As I am not Finnish, nor am I particularly adept at making friends locally, my idea of Finnishness is mainly based on observations, small everyday life interactions and being absorbed in a Finnish environment within the past few years. Based on that, the following are the 2 things that come to mind the most when I think about what it means to be Finnish.
- Social Awkwarness
Having lived in different countries and met different people from many different places in the world (yes, the word “different” comes up a lot), I would say that very few cultures and people would compete with Finland when it comes to social awkwardness. This is a country where sitting on the bus next to someone is its own relam of taboo, and where emotional expression is largely under the jurisdiction of alcohol consumption. Finland strike me as a place where social interaction flows like a river of bricks, and people are as comfortable about it as it sounds. I may make it sound like a bad thing, but as a socially-awkward person there is something rather relaxing about being surrounded by other socially-awkward people in public spaces. There is less of a covert expectations of being outgoing and expressive, which is a problem I had in other countries. In Finland, people are too awkward to not leave you alone to be whatever it is you are, and that is kind of great.
Finland is a quiet place. Sometimes it is silent. It is a place where people do not speak loudly or plays obnoxious music on the bus. It is a place where old people don’t tell you their life story if you so much as briefly look at them. It is a place where you can go outside and enjoy the sounds of wind and water, or stay inside and not hear your neighbours complain about who left an empty cardboard of milk in the fridge for the 74th time. In fact, writing this very sentence I am unbothered by the unwanted noise of other people. I am sure that some may find this boring, or in some cases depressing. The darkness of winter and freezing temperatures (though not in this so called “winter” of 2019-2020) are extreme enough for many that the frequent silence becomes unbearable. Personally, I love it, and I wish more people around the world would feel more comfortable to shut up more often.
You may notice that these 2 themes of Finnishness are related. Social-awkwardness is a good facilitator of quiet environements. Quiet environments may attract socially-awakward people. It is my opinion that culture is a lot like a spider web, in the sense that every phenomenon is somehow closely related and connected to another. Finland is no exception.