It is hard to think about the interpretation of Finnishness since the word covers thousands of topics itself. What would it be? Human? Nature? Food? Stories? Or a particular characteristic like the genetic awkwardness that everyone said about Finns?
There are a lot of concepts considered as Finnish trademarks and some are widely and proudly accepted by Finns themselves. Snow, sauna, Santa, lakes, reindeers, ice hockey, shyness, etc,. As someone who has been in this country for one and a half year, I realized that it is easy to fall for those conceptions because they somehow are all based on facts, but moreover, Finnishness exists in combinations of intriguing contradictions that it takes a little bit more sensation to convey and appreciate.
As someone coming from a tropical country, the first thing that comes to my mind about Finland is undoubtedly its severe winter. Going out to a minus somewhat celsius degree at 4pm when it’s already as dark as night may not be a pleasing experience. There are no ways to avoid it but to make it more enjoyable like watching the city lighten up by thousands of light bulbs and art projections on walls. It is also the only chance to observe northern lights flowing in the air making its magic brushes in black canvas. The colder it gets, the better it is to spend time with family and friends through cozy nights of Christmas sipping hot Glögi with Joulutorttu. Yet Finnish winter is tough, but it is also worthy for those who survived it.
All Finnish people I know agree that they are some of the most socially awkward nations on earth. This is not necessarily equal to shyness but rather an aspect of personal respect that is born and raised by Finns. They encourage silence and introvert way of living. They only speak and act when they feel the need to, without breaking others’ personal space. In fact, some of the boldest people I know are my Finnish friends who have a kind of “you do you” attitude that allows them to be and to live fully as themselves no matter how others may think. I mean who can be the boldest and most daring people but the ones who feel comfortable naked in a sauna with total strangers then go out for a dip in an icy lake? Nonetheless, like two faces of a coin, this lifestyle stimulates comfort bubbles that isolate people and weaken connections which explains why depression and other mental health problems are so common in this country.
I usually receive “terve” from people on the streets or small acts of kindness from strange people on the bus. Once my friend lost her purse and without any hope, it did come back safe and sound to her doorstep with all her belongings inside thanks to some random stranger who sent it back by the id info inside. The same thing happened when I forgot my camera bag on the train from Tampere to Helsinki. So to me personally, Finnishness also means kindness, friendliness and honesty.
It really takes time and patience to understand Finneshness, just like being friend with a Finns. It may be challenging at first, but once you get used to it, it’s really hard to take it out of you.