Tag Archives: nature

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.

 

 

6 things about Finland that first come up to my mind

Almost every time when I return back to Finland from a trip abroad, I realise how well things are in Finland. When I start thinking about what Finnishness means to me, these 6 things come up to my mind immediately.

  1. Equal & free education for everyone

I feel privileged and grateful that I have had the possibility to get educated for free because that is not the case in most parts of the world. Education makes the whole country function better overall as people know what they should aim at in order to get along. It helps people to try to achieve the lives they want to live.

  1. Free health care

Health care being free to every Finn is a big thing as well since insurances are quite expensive and every human needs to see a doctor once in a while. I believe free health care as well as education keep the country’s people all in all in better condition.

  1. Safety

Every time returning back to Finland from abroad, I feel so safe after seeing what it’s like in other countries with totally different cultures and behavioral patterns. Of course, there are places and countries which are even safer than Finland but many times after travelling I feel safer in Finland. Although I know this is also partially because I have lived here my whole life and I know how people behave in this country.

  1. Beautiful nature

Lapland is my favorite part of Finland because of the beautiful landscapes and peaceful nature. The clean outdoor air is something I am very grateful of as well. Go and explore it yourself! 🙂

  1. Rye bread & homemade food

During my upcoming exchange I believe I will miss ryebread and homemade food mostly. They have a place in my everyday life in Finland and which I enjoy eating at home especially. In this case I could say that they are some kind of symbol of safety and home for me, so this is why I believe I will miss them during my exchange.

  1. Own space

Finns love their own space, for example in public transport they usually prefer sitting all alone. I also enjoy having a few moments for myself during the day as it helps me to relax and calm down after a busy day at work or school.

 

Finnishness

Finland is a very beautiful country and I think it reflects on our relationship with nature and animals. There seems to be a general respect for the forest and it’s inhabitants. Hiking and trips to nature are a normal thing to do. Of course the city folk won’t have the same opportunities in everyday life like the people in the countryside do, but the forests and the hills are never far away. I guess that is one thing about our country that I really admire. Having visited other countries and their capitals, seeing an endless sea of buildings and roads is impressive but kind of sad at the same time. In Finland you will rarely see a place that doesn’t have some form of nature in the horizon.

This kind of close proximity makes it a normal thing for us to see forests everywhere. I often find it funny how amazed Chinese tourists with the Finnish nature, but I tend to forget that they usually come from some of the largest urban areas in the world and this is something they might not have seen ever before. Our country is a beautiful place and it should be preserved at all costs to give future generations the ability to enjoy nature like we have been able to so far.

Winter view with Aurora Borealis

Countryside view in the summer, cows chilling in the field

Maybe our past  generations living mostly alone or in small farming communities for centuries contributed to our culture of being solitary and quiet. Silence is golden here, and words don’t have to be used if they are not needed. I think is connected to the whole forest thing – it’s a place one can escape the chaos of modern life to both literally and figuratively breath in fresh air to refresh oneself. At least for me it is important, like a temple of trees where no one will bother you and your thoughts can run freely. Hiking, biking, camping and natural parks are a big thing and they all offer this escape to the ones who yearn for it. I believe all that is in the core of the Finnish spirit, to be content with what is around you and respect it.

Pictures by me.

Samuel Almgrén