When I describe Finnish people to others, I usually just say that we’re quiet or shy. I don’t personally really think that, but compared to other nations we really seem like it. But I think what really defines us more than “quiet” is “honest”. There’s no need for courtesies or small talk: we just say what we have to say and that’s it. It might come across as shy, quiet or reserved but to me it’s all I need. The concept of small talk was so unfamiliar to me that I’ve really had to put my back into learning it! I still struggle with it from time to time. It’s also hard to tell sometimes if a foreign person is qenuinely interested in talking with me or if it’s just small talk. Usually with Finns I don’t have to worry about that, which is relieving. If somebody asks you how you’re doing and you answer with how you actually feel, it’s only normal and even expected.
Even though the way Finnish people speak can be a little short on words, our language is really versatile. It’s wonderful that a lot of Finnish people can speak many different languages beside Finnish, but sometimes I wonder if others have noticed the beauty of their own language. I find constant joy in all the wonderful little phrases and words that have gained their meaning in the older times but which are still used today. Sometimes while talking I realize what the words we use actually mean. For example “marraskuu” means “November”, but what it literally means is “moon of the dead”, but you never really stop to think about it!
To me Finnishness culminates in how our language could bend into so much to best fit what we’re feeling inside and yet we choose to say so little. Only the necessities.
That… And the completely bright nightless nights when you can just sit on a dock watching insects fly over a lake, hear a faint cuckoo from the forest and smell the smoke coming from the chimney of a sauna. That too.
I’moriginallyfrom Estonia sofinnish culture wassomethingnew for me. Estonian culture is mostlyborrowedfromRussia etc.Finland, on theotherhand, has culture mostly of it’sown. WhenItellforeignersabout Finland I beginwithoureducationsystem and ourhealthcare. ThosearethethingsI’mmostproud of as a finnbecauseourhealthcare and educationsystemarebetterthan in mostcountries.
As othershavewritten, nature is important to us. Weareproud of ourforests and lakes. Thebestway to enjoyournature is to spendtime at thecottage in thewoods, near to a lake. That’swheretownspeople and hardworkersrelax. Alsowehavemanynatureparksnear to bigcities and thecitiesitselfhavelots of vegetation.Ournaturechangeswiththeseasons and everyseasonhasit’s beauty. Finlandsspeciality is Lapland, wherethewinter is longest and snowiest. Summers in Laplandaremagical. Thereyoucanexperiencethegreenmountains, thequietdeserts and thenightlessnights. Thenorthernlightsare a mustsee!
Becausenature and climatearesoimportant to us, wecarry a hugeresponsibility for them. Sometimes it canbeoverwhelmingwhenwemakenot-so-goodenvironmentaldecisions. Like whenwebuyplaneticketsto somewherewarm and sunny in themiddle of depressingwinterorwhenwechoosespanishcucumberinstead of finnishbecausethetaste is better. Butwecompensateourbadchoiceswithmanygoodchoices. For example, ourrecyclingsystem is veryadvancedandmostfinnsutilize it. Ourgrocerystorearefull ofgreenerand organicalternatives and finnspreferdomestic products. Alsothepopularity of finnishrecycledcrafts and design is on therise. Notforgettingourcomprehensive and functionalpublictransportation, whichreducesprivatecaruse. Finnishness is love and greatresponsibilitytowardsournature.
Grasping the meaning of the word “Finnishness” seems very easy, but also remarkably hard to point out. First things that come to mind are saunas, northern lights, cold people, ice hockey, snow, and an incredibly complicated language. But Finnishness is way more than that.
Sure thing, Finns do love their sauna, and for the longest time I didn’t like the experience. Growing up in a country where most of the year is over +30 degrees, I never really saw the point in sitting in a wooden room in high temperatures. Recently though, it’s been growing on me.
Finnishness also has a lot to do with nature. There’s nature literally everywhere in this country, and I love being surrounded by the peaceful wilderness that is so easily accessible, which makes it such a crucial part of Finnish culture. Berry and mushroom picking, hiking, orientation inside forests, summers spent swimming and fishing in lakes. Even during the cold months, Finns find a way to still be close to nature by practicing a lot of outdoor sports.
