I’m trying to wrap my head around the general opinion of Finnish people. If I think about it from an “outsiders” point of view, I see a nation that is doing quite well, people who might be a little bit reserved but who are still very helpful, kind and are open minded.
When talking to people who are not from Finland and asking, “What is your opinion of a Finnish person?” sometimes the answer is that we are shy and quiet and sometimes that we are loud and talkative (this one usually happens if you drink alcohol).
Some have a language barrier with foreign people, maybe their English is not so good, so they seem shy and quiet, even though maybe they would like to get to know the person.
Something that I’ve been wondering a lot is why do the Finns need so much space, where does it come from? Even when we talk to each other we keep our distance. For me, it’s funny, it’s just how we are. A funny example of the need for personal space you can see in this picture where Finnish people are waiting for the bus.
I also recommend visiting a blog called Finnish Nightmares. It is one of the funniest pages ever! There is so much truth in the posts, but it really is just funny!
I will end my post with telling you my favorite thing about Finland.
So for me it really is the summer, going to the cottage with my family, going to sauna and going for a swim in the lake. I can’t experience this often since I usually have been away the summers, so when I get to go, it makes me so happy. The forrest surrounds me and it really feels like you can just forget about all your problems, they seem so far when you are so relaxed.
For me being a Finn is a weird concept. I can’t seem to relate to most of the stereotypes of Finnish people on a personal level. I am social and outgoing, I don’t mind people entering my personal space (if I know them), I am very affectionate and I am loud and giggly and I actually don’t like sauna that much. The stereotype of grumpy Finns who prefer to grunt in response and avoid interaction with other people whenever possible doesn’t seem to suit me. But I am still a Finn and it means other things to me as it is different for everyone. I guess belonging somewhere comes from yourself and what you believe it means and requires. In a way I am a Finn because I was born in Finland and lived here most of my life. But my times abroad and meeting international people have changed me as well as a person. So it’s not just about where you come from, it’s about who you are and want to be.
But enough of that philosophical blabbering, let’s get down to the things that I think make me a Finn.
Whether it is camping outside and gazing at the stars while roasting marshmallows or sausages on a campfire or skinny dipping in a lake and running back into a sauna on a clear summer night, nature has always been close to me. I grew up in the country side so I got to experience it on a whole new level. There’s nothing more calming to going into the forest on a clear snow day and just listening to the sound of nature while admiring the view that unfolds before you. Snowy landscape is one of my favorite sights to see and it holds the candle to the other wonders of the world. This part of Finnishness also holds the sports we get to do during winter time. Ice skating, skiing, sliding down the hill on a sleigh, all of these and many more would not be possible in many other places.
Food and drinks
There are quite many foods that you wouldn’t come across elsewhere or there might be something similar. I know these names won’t mean much to you but for example karjalanpiirakka, piparkakku, karjalanpaisti, mämmi (which is disgusting by the way) or salted liquorices. We Finns do love our salted liquorice, we put it into almost anything; ice cream, chocolate, alcohol etc. Salmari, the alcoholic drink, is good by the way. Which brings us to the drinking culture in Finland. In a lot of countries drinking is a social thing where as in Finland we can also just do “kalsarikännit” which basically means getting drunk in our underwear alone at home. That’s another thing we do, we get drunk. Sometimes might enjoy a glass or two when having food or going to sauna but if we go out we go all out. During the weekend around 4 am you can find Finns queuing up to a pizzeria or some snack kiosk with greasy food to get something to fill their alcohol infused bellies. And that’s when we actually talk to strangers even if they wouldn’t want you to.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve enjoyed listening to foreigners trying to speak Finnish. I really appreciate the effort though and I congratulate you for trying since it’s definitely not the easiest language. Even Finns have trouble understanding each other depending which part of the country they come from. To many Finnish just sounds like a really long word since we do not tend to breathe in between while talking. We take a deep breath and let it all out in one go. No wonder we don’t talk much. If we don’t have anything to say why say anything at all. Words hold quite a lot of power and verbal agreements can be almost as binding as written ones. If you make a promise you are excepted to hold true to your words. But Finnish language can be quite funny once you learn it (if you learn it).
So I would proudly say, yes I am a Finn. But I am also me and that is so much more.
What is Finnishness?
In my opinion there is not one correct answer to that question. Basically, you can’t just say that someone is Finnish because she/he acts in a certain way. It is quite random in which culture you were born and nationality is just a tiny part of your personality, it doesn’t specify what kind of person you are. But people seem to love categorizing and that is the reason why we have all these stereotypes.
Now it is time to figure out how Finnish you are. The test is based on common stereotypes of what Finnishness is. You get one point for every claim that fits in you.
- Your best and only coping mechanism is drinking. No matter how small or big your problem is, the best solution is to drink yourself into oblivion. Next day you may have a major headache but the problem is forgotten!
- You hate Swedes and Russians. You don’t really know why, but does it even matter?
