When I think about finnish people and Finland, two things pop into my head: our beautiful nature and our pure desire not to communicate with each other. Here’s what I mean.
Folk of few words
If you encounter a finnish person, you might notice that, generally speaking, we are not a very chatty people. We usually don’t like to chit-chat and so we try our best to avoid any situations where we might have to do that. For example in the bus, we would much prefer to sit alone than next to someone and this is why we will try to sit on an empty row if we possibly can. Of course when we do talk we are very polite and kind, we just might sound a little rude with our short answers and overall awkwardness in that situation.
All of four (but mostly one)
Seasons. We get them all (even if we don’t really want to). We get the snow when it’s winter so we can play some winter sports, we get the heat in the summer so we can go to the beach and get a tan (or seriously sun-burned). We get the color shifting trees, shining on us all the colors of Fall, and we get the long lost bird singing and sun after a gruesomely long and dark winter. We finnish people tend to say that we have winter most of the year and that our summers last for about a month. Of course that is not the case, we just feel like it. All in all, we get to witness all the seasons of the year and to me that is a blessing.
First things that came to my mind was ice hockey and summer nights. This summer I got the chance to spend more time outside in the evenings and I learned to appreciate beautiful sunsets that Finland has to offer.
When it’s spring time and time for Ice Hockey World Championship, Finnish people tend to go a little bit crazy. There’s of course other competitions such as olympics, World Cup, Junior World Championship of Hockey etc. Olympics being the most important of all. Still, last spring when we won the World Championship, as much as 3,14 million people were watching the broadcast and that is quite a lot for country that has a population of 5,5 million people overall. I can’t imagine how hardly we would celebrate if we would win the Olympics some day.. But the great thing about Finnish people being so passionate about ice hockey, is that it really brings people together. That is actually quite interesting and funny, considering that we are usually little bit reserved when meeting new people.
Beautiful summer nights
This summer I got the chance to spend more time with my friends during the evening time compared to last years and I truly realised how beautiful our sunsets and summer evenings overall are. I kind of feel bad that I haven’t been enjoying sunsets as much as I could’ve before and that I’ve been told plenty of times to enjoy the nature more. The nature around us makes sunsets more appealing but I did really enjoy the warm feeling that summer nights gave me. It’s not all about the sunsets though, I think the feeling that warm sunset and beautiful view gives (and the company, of course) is unbeatable. Calm beautiful summer nights are like Finnish people, warm and beautiful when you get to know them.
Finns are humble. They don’t boast about what they have done. Actually they rather underestimate their skills. Example, almost everyone knows Angry birds, but only few know they are made in Finland. Because Finns keep it low. Finns are also a bit quiet and thinks carefully what they want to say. Most of us are better listener than speaker. So don’t think we are rude if we aren’t much about small talk.
Finnish nature is so beautiful with thousands of lakes, large archipelago and lovely coniferous forests. We love to spend time in nature and have some activities over a year. At winter we like to go play ice hockey, snowboarding, skiing or just playing in the snow. At summer when the sun begins to set later and later, Finns spend a lot of time in their summer cottages with their family or friends. Summer is also time for outdoor activities like boating, swimming, fishing, playing football, golf and almost everything you like to do. There is so many possibilities for different kind of activities in Finland.
Finnish food is one of the most safeties and healthiest culinarians in the world. But Finnish traditional foods taste don’t tickle foreigners taste buds…
Here is one one example, when Gordon Ramsay is testing traditional Finnish food:
When I think of Finland and what Finnishness means to me the first things that come to my mind are nature and polite people .
Finland’s nature is one of a kind. Finland is known for its lakes, clean water, clean air and beautiful landscape. What makes Finland’s nature even more beautiful is the 4 seasons. During every season the nature changes and new colors come.
Finns are also very polite and have good manners, they don’t yell their orders in cafeterias or push to be the first one to get into the bus. They line up and wait for their turn. Finns are also very trustworthy people, if they promise something you can count on it.
For me Finland and ”Finnishness” can be summarized in three words: Family, Nature and Sauna. I love traveling, but these three things make Finland my home. They are the things that I miss and the things I return back for (plus to stack up on some salmiakki of course).
