Tag Archives: Culture

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.

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

Still us?

What are we like here in Finland? I guess the first things that come to mind are that we are a bit anti-social at times, we like our personal space, nature, our summer cottages and saunas. We are a very punctual nation and if we promise to do something, it most certainly will get done. We complain about the never-ending bureaucracy in our systems, but also expect everything to go by the book. I suppose these are all somewhat stereotypical ideas, but they do have quite a bit of truth behind them as well. Although, there are big regional differences as well – we are not the same in the south and up in the north.

As the world changes, it will also probably affect us as a people as well. We are more and more influenced by other cultures through the internet, tv, social media, work and studies, and that’s bound to change our behavior in some ways. We travel abroad and get familiar with new ways of doing things and people traveling here or moving to Finland will bring some of their traditions and behavior patterns with them. We can already see young people become more open and social, getting a bit unfamiliar with nature and for example having favorite foods like sushi or pizza.

I do hope, that this new global world will make us more open to new possibilities in our behavior. But I also believe, that it is important for a nation to hold on to some of their own wacky, stereotypical ways of living – after all, that’s what makes us Finnish.

Who are Finns?

Finland is all about the nature and all the beautiful and unique views and all the aspects that are related to of a Finnish nature. Our habits are based on it what possibilities nature has given to us. Finland is the country of thousands lakes and lakes have made us to swim in every time of the year. Finnish weather is cold, so we have been really into Sauna. And the Finnish crazyness must be one of the cosequenses of the weather and being isolated here in the dark and north. We became survivors and that is seen still in our behavior. We are not so good at accepting help, but we can manage even under the hard pressure.

 

Many could describe Finns very unsocial, but in certain situations we appear to be very social and have a great team spirit. The real Finnishness can be seen in public saunas and in an ice hole in winter and on public ice hockey fields. There people gather and talk to strangers and make friends without inhibition. For example in this photo you can see me playing ice-hockey with a bunch of strangers. It was really fun and we spent several hours there skating and playing. Want to get to know some Finns? Go and get skates and go ice-skating or get your swimsuit and hat and try some ice-swimming. You might be surprised.

Nature sets the mindset

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.

 

General opinion of Finnish people?

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!

Kuvahaun tulos haulle finnish nightmares

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.

/Katariina

A few rules to survive in Finland

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. 

 

Here is a nice picture of a rock. Not “the rock”, but a bit smaller one. Also I didn’t dare to take pictures over the hill, you might understand why.

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.

 

With love,

Pinja

A nation hung over from international admiration – delusions of superiority

Preface
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.

alaska-northern-4
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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!
electionresults

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.

Few reasons to love Finland

Nature is always near

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.img_3786

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Holidays

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!

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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.


All pictures are taken by me.