Finland. Finnishness. Finn-ishness? A Finn can freely describe themselves as hard work-ish, talkative-ish, sport-ish. However, we have a great tendency not to put ourselves fully out there. We find it uncomfortable to label ourselves into something too specific, especially if that something could, in any way, be understood as something admirable. No Finn has ever said that they are good at something, maybe good-ish but definitely not good or great. We don’t like to put ourselves to a pedestal. You can just picture a Finn responding to a reporter after winning the Olympic gold medal saying “well that went pretty well”, or as the Finnish F1 driver Kimi Räikkönen well put before a race “I’d rather be probably out of second and third place so I don’t have to go to the prize-giving”.
Finnish people sometimes feel inadequate in front of the big world stage. We’re always interested in what other people think of us. Our culture’s DNA has a certain kind of self-regulation encoded into it making it difficult for us to shine as the main star. We are great workers, reliable people and over all else, we achieve as much, if not more, than all the big players in the world. A great amount of inventions and cultural aspects affecting the whole world have originated in Finland. There are even many fields where we continuously hover around the number one spot in the whole world: education, healthcare, technology… We Finnish people deliver it all. For a nation as small as Finland that’s an astonishing feat.
We might be hesitant over labeling ourselves most of the time. However, there has always been one thing which “-ishness” we aren’t ashamed of and will proudly declare ourselves as such. We are, and will always be, proud Finnish people, no doubt about it. We are proud of our country, we are proud of handling the coldness of the north, we are proud of being a tiny nation. That is something no one will ever be able to take away from the Finnish people.
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.