Most of my family lives in Finland. We have long history here all the way from up north to down south. Especially my grandparents remind me of why Finland, the country their parents fought for, is important. They also help me to see the things we have only in here like quietness of lakeside and forest full of berries and such. Finnish language, and my family’s way of speaking it, has words I would never manage to translate in English and subjects that others would not understand. This makes my time with my family speaking Finnish special.
Nature is very big part of my life both in Finland and everywhere I go. Whether it be hiking, wandering, berry or mushroom picking or just hanging out by the lake or barbequing sausages in forest, it’s where I want to be – and luckily in Finland it’s possible. Everyman’s rights provide us with all the forest has to offer.
One just simply can’t talk about “Finnishness” without mentioning sauna. It’s such an important part of Finns that it has created its own culture; Using “vihta” aka birch whisk, pouring beer to sauna stove (please if you are in the Finland for the first time don’t do this without sauna owner’s permission, not appreciated everywhere), sauna elves, telling your deepest secrets or staying quiet and simply enjoying. What better to do than constant swimming and sauna in summer and ice swimming and sauna in winter? Sauna has also made nakedness sort of normal for Finns, which makes it no special to go skinny dipping as it’s normal on cottages.
Finnishness at it’s core is fighting over whether or not pineapple should be considered as a fine pizza topping or not. It’s questioning if throwing away your “talviturkki” (your first swim of the year) in May would be a good idea. It’s shaming your siblings over their dislike for salty liquorish while calling them a traitor to the country, yet preferring Oreo cookies over the Finnish equivalent Domino’s yourself. It’s about making sure there is rosolli salad and lutefisk at the Christmas table just for the sake of tradition, although none of your family members even really care for the said delicacies. Finnishness is weird language related things like calling a clothespin a laundry boy or calling your loved ones “it” and your precious pet cat a “she”.
Finnishness is also having a sceptical face on while reading the news about us being the happiest country in the world, and not even realizing what a privilege it is to live in a country like this. Equality, free education, fresh air, general safety…oh and rye bread!
As for a few of my very Finnish and not so Finnish opinions, I’d like to share some right here:
Putting pineapple on your pizza is icky. I’d personally recommend trying some nice grilled strawberry on that slice, so I’d say I still qualify as a Finn with my weird tastes in pizza.
I really enjoy summer the best when the weather is hot and humid. The more humid the better.
I find Finnish to be a very expressive language and I enjoy the freedom it gives to the speaker to play around with different ways of saying the same things.
I appreciate people being mindful of ones personal space and understanding that shared silence doesn’t have to awkward.
And last but certainly not least, you eat your porridge without any protests!
In my opinion, Finland is one of the best places to stay, when it comes to conditions, the standard and the quality of life. Especially elderly people and children are treated really well in this country. In general people are extremely honest and encourage other people to have the same courtesy. The stereotype about Finnish honesty is purposeful and truthful, and Finns like to highlight it. For example if you lose your wallet here, you have way better chances at getting it back, than in many other countries. I personally have had an experience of forgetting my bank card in the ATM machine and then getting a call from a stranger that found it to come and collect it. You can’t not respect that. As it was said in another blog post, I agree that ”honesty is the foundation of a safe and functional society.” (Sahamies, J. 2019 blogi)
In addition to all the good benefits and support you can get from the government, Finland also provides exceptional educational opportunities. Here you can basically educate yourself to become whatever you want as long as you have the motivation and the dedication to do it, the doors are open. People from all over the world come here for the education opportunities and in some cases may even get a job and stay here. Most of the exchange students I have spoken to, have said that they love it here. The only negative aspects were the weather conditions and sometimes the food.
Why the food? Well, Finland isn’t really known as the most food oriented country even though there are some amazing Finnish dishes, which will make your mouth water. Still, because Finnish people tend to settle for less, they don’t make a big deal out of a meal. Salt & pepper is all you need for seasoning.
Mostly the food is considered to be healthy and versatile. To people like myself who are picky with the food, it may seem a bit boring at times. People from countries where food is held in a high standard, would probably also want to spice it up a bit, since they are more used to the strong rich flavors.
Finnishnessto me is about the bigger picture. It includes the humble Finnish people, monotonous language, the culture and the pride of being a Finn. A typical Finn is usually pretty introvert person until you get to know him/her. Once you got to know a Finn personally they are really open, warm and talkative.
