Tag Archives: Finnish

Finland: A Place You Belong

Since I was a kid I’ve always been sort of a little forest fairy or nymph. I spent the first few years of my life in Finland, the second half of my childhood in Sweden, and now that I’ve gotten to do a bit of traveling, I couldn’t be happier to have got to grow up in the north.

Tampere in summer, picture taken from  cliffs in Pyynikki. Photo by Emilia Brändh.
Keskustori at night. Photo by Emilia Brändh.

So many moments lost and found in the woods, magic discovered in hidden ponds and adventures made in wet swamps, on steep cliffs and misty fields.

My nationality is something I’ve always kinda thought about a lot, and never really been able to pinpoint what I am. What I should answer when someone asks me where I’m from. Here and there? Is that good enough of an answer? Being a bilingual dual citizen and culturally confused kid, I’ve spent a lot of my life wondering who I really am, and what country I really belong to. Because even though technically it’s just a word on a passport or ID, it still matters and means a lot to us.

Lush green pine forest in Ylöjärvi. Photo by Emilia Brändh.

If you’re a bit of a “citizen of the world” instead of belonging one country in specific, nationality can be tricky.

But when I swim in Finnish lakes in the golden evenings, run through Finnish woods in the foggy mornings, light candles on Finnish cemeteries around the cold, harsh Christmas times… I feel like yeah, this is who I am.  I am really Finnish, and I feel like I am home.

It’s like a tangible magical dust floating in the air.

Keijärvi in summer. Finland is THE PLACE to have deep thoughts in nature. Full solitude. Photo by Emilia Brändh.

Finnishness is something I can feel on my skin.

It’s the light on summer nights when the sun doesn’t set. It’s the raindrops on your face when you leave your umbrella at home because there’s no way it will suddenly start raining when the sky looks so clear (but this is Finland we’re talking about, so you should know better and always be prepared!). It’s the chilly breeze in the autumn. It’s the frost biting your cheeks, and it’s the wet pine branches slapping against your body when you take a brisk morning walk in the forest.

Finnish people value honesty, silence, responsibility, cleanness, calm, loyalty, security and determination.

I love how our nature and the beautiful, peaceful landscapes around us are a constant reminder and expression of all those values.

That’s the kind of Finnishness I want to be a part of.

Frosty trees and frozen Iidesjärvi lake seen from Kalevankankaan hautausmaa. Photo by Emilia Brändh.
Golden strolls in the evening sun. Photo by Emilia Brändh.

Finnishness

Finnishness means actions and thoughts what Finnish people have daily. We all are individuals who have their own experiences about Finnishness but still together we create a nation which has common features. Everyone shapes and maintains Finnishness by their own personal way.

Finnish language

One unique characteristic of Finnishness is a Finnish language, which is divided in various regional dialects. Finnish is spoken by about 4.9 million people, most of whom reside in Finland. Most of the population of Finland speak Finnish as their first language. Finnish people are always so proud of their own language and how it have kept the position through the history.

Finnish language has a very rich nature related vocabulary and for example it has dozens of different words for snow. Finnish language does not make difference between genders. The most noticeable is the gender-neutral hän which means both ‘he’ and ‘she’.

Finnish uses compound words, meaning words which are combined into one rather than written out individually. This has given birth to one of the longest words in the world at 61 letters, lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas, which means ‘airplane jet turbine engine auxiliary mechanic non-commissioned officer student’. The word is used basically never.

 

Finnish music

Finnish music can be roughly divided into the categories of folk music, classical music and popular music. Every Finland’s Independence Day I listen to Finlandia composition by Jean Sibelius who is the most famous composer from Finland. The compositions of Sibelius describe Finnish mentality and psyche so well.

The folk music of Finland is typically influenced by Karelian traditional tunes. Also, many Finnish traditional stories are from that area and they have been passed on through several generations by singing the stories. The music has always brought the people together, maybe that is the reason why we like to sing karaoke so much!

Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto’s Finnish folk song encore in London:

 

Four seasons

Although I do not like hot weather in summer and the darkness drives me crazy in every winter, but at the same time I value the variety of Finnish nature and its annual cycle. Every season has its own specialities and possibilities. The annual cycle has also shaped people. Winter is a time for calm down and rest up before a new starting year. There is nothing better than put on woollen socks and sweater, light the candles and enjoy the calmness. In summer the life is totally opposite. People are full of energy, because nights are bright and there is plenty of light.

