Finland – the land of thousand lakes, lush green nature and shy people who are hard to get to know and go to sauna a lot. As a Finn, I’ve heard this a gazillion times and as all of those notions are true, there is more to us Finns than meets the eye.
As there are so many forests and lakes, it is natural (pun intended) that our culture has become so closely entwined with it – in the past as provider of food and shelter and today as a sanctuary where people can rest and forget the hectic outside world. The feeling you get from watching the sun set behind a lake, seeing the Northern Lights dance upon a frosty winter sky or just gazing at the stars in dark autumn night is just indescribable and it has had a profound effect in us.
There are even studies about how walking in a forest will lower your blood pressure in 20 minutes and I believe that we Finns have known this all along, nature gives us peace of mind and we just want to enjoy it. That background added with the traditional Finnish logic of if you don’t have anything meaningful to say, it is better to be quiet and say nothing at all. That can easily show differently on the outside and is at least partly the reason why Finns are so unfamiliar with small talk.
I remember reading an article about which European citizens travel the most and was really surprised to find Finns in the top 3. The article explained that Finns don’t travel abroad that much but the reason that put them in top places of list was, of course, summer cottages. And there was a staggering number of 502 900 of them in 2016. So that’s where we are, not talking and going to saunas most of the time.
My theory is that the nature has shaped us into who we are and how we see the world and personally, I couldn’t be happier.
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.
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time I went outside. Yes outside. Big thing for me. Anyway, it’s not a big part of this story. In Finland you need to be really attentive when choosing the time to go outside. (Unless you are brave to threaten the weather by going outside whatever it looks like. I don’t do that very often.) Because the weather changesvery quickly. By quickly I mean in one moment it’s raining cats and dogs and the minute after sun is shining like in Sahara desert. So first rule: choose your timing right.
When I finally got outside I decided to go breathe some fresh air at the forest. And because I am me, I don’t like to run at the paths made for running. So I decided to try some lame rock-climbing, because I thought over the hill would be nice views. I made it to the top and I wasn’t alone. There were naked people sunbathing. Let me tell you, I did not expect that. So I tried to get out the situation as quietly and as fast as possible. The second rule: Do not disturb other people, whatever the situation is.
After the shock at the nude hill of Tampere I found myself heading to the shore of Näsijärvi. (Meanwhile eating a ton of blueberries, the real ones, not any fake tasteless ones that the rest of the world eats.) When I reached the shore sun was shining and it was quite warm. I was thinking about going swimming but I didn’t because personally I’m creeped out by underwater rocks. And that particular place where I was, there were plenty of them. You’ve probably heard about sauna, the hot pit where Finns relax naked. After sauna swimming in a lake is a great way to cool down. Rule number three: skinny dipping isn’t a big thing.
In addition, if you hear your Finnish friend drinking alone in their home in underwear, let them be. It’s completely normal, and it becomes more common at wintertime. +Kalsarikännit is a thing.
I wish i could give you a praising essay about the intriguing and marvelous characteristics of Finns, our nature, education or culture. When it comes to giving sales speeches, I feel completely inept since i value truthful representations about any given subject and hence feel obliged to bring contradicting points of view in the middle of a monotonous hype.
Obsessed about the past As Finns we’ve gotten accustomed to being internationally recognized as “the place to be”. This seems to be due to our seemingly well arranged social services and good results from international educational reports as well as being obscurely but adorably quirky as a nation. Let’s not forget that precious nature, though; Finland has acquired a well established high ground when it comes to nature.
It’s very important for us to be recognized abroad. Finns like to hold on to previously gained feats, no matter how old or how valid nowadays. We do like to take credit of being pioneers in IT technology, for example. I agree this might have been true agonisingly many years ago. In recent years we’ve not really provided the IT industry any significant innovations apart from some individual fads in the gaming industry. The illusion lives on through things like Nokia or Linux, which are nowhere near substantially successful in the modern world. It feels like we kind of fell out of the IT bandwagon because we were too busy patting ourselves in the back. We still are.
