Weird people somewhere North, living in one of the safest countries in the world, speaking on the the most difficult languages in the world? Yes.
Finland is a country of thousands lakes and endless forests. Our nature is clean, our air is clean, even our water is so clean that you could drink it from the toilet seat. We have those famous incredible Aurora Borealis, wild nature, animals like bears, reindeers, reindeers, bears.. And.. there is always cold in Finland? Usyally, yes. All lovely four seasons. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. Wintertime is long and dark, and this time we call KAAMOS. It is totally basic to get desperate because of it. Nowadays there might be even less light because of climate changing and having less snow in winter time. Every spring we get shocked when we see the sun again and it takes time to get used to it again. But you should be better to get used to it, because in summer the sun is shining all day and all night. Its better to have a evening-job or blackout curtain if you want get sleep in summertime.
We are silent and shy. We really enjoy the silence and loneliness and we say something only when we have to – or when we have something important to say. To us is quite familiar to feel uncomfortable in social situations and we do not know the word ”small-talk”. And it is totally okay to have long silent gaps in a conversation. Our most popular topic is weather and we never get tired of talking about it.
We do not spent our days daydreaming – we think it is good to have feet on the ground. We have the Finnish thing called SISU. The thing that help us go trough nearly everything that we decide to. We are honest hard-workers and have relentless work ethic.
Finnish people always follow rules. If the road is empty and you can not see a soul anywhere, but the traffic light is red, you don’t cross the street. We are precise and usually always on time – but our trains are always late.
When we are kids (or just sick at home) we watch Moomins. We love to ski and play ice hockey and when our parents where kids they all went to school by cross-country skiing. And some of us are still doing it. Quite many, actually. We eat weird things like salmiakki, mämmi, rye bred, Karelia pie and potatoes. Okay potatoes are not weird but we eat them all the time. We love to sauna. For us it is totally normal to be naked in front of a stranger and for example go to swim in a lake – even in a wintertime and even if the lake is frozen. (But you should have a hole in it, of course.) Our humor is black and we are sarcastic people. We do not like to be touched by strangers and there is also people who don’t hug even their best friends. Our own space is important to us and the space is also something we really have here. When the fall comes, we go to the forest to pick berries and mushrooms and then freeze them and eat them all year. In summer the best thing for us is to go out of city in to the forest to spend time in summer cottage. That is the place where is no electricity or other luxuries – and there we can enjoy nature, go sauna and swim in a lake. And.. Yes. We might drink often and when we drink we drink way too much. But it is also the time when you can talk with us, because when we are drunk we finally talk (- before we are too drunk to talk anymore). And whatever other people will say – we know the real Santa Claus is living in Finland.
Okay okay. Maybe these things are just crude, irritating stereotypes and of course Finland is so much more. The question about being finnish is actually not so easy today, because the country, its culture and population is developing and changing all the time. But anyway , I guess there is always a kind of truth hidden in a joke.
For me being a Finn is a weird concept. I can’t seem to relate to most of the stereotypes of Finnish people on a personal level. I am social and outgoing, I don’t mind people entering my personal space (if I know them), I am very affectionate and I am loud and giggly and I actually don’t like sauna that much. The stereotype of grumpy Finns who prefer to grunt in response and avoid interaction with other people whenever possible doesn’t seem to suit me. But I am still a Finn and it means other things to me as it is different for everyone. I guess belonging somewhere comes from yourself and what you believe it means and requires. In a way I am a Finn because I was born in Finland and lived here most of my life. But my times abroad and meeting international people have changed me as well as a person. So it’s not just about where you come from, it’s about who you are and want to be.
But enough of that philosophical blabbering, let’s get down to the things that I think make me a Finn.
Whether it is camping outside and gazing at the stars while roasting marshmallows or sausages on a campfire or skinny dipping in a lake and running back into a sauna on a clear summer night, nature has always been close to me. I grew up in the country side so I got to experience it on a whole new level. There’s nothing more calming to going into the forest on a clear snow day and just listening to the sound of nature while admiring the view that unfolds before you. Snowy landscape is one of my favorite sights to see and it holds the candle to the other wonders of the world. This part of Finnishness also holds the sports we get to do during winter time. Ice skating, skiing, sliding down the hill on a sleigh, all of these and many more would not be possible in many other places.
