Personally, when I think of Finland and the culture I was born and raised in, I think of the straight-forward attitude of people and the untouched nature, but also the crippling sense of loneliness. I’ve had many conversations with people both Finnish and foreign, about how Finnish people are raised to not make noise of ourselves. You have to always go with the safest option, to not take too big of a risk, to stick to what you’re used to. Finnish people are encouraged to be introverted, calm, quiet. A loud person is commonly frowned upon. This kind of mentality creates a lot of shy people, and with a lot of shy people, no one makes connections and people become lonely. When we don’t encourage expressive communication, we stop expressing our emotions. And then it turns into loneliness that can lead to depression that can lead to substance-abuse, something Finnish folk are notorious for. It is the dark side of this dark country.
I realize this is a very heavy image to portray of my culture, but it’s something I think about often and I believe it’s not talked about enough.
On the brighter side, this kind of sullen way of our people can also create unexpected connections. Finnish folk like to make fun of the depressive state of our personal nature, and humour is what truly brings our people together. It can be seen even on this blog: many of the posts feature “Finnish Nightmares”, the humorous comic about Finns struggling to be social. The humour is often tied to the straight-forward honesty that Finnish people value. It’s like in our very nature to tell the truth, no matter how it looks like. And that is something I cherish in Finnishness.
Here’s an uncannily Finnish picture of my brothers from this past Yule. I think it fits into this theme wonderfully.
A couple of years ago I spent a lot of my time travelling alone. I love meeting people from different cultures, since all cultures have their own way of thinking. Of course, Finns understand each other the best through the history, language and culture. Especially culture, like the Finnish sense of humour, can easily go over foreigner’s head. During my travels in Iceland I met another Finn. Our Icelandic friend invited us to her house, and together with some Spanish and Japanese travellers we one night sat down to watch a classic Icelandic movie (can’t remember the name). It was exactly like the Uuno Turhapuro movies we have here in Finland and the absurdity of the movie was funny. The Spanish and Japanese travellers didn’t quite understand it, so I think it tells something about the mentality us Northern Europeans have.
The Finnish sense of humour is dark, dry, subtle and often sarcastic. Even though we won’tmaybe admit it, we enjoy the horrible weather our country has. It gives us something worth complaining every day! It even gives us a reason to talk to each other. Oh, the numerous times I’ve stood in a bus stop and an elderly people has started a small talk about how beautiful/horrible the weather is. Same goes with public saunas. I’ve never sat in a public sauna where everyone has been quiet. I wonder if that’s a situation only a Finn can experience and properly appreciate, since the Sauna Chat ™ is usually in Finnish.
The Finns are often described to be serious and cold, but when you live in a country where most of the year it’s raining either water, snow or wet snow, it should be understandable. I wonder why Mediterranean people are usually described to be lively and friendly? 😉
Finnish language is notoriously difficult for foreigners since it’s in a small Finno-Ugric language family, which also includes Estonian. Many Finnish jokes are wordplay or puns. Many Finnish words have multiple meanings, depending on the context. One of the best examples is the word “kuusi”, which can mean either a pine tree, a number or “your moon”. It can be a cause of headache for foreigners who want to learn Finnish. However, learning Finnish lets you in on a wonderfully weird sense of humour.
So, in conclusion, to me Finnishness is a way of thinking. Our country is beautiful and people seem to be born with an appreciation of the nature, but in the end it’s more what’s inside our heads that make us Finnish.