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The makings of a Finn

What is Finnishness to a Finn? If you ask me, or pretty much any Finn around, there are certain things that will always show up: sauna, sisu, salmiakki. The “Three S’ of Finnish Survival”, if you will. But those three words are already quite well known and connected to Finnishness, so why wouldn’t I look into some other concepts that define a Finn?

Space

Finns are all about that space, whether it’s personal space or space for living. Personal space is well defined and wide-ranged, and entering it without permission is a cardinal mistake. It isn’t to say that Finns are rude – that is, most of the time – but we just simply enjoy our solitude when we are not actively engaging in a conversation with someone. Naturally, this wide personal space of Finns is also a source of many jokes as the one below (which, by the way, is painfully accurate):

Finnish Nightmares: Sharing a bus stop

Aside from valuing our personal space we also value the space around us. Finland is the eighth largest country by area in Europe yet our population is way smaller than any of the countries of the same scale – and even out of that the majority is concentrated in the southern coastline, leaving the northern half mostly natural and sparsely populated. Even in cities you can usually reach a forest quite easily, without the need to travel for hours on end. It isn’t unusual for us Finns to spend our holidays in the nature, away from the constant rush and stress, possibly relaxing at a desolate mökki cottage where the nearest neighbour can be kilometers away. After all, being constantly near other people can be very draining for a Finn!

Pride

Finnish pride is a concept that manifests in several ways. First of all, Finns are awfully proud to keep their face and will not ask others for help. In any situation. Ever.

If you see a Finn fall during winter they won’t wait for you to help – no, they glance around to see if anyone noticed, then scramble on their feet and pretend it didn’t hurt a single bit.

Finnish Nightmares: Being offered help

Finns are also very proud as a nation, which shows especially well whenever our weird little nation gets recognized in the world news, referenced in a work of art, or – and this is the real deal – whenever Finland beats Sweden in any sport ever, but especially in ice hockey. A common phrase for these occurrences is “Torilla tavataan” – “We will meet at the market square”, which means a great celebration is in order.

Coffee

Let’s face it, we just love our coffee. And not just any coffee, but the kind that doesn’t taste quite as rich as southern European dark roast, that makes your hands shake after a couple of cups, and that can be consumed without milk or sugar but only by those who have a stomach of steel. Perhaps it comes as a surprise, but Finland is on the top of the list of biggest coffee consumers in the world! Nowadays several different blends and special espresso-based coffees have taken their place in the café blackboards, but when it boils down to it, it’s the good old, slightly bitter cup with milk and/or sugar that really defines the Finnish coffee scene.

Finnish Nightmares: No coffee

 

(All images are from “Finnish Nightmares” by Karoliina Korhonen!)

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.

My home in Finland – where my story began

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.

Nature

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.

 

Language

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.

Truth about the Finns

When I thought about Finland and what finnishness meant to me, these stereotypes about Finns came to my mind. I’m going to present a few of them in the pictures below. What makes the pics more fun is because they are actually so true!

Coffee consumption

”It’s time for a cup of a coffee.” The Finns are known for the largest coffee consumption in the world with about 2,6 cups per day. Finns usually drink very light roasted coffee, which is lighter than anywhere else in the world. Coffee has always been a part of my daily life and Finnish culture. For example, coffee is served at workplaces (free of charge), at birthdays and at home. Finns must also get their morning coffee and it’s a huge disaster if there’s none of it. TIP: It’s a great way to get to know a Finn by asking him to go for a coffee.

Small talk

Small talk – there is not even a word for that in finnish. Maybe word “jutustelu”, but it does not exactly mean the same. Most of the Finns are introverts and chatting with a stranger feels uncomfortable, so the silence is a better option. For example, if you’re waiting for a bus on the bus stop, you don’t want that anyone talks to you. Not even asking you about the weather (which is always bad). In my case, I just want to listen to music and survive through the day (especially through a morning without a cup of coffee).

Usually, when some foreigner asks you “How are you?”, we usually start to tell about our bad day at work instead of answering “Fine, thanks!” and asking “How about you?”. Why do Finns behave like this? I have heard an explanation that says because Finns are interested in what other people are saying, they are expecting that the other side is also listening. Finns are also better in listening than talking, and in the Finnish culture it’s inappropriate to interrupt the one who is speaking.

Personal space

Finns respect each other and a personal space. It’s said that a comfortable space between strangers is approximately 1,5 meters. TIP: When you are having a conversation with a Finn, and you notice that the other one is trying to get further from you, then you’re too close and you should give more space.

Finns prefer to take free seats on the bus, instead of sitting next to someone strange, like in this picture below. Usually, when I get on a bus, first thing is that I’m looking for free seats and if there are none, I might rather stand. In my opinion, Finns do not like to be loud and in a public place that would be uncomfortable. Once, when I was getting off the bus, I pushed the stop button but the doors didn’t open. There were me and a few others, standing and waiting quietly for the doors to open until someone finally had to say something to the bus driver (and that wasn’t me) for him to open the doors.