Food and drinks
There are quite many foods that you wouldn’t come across elsewhere or there might be something similar. I know these names won’t mean much to you but for example karjalanpiirakka, piparkakku, karjalanpaisti, mämmi (which is disgusting by the way) or salted liquorices. We Finns do love our salted liquorice, we put it into almost anything; ice cream, chocolate, alcohol etc. Salmari, the alcoholic drink, is good by the way. Which brings us to the drinking culture in Finland. In a lot of countries drinking is a social thing where as in Finland we can also just do “kalsarikännit” which basically means getting drunk in our underwear alone at home. That’s another thing we do, we get drunk. Sometimes might enjoy a glass or two when having food or going to sauna but if we go out we go all out. During the weekend around 4 am you can find Finns queuing up to a pizzeria or some snack kiosk with greasy food to get something to fill their alcohol infused bellies. And that’s when we actually talk to strangers even if they wouldn’t want you to.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve enjoyed listening to foreigners trying to speak Finnish. I really appreciate the effort though and I congratulate you for trying since it’s definitely not the easiest language. Even Finns have trouble understanding each other depending which part of the country they come from. To many Finnish just sounds like a really long word since we do not tend to breathe in between while talking. We take a deep breath and let it all out in one go. No wonder we don’t talk much. If we don’t have anything to say why say anything at all. Words hold quite a lot of power and verbal agreements can be almost as binding as written ones. If you make a promise you are excepted to hold true to your words. But Finnish language can be quite funny once you learn it (if you learn it).
So I would proudly say, yes I am a Finn. But I am also me and that is so much more.
In my opinion there is not one correct answer to that question. Basically, you can’t just say that someone is Finnish because she/he acts in a certain way. It is quite random in which culture you were born and nationality is just a tiny part of your personality, it doesn’t specify what kind of person you are. But people seem to love categorizing and that is the reason why we have all these stereotypes.
Now it is time to figure out how Finnish you are. The test is based on common stereotypes of what Finnishness is. You get one point for every claim that fits in you.
Your best and only coping mechanism is drinking. No matter how small or big your problem is, the best solution is to drink yourself into oblivion. Next day you may have a major headache but the problem is forgotten!
You hate Swedes and Russians. You don’t really know why, but does it even matter?
You don’t want to meet new people (unless you are drunk). It is awful. Especially you don’t want to get to know people from different cultures. People are dreadful anyway, so why even bother…
You are shy, socially awkward and you hate being centre of attention (unless you are drunk). So it is better just to sit still and quiet somewhere in shady corner and try not to breathe so loud.
You have sisu (sisu can be translated as gut or persistence). At least you think you have. Sometimes the line between stubbornness/foolishness and sisu can be a little flickering. Some may say that doing same thing in same way over and over again without succeeding in it, is ludicrous, but you say it is sisu.
You love sauna. There is nothing as awesome in entire world as sitting naked in the small, hot room and drinking ice cold beer (or Koskenkorva, or Jaloviina). The best thing ever!
All the Finns are rude, unpolite and cranky. Someone you don’t know asks if you know where is the library, you rapidly turn around and walk away. Old lady asks you to help her cross the road, you won’t. There is a fight in the street, someone should call 112, you don’t have time for that. People really should just mind their own businesses!
You don’t laugh much. Why should you? There is no valid reason to laugh (unless you are drunk) and furthermore it gives you wrinkles.
You have quite special sense of humor. You think you are funny while others think that you are just weird.
You can’t talk about feelings. You don’t want to talk about your own feelings and you definitely don’t want to hear someone else’s feelings. It is better to never ever open up (unless you are really, really, really drunk).
Well, I got one point (claim nro 9) although I was born in Finland and I have lived here my whole life. In my experience Finnishness can be whatever you want it to be. It can be openness, solitude, happiness, melancholy, shyness, bravery etc. There is no certain personality or specific behavior that determines Finnishness. After all, we are all humans, so should we rather ask what is humanity?
I wish i could give you a praising essay about the intriguing and marvelous characteristics of Finns, our nature, education or culture. When it comes to giving sales speeches, I feel completely inept since i value truthful representations about any given subject and hence feel obliged to bring contradicting points of view in the middle of a monotonous hype.
Obsessed about the past As Finns we’ve gotten accustomed to being internationally recognized as “the place to be”. This seems to be due to our seemingly well arranged social services and good results from international educational reports as well as being obscurely but adorably quirky as a nation. Let’s not forget that precious nature, though; Finland has acquired a well established high ground when it comes to nature.
