Tag Archives: nature

My Experiences of Finnishness

    Sauna

In my mind there is nothing more Finnish than a sauna. We have over 3 million of them throughout the country and you can find one from everywhere: every a

Bath, Firewood, Design, Sauna, Blow, Hot, Health

partment building, family homes, hotels and even our government building has one! The cool thing

about sauna is that once you go in, everybody is equal.

You can be any size , shape, gender or color and all you have to do is get naked and jump up on the bench with the others.

 

 

 

Ice hockey

Players Playing Ice Hockey

The one thing that always brings the whole Finland together better than anything else is

our national Ice Hockey team, or as we call them “Leijonat”. We have witnessed this

magical phenomenon where every person is the friend of the one next to them,

three times as we have won the World Championship. Every time people storm the streets and marketplaces to celebrate together. And for the official ceremony there are thousands of people becoming one.

 

 

    Juhannus

Midsummer or “Juhannus” is

one of the only days in the year when Finland completely stops. Cities are empty, there is no traffic or

Fire, Flames, Bonfire, Sweden, Night, Evening, Outside

noise when everybody retreats to the cabins and nature to celebrate with their friends

 

and family. During Juhannus you enjoy the endless sun, and the warmth (if you are lucky) and just get in peace with yourself.it is my favorite celebration of the year and I’m looking forward for the next one already.

 

“Finland, that’s one of the Nordic countries, right?”

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.

Nature:

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.

Traditions:

 

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!

 

-Niina

Country of thousands of lakes

Finns are humble. They don’t boast about what they have done. Actually they rather underestimate their skills. Example, almost everyone knows Angry birds, but only few know they are made in Finland. Because Finns keep it low. Finns are also a bit quiet and thinks carefully what they want to say. Most of us are better listener than speaker. So don’t think we are rude if we aren’t much about small talk.

Nature
Finnish nature is so beautiful with thousands of lakes, large archipelago and lovely coniferous forests. We love to spend time in nature and have some activities over a year. At winter we like to go play ice hockey, snowboarding, skiing or just playing in the snow. At summer when the sun begins to set later and later, Finns spend a lot of time in their summer cottages with their family or friends. Summer is also time for outdoor activities like boating, swimming, fishing, playing football, golf and almost everything you like to do. There is so many possibilities for different kind of activities in Finland.

Food
Finnish food is one of the most safeties and healthiest culinarians in the world. But Finnish traditional foods taste don’t tickle foreigners taste buds…

Here is one one example, when Gordon Ramsay is testing traditional Finnish food:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4S-8gF9GFJo

 

A few things about Finnishness

What is Finnishness? In my opinion Finnishness can be summarised with three things: sauna, nature and a lack of small talk. Here’s how those things represent finnishness.

Sauna

Sauna is perhaps the most known part of the Finnish culture around the world. Sitting naked with strangers in a hot room may sound bizarre for non-Finnish people, but for Finns sauna is sometimes a place to relax and shake of the stress after a hard week of work, sometimes it’s a place to socialise and have a few (or more) drinks with your friends. It’s pretty much the only place where talking to stangers is considered normal. For Finns, having a sauna in your home is something considered almost self-evident. It is estimated that there are two million saunas in Finland, which is a lot for a population of 5.3 million. The best way to experience sauna is at a summer cottage by a lake, with a possibility to take a dive in the cool lake water.


A sunset over a lake in Northern Finland

Nature

The Finns live close to nature. Approximately 75% of Finland’s area is covered in forests. Finland is often called “a land of thousand lakes”, which is actually an understatement (which is usual for Finns), considering there’s  over 187 000 lakes in Finland. Where ever you go, nature is close, whether as a small lake or as a piece of forest. The temperatures and climate between different seasons varies a lot. In summer the temperature can climb up to 30 degrees celcius and accordingly during winter it sometimes gets down to -30 degrees. The changes between the seasons require a skill to adapt to different situations, something the Finns have mastered.

No empty words

In most Western cultures people use small talk to avoid awkward moments of silence during a discussion, but not Finns. Moments of silence during a discussion aren’t really considered awkward, and they are certainly considered better than saying something you don’t necessarily mean. For an example, when asked a simple “how are you”, we have a tendency to answer literally.

Cartoon by Karoliina Korhonen

The lack of empty words means that when Finns say something, they almost always actually mean it. Finns are really honest people, and when they say they’re going to do something, they will do it. One of the most important traits for Finns is something called “sisu”, which is a concept of extreme determination and perseveranse.

