

No empty words

When somebody makes you a promise in Finland, it usually means you can at least trust that they are going to try their best to fulfil that promise.

In many cultures, a negative answer in customer service is unacceptable. This means that even if they know they cannot help you, they will still tell you otherwise.

As a Finn, I find this silly. I’m used to getting a straight answer and I much prefer to be told so if something isn’t possible, instead of waiting around for something that is never going to happen anyway.

Small talk is also not popular in Finland. You speak when you have something to say, but there is no need to fill every silence with meaningless chitchat. Not to say that small talk isn’t a good skill to have in some situations, but sometimes it’s good to be able to enjoy the peace and quiet.

Equality

This is one of the biggest and most important things about our culture, people are equal. Sure, there are still many things we can and should improve in order to be truly equal, but compared to most countries, Finland is a truly great place to live – no matter your gender, age, race or sexuality. As a woman, I’m truly thankful to have been born in Finland.

Every culture has its pros and cons, and there are things in my culture that I’m not so fond of. However, I love my culture and I’m thankful for all the chances it has given me!

Krista Tolonen

My Experiences of Finnishness

Beautiful nature, light summers, dark winters and sauna. That`s my Finland.

Finland is known as the Land of the Thousand Lakes and it is actually true. The whole Finland is covered with lakes and forests. Nature is also very pure, so here you can drink clean tap water and breath fresh air.

In Finland we have four seasons. Winter is long and dark, but all snow and ice makes it lighter. Spring is the time when everything wakes up and nature is beautifull light green. Summer is not that long, but it is warm and full of light. Actually in mid-summer sun doesn´t set at all for couple of days. Autumn is dark and rainy, but nature is also beautifully colorful, because all the leafs are changing the colour.

Last but not least my favorite thing in Finland: Sauna! Sitting naked in a small, hot room might sound weird for foreigner. But for us it is a place to relax and warm up.

What is Finnishness to me?

Sauna. Lakes. Seasons. Nature. Safety. Those are the 5 words that first came in to my mind when thinking about Finland and Finnishness. Summer evening by the lake at a terrace of your summer cottage. Running naked into snow from Sauna when it’s -30C outside. What is more Finnish than that?

Nature

The nature of Finland is one of a kind. For me it’s a thing that I’ve started to appreciate more when getting older. We have a huge amount of forests, lakes, parks, rivers and so on. That’s something that not every country has. The nature changes when the season changes, in summer you can swim in warm water in a lake, and after 6 months you can walk and skate on the same lake. To me the Finnish summer is a best thing in the world. And the possibility of easily going out to forests for a walk and enjoy the clean nature despite of the city where you live, is amazing. It’s Finnishness at its best.

 

Safety

Finland is a country where you can feel safe. It’s a country that has been in the top places in surveys of safety. But addition to that, when you walk in the streets in Finland, and no matter what time it is, you can feel safe. You can trust the police. You can get help quickly when you need it. In Finland children go outside and play without parents, they go to shops, they bike to school. In this country you can let your children out and feel safe about it.

Simplicity & Honesty

Finnish people are kind. We are honest, we can tell what we think, and we accept that people have opinions, even different ones, and it’s okay. We don’t start talking to strangers on the streets, but if someone starts, we speak back. We get a little awkward when someone gives a compliment. We tell things the way they are, and not too much more to that. We might be people who don’t smile or speak all the time, but we have a simple and honest atmosphere. And we go naked to Sauna even with strangers.

That is Finnishness and I love it.

Proud to be Finn.

What Finnishness means to me. I’ll divide it into three major and important issues. These three issues are: security, well-being and ease in everything.

First of all, security in Finland is one of the best in the world. Not only by records, also the feeling that you don’t have to be scared when you walk down the streets in the middle of the night. Security in cases when you lost something, or something didn’t go like you planed for example, you miss a train because the other was late and that point your right is to get ride to your destination somehow. Everything can be sorted out although it doesn’t necessarily feel like it at first place.

Secondly, I chose well-being. In Finland I never needed to think that can I go to hospital for some reason. It’s not particularly expensive and the service is great. Although it is said that the Finns are pretty speechless (and that is so true) doesn’t mean that the Finns don’t help when the situation arises. Love of the neighbor is present in everything.

Third, why I chose ease. It can be combined with the previous two things too. Mostly, I meant the ease with which Finns are, how they behave in general compared to others. We talk and show body language as little as possible. We say things straight to one to another without wandering. We are enjoying and appreciating of small things. Even though Finland is a small country, people are determined. Finnishness summarized: the backbone is strong and straight.

  Simple is beautiful. Like nature in Lapland.

How I became more Fin

In my four year that I have lived in Finland, I reached to a point where I can recognise how much my behaviour have changed to become more Fin one way or another. I find it fascinating how most persons behaviour and attitudes can change once he or she move to another country and try to blend with its people.

Finns do really appreciate and mostly strive for personal favour. A first time visitor may interpret those behaviours as shy, quiet and in some cases even rude. But it is actually the contrary, it is that they do not want to bother people. This why they come across as not really chatty. For example it is unlikely to find to strangers sitting next to each other in the bus unless there is no other available spot. It is a behaviour that I have picked almost instantly, while it made me realise how much respecting others personal space is important in this culture as well as it became part of me.

Another famous aspect of a Finn´s personality is their love of coffee. It is some thing that is absolutely. Whenever I came to Finland I did not like coffee at all but at the moment I can´t imagine my day going without at least one cup of coffee. It goes as far as that at my parents house when everybody is at home we finish one bag of coffee daily. Yes it is that good.

Finns in general tend to follow rules and regulations. That being school or even road regulations. One example which I thought was pretty cute. Is the picture on the right. Which was taken in Tampere where the triangle sign was placed in the side walk for pedestrians and pikers. The area is actually not that busy, but I do really appreciate the attention to details.

These were some examples of how some of my behaviours have changed to become more Finn, just by living here and spending time with locals.

How I became more Fin

In my four year that I have lived in Finland, I reached to a point where I can recognise how much my behaviour have changed to become more Fin one way or another. I find it fascinating how most persons behaviour and attitudes can change once he or she move to another country and try to blend with its people.

Finns do really appreciate and mostly strive for personal space. A first time visitor may interpret those behaviors as shy, quiet and in some cases even rude. But it is actually the contrary, it is that they do not want to bother people. This why they come across as not really chatty. For example it is unlikely to find to strangers sitting next to each other in the bus unless there is no other available spot. It is a behavior that I have picked almost instantly, while it made me realize how much respecting others personal space is important in this culture as well as it became part of me.

Another famous aspect of a Finn´s personality is their love of coffee. It is some thing that is absolutely. Whenever I came to Finland I did not like coffee at all but at the moment I can´t imagine my day going without at least one cup of coffee. It goes as far as that at my parents house when everybody is at home we finish one bag of coffee daily. Yes it is that good.

Finns in general tend to follow rules and regulations. That being school or even road regulations. One example which I thought was pretty cute. Is the picture on the right. Which was taken in Tampere where the triangle sign was placed in the side walk for pedestrians and pikers. The area is actually not that busy, but I do really appreciate the attention to details.

These were some examples of how some of my behaviors have changed to become more Finn, just by living here and spending time with locals.