- You don’t want to meet new people (unless you are drunk). It is awful. Especially you don’t want to get to know people from different cultures. People are dreadful anyway, so why even bother…
- You are shy, socially awkward and you hate being centre of attention (unless you are drunk). So it is better just to sit still and quiet somewhere in shady corner and try not to breathe so loud.
- You have sisu (sisu can be translated as gut or persistence). At least you think you have. Sometimes the line between stubbornness/foolishness and sisu can be a little flickering. Some may say that doing same thing in same way over and over again without succeeding in it, is ludicrous, but you say it is sisu.
- You love sauna. There is nothing as awesome in entire world as sitting naked in the small, hot room and drinking ice cold beer (or Koskenkorva, or Jaloviina). The best thing ever!
- All the Finns are rude, unpolite and cranky. Someone you don’t know asks if you know where is the library, you rapidly turn around and walk away. Old lady asks you to help her cross the road, you won’t. There is a fight in the street, someone should call 112, you don’t have time for that. People really should just mind their own businesses!
- You don’t laugh much. Why should you? There is no valid reason to laugh (unless you are drunk) and furthermore it gives you wrinkles.
- You have quite special sense of humor. You think you are funny while others think that you are just weird.
- You can’t talk about feelings. You don’t want to talk about your own feelings and you definitely don’t want to hear someone else’s feelings. It is better to never ever open up (unless you are really, really, really drunk).
Well, I got one point (claim nro 9) although I was born in Finland and I have lived here my whole life. In my experience Finnishness can be whatever you want it to be. It can be openness, solitude, happiness, melancholy, shyness, bravery etc. There is no certain personality or specific behavior that determines Finnishness. After all, we are all humans, so should we rather ask what is humanity?
Ps. How many points did you get? 😉
A lot of stereotypes are related to the Finnish culture and people living in it. Finns love sauna, salmiakki, getting drunk, lakes, personal space etc. We would have a lot to offer to foreigners and other countries as well but we are so modest in marketing ourselves. There are pure nature and music that are not as appreciated amongst us as it should be. When I’ve travelled abroad I’ve come to notice that people know a lot of Finnish bands, but they do not know they come from Finland. Tourism is a part that could be vastly improved, if skills existed, or the will. As we love our personal space, it could be we do not want to promote ourselves and want to stay on our own. Although the younger generation has been able to see the world as a smaller place, it has changed perception.
For me one of the most loved Finnish things is sauna, as to many others as well. Abroad it is one thing that I miss, to go to sauna whenever I want in my own home. This comes as a huge surprise to people coming from other countries, to tell them that there’s practically sauna in every house. Nudity related to this liked activity is a weird one too. Where we love our privacy, in sauna we can go naked and sit next to each other, whether with strangers, friends or family or whoever is with us.
Sauna is best when connected to a lake environment. A cottage by water and most preferably including sauna just next to the coast, creates a perfect atmosphere. Finns are obsessed with weather conditions in general, but for me in this kind of moment, it really does not matter what kind of weather is occurring.
A sad part of Finnish, if we can say culture, is the problems caused by alcohol and prejudices. For some alcohol takes the violent person out of you, for some no amount is enough, so it causes various difficulties. Prejudices are not only restricted to immigrants and refugees but also to people who are different or in a leading role (whether in politics or business). Envy is one of the sins that’s amongst us in a strong way.
Finland holds some special qualities and if only we could get rid off the downsides, I’d suggest everyone to join the country. Unfortunately this is not, nor will ever be the case. I’d love to show foreigners the magic of Finland, not the everyday life.
Finns would rather sit naked in a hot room than have a conversation, but if you do happen to talk to a Finnish person, expect brief to-the-point answers and silence. Don’t try to fill the silence with small talk, it will only make things worse. Unless it’s about the weather, then go right ahead. By the way, it’s raining while I’m writing this and it’s forecasted that tomorrow is going to rain too. The weekend is supposed to be nice though. I should also mention that “summer” doesn’t last very long and Finnish people love to complain about it. Before the warm days people complain that it’s too cold and during warm days they complain that it’s too hot.
Moving on to personal space, something that is very important to Finns. We like to keep our distance from other people. For example, in public transport, people prefer to sit alone and avoid sitting next to someone they don’t know and would rather stand. If you want to mess with people, sit next to a stranger and start a conversation, see how they react. Nothing confuses a Finn more than a strange person initiating conversation.
All of this is thrown out the window when alcohol is introduced into the equation. Offer a Finnish person a drink and you’ve made a friend for life. Alcohol is a big part of the Finnish culture, for better or for worse.
These stereotypes might give the image that all Finns are quite reserved, shy and like to be alone and for the most part, stereotypes are based on reality. However, once you get to know Finnish people you’ll find out that they are one of the warmest, most loyal and sincere people you’ll ever meet, even though they might not want to portray that picture of themselves.