Nature and good manners

When I think of Finland and what Finnishness means to me the first things that come to my mind are  nature and polite people .

Finland’s nature is one of a kind. Finland is known for its lakes, clean water, clean air and beautiful landscape. What makes Finland’s nature even more beautiful is the 4 seasons. During every season the nature changes and new colors come.

 

Finns are also very polite and have good manners, they don’t yell their orders in cafeterias or push to be the first one to get into the bus. They line up and wait for their turn. Finns are also very trustworthy people, if they promise something you can count on it.

Family, Nature and Sauna

For me Finland and ”Finnishness” can be summarized in three words: Family, Nature and Sauna. I love traveling, but these three things make Finland my home. They are the things that I miss and the things I return back for (plus to stack up on some salmiakki of course).

Most of my family lives in Finland. We have long history here all the way from up north to down south. Especially my grandparents remind me of why Finland, the country their parents fought for, is important. They also help me to see the things we have only in here like quietness of lakeside and forest full of berries and such. Finnish language, and my family’s way of speaking it, has words I would never manage to translate in English and subjects that others would not understand. This makes my time with my family speaking Finnish special.

Nature is very big part of my life both in Finland and everywhere I go. Whether it be hiking, wandering, berry or mushroom picking or just hanging out by the lake or barbequing sausages in forest, it’s where I want to be – and luckily in Finland it’s possible. Everyman’s rights provide us with all the forest has to offer.

One just simply can’t talk about “Finnishness” without mentioning sauna. It’s such an important part of Finns that it has created its own culture; Using “vihta” aka birch whisk, pouring beer to sauna stove (please if you are in the Finland for the first time don’t do this without sauna owner’s permission, not appreciated everywhere), sauna elves, telling your deepest secrets or staying quiet and simply enjoying.  What better to do than constant swimming and sauna in summer and ice swimming and sauna in winter? Sauna has also made nakedness sort of normal for Finns, which makes it no special to go skinny dipping as it’s normal on cottages.

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.

Little parts of Finnishness

Travelling to and living in different countries can really make you appreciate the culture you have grown up with. At least for me that is the case. Listed below are a few “features” of Finnishness which I really appreciate especially compared to other cultures and countries.

Personal space

One unique feature of Finnish culture is the value of personal space, as shown in the picture below. This actually is a common sight at bus stops in Finland and it is hard for some people from other cultures to understand. A part of Finnishness is appreciating the quiet moments and not feeling the pressure to socialize if it is not necessary.

People can just quietly pass each other and still acknowledge the person they are passing,  in the Finnish culture, without it being considered rude. In some other cultures it is common to greet people on the street or  at the bus stop, this is considered common courtesy. For example passing a person in a supermarket at an aisle in the US, they would say “Excuse me”, this was strange to me because there was plenty of room for them to pass and in Finland people would just quietly pass behind the person.

This ties into the lack of small talk in the Finnish culture and a key part of Finnishness for me. People can take the same bus with the same people for a year and never talk to each other because there is no pressure for that. This might be perceived as shyness or being rude which might be hard to explain to other people. Instead it should be considered as a good feature in people, because once a Finn starts a conversation with someone else it usually has a purpose and is not just forced small talk. Also when asking someone how they are, a Finn truly wants to know how have you been and are expecting a better answer than just “good”.

 

Nature

The other thing I really appreciate in Finland is the nature. I know this is a common answer among Finns but there is not many places that have similar nature opportunities like in Finland. You do not need to go far to find a quiet piece of nature, even if it is just the park or a small patch of forest. There are always trails near by where you can for example take your dog for a walk and it is not hard to find.

The distinctive four seasons are also very valued here, even if the summer is short and winter is dark. I could not imagine myself living somewhere where I could not experience both the warmth of summer and the beauty of snowy winter.

These are the things that come to mind when talking about Finnishness to myself. I hope people visiting Finland get to experience these in a positive way and Finns remember to appreciate these features even in the darkest times of winter.

Finnishness Through My Lens

The People

I’m always impressed by the honesty and kindness of Finnish people. I still remembered the first day I came to Finland, which was three years ago. When I reached my place, I met my flatmate, who was also a Fin. She was friendly and always tried to create a warm atmosphere to welcome me as a newcomer. We were talking a lot about our own cultures and why we decided to stay in this city. To be honest, on my first day in Finland, I felt homesick a little bit in the first place, but then I felt warm after meeting the local people who were always hospitable towards the visitors.