 

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?

My experience of Finland in a nutshell

What do you think of when someone mentions Finland? Santa claus, polar bears, free education, and ice hockey are some things you might hear from other people. Everyone has their own perspective of Finland, and no perspective is wrong in my opinion. I feel that way, because your life experience in Finland is very subjective. Finland can offer you very down to earth experience in quiet and unsocial environment. Finland can also be  experienced in very outgoing and social environment. That’s what I like about Finland – you are not to be judged if you are introverted, and you are not to be judged if you are extroverted.

I think most people abroad see Finnish people as introverted, and I agree to that to some degree. However, even though Finn’s are not really raised to keep noise of themselves, Finn’s can be quite talkative after they have initiated in a conversation. I think we were raised to be well behaving and not to talk to strangers. I think I see a change in this attitude in the streets, with people being more open to strangers.

There’s just thing one thing I am afraid that will be issue in the future. Unlimited internet access for 1 month is cheaper than a restaurant meal in Finland. This is really something if you compare it to other countries. For example in Australia mobile phone data plan can be up to 50 euros, and that doesn’t even include unlimited data! Internet accessibility in Finland is really unique, and we should be proud of that.

When you’re walking down the streets however, you can really see the effect of this accessibility. People are staring down their phones, while ignoring everything else. Lots of people are even using their phones while driving! More and more people are getting smartphone addictions from young age. That is the one thing that should be watched amongst youngsters. With proper usage our internet availability is a huge asset for us, and it should be viewed as a tool, not as a lifestyle.

 

So what does a typical Finn do in his free time? There’s one activity that applies from babies to elders. And that is going to the cottage.  Cottage is a place where you can just lay back, and enjoy being together with your friends, relatives, or just enjoying your own company. It’s quite typical for young adults to go to cottage and enjoy different kind of games and beverages. This can especially be seen in times around midsummer. It’s such a tradition that even though you do not have your own cottage, people will still rent a cottage for fairly high price.  It’s also important to have a sauna in your cottage.

For people who do not enjoy going to cottages, there are festivals around the country during midsummer. They are especially popular in teens, but pretty much people from all ages go there.

 

So how is Finland going to be for you? It’s all up to you. You define how you want to experience Finland, let it be partying or enjoying the nature. Or in the best case, both. 🙂

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.

Forest and metal

Finland is the home to many lakes, forests, and most metal bands in the world per capita. It is fair to assume that these are connected as folk melodies and instruments are a very common asset and nature an equally common source of inspiration and lyrical theme in Finnish metal music. I think the phenomenon has its roots in Finns being a very down-to-earth people with a close connection to nature, as only some decades ago most of the population lived in the countryside.

It is a common misconception that Finns are a very depressed people. Statistically they’re not. I think Finns just appreciate their personal space and only speak when they actually have something to say, and this might give the impression of a very reserved people.

When talking about Finnish music, most of it, maybe excluding hip hop which I know nothing about, does sound more depressive than the international hits. That’s why I think metal suits Finland very well. Finland’s black metal scene is also very interesting and deeper underground than that of the more  commercially successful Norwegian cousins.

Moonsorrow playing in Tampere

My Experiences of Finnishness

For me, being Finnish means berry-picking trips in the middle of North-Karelian mosquito-filled woods in my grandmother’s century-old jacket, and afterwards, the scent of a freshly baked blueberry pie. Being Finnish is filling a crossword puzzle in the morning at our summer cottage’s patio with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. It is celebrating the mid summer and watching a flaming bonfire. Being Finnish is  sensing the crisp, cold Nordic air in the wintertime (meaning freezing your butt off), waiting for a bus, which is always late from schedule due to heavy snow.

When I think about the Finnish way of life, I just imagine an all-round basic and simple everyday life. For me, being Finnish is not about being beautiful and polished, it is being pure, bare and honest, which I love. We as whole don’t crave for spectacles, we strive from tradition and harmonic life of honest labor and steady, safe family lives. The stereotypical Finn works a 9 to 5 job for the  most of the year, escapes to his summer cottage for the summer, and returns to the workplace with a messy hair and an uneven summer tan. Steady, safe and familiar, routine-filled life is what I grew up with, and what I respect.

