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What Finnishness means to me

Before reading this, I would like to say to you (whoever is crazy enough to read texts longer than a tweet nowadays), that the following text might be a bit boring to read (here you have a perfect example of the Finnish modesty) but I am not a writer like Eino Leino or Minna Canth, I don’t enjoy writing as much as they did. But I still managed to write down this lovely list of things that the word Finnishness means to me.

What Finnishness means to me. Well, it means a lot of different things. Firstly, it means the ability to enjoy all the four seasons with all their positive and negative qualities. It means long cold winter, beautiful and lively spring, green and warm summer and rainy but colorful autumn. It means the ability to breathe in the fresh air and walk around beautiful, clean and peaceful nature.

Lakes are a huge part of the Finnish nature.

 

It means the ability to be whatever I want to be and the ability to study for free. It means feeling safe. It means that everyone has equal opportunities to succeed and everyone is treated with respect. It means that you get a mum package from KELA when you have a baby.

It means a lot of coffee, beer, and sausages. And weirdly a lot of potatoes in different forms. It means eating weird foods like mämmi and liver casserole and pretending to enjoy it (some people actually enjoy these things).

.Mämmi – a Finnish Easter dessert. Picture source: K-ruoka.fi

It is feeling uncomfortable when someone sits next to me on a half-empty bus or a train. It means the weird look on my face if a stranger begins to have a conversation with me. But then again it means being completely fine with going to a public sauna and sitting there half-naked with people you don’t know. It is the feeling of community when people go crazy over something successful that a Finnish sports team does and the feeling of pride when Finland related stuff appears international movies or TV series. It means the pride and respect I feel when I hear the national anthem of Finland and think about how Finns fought for the independence of our country.

Picture source: finnishnightmares.blogspot.com

It means going to the cottage when it is Midsummer and eating rice porridge when it is Christmas morning. It means watching the independence they celebrations and listening to Finlandia together with family. It means celebrating vappu with friends and eating a lot of munkki with sima.

Picture source: Finnish Travel Blog

Finnishness means that it is ok to complain about being chosen the country with the happiest people in the world.  Lastly and maybe most importantly it means queuing up to get a free bucket and hoping to win the lottery. Overall, it is an honor to be able to call this country my home and to live in the same country with Santa Claus, of course.

Picture source: ifunny.com

There is so much more to it as well, I am sure, but here are the first things that came into my mind when I started to think about the meaning of Finnishness.

 

 

 

 

Finnishness

Ranking among the very best in air quality, not too many people, one of the highest concentrations of forest per km2 make it one of the best places in the world to breathe. More and more of the population live in the cities nowadays, but the forest is always near and easily reached.

Log Cabin, Cottage, House, Home, Finland, Landscape

The vast majority of Finns highly value nature and enjoy the outdoors. Having all four seasons gives a lot of variety to our lives. Some people may complain about the cold winters, but I believe they secretly still love it. This also brings different pastimes depending on the season. We are mostly familiar with snow and winter sports though, many of these can be impossible to do in many other countries. It would be very hard to imagine life never having seen snow.

 

Lake, View, Pine, Water, Blue, Nature, Landscape, Trees

 

One of the year-round pastimes is obviously Sauna. I’m happy to live in the current “Sauna capital” that is Tampere. The pleasurable feeling of heating yourself all red and jumping on snow is one of the best ways to relax the body and mind.

 

Snowy Road, Winter, Forest Road, Cold, Arctic, Frost

 

Next month I’ll begin my exchange studies abroad. Having lived all 23 years of my life in Finland, I know there will be a myriad of things I’ll miss about this country. But I’m sure I’ll be even more appreciative of them when I return. 

 

 

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.

 

 

Finnishness

There are many things to be proud of when thinking Finland or Finnishness; school system, health care, safety, equality, honesty … And of course, the nature of Finland and the sauna!

In Finland we are happy to have four different seasons of the year. They all are very special and have their own perks.

