Every time someone talks about Finns, it’s always ice hockey, sauna, midsummer’s eve, long winters, Lapland…
But when you think about Finnishness – what makes a Finn – you might have to go out on the street and look at the “agreeable gaps” between people on the bus stops:
One thing that sets us apart and builds on what can be considered “Finnishness”, is our unannounced respect for other people. Of course there are always outliers, every society has its share of people who lack mutual respect, but there still lies an almost subconscious habit of keeping and giving personal space to one another. A feeling that makes us try and not to be a bother to others, even up to the point of sometimes being afraid of it. We don’t greet with cheek-kisses, we don’t sit next to people on the bus if there’s an empty row available and we most definitely don’t strike conversation with strangers – not that we don’t like them, but because we feel like they might be bothered or thinking about something really, really important.
Not every Finn likes ice hockey or sauna either. And being Finnish doesn’t mean you have to live up to the exaggerated reputation of being introverted and afraid of change. That’s why I think Finnishness stems more from what kind of people we are rather than what we do, our values, and our ability to take the best out of the worst situations. On the contrary to what others commonly say, I do not think that Finns are slow to open up or skeptical towards other cultures. We just happen to have this stubborn, serene piece of home inside all of us that we won’t trade away so easily, a piece which keeps us level-headed and appreciative of the simple comforts of living. Nothing like sitting indoors on a dark, wet November afternoon and realizing you’re happy just because you’re at home.
Also, we have Santa Claus and a dark sense of humor. Maybe an unfair advantage?
In this post I’d like to raise some topics about Finland from the immigrant’s point of view. I moved to Finland about four years ago and I think that was absolutely right decision. It’s a long story, but when I decided to move, I had no idea about the Finnish culture, local language and so on. So, here are a few aspects about Finland, some things that are close to me:
As I mentioned above, I did not know a thing about the Finnish language and when I first came here and heard the speech around – the first thougths were that Finnish sounds just like some Asian language – Japanese or something. All these Ä and Ö on the signboards were amusing and unusual to me. It actually felt like a language of the aliens from outer space.
Indeed, Finnish is like no other! It has almost nothing in common with the most languages. But I gotta say – it was surprisignly easy to learn. Most people claim that Finnish is extremely difficult, but my opinion is – yes, the words are unusual, but it the grammar is very logical and it doesn’t have genders, yay! All in all, the Finnish language is unique and beautiful, it’s soft and pleasant to the ear.
Of course it has its challenges, but I’m used to it and I like Finnish very much. I use it everyday at school and work and I’m happy to know such a rare language. In the picture on the left you can see one of my everyday struggles.
Quality of life and the opportunities
The locals may not always notice this, but Finland is one of the best places to live in the world. It also gives incredible opportunities for people living here of any age and occupation. I was surprised, and I still am, how this country is able to use and allocate the resources making it possible to help students, unemployed people, people with disabilities and so on, just as an example. It is felt that the environment for life is made for people considering their needs. A culture of caring is felt in different spheres of life, in big things and the details.
This topic can be discussed endlessly, so let’s move on.
They say Finns are shy and prefer not to talk –
I don’t agree at all! I believe that this is just a stereotype that the most people just keep repeating.
99% of Finns are friendly and talkative enough. I really like Finns – mostly they are positive, responsible, rational and punctual. I like their love of hockey and coffee. Since I moved, I started to watch the games and drinking coffee everyday – true story! The culture had a sighnificant influence on me and I don’t mind.
Everything is relative and gets to know by comparison. All these things I took from my experience, but I’m sure you’re going to agree with some of the points.
What are we like here in Finland? I guess the first things that come to mind are that we are a bit anti-social at times, we like our personal space, nature, our summer cottages and saunas. We are a very punctual nation and if we promise to do something, it most certainly will get done. We complain about the never-ending bureaucracy in our systems, but also expect everything to go by the book. I suppose these are all somewhat stereotypical ideas, but they do have quite a bit of truth behind them as well. Although, there are big regional differences as well – we are not the same in the south and up in the north.
As the world changes, it will also probably affect us as a people as well. We are more and more influenced by other cultures through the internet, tv, social media, work and studies, and that’s bound to change our behavior in some ways. We travel abroad and get familiar with new ways of doing things and people traveling here or moving to Finland will bring some of their traditions and behavior patterns with them. We can already see young people become more open and social, getting a bit unfamiliar with nature and for example having favorite foods like sushi or pizza.
I do hope, that this new global world will make us more open to new possibilities in our behavior. But I also believe, that it is important for a nation to hold on to some of their own wacky, stereotypical ways of living – after all, that’s what makes us Finnish.
I think Finland is a very good place to live. Maybe it is because I am used to live there, but I also think it is great how everything works here. For example we have a high quality of education.
Even though the world is getting crazier every day, I feel Finland is quite safety and peaceful place to live. We don’t have massive earthquakes or some other natural catastrophes here.
We have a beautiful nature there, which is one of the most important things for me here. Finland is a land of thousand lakes and forests. I live now almost in the middle of the city, but I can still see trees and plants on my window.
Climate here is a very variable. In winter we usually have snow on the ground and almost minus twenty degrees. In spring, summer and autumn it might be hot weather, or rain or snowing or anything at all.
Last but not least, I would like to also say few things about people who live there. Finnish people are often called shy and quiet. We don’t talk with strangers on the bus stop or sit next to someone you don’t know in the bus, if there are any free places left. I am Finnish so I do those things for myself too, because it is maybe part of our culture and behavior. Silence doesn’t mean that someone is rude, of course we speak if someone ask something. In my opinion, that is not a bad thing, because we have some other important features like honesty and punctilious.
What is it like to live in Finland? For me it means clean air, quiet green forests, snowy fields and in the summer a sunny archipelago. I absolutely adore my home country when it comes to the peaceful nature where you can escape from the hustle and bustle of the somewhat busy lifestyle. The weather isn’t that nice most of the time, but when it is, you really come to appreciate it and make the most of your time outdoors. You really come to value the little things living in Finland: a little ray of sun in the morning can make your whole day. Everywhere is pretty in the summer and people are beaming happiness. Or some of them, because it’s a common joke that it’s always either too hot or too cold. The Finns are pale most of the year but in the summer they turn red or if they are lucky, get nicely tanned and that’s how you have achieved the most important task in the summer.
Finnish people are pretty quiet but if you start talking to them, you rarely get an ill answer. Still, do not sit next to someone in a bus if there are free seats, that’s one of the most important things you need to learn if you come to visit Finland. It will make everyone cringe. Being a Finn is pretty neat. You get ”free” education and monetary support to your studies from your government. Our education is great compared to other countries and our academic skills are well valued. It’s also really safe here. Top 3 biggest fears, at least for me, are being bitten by snake (which we have 2 kinds of which nether is deadly venomous and are only seen in the nature in summer), killed by a bear (which is really unlikely) or being stabbed (usually involves intoxicating substance usage and debts so for normal citizen this fear is also very unlikely) We really are proud hockey people and we always want to win the Swedish. Besides drinking milk like newborn babies and being coffee addicts, one of our biggest pet peeves is using alcohol – and usually too much of it. Still, I’m lucky to be a Finn and even though in the future I plan to live abroad for a while, I still want to live most of my life in Finland.
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.