It’s very important for us to be recognized abroad. Finns like to hold on to previously gained feats, no matter how old or how valid nowadays. We do like to take credit of being pioneers in IT technology, for example. I agree this might have been true agonisingly many years ago. In recent years we’ve not really provided the IT industry any significant innovations apart from some individual fads in the gaming industry. The illusion lives on through things like Nokia or Linux, which are nowhere near substantially successful in the modern world. It feels like we kind of fell out of the IT bandwagon because we were too busy patting ourselves in the back. We still are.
It doesn’t really matter to us that ever since 2009 we’ve been seeing a decreasing trend in Finnish results in the oh-so-notorious PISA assessment results. Of course this is noted on papers, but looks like no one’s showing real interest towards interfering with the drop since apparently we’re still on top and the PISA stamp on our foreheads from roughly ten years ago still hasn’t faded nor washed away.
We’re the land of a thousand lakes, right? I personally don’t feel like taking pride in something that just happened to take form about ten thousand years ago. I don’t know about you but i wasn’t there to take part in it. There are also things called coldness and the northern lights. You must have heard of them. I’m sorry to break it out to you like this but it’s not exclusively a Finland thing even if we tell you so. In fact these very exotic phenomenons happen all over the top part of northern hemisphere. I, personally, have never seen proper northern lights here where i live, so don’t get your hopes up just yet. Also the tales of absolutely freezing temperates are not exclusively a Finnish thing either. Besides, last time i checked out the window we didn’t even have snow and it’s late December. If the temperature happens to drop drastically, we do complain about it even though we like to present ourselves as completely ice resistant heroes of the North.
I’ve never felt too close with nature anyway. I enjoy urban environment and man-made infrastructure and I definitely don’t find myself overly euphoric or relaxed in the middle of nature. I admit that my personal preferences might have something to do with not understanding the hype around our nature, but what can you do. If you happen to think alike, well, I still have to disappoint you: our urban architecture and infrastructure isn’t that cool either. The northern lights in the picture above are actually shot in Alaska. Sorry.
Unable to change Who doesn’t like change? Definitely not the Finns! It’s granted that you’ll be able to mourn about the airheads of the Finnish parliament year after year, but god forbid if you actually took any kind of iniative to try and change it! If you just shove the same people in year after year, surely something will magically change at some point. At least we hope so. Better luck after the next four years!
Inability to change reflects to everyday life and opinions, too. In order to majorly change in the way we as a nation think requires a change of generation, a completely new set of people. We have a bad habit of grasping tightly on to our beliefs that have been taught to us and we don’t want to change them, even if someone has valid arguments against your own mindset. Essentially not being able to change your opinions is probably just a matter of pride since we just love being right about everything. If you find yourself cornering a Finn by reasoning against their opinions or beliefs, please be prepared for some childish argumentation on our behalf. This is only a sign that you’ve actually made us aware of the surrounding world and we feel uncomfortable with it and can’t show it to you. Yes, we can be just that stubborn.
It’s also worth mentioning that we do not laugh at ourselves. Ever! Please handle with care.
My typical Finnish morning: I could sleep till 8am but I’m already putting on my socks at 7am. If it’s winter it’s as dark as in a bat cave. If it’s summer birds and the light may have woken me up even earlier. On mornings I want to drink my Juhlamokka at peace before heading to adventures of the day. Juhlamokka is most common coffee brand in Finland. Although sometime ago I switched to some foreign coffee and I have to admit that I’m never going back. Waking up early comes up with other benefits besides coffee time.
I am rarely late. It would be embarrassing to be late because Finnish people are punctual. You shouldn’t keep another people waiting for you. As a Finn I don’t want to draw any extra attention to myself. Walking around under the radar feels good.Most of us don’t want to be the center of attention. So I guess that the typical stereotype of Finns is somewhat truthful. Yes, many of us are quiet but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t social, vice versa. For example it is a necessity for me to hang around with people. In big groups I don’t feel so comfortable and I might seem quiet. But on the other hand in smaller groups I’m sometimes even “loud”.
When I’m sipping my (foreign) coffee in the breakfast table, I usually browse mobile app called 9GAG. It’s a website where people can put up funny pictures, comics and videos. You can comment on these posts and have a discussion with other people. Almost every time I open this app I will come across pictures or jokes about Finland. When I see the picture I already know what the most popular comment will say: ”Torille!”. Yeah, Finland was mentioned! We feel a bit of proud when our small nation is mentioned somewhere, but on the same time we are sarcastic about it. It’s Finnish dilemma. We are a nation which queues hours for free buckets but at the same time we laugh at ourselves for doing so.
All in all I think that most of us are truly proud to be from Finland. When putting things on a perspective things are good in Finland. We have beautiful nature, pure food and water, excellent schools, a working healthcare system and etc. We just have to remember it and not to take it all for granted.
