When telling people that you are from Finland, many don’t even know where Finland is. If they do the most common stereotypes about our culture and country are snow, Lapland, Darkness, Nature, Northern lights, sauna, quietness, and sometimes our great education. Yes we are part of the Nordic countries and there are similarities, but Finnish culture is unique in its own ways.
For me Finnish culture has many layers and constructs from different aspects. Some pillars for me would be nature, traditions, peacefulness (unless we win the hockey championships) and personal space.
As Finland has so much nature that is free for everyone to explore and enjoy, it has become a vital part of our culture and so called “Finnishness”. There are lakes, forests, sea, fields and so many other scenery all around Finland that everyone can find their own form of nature that they like. And due to Every man’s rights (jokamiehenoikeudet) we can all enjoy the nature freely, given that we respect and treat it as a living organism that needs to be looked after. We go to the nature to find peace from the busyness of the cities and to get some exercise. Nature is integrated into our everyday lives, Finland is not called ‘the land of thousand lakes’ for nothing.
Finns are really traditional and it can be seen in our culture. Of course culture changes as time passes but ancient traditions can be still seen in our culture even today. Sauna culture is one of these old traditions that doesn’t seem like ever going away. Sauna is part of our big holidays like Christmas and Midsummer as well as everyday routines. Other traditions like traditional dances (seen in the picture) are still danced in these events called ‘lavatanssit’. One can see that this tradition will go on because there are people from different generations attending the dances.
Peacefullness and Personal space:
Like earlier mentioned, Finns like to go out to nature to get some peacefulness in their life. I think that is one of the reasons we were voted the Happiest country in the world last year. Finns are hard working but we know how to find the balance between free-time and work and we know how to relax. People go to a summer cottage for some peace and relaxation. With this comes the personal spaces. Finns like their own time and spending time with their selves whether it’s at home, at the cottage or in nature. We function best if we find a good balance of own time, socializing, working and free time. Personal space appreciation can also be seen in buses: If there is a empty space somewhere in the bus, Finn will not sit next to another person but rather choose a seat all by them selves.
These are few points that I think means to be Finnish and tells what Finnishness is. I enjoy and respect our culture and think I will miss some of the aspects while I am doing my exchange. Let’s see shall we!
It might often seem to foreign people that Finns are a bit cold and quiet people. I am not at all surprised, since we hardly ever speak to people we don’t know, especially to foreigners. It is very common to us to travel in public transportations and not say a word to one another but that is just the way we are; we like our own space. I don’t think it is because we are cold, it is just that we are a bit shy and might often have preconceptions, especially for people from other countries.
I think it would be very helpful for us Finns to get out of this country to travel. Once we open our eyes to other cultures, we can learn and enrich our way of seeing things. Then we might understand why we can seem a bit odd folk to some foreigners.
In my opinion we are ultimately a friendly and kind nation, if you only give us time to get to know us.
Nevertheless, I love my home country. It is in my mind a safe haven. In Finland we recently celebrated our 100th anniversary of Independence. I am thankful and proud to say that I am a Finn. We have a beautiful nature with all four different seasons. My favourite season is the Finnish summer, which is always too short in my opinion. People are the most energetic and generally just happy in the summer time. Summer is the time when people spend the most time outside, enjoying the long days with lots light and warm weather. There are a lot of things to do for people in the summer. You can enjoy different events through the summer all over the country, for example different music festivals.
Summer and Sauna
In the summer we Finns spend a lot of time at Summer cottages. We spend all day outside enjoying the sunlight; go to the lake fishing, do gardening, grill food, warm up the sauna and sometimes also “palju” if you happen to have one in your summer cottage. The Finnish sauna has a sauna stove that warms up with wood and fire. “Palju” in other hand usually looks like a big barrel that is filled with water that you also warm up with fire and wood. It is really kind of like a hot tub but outside, which is really nice since you get to enjoy the beautiful summer nights sitting in the tub.
Every summer we Finns celebrate Midsummer at the end of June. Midsummer is one of the main national holidays in Finland. In midsummer Eve we celebrate the “nightless night” that basically means that the sun is up almost through the whole day and night. In the northern Finland the sun doesn’t go down at all. Midsummer is typically spent with family and friends at a summer cottage away from the cities. Midsummer traditions consist of lighting bonfires by the lake, going to sauna, barbecuing and playing different games outside. If you happen to stay in the city in Midsummer, it might feel as if the cities have been abandoned since almost everybody leaves their homes to go to the cottages.
