As a Finn there are three things that always come to my mind when I think about Finnishness: honesty, equality and sauna.
We Finns value honesty very much. We say what we think about something and we mean it. This is both a good and a bad thing. For example in business it’s very good that you can count on what has been agreed upon. Then again when having a conversation our honesty may be interpreted as being rude to someone.
Equality is so deeply rooted to our society, that we don’t always even notice it ourselves. One of my personal favorites is the absent of gender specific pronoun. Equality is also tied with our education system, which provides free education to each and everyone. If that isn’t amazing, I don’t know what is!
Sauna is what symbolizes my finnishness the most. It combines the above-mentioned honesty and equality together. Nowhere can you find a more honest Finn, then being in sauna with them. Also in sauna there are no titles, all people are equal in sauna.
One of the biggest cultural differences that I have noticed between Finns and rest of the world is that we can be perfectly at ease with silence even though we are in company. I noticed this especially when I lived for a week with a French family in Belfort, when the mother thought something was wrong if we Finns were quiet during the car ride. We had thought it a bit odd instead, that the mother had tried so hard to keep up small-talk — we were perfectly happy with just appreciating the passing scenery. When we explained this to the French family, they told us that they felt really weird if things were silent, especially if you didn’t know the people very well. Silence for them, was a mark that something was wrong.
In addition to Finns being a silent bunch, we normally are not that well versed in the art of small-talk. I had a course in the University of Eastern Finland, where our American professor tried to hammer us some basic dos and dont’s in especially the Anglo culture. First of all, the professor told us, Finns are too honest and straightforward. If someone asks us how we are, we genuinely answer how our day has been; usually the ‘how do you do’ is however, just a polite expression.
There is also something else that stayed in my mind from the course: in the Anglo culture there is a habit of saying the person’s name a lot when you are talking with them. I had never noticed before, but we Finns don’t generally do that. For that reason, our professor emphasized to us, that we should really pay attention to people’s names when they are introduced, as it is expected to use them later in the conversation as a sign of respect.
Apart from being quiet and having to work on our conversation skills, we Finns sure do love our summer cottages. Maybe it’s because we want to escape to spend our sparse summer months somewhere with even less people, maybe it’s because usually the sauna in the cottage is superior to the one at home. When I was younger, most of our summers were spend in the cottage, and though I go there myself much rarely now, my parents still flee there right when the first a bit warmer weekend comes in the spring.
When I think of the word ”Finnishness”, I think of forests, lakes, sauna, shyness, being honest and being persistent. Being a Finn is something you don’t really think about when living in Finland, because you are surrounded by other Finns. Now that I’m about to go abroad, it’s a good time to stop for a minute and think what being a Finn means to me.
Finns are known to be quiet and shy. Even the comic ‘Finnish Nightmares’, which has almost 150 000 likes in Facebook, is based on this thought. The hero of the comic is a typical Finnish man named Matti, who does daily things from standing all quiet in an elevator with their neighbors to talking to foreigners and feeling shy throughout the conversation. Many Finns have commented in this Facebook page how they identify themselves in these comic, and many foreigners have commented how these comics remind them of their Finnish friends. If you ever want to know what being a Finn means to us Finns, please go checkout ‘Finnish Nightmares’ comic: https://www.facebook.com/finnishnightmares/?fref=ts
To me, the most important thing in Finland is the atmosphere we have here. Although things aren’t always as good as they seem to be, in my opinion you can be who you want to be here without being judged too hard or someone telling you to stop doing your thing. Finns can be prejudiced and brutally honest, but in the end everyone gets an opportunity here. I also think that most of the Finns appreciate the nature here. Going for a walk in a quiet forest or for a swim in a lake is a normal thing to do here. Maybe that’s why most of the Finns are so used to being quiet and minding their own business. It is not that we don’t care about others, we just appreciate our own space and thoughts a lot.
If I were forced to best describe “Finnishness” with three words, it would be the following: humble, honest, and proud. I have lived abroad for nearly half of my young life, therefore although I am Finnish myself, I have gained valuable perspective in comparison to various other cultures.
The way humility comes out in Finns is often interpreted in different ways. For instance, to a foreigner, the fact that strangers do not engage in conversation on public transport may seem somewhat antisocial. Simultaneously, the thought process of a Finn may be that they simply respect the privacy of his/her fellow citizens, and therefore abstain from engaging in small-talk.
The second characteristic of your typical Finn is honesty. Finnish honesty can often also come in many different forms. It can be evident in the form of a blunt, yet honest response; something that foreigners may consider to be downright rude. Then again, a Finn will also give his/her peers heartfelt praise when necessary. Honesty is a value that is taught by one’s parents from an early age as something that is (merely) above all else in the hierarchy of values.
Last but not least, Finns are extremely proud of where they come from. I noticed this in myself especially, whilst living overseas as an adolescent. Any chance I got, I would speak proudly of my homeland and its beauty. This is something that gradually faded away (once we moved back), this unconditional pride in being a Finn. I think it is certainly something us Finns take for granted, all the wonderful little aspects about being a Finn. You know what they say, “you don’t realize what you had until it’s gone”. There is an exception to every rule, and the one time that Finns can collectively boast about their homeland is following sporting success (more that likely to come from ice hockey). At these times, national pride is through the roof and unruly amounts of alcohol are consumed, one aspect that is deeply engraved in Finnish party traditions.
Unfortunately these words are common in the stereotype of finnish culture. There’s no smoke without a fire but I’m glad to admit that although many of those words do describe Finland, there’s more to finnishness than one would except.
Here’s some other words that describe us aswell:
Light, honesty, sisu, friendliness, sauna.
We have nightless night, our nation is one of the most honest in the world, we have guts to not give up and keep pushing on, or as we say it “sisu”, people are not that eager to start making small talk, but when doing so, we are friendly and are said to be quite laid back personalities and above all: we have a lot of saunas.
Winter is very dark and we tend to be kind of melancholic at that time of the year. Fortunately it’s possible to see the wonder of northern lights. Christmas is celebrated with family in most cases followed by New years eve, which is also celebrated with family or friends. So not that bad time of the year after all.
Summertime is the exact opposite of winter. Sun shines more or less around the clock and people are more lively with all the events, warmer weather and festivals not to mention the summer holidays and possibility to enjoy our thousands of lakes and summer cottages.
All in all finnishness includes enjoying extremely happy/lively seasons and darker seasons when it’s time to calm down a bit. It includes quiet but friendly and honest nation that knows how to relax in a hot room all year around.
What I feel about Finnishness is that we are very honest and because of that in Finland you can expect things to go smoothly. We are also very calm and maybe a little more quiet than people from other countries and we like our personal space. We enjoy spending time in groups but also alone. Personally I think that we like to separate our time at home and time out too much. For example the nearest café-house or bar doesn’t feel like a living room to us.
One recognizable thing in us Finns is that we don’t like to speak formally. And the use of those many formal polite words doesn’t come naturally to us. Words like “Mister” or “Sir” are not in a great use and we do not have a word for “please”. I think that we might seem rude to foreigners from time to time but the thing is, we don’t mean to. When we face each other we are polite by our appearance and we understand each other’s behavior based on speaking tone. So when we interact we have this common understanding of what is good behavior. Some might even say that we have great non-verbal communication skills.
We are also very humble. In some ways that is a very good feature. For example we don’t like to interrupt others speech, that makes us good listeners and polite in a way. But also our humbleness has its negative sides. When a Finnish person takes pride and glory in something it’s not in-common that others see it as a bad thing. I think we should be more proud of our achievements and ourselves.