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.
Mostly us Finns are described as quiet people who love to drink and sit in this hot room called sauna. To be honest, it’s pretty true, but in my experience Finnishness is so much more.
The first and most important thing – in my opinion – is our own language. Mostly only Finns speak it, so it’s like having your own secret language: no-one else understands you, except other Finns. It’s a weird language and very hard to learn. I think your own language is a huge part of your own identity as a finn.
The second thing that I think describes Finns well is keeping to ourselves. We Finns don’t like to talk to strangers or even sit beside them when travelling in a bus or a train. You’d rather stand the whole ride than sit beside a stranger. What could be worse, than asking a stranger to move when you need to get off the bus? Very few things.
In many countries Finns are considered rude, ’cause we aren’t exactly the masters of small talk. For us, being quiet is polite. In other countries, people grow up in environments where small talk is appreciated and being quiet means you’re either shy or being very rude. It’s not the same in Finland, if a Finn is quiet, she or he is probably just trying to be polite and give you your own space. In my opinion, Finns are probably one of the most honest cultures even though we lack words like ”please” and don’t like to small talk. We respect the other person’s privacy and we talk about things as they are rather than waste our time with small talk.
As a Finn, these things are part of my own every day routines, so it’s actually pretty hard to think about what Finnishness actually means to me. For me being a Finn is being a part of this quiet group of people who don’t like to compliment themselves. We Finns have a very hard time saying that we are actually good at something. I think winters are also a huge part of being a Finn, since this land is cold and covered with snow for like 90% of the year.
Finnishness for me is our own language, honest people who don’t like to be in the spotlight, summer cottages and skiing. I think that mostly I’m very proud of being a Finn, even if some of the stereotypes are true.
Unfortunately these words are common in the stereotype of finnish culture. There’s no smoke without a fire but I’m glad to admit that although many of those words do describe Finland, there’s more to finnishness than one would except.
Here’s some other words that describe us aswell:
Light, honesty, sisu, friendliness, sauna.
We have nightless night, our nation is one of the most honest in the world, we have guts to not give up and keep pushing on, or as we say it “sisu”, people are not that eager to start making small talk, but when doing so, we are friendly and are said to be quite laid back personalities and above all: we have a lot of saunas.
Winter is very dark and we tend to be kind of melancholic at that time of the year. Fortunately it’s possible to see the wonder of northern lights. Christmas is celebrated with family in most cases followed by New years eve, which is also celebrated with family or friends. So not that bad time of the year after all.
Summertime is the exact opposite of winter. Sun shines more or less around the clock and people are more lively with all the events, warmer weather and festivals not to mention the summer holidays and possibility to enjoy our thousands of lakes and summer cottages.
All in all finnishness includes enjoying extremely happy/lively seasons and darker seasons when it’s time to calm down a bit. It includes quiet but friendly and honest nation that knows how to relax in a hot room all year around.
To me Finnishness is partly following certain stereotypes or at least making sure everyone knows the stereotypes even if they wouldn’t really picture the speaker himself/herself – I mean not everyone here loves ice hockey or spend hours in sauna, but they still understand that these things are important part of our culture and keep spreading it around. I guess we find joy and feel proud about the image we’ve gotten: We’re happy to be seen as a small, dour nation where everyone loves black candy (salmiakki), sauna and personal space, haha. On more positive side people are trustworthy and friendly after you get past the cold exterior.
There are many comics about Finns and the stereotypic Finnish personality. We’ve already met Matti, the main character of Finnish Nightmares on this blog. These comics squeeze up so well how most Finns are and what they feel in different situations. I can relate to many of these.
I can’t help but to chuckle bashfully everytime I read Country balls and SATW comics where Finland appears. We know exactly how other countries see us and the fact that the comics humor me so much confirms what I said at the start – I’m proud of my country and I enjoy the image we have even if it wasn’t 100 % me or even the people closest to me here.
From my own experience I can say that Finns are quite reserved people, but not nearly as lonesome as most stereotypes suggest. Some of the stereotypes state that a Finnish person can barely handle a smile from a stranger, but I’ve proven that wrong many times. …Just don’t expect a kiss on the cheek as a hello from me if we meet somewhere on the Finnish streets.
Statistics show that yes, we really do love saunas since we have so many of them compared to our population, but having a sauna in your house doesn’t necessarily mean that you’d use it for the purpose it was made, few of my friends keep their saunas cool all year long and just store stuff there as if it was an extra storage room.