It doesn’t really matter to us that ever since 2009 we’ve been seeing a decreasing trend in Finnish results in the oh-so-notorious PISA assessment results. Of course this is noted on papers, but looks like no one’s showing real interest towards interfering with the drop since apparently we’re still on top and the PISA stamp on our foreheads from roughly ten years ago still hasn’t faded nor washed away.
We’re the land of a thousand lakes, right? I personally don’t feel like taking pride in something that just happened to take form about ten thousand years ago. I don’t know about you but i wasn’t there to take part in it. There are also things called coldness and the northern lights. You must have heard of them. I’m sorry to break it out to you like this but it’s not exclusively a Finland thing even if we tell you so. In fact these very exotic phenomenons happen all over the top part of northern hemisphere. I, personally, have never seen proper northern lights here where i live, so don’t get your hopes up just yet. Also the tales of absolutely freezing temperates are not exclusively a Finnish thing either. Besides, last time i checked out the window we didn’t even have snow and it’s late December. If the temperature happens to drop drastically, we do complain about it even though we like to present ourselves as completely ice resistant heroes of the North.
I’ve never felt too close with nature anyway. I enjoy urban environment and man-made infrastructure and I definitely don’t find myself overly euphoric or relaxed in the middle of nature. I admit that my personal preferences might have something to do with not understanding the hype around our nature, but what can you do. If you happen to think alike, well, I still have to disappoint you: our urban architecture and infrastructure isn’t that cool either. The northern lights in the picture above are actually shot in Alaska. Sorry.
Unable to change Who doesn’t like change? Definitely not the Finns! It’s granted that you’ll be able to mourn about the airheads of the Finnish parliament year after year, but god forbid if you actually took any kind of iniative to try and change it! If you just shove the same people in year after year, surely something will magically change at some point. At least we hope so. Better luck after the next four years!
Inability to change reflects to everyday life and opinions, too. In order to majorly change in the way we as a nation think requires a change of generation, a completely new set of people. We have a bad habit of grasping tightly on to our beliefs that have been taught to us and we don’t want to change them, even if someone has valid arguments against your own mindset. Essentially not being able to change your opinions is probably just a matter of pride since we just love being right about everything. If you find yourself cornering a Finn by reasoning against their opinions or beliefs, please be prepared for some childish argumentation on our behalf. This is only a sign that you’ve actually made us aware of the surrounding world and we feel uncomfortable with it and can’t show it to you. Yes, we can be just that stubborn.
It’s also worth mentioning that we do not laugh at ourselves. Ever! Please handle with care.
It’s really easy to take forests and lakes for granted when you are living in Finland. Wherever you are, there is always nature near you. Even if you are living in some of the biggest and most crowded cities in Finland, there is always a forest or a lake nearby. For me that is one of my favorite things about Finland, because nature makes me feel so at ease. It is really hard for me to imagine not having nature close by since I have lived my whole life swimming in clean lakes and running in forests. In Finland air is fresh, lakes are mostly very clean and there is trees as far as the eye can see. And not to forget about Lapland which is one of the most magical places on Earth with its northern lights, snow and majestic landscape.
I feel like there is always some kind of a holiday going on in Finland. Even though we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and Valentine’s day and Halloween aren’t such a big deal in Finland, we have our beloved holidays, that we celebrate with all our passion. May Day with Sima (special lemonade made from lemons, brown sugar and yeast), balloons, picnics and students in their coveralls. Gathering in a summer cottage with your friends and family on Midsummer, swimming in a lake, barbecue food and (most likely) some alcohol. And as the land of Santa Claus, Christmas is obviously a big deal in Finland. There are some Christmas-crazy people (like me) that start impatiently waiting for that magical holiday in October. Christmas carols, advent calendars, cookies and chocolate.. Best time of the year!
Feeling of safety
In this crazy world I can’t help but be thankful for being born in Finland, which was recently named as the safest country in the world. Here we can walk outside when it is dark without feeling scared, here children can walk home alone after school and people can get cash from the cash machines without the fear of getting robbed. Of course there is awful things happening here also, but the criminal rate is very low in comparison to other countries. It is a luxury to feel this safe in today’s world, and we should appreciate that.