Karjamäentie, Joensuu – where I first arrived in Finland. Source: Google

What is more, I attended a course which was called “Intercultural Communication.” My Finnish teacher said that a Fin was very honest and straight. If they complimented someone on something, they really meant it. On the other hand, if they were not satisfied with anything, they might show their expression on their face or tried not to talk about it. And I love this character of the Finnish as I thought, although sometimes it might be frank, I still preferred what would be real, coming from the bottom of the heart.

Moreover, when I moved to Tampere from Joensuu, I got help from an old Finnish lady on my first day to TAMK. At that time, I did not acknowledge the bus schedule system in Tampere, so I was lost. Luckily, the old lady was enthusiastic about helping me, although she only spoke Finnish. She was supposed to get off to her place, but she still stayed with me until the end of the trip. When we got off the bus number 3 to catch another bus to TAMK, she held my hand and said in Finnish. I knew some Finnish and said “Kiitos paljon” to her. I just felt like I was her niece and taken care by a grandmother. I felt grateful to receive help from the local people in Finland.

On the road on my first day to TAMK. Source: Google.

The Winter

There is a joke on Facebook, “When months in Finland are different to months elsewhere.” It means that the winter in Finland lasts for months, more than six months. Everything will be covered by the white snow, and the darkness will dominate the whole thing for such a long time when it comes to winter.

Source: Very Finnish Problem – Facebook

To be honest, I get depressed from time to time because of the coldness and silence. However, I still know how to enjoy the winter here. If it’s cold, I’ll go to the sauna to warm myself up. Sauna is part of Finnish culture, and Finland is the homeland of the sauna. I love the heat, sitting by the heated stone in one corner and pouring the water down the rock. I don’t know if anyone has tried this before. It’s kind of going to the winter lake, dimming oneself into it and then go for a sauna and just take a turn like that. If you stay in Finland, you should definitely try that once. 

Joensuu Polar Bear – Source: Joensuun Jääkarhut

Besides, another winter activity I love most is sledding. At first, I was terrified, but after that, I got used to it and tried doing it many times. I also take an interest in walking on the frozen lake, although I am afraid that this activity might be dangerous. I feel like I have a superpower to step on the water. I find it interesting to walk on the lake because it will save time to go from place to another.

Sledding in winter – Source: Google

The Landscape

Finland is considered to be the land of thousand lakes. Everywhere I go, I always see lakes. I never row a boat on the lake, but only stand on the bridge and look at the surroundings, especially in summer. The atmosphere is fresh, I can smell the lake and the trees. The view is bright with the sunlight and blue sky, but in winter, the lake will be covered with white snow.

Pyhäselkä in winter – Source: Taken by me
Pyhäselkä in summer – Source: Taken by me

In autumn, I love the yellow leaves falling down from the trees. It looks romantic. Yes, it is indeed. I also want to take a rest at the lake again to enjoy watching the breathtaking view again. I can see that the lake view is quite typical in Finland. It is different from other places that I have ever been to. I find it peaceful and colorful with blue and green. It gives a relaxing atmosphere whenever I feel depressed.

Autumn trees – Source: Taken by me

Finnishness from the viewpoint of a German

I still remember how people looked at me when I told them that I am going to live in Finland. And even after three years I still hear myself explaining why I didn’t choose a warm country with sunny beaches. The questions are always the same: Isn’t it very cold and dark there? Is the language really so hard to learn? Are the Finns really so quiet and restrained?

To be honest, the long darkness is a serious struggle for me and the Finnish language often drives me close to insanity.

However, this does not define Finnishness for me.

For me, Finnishness means:

Nature: Wherever you go in Finland, the next lake or forest is always close by. In Germany, if you are living in a bigger city, you often need to drive somewhere to be in nature and the few lakes we have are usually overrun with people.

 

 

Sauna: When I was a child I sometimes went to public saunas in Germany, but I never really enjoyed them. First of all, people must be naked (also in mixed saunas) and secondly, others will look sharply at you if you make a single sound. In Finland going to the sauna is more like an event where people are not only relaxing, but also socializing. Since I am living in Finland, I became a true sauna fan – especially during the cold winters.

 

 

 

 

Hospitality: Finns often seem very quiet, but their hospitality overrides this restraint. Before my studies I worked as au pair in a Finnish host family and from the first moment I felt welcomed there. During this year I received several visits from friends and family and my host family was always very happy to meet my guests and usually invited them to their summer cabin.