One of my favorite things about Finland is the nature. We have such a beautiful nature surrounding us, which we often seem to take for granted. Although the summer may be wet and cloudy some times, the beautiful view of a lake landscape or the green forests is without a doubt humbling. When other countries may suffer from drought or overpopulation, our small country is full of nature, space, and places to explore. The wintertime is so beautiful, when every place is packed with fresh, white, untouched snow.

Only recently have I woken up to the fact that I love being a normal Finn. I’m glad we have free education, good healthcare and a broad knowledge of different things. Whether I’m staying at home or exploring the town, I feel safe and not afraid. I grew up knowing that I can trust others, and do what I wish. We have freedom of speech and equality.

Being Finnish is knowing the lyrics or the evergreen iskelmä-songs. Being Finnish is stuffing ketchup in every single meal, no matter if the flavor serves any meaning to the food itself.  Being Finnish is dark humor, sarcasm and bad puns. Being Finnish is coffee, Fazer-chocolate, rye bread and sausage. Being Finnish is being Me! 🙂

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

Finnishness for me

For me, Finnishness is the unique experience of not bothering and also of not being bothered by people in public places.  There is a special day when Finns talk to each other, especially to strangers. It is called a “Friday”. On Fridays it is customary to enter the warm embrace of the closest Sauna that you can find and enjoy a beer – “Saunakalja” – with friends, or in more public places, with strangers. On Fridays you may also see intoxicated Finns wandering the streets, looking to impart great knowledge upon anyone they bump into.

Image result for kaljaa perjantai

Jokes aside, I have no idea  what it actually means to be Finnish. What is it that actually defines our culture? Is it our laws, our holidays or maybe our education? I don’t know. I’m not qualified at all to tackle this question. I’m not a very group-oriented person.

What I do know, is that every country has its own stereotypes, and they do exist for a reason. There will always be people that embody those stereotypes, but in my experience everyone is an individual in the end. Even if someone seems to fit into a stereotype, once you get to know them, you might see them in a somewhat different light. Everyone has their own history, dreams, fears and regrets. Other than the language we speak as our mother tongue, I can’t think of a thing that separates a Finn from the rest of the human race.

I was born in Finland, grew up here and went to school here. As a child I regularly traveled to Russia (5-10 times a year, for 15 years) with my family and I can confidently say that generally speaking, people in both of these countries are in many ways similar. We are all just human. Individuals suffering or enjoying their current circumstances.

 

 

These aren’t the Finns you’re looking for

To get you to the mood: put this track on, imagine yourself on a finnish summer cottage on a lakeside and continue reading.

Eukon kanto

As a sport in Finland we carry our wives.Eukonkanto
There is even world championship race of wife carrying kept here. Race is kept in a track modified to meet the standards of Wife Carrying Competition Rules Committee. Track is 253,5 meters and the wife carried can be yours or someone elses. (If you’re brave enough it can even be your neighbours wife!). Wife also must meet the standards of WCCRC: she has to be at least 17 years old and weigh over 49 kg (~108 lb). The contestants run the race in groups of two couples, and the winner is the couple who has the shortest time. To make the race more interesting for everyone there is also awards for most entertaining couple, best costume and the strongest carrier.

 

Mämmi

TMämmihe culinarities of Finns. You may have heard of the strange recipes of Finnish people, which include rye bread, salty liquorice and mämmi. Mämmi is sweet traditional Easter dessert in Finland. It is traditionally packaged in birch bark bowls, called rove or tuokkonen. It can be consumed with or without cream and sugar, both of which give mämmi a little bit sweeter and more dessert like taste.

 

Jokamiehenoikeus

In Finland you have this rare thing Retkicalled ’Every-mans-right’ which gives you right to enjoy Finnish nature to the fullest. It still does not mean you can do whatever, where-ever. It gives you a possibility to go camping, go fishing with a fishing rod or jig and during your visit to the wilds you can also eat some berries! But you must know that there is limits to these rights , so you better make friends with the Finnish people first so they will tell you the basics.