First of all, Finnish people are honest and that is what I appreciate the most. If you ask us how we are doing, you are going to actually hear how things are going in our lives, not any lame cliché answer just to keep small talk going. Also Finns are modest, kind and reliable but they speak only when spoken to which I don´t like even though I´m just like that myself… When making acquaintance with a Finn, they may first seem sullen and stony-faced but after a while they melt and become talkative.
Few things to know about Finns way of act.
If you sit on the bus and the person next to you wants to leave and you notice it. Don´t wait him or she to talk up, just move! And don´t start a conversation.
Drinking is limited. Remember to check when the sale of alcohol stops and there is only one store where is sold only alcohol. Alcohol policy is quite strict in Finland.
Finland is cold and dark place most of the year. That´s one of the negative sides of Finland. On the other hand it´s wonderful to have four seasons. Of course I prefer summer but a white winter has its charm.
The worst thing is that in Finland we don’t celebrate Halloween or thanksgiving. Yes we have Halloween parties and that kind of stuff but it´s not so big deal in Finland what it is in US. October and November are the depressed months and it would be wonderful to have something to celebrate. Of course there is Christmas but it´s so far away.
Ice-hockey is everything! The whole nation is watching when lions play in world championships. Racing might be the second popular sport. If you are an individual athletic you have to do very well to have even a little bit of credit.
The land of a thousand lakes in a nutshell
But of course Finland is a great place! Healthcare works well and it´s free and there is no corruption and the education is one of the best! Economy is doing actually pretty well. Who cares about some loan cause it’s not that big and who hasn’t? Okey China hasn’t. Poverty is small and everyone gets social support if needed but still Finninsh people compline.
Finnishness could be found so easily as a foreigner in Finland, since I have lived in Finland for 2 years so far. And I found out that Japanese have so many points to correspond with Finnishness. One example could be broader personal space. Finnish people needs to have this personal space unlike French where they hug and kiss to the first time meeting person. It is really similar to my Japanese culture where we even do not hand shake for the first time meeting. (Hand shake is normally used for business meeting.)
In addition, Finnish people doesn’t answer clearly with Yes/No. Their answer is often described with longer sentences without conclusion. We Japanese also prefer not to state Yes/No to keep the conversation very flat with each other. Discussion is rarely occurred during casual meeting with friends.
Finnish finds more culture in their lifestyle and from nature. Such as Sauna, Nordic designs , Fabrics, and social welfare. For example, marimekko’s fabric design is always inspired by Finnish nature. Work-life balance is concerned so importantly by having more rights to choose what the employees wishing, thus Family can spend more time together. I think it comes from the severe and long Finnish winter when people have to spend most of the time indoor. And they have to collaborate each other effectively so that they will not die in long winter.
Finnish lifestyle became role model for some countries like Japan, and lots of Japanese people are fascinated by its effectiveness and comfortableness. I was also helped by this life style throughout my Uni life. I have never had extreme stressful time because the nature was always close to refresh my mind, and school gives student always chance to recover our studies by the great system of student councillor and retake.
And this is what i like about Finland but at the same time, makes me wanting more to see arts and architectures in cultural city by traveling another countries.
Entrepreneurship is always a hot topic in Finland. Slush Helsinki, and Tokyo is getting bigger, where investors and start-ups gather together to network and create new business contract. And students are always encouraged to involve to these startup events for free as volunteers. The reason why Slush was founded is quite interesting to find Finnishness in the business side perspective. « Slush » means the wet snow which Finland experience in November, and the event is held around this time to boost Finnish and world entrepreneurs to come up with great business ideas. The message here make people come out from there home to this chilly and wet weather. And it has been a big success, that the event is now held in Japan and China, two of the biggest business market in the world.
Anyways, Finnishness is attractive enough to make anybody comfortable being in Finland. Especially for Japanese there are not so much difference EXCEPT for the weather 😛