Midsummer is usually seen as the beginning of warm summer weather and many Finns start their summer holidays on Midsummer Eve.
Finnishness to me means mostly peace and the feeling of being safe. The Finnish nature is unbelievably beautiful and unique. It keeps on surprising you every time.
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!
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.
My exchange has already started when I am writing this so my perspective to Finnishness has already changed little bit. I want to write you about things what I seem to be missing from Finland.
Lakes and midsummer
Finland is known from its lakes “Land of a Thousand lakes”. Before my exchange I had no idea that I could be missing lakes, but seems that I am really used to swimming. Lakes also seems to be meeting place with friends, a place to gather around and relax.
This was my first summer away from Finland and I missed Finnish mid-summer party, which usually includes lake, swimming, tasty food and bonfire. I was seriously considering flying back to Finland just for midsummer, but finally I did not. I guess next year I must celebrate twice as much.
In Finland I was used to eating rye bread and porridge, but they seem to be really hard to find here or they are really expensive. Of course idea is to experience local culture and food, but my eating habits seems to be hard to change.
Before my exchange I did realise that these are things which I would miss from finland, but that seems to be the case here. I guess these things are “Finnishness” to me.
Here is picture of finnish midsummer bonfire called “kokko”
Old joke, but it is very funny to watch when people hear that you are from Finland and come up with that joke like you have never heard of it before. Talking about Finland, there is a lot of misconceptions about Finnish people, our culture and habits. Yes we love sauna, salmiakki and going to the lake naked during winter, but that’s not all. There is also people who say we are not very social and we are shy. Yes, this is true to some people like in any other country in the world. But personally I think that when you get to know a Finnish person, mostly they are very kind and quite social.
One of the things that make people (especially Americans) think that we are rude or don’t like to talk with strangers is that we don’t do “small talk” that much. And with foreign people, Finns usually don’t like to initiate conversation, but that doesn’t mean we are not willing to talk or to help. That’s just how we are.
Summer in Finland is known to be short, dry and not too hot. Finns like to spend time by the lakes and parks during the summer, and we also have quite a few music festivals, especially rock festivals.
Most Finnish people also like nature a lot. It is quite common to have a summer cabin with your family or close friends and spend time there. The cabins are usually located very close to a lake or any kind of water actually.
There is of course also a sauna near by. Midsummer festival is very common time of the year to spend time on your summer cabin with your family. Spending time there especially during midsummer usually involves drinking, barbeque and sauna.
We are also called the land of thousand lakes. There are about 188 000 lakes in Finland and about five million people. So about one lake for 26 people. And usually when there is a lake, there is also a forest. About two thirds of Finland’s surface area is covered in forest.
Every Finnish person also has the right to walk in the woods, pick berries and swim in the lakes as long you don’t walk very close to the owners property. This is also called “everyman’s rights”. I like to think that this is one of the ways Finnish people show how they appreciate nature and equality.
I think Finland is a very beautiful and great country. I’m proud of my Finnishness and I like to live in Finland. We can seem quite silence and sensitive people but I think it’s only when we don’t know other people. With family and friends that’s not happening. We can have fun and enjoy of the company!
The best thing of the nature of Finland is cleanness. The forests are healthy and the lakes and sea are mostly clean. That makes everything so beautiful! I love being in nature. I can just go to walk to the forest and watch and listen things around me. In Finland you can collect berries and mushrooms where ever you want and also eat those as much as you like.
In Lapland the nature is quite different. There are plenty of mountains and in winter time lot of snow. That is also very beautiful sight and you can enjoy of that for example by doing downhill skiing.
Finns love sauna and I do that also. We use sauna around the year. Many people have a summer cottage and there is always a sauna. So in summertime we go to the cottage and use sauna and swim in a lake or sea. That gets you a very relaxed feeling!
After summer when it gets colder we use sauna at home. Many people do that on weekends on Friday or Saturday. After the working week people relax by using sauna and maybe drinking couple of beers with it.
When we are talking about sauna I must mention also that in Finland it is completely normal to go to sauna with all your family and relative and many times you don’t need any swimsuit! Of course some people have ”women turn” and ”men turn” but not always at all.
Holidays and celebrations
In Finland we have many holidays around the year but the longest and best ones are in summer and at the Christmas time. Those are the holidays when you can really forget the school and works and enjoy of the free time.
The high point of the summer is Midsummer. That is a feast when most of people go to some summer cottage and have fun with relative or friends. Midsummer includes sauna and swimming, good food and drinks, bonfire and maybe Midsummer dances. Midsummer is also the time when the Sun is up longest time in the year so the night is very light.