Winter
December to February
-30’C – 0’C
White activities; downhill and cross-country skiing, ice-skating, ice-fishing
Christmas and Santa Claus
Northern Lights

Spring
March to May
0’C – +10’C
Birds singing
1 of May – Vappu
Grass growing and the leaves bursting forth
Flowers

Summer
June to August
+15’C – +32’C
Endless summer days when the sun doesn’t set
Midsummer
Festivals
Relaxing summer cottage life

Autumn
September to November
+2’C – +15’C
Colourful leaves, “ruska”
Forests, mushrooms
Cozy evenings, hot drinks, candles, books, movies

 

“Build the sauna, then the house”

The Finnish sauna is a big part of Finnish culture. There are over three million saunas in Finland – so an average of one per household. I have heard that there are more saunas than cars in Finland! Another fun fact – even a Burger King located in Helsinki has the world’s first in-store sauna and spa.

For Finnish people sauna is a place to relax, socialize, have a couple of drinks and enjoy. Many Finns who have the opportunity usually take a sauna at least once a week. There is no matter what season or time it is, you can always go to sauna.

Finnish mental landscapes

It is widely known that Finland is land of a thousand lakes. Over 187,000 lakes can be found in Finland which is a lot for such a tiny country. Forests cover 75 percent of Finland’s land area which makes it Europe’s most heavily-forested country. This can be one reason why Finns have been described as a forest nation. Every time when I´m on plane and returning to Helsinki-Vantaa airport I feel like landing right in the middle of a forest. So, it is not that difficult to guess which kind of mental landscape people might have here in the northern hemisphere.

Finnish people´s mental landscape lies mostly on the countryside by the lake although most of the people are packed to the cities. It might be in our DNA to feel relaxed surrounded by the nature. This comes out on summers when punch of Finns wanders to their summer retreat places. The cottage is an institution in Finland. And cottage life can be described as a part of the Finnish identity. It is called mökki or kesämökki in Finnish. These simple wooden cottages or log cabins are usually situated close to water. Nowadays some cottages can be like people´s second homes with all the necessities. Cottage slow life offers chance to recharge your batteries. Most of the Finns would mention it to be the most ideal way to spend summer holidays with 24 hours of sunlight. I really agree this. The following picture is taken from my father´s summer cottage house which is located in Hirvensalmi. There are more cottages than residents in this tiny town.

It is remarkable that almost all cottages have a sauna. Finnish people are crazy for saunas. There´s over three million saunas in Finland which tells that it is significant part of Finnish culture. Mostly if you visit someone’s cottage you may be end up to sauna. Sauna has long history in Finland. It used to be cleanest place in households so many babies were born in the sauna back in the days. It is still considered almost as a holy place. Nowadays it is a place to relax alone or with friends and family. In public saunas, this experience can be shared with punch of other sweating people. Documentary movie called Steam of life (Miesten vuoro) was filmed in different saunas. Sounds exotic filming location, eh? The movie is recommendable if anyone feels curiosity towards the mindset of a Finnish man. Finally, in summary the Finnish mental landscapes lie alongside the lake and middle of woods where the birds are humming, and water is licking. Such landscapes lead to Finnish zen where the words are not needed.

 

 

 

Being a Finn

Sauna

Kuvahaun tulos haulle finnish sauna meme

When thinking of Finnishness, the first thing that pops into my mind is sauna. It is the place where one can fully relax and shake off stress. I find the most common time to sauna is during the weekend, usually on Friday, to conclude work week.

Silence

Finns are quite silent, and we embrace it. We minimize all excess communication. No chit-chatting with your neighbours, a simple greeting is fine. No talking to strangers in the bus, we are invading their personal space (and you also want to have your own space).

 

Punctuality

Finns are work oriented and everything – your work day, family gatherings, free time – is usually planned systematically. Funny enough, in other hand we are also quite inconsistent. Public transport is expected to be either late or early, whichever works against your schedule.

 

Four seasons

Kuvahaun tulos haulle four seasons

In Finland you can experience the full season experience. The whole package.  I personally enjoy all of them. Having four different seasons makes me appreciate each a lot more.

In winter you enjoy having a lot of snow and warming up once you have spent your time outside. The cold makes you long for the warmth of summer.

In spring nature raises once more, bringing life and colours. The summer is almost here.