I believe that one cause to the “shyness” comes from the language. Finnish language is monotonous and it makes other language’s words harder to pronounce unless you’ve used to be in interaction with them. If typical Finn from street starts to speak English it’s normally basic “rally” English. If you’re wondering what that sounds here’s a sample from rally driver Gronholm himself:
The culture is hard to describe. It’s something that you really need become part of. Finns might not be the most outgoing sort but they always have something weird to do or in this case eat. Finns have few really delicacies; mämmi (rye pudding), mustamakkara (black sausage), salmiakki (salty liquorice), ruisleipä (rye bread) and karjalanpiirakka (Karelian pasty). These are a-must-have treats to taste if you’re planning on visiting Finland.
Finns take pride being true to themselves. They think they can do everything by themselves and will not ask for help unless it’s necessary. If you see a Finn fall down or working on a hard project – I ensure you that the Finn will work it’s tail off pretending that everything is going well and stuff seems under control even thought they might be in deep trouble trying to keep face. Asking for help is big step for a Finn.
Finland is country of thousand lakes with lots of forests and great nature. Finns have great opportunity to escape to the nature and possibly go relax to cottages with their closest ones which is great feature in this time of technology. In the summer Finns like to spend time on the waters or beaches and eat great barbeque food. This is Finns best time to recharge batteries and collect thoughts.
Before reading this, I would like to say to you (whoever is crazy enough to read texts longer than a tweet nowadays), that the following text might be a bit boring to read (here you have a perfect example of the Finnish modesty) but I am not a writer like Eino Leino or Minna Canth, I don’t enjoy writing as much as they did. But I still managed to write down this lovely list of things that the word Finnishness means to me.
What Finnishness means to me. Well, it means a lot of different things. Firstly, it means the ability to enjoy all the four seasons with all their positive and negative qualities. It means long cold winter, beautiful and lively spring, green and warm summer and rainy but colorful autumn. It means the ability to breathe in the fresh air and walk around beautiful, clean and peaceful nature.
It means the ability to be whatever I want to be and the ability to study for free. It means feeling safe. It means that everyone has equal opportunities to succeed and everyone is treated with respect. It means that you get a mum package from KELA when you have a baby.
It means a lot of coffee, beer, and sausages. And weirdly a lot of potatoes in different forms. It means eating weird foods like mämmi and liver casserole and pretending to enjoy it (some people actually enjoy these things).
It is feeling uncomfortable when someone sits next to me on a half-empty bus or a train. It means the weird look on my face if a stranger begins to have a conversation with me. But then again it means being completely fine with going to a public sauna and sitting there half-naked with people you don’t know. It is the feeling of community when people go crazy over something successful that a Finnish sports team does and the feeling of pride when Finland related stuff appears international movies or TV series. It means the pride and respect I feel when I hear the national anthem of Finland and think about how Finns fought for the independence of our country.
It means going to the cottage when it is Midsummer and eating rice porridge when it is Christmas morning. It means watching the independence they celebrations and listening to Finlandia together with family. It means celebrating vappu with friends and eating a lot of munkki with sima.
Finnishness means that it is ok to complain about being chosen the country with the happiest people in the world. Lastly and maybe most importantly it means queuing up to get a free bucket and hoping to win the lottery. Overall, it is an honor to be able to call this country my home and to live in the same country with Santa Claus, of course.
There is so much more to it as well, I am sure, but here are the first things that came into my mind when I started to think about the meaning of Finnishness.
Ranking among the very best in air quality, not too many people, one of the highest concentrations of forest per km2 make it one of the best places in the world to breathe. More and more of the population live in the cities nowadays, but the forest is always near and easily reached.
The vast majority of Finns highly value nature and enjoy the outdoors. Having all four seasons gives a lot of variety to our lives. Some people may complain about the cold winters, but I believe they secretly still love it. This also brings different pastimes depending on the season. We are mostly familiar with snow and winter sports though, many of these can be impossible to do in many other countries. It would be very hard to imagine life never having seen snow.
One of the year-round pastimes is obviously Sauna. I’m happy to live in the current “Sauna capital” that is Tampere. The pleasurable feeling of heating yourself all red and jumping on snow is one of the best ways to relax the body and mind.
Next month I’ll begin my exchange studies abroad. Having lived all 23 years of my life in Finland, I know there will be a myriad of things I’ll miss about this country. But I’m sure I’ll be even more appreciative of them when I return.