The Christmas holiday is of course because of the Christmas. That is maybe the biggest feast of the year and Finns are spending it with family and relative. At the Christmas time all stores are closed and everyone is at home. We eat lot of good food, listen to the Christmas songs, give presents and just relax. In families with little children Santa Claus comes to give the presents and that is the high point of the evening. Christmas is very peaceful and I love it!
The Christmas holiday is often still going on at the time of the New Year. That is a feast when we have lot of fireworks and we are celebrating the coming year with the friends.
Finnishness is weird. It’s probably one of those things I could try to explain for someone from outside Finland for years, and still not manage to grasp the purest essence of it. Yeah, yeah, there’s ice hockey, sauna, metal music, nature, salmiakki, moomins, yada yada, but essentially, I have to confess I have no idea how to explain the Finnish mindset properly. And really, I thought I had a clear concept of it inside my head, since I’ve worked and spent plenty of time with other than native Finns for a few years, and you’re bound to come across the fundamental differences by that, in one way or another.
I’m not big on stereotypes, such as being quiet (I’m not – most of time), being extremely honest (that I am, but not all Finns are), or loving sauna, salmiakki, coffee, ice hockey, moomins and metal music. Well, I do love all of those things – my passionate affection to the magical black liquid substance that keeps me awake knows no boundaries, I still find the moomin family as lovely as I did over 20 years ago (and our kitchen may or may not feature a few moomin-adorned items), sauna is a borderline sacred place, and one of the first things I did after getting accepted for exchange to Tilburg was to google the town’s hockey team, Trappers (which is a pleasantly well-succeeded one in the NL’s scale, too). My working life and free time have largely revolved around music and especially metal music, but while extremely Finnish, being one of the country brand’s newer flagships, it has brought me a lot of friends from abroad. You see, Finnish metal scene does not live up to the closed and closed-minded, reserved community stereotype. In case you’re not a terrible far-right redneck who can’t stand any foreigners ever (except if they’re Iron Maiden or Metallica), as a Finnish metalhead you likely have at least a few friends from abroad. The bands reach out early on their career, end up playing in nearly every corner of the world, but in their music maintain “the Finnish touch” that tells you where they’re from. It’s a thing in their sound and lyrics you can pick up, but not really describe: it just sounds Finnish. The same goes with a lot of Finnish photographers – when I studied photography, I learnt quickly to recognize “Finnish eyes”, a way Finnish photographers look at world, and could see from a bunch of photos which ones had been taken by a Finn. These days I wouldn’t recognize them as easily, but I was surprised to learn one of Instagram’s most famous nature photographers was a Finn; Konsta Punkka’s photos look so… worldly? Really, he could be from anywhere, just judging by his photos. It’s not a bad thing, per se, just surprising.
To some extent, I feel that things like that have been said as compliments for quite long in Finland – “it doesn’t look like it’s from here”, meaning that for instance a movie, or a music production, looks and sounds like it’s made in “the big world”. Realizing that made me think of some controversies in Finland and being Finnish: we’re extremely proud of what we do and have here, our quirks and specialties, but at the same time praise someone for not seeming like you’re from here. We’re proud of our language, but rather switch to English with all non-natives than teach them to speak or write it.
But so, stereotypes. For what foreigners know, Finns are quiet and shy, except we’re not. We’re actually pretty loud and obnoxious at times, but we just get irritated when someone else (be it a Finn or a foreigner) is, at the wrong time at least. We’re also usually helpful and glad to do the effort of showing you the right way to train station, tell you what it says in the cheese packaging in grocery store and whatnot, if you ask us – we probably won’t ask if you need help, because we don’t want to interrupt (or think it’s not our business). We’ve often been described super modest, and ok, at least I’m usually not good at taking compliments, but is there really a way taking one gracefully? Anyway, the options are usually either “oh it’s really nothing” sort of approach, or being an outright douche about your looks, achievements or whatever (though this probably applies to some amount of people everywhere). If you find a middle way, you’re basically a superhuman. Apparently we can’t do small talk and can come off as rude, or at least blunt or even stupid, but believe me, after years of being taught we can’t do polite small talk and teachers paying extra attention to that, we’re at least constantly thinking about how to small talk politely. We might also apologize for not knowing how to do that, while trying to talk about weather.