In summer it’s sunny and warm. On the hottest days you could almost wait for the temperature to drop.

In autumn nature starts its glorious wither before summer. It gets darker and rainy. You prepare for winter.

 

Finns are a lot of other things too, of course, but I feel these points cover up a good part of it.

What is it like to be a Finn?

Finland is a small country with big opportunities. We have four beautiful seasons, outstanding pure nature and a society that takes care of its members. Like all countries, Finland has its issues, but I highly believe that they are been seeing smaller when putting in to perspective. This is one reason why people should explore the world and its differences; it makes you see your home country in a whole new light. In this case –  very positively.

Finland has some things that no other country can offer to a Finn, such as sauna and the outstanding nature that gives us energy and pure oxygen to breathe. We have climate that provides us with four seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter. Every Finn waits for the Finnish summer through all of the other seasons and just wishes it is a warm one. I guess that’s the beauty of it – you never know how it’s going to be, but you know it’s coming.

Personally I love all the four seasons and each one has its own good sides. Spring is the time when everything comes back to life and the nature starts to really show its beauty. Finnish summer is amazing with all its pure lakes to swim in, grilled food and cottage life. It is a time when you can explore different cities in Finland and feel like a tourist. Fall is stunning with all its colors and fallen leaves. The weather is crispy and this is a time of the year when usually something new starts. Finnish winter is like no other – endless possibilities for activities, breathtaking views and a perfect season for the Finnish privilige – the sauna. Nothing beats the combination of cross-country skiing followed by sauna on a crispy winter day.

 

Finland is a great place to live in. When travelling, you will see that not many countries take care of their members the way Finland does. Our country offers same options for everyone, regardless of the background. We have a free education which is utopia for most of the people. So let’s appreciate our beautiful home country and all the things it offers to us.

My Experiences of Finnishness

Beautiful nature, light summers, dark winters and sauna. That`s my Finland.

Finland is known as the Land of the Thousand Lakes and it is actually true. The whole Finland is covered with lakes and forests. Nature is also very pure, so here you can drink clean tap water and breath fresh air.

In Finland we have four seasons. Winter is long and dark, but all snow and ice makes it lighter. Spring is the time when everything wakes up and nature is beautifull light green. Summer is not that long, but it is warm and full of light. Actually in mid-summer sun doesn´t set at all for couple of days. Autumn is dark and rainy, but nature is also beautifully colorful, because all the leafs are changing the colour.

Last but not least my favorite thing in Finland: Sauna! Sitting naked in a small, hot room might sound weird for foreigner. But for us it is a place to relax and warm up.

What I love about Finland

I’m very proud of my home country and I like to live here. Our country is unique and beautiful. Finland is one of the safest country to live, we have free health care and our school system is also one of the best in the world and these are things that Finns are proud of. 

The most important thing for me in Finland is our nature. Finland is a country of thousands of lakes and forests. The air is fresh and clean which tempt Finns and also tourists in the nature. Finnish nature serves many opportunities and our four seasons are amazing. In winter we have snow and ice and the temperature may drop even over -20 degrees.  In winter our ski centers fill with skiers and ice rinks with ice skaters. In Winter you can go ice fishing and the most relaxing activity in winter is ice swimming.

Finnish spring and summer is full of light. It is funny to notice that just a few months ago you could walk on iced lake and now you swim and drive with jet ski on that same lake. I think in summer Finns truly wake up after a long and dark winter and become totally different people, relaxed and cheerful. In summer Finns like to spend time on summer cottages with their family and friends.

  

It is always a bit pity when the summer ends but luckily autumn in Finland is colourful and even if the weather isn’t that nice there is still something in the darken evenings. The best thing in the end of the summer are berries and mushrooms which you can find and pick up in forests. The best thing you can do with your own picked blueberries is delicious blueberry pie.

Another thing that I love in Finland is sauna. When the weather gets cold it is wonderful to heat up the sauna. Also in summer it is nice to heat yourself in sauna and dip to the lake to cool off. For Finns sauna is the place where to go relax and flush your worries away. Sauna is also only place where Finns forget their personal space and it is totally okay to go to sauna with strangers.