You can’t talk about Finnish culture without mentioning the unique way Finns mind their own business. It took me some time to notice how this mindset applies to almost everything, but Finnish people tend to go out of their way to not bother others. This applies to almost everything: quiet restaurants, personal space, filling up all the window seats on the bus and avoiding any seat beside someone else, and queueing for everything, amongst many other daily situations. And I’ve really come to appreciate this particular part of Finnishness.
I first moved to Finland back in 2012 for a 9th grade one year long exchange, and thought I was ready for Finnish culture, given that my grandmother who was 100% Finnish had a huge part in raising me. But it turns out I wasn’t quite ready for what was to come, and being a foreigner with Finnish roots didn’t prepare me from the differences between Latin America and Northern European cultures.
Christmas is an important time for us to rest and spend time with our friends and family. It’s one of the most important holidays for Finns, I might say. People usually take at least a couple days off and many travel during that time. Usually to spend Christmas with relatives or to be somewhere northern to surely have snow on Christmas eve.
The tradition of a Finnish Christmas is, among other things, to give the gifts on Christmas eve, on the 24th of December. The eve is the most important day overall, usually. Of course the traditions vary in different families and yearly, due to work, for example. So, I speak from my own experiences and on the base what I’ve heard from other Finns.
Traditionally the 24th day starts with rice porridge and cinnamon. Sometimes we hide one almond in the porridge. It depends on the family what is the result of finding the almond. Sometimes it means that the one finding it can open one present or s/he has to sing a Christmas song. At our grandparents it means that the one finding the almond must do the dishes. So oddly, sometimes the almond is left undiscovered.
As Christmas is a religious celebration, many Finns go to Christmas church on the 24th. Usually in the morning, sometimes during the day or at least to light the candles on the family graves. Many go to church’s events to sing Christmas songs before the eve as well.
The day is usually full of waiting and preparations for the night. Children’s task is to decorate the Christmas tree. Some do this before the eve though. We tend to dress up a bit fancy for the eve’s dinner. The traditional main dish is ham or turkey and different casseroles. In addition to these there are other food as well. In our family we eat lamb, fish and loaf. My personal favorite is roe, sour cream and red onion. For dessert we usually have cheese and fruits. As Finns tend to drink on the celebrations, it’s normal to have at least mild drunkenness from the wine and dessert drinks.
If you have your own sauna, it’s normal to go to the Christmas sauna, naturally. If Santa Claus didn’t bring the gifts during the night between 23th and 24th, it’s expected to happen before the night of the 24th. It’s very common that families have a Santa visiting every year, especially in families with small children. Usually the Santa is the same person every year, someone who happens to be away every time Santa visits. Some people hold on this tradition even when the children have grown up and everyone already knows who plays the Santa’s role.
The most awaited part is to give and get presents. It happens usually after dinner and lasts approximately one hour. The older I have grown the more joy I get of giving presents and from the time together with my family. And good food, of course. The 25th is a very laid-back day to spend with the family as well. We usually play board games and children play with their new toys. The food on the 25th is leftovers from the eve and of course all the chocolate and other delicacies all around the house. Additionally, one tradition many young people have is to go out with friends on the night of the 25th.
The nature of Finland is one of my favorite things. Here we have something that every other country doesn’t – the variation with the seasons and the variability in the nature between the south and north. One upside in particular, to my mind, is the big size, tranquility and purity of most of our forests. We have our problems in Finland as well, of course, as clearcuttings. Still, overall, I think our nature is in good condition and there are good laws to protect the animals. When I was a kid and we lived in the countryside, I got to see a lot of animals while playing outside, mooses and foxes for example.
Nowadays, walking in the forest or going to a cabin in the wilderness is an important way for many people to lower the stress caused by hectic work and school life. Even more than before, I think. Nature comes in the first priorities for many Finns.
Again speaking from own experiences, I really enjoy the nature of Lapland and Central Finland. The following pictures are from Central Finland, Hyrynsalmi from last summer. It’s the place for yearly Swamp Soccer World Championships, Suopotkupallo. Speaking of which, that is an event which wraps up a lot of Finnish culture. People playing football in a swamp in the middle of nowhere, usually drunk every day of the tournament. However, one of the very best parts of the yearly Swamp Soccer is to watch the sunrise at the lake after the tournament.
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!