You might have heard that personal space is kind of vital for us, and yes, that one applies. When we first meet someone we like to keep them at arm’s length, and with casual acquaintances, like most classmates or work buddies, we maintain some distance. If we become friends, the amount of touching increases significantly – it’s all about getting to know and trust someone, being comfortable with them, and knowing you can let them inside your circle. So there’s absolutely nothing personal if a Finn backs off or doesn’t touch you after a handshake, they just don’t know you yet. Other stereotypical characteristic that still holds is the Finnish silence, and my, do we love that. I’m damn talkative, and it’s not all that uncommon among Finns than people seem to think, but the ability of being completely silent with someone in the same room, I cherish that with all my heart. It’s easy to be quiet all by yourself, but a friendly, unforced silence with someone is almost like meditation. And yes, you can (usually) tell it apart from silent treatment easily, just watch the mood. Also, you might hear that the easiest way to bond with a Finn or get them to open up is over a few drinks, but that doesn’t apply to all, of course. Some keep their distance even while drunk. What about heavy drinking in general? Yeah, we do that, I’m not even going to try to deny it. But again, it’s not for every Finn even, so being surprised if someone tells you they’re absolutists would be rude.
And nature, that’s a huge deal. People here have been genuinely worried about city kids not learning to move around in the wild, or at very least learning to tell one tree, plant, or animal in their close surroundings from another, and to me that’s sort of a weird (and a bit scary) concept to begin with. Even though I consider myself a city person and have lived in mid-sized and big towns and cities – on Finland’s scale, which is not all that much – for most of my life, knowing my way in the woods, recognizing edible berries, and knowing how some wild animals are supposed to behave are kind of no-brainers to me, things you are just supposed to learn as a kid. It could be that if Finns separate themselves too much from nature, they’d lose something essential for being Finnish. Not everyone likes to hike, hunt or fish, or go berry and mushroom picking (I don’t enjoy those too much, either), but I believe that all Finns enjoy the closeness of a forest and flowing water more or less. So perhaps it’s the constant presence and acceptance of something wild being out there that makes us how we are? Then again, there’s already (adult) people who seem to be very afraid of the wild, almost hysterically so.
What also seems to be important is the balancing between darkness and light. It’s rather dark for most of the year, so when the sun starts to show up more in the spring, not just the nature but also Finns sort of “wake up”. Suddenly we’re all busy seeing friends and spending time outside, whether it’s at summer cottage, beach, bar terrace or a festival. After the weather starts getting colder and the leaves start to change, things slow down, almost like hibernating. But the nice thing about winter is how snow lights up the darkness, northern lights colouring the sky, how stars look brighter, and how every place is adorned with Christmas lights and candles. The light during winter is different, but all the more beautiful within the darkness. And the darkness isn’t so bad, either – it can be like a blanket, hushing you in to spend time with yourself and family, a permission to slow down and focus on things you don’t do during summer. By Christmas time, the winter solstice falls near, too, so it also means that we’re turning from darkness towards light again, and that – if anything – is a thing to celebrate. As much as midsummer’s nightless night calls for celebration, yuletide and new year’s have equally lot to do with light. When you look at the whole picture, a lot of important things during a Finnish year revolve around light, waiting for it to return or its constant presence.
So yeah, I don’t know if I just scratched the surface here. There would be so much more to this and then some, and I could still feel the whole concept of Finnishness could be explained with a few well-built sentences, but I hope here’s at least a start.
Now that midsummer (Juhannus) is here and many of the Finns are heading to countryside to enjoy the long weekend with friends and families or to attend some festival around Finland it is quite acceptable time to think about Finnishness. Afterall midsummer is an important part of Finnishness and it is around the time when the days are the longest in here.
Midsummer in Finland usually might include watching a bonfire (kokko) and eating grilled food, going to sauna and having some alcoholic beverages. And not to forget that the night barely gets dark at all which allows Finns to enjoy the long bright day before the fall comes with long dark days.
Another way to spend midsummer in Finland is to attend one of the festivals around the country, especially for the younger people. Renting a cottage or staying in a tent with friends and to see live Finnish artists or bands to perform is a way to enjoy midsummer nevertheless the weather.
When first thinking about the word Finnishness it brings to my mind nature, lake, sauna and good Finnish food, such as rye bread, Fazer’s chocolate, liquorice, Karelian pasty and pea soup. A bright summer nights and dark, cold, snowy winter days. These are just the first things coming to my mind, which probably are very stereotypical.
A Finnish person is also big part of Finnishness. Describing a Finn would include a quiet, calm, honest, enjoying own personal space and not caring too much about small talk. Alcohol would be part of the picture too. I personally do not completely agree with the stereotypical Finn but there are some truth to it.