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Finnishness in me

I have always struggled with the fact that I’m only Finnish and both of my parents are from Finland. I have felt that something is missing in me because I have the passion of different cultures and languages. When I was younger I was little a shamed even of my Finnishness and I thought that I will move out of Finland the minute I turn 18.

Still I stayed here and I have learned to love my Finnishness inside me. I have discovered that I can always learn about new cultures and see the world by traveling. Now days I like to tell the positive aspects of Finland rather than the negative which I did a lot in the past.

I have spend several periods aboard and home is Finland to me. I still want to move somewhere for few years but I want to built my family here in Finland. I think Finland is safe and great place for children and you can always travel to get new experiences. The Finnish weather is unique because we have all the seasons. Summer nights are something that I love and there’s no other than midnight sun that you can’t experience in many countries.

No need to make coffee just for me!

Why do Finns sometimes feel that they are the odd ones out in Europe? Well, our neighbors in Scandinavia seem to have their own thing going on and Russia’s culture is also very different from ours. Finland is geographically separated from the rest and the language is kind of weird too. Not to mention the metalhead coffee vampire stereotype. Still, besides pop culture always arriving here late, it’s been pretty nice living in this “special” Finland bubble.

people on a picnic in Helsinki

When meeting a foreigner, Finns often ask “Why would you choose to come here?” as if it was the strangest thing that someone would want to visit this country. Admittedly I’ve also asked this before. But secretly Finns actually love Finland and Finnishness. We just don’t think anyone else would for some reason.

This excessive modesty seems to be deeply rooted in our culture. Finns only say they speak a language when they are almost fluent in it, and sometimes they need an outsider’s perspective to realize what they have. I’ve been so lucky to have met many exchange students during my studies at TAMK. They have opened my eyes more to what was always there. This is something I would love to do for my future friends during my own exchange!

White boat in Finnish archipelago at sunset If I ever get the chance, I will take my foreigner friends to the heart of Finnishness for me: mökki (summer cottage). There is something so authentic and calming about mökki. I think of last midsummer. Light pink shades reflecting everywhere at midnight as we drive to the place that feels like home. The surface of the sea is still and the warm air hits my face. This is it – the dream that I’m living, and would love to share.

Finns are special. Or are they?

“Finnish culture is so unique!” Why is it always the Finn who brings this fact up and not the foreigner? Also, why Finns do not like to talk about themselves and are generally quite reserved, but when the conversations’ focus shifts from individual people to one’s culture, the quiet Finn rises from the corner table and talks hours on end about our sisu, sauna and Koskenkorva? This picture sums up my thoughts quite well. Our culture is not in the minds of foreigners even though we believe so.

 

In regular conversations about Finland, the most common topic Finns bring up is how Finnish language is among the hardest for foreigners to learn, as if it would be some kind of trophy to be proud of. The funny thing is that this notion among Finns is not even true. Recent study has shown that Finnish is not considerably harder to learn than other languages. The misconception of “Finnish being hard” in itself causes the language to become hard to learn for some because it discourages them to even begin. While it is true that a new language completely different to your own might be difficult to learn, it is far from impossible like some Finns boast.

This is not to say that our nation wouldn’t be unique from the rest. The sheer fact that our country is over one thousand kilometres long guarantees that there’s bound to be many distinct sub-cultures which makes our culture as a whole very diverse. There are many things in the Finnish culture none other culture has, but in all honesty, which culture is not like that? All cultures are unique in some way, Finns just seem to make a big deal about it.

Also, Finns laugh at foreigners for believing that there would be polar bears here. In fact, there are at least two, in Ranua zoo. Who’s laughing now, Finland?

-Arttu

The Finnishness experience from the view of a Swedish speaking Finn

As a Swedish speaking Finn I belong to the linguistic minority in Finland that speak Finland Swedish. Finland Swedish is Swedish but has its own sound, and Finland Swedish has developed own words that Swedes in Sweden do not understand. And it is very common for people to mix Finnish and Swedish together, when they speak Finland Swedish. There are also many different dialects of Swedish, depending on where you live in Finland.

Some Swedish speaking Finns are fluent in both Swedish and Finnish and are bilingual.  Swedish is a mandatory language we have to learn in school in Finland. In my case my mother tongue is Swedish, but I am equally fluent in Finnish. My dad speaks Swedish and my mom speaks Finnish, but both my parents are of Finnish origin. And a fun fact: Swedish speaking Finns have an own unofficial yellow and red flag, which is quite funny.

The Swedish speaking Finns are a very tight knit community in Finland. Some traditions have been inherited from Sweden. One example is “kräftskiva” a crayfish party, which is very common to celebrate in August. You eat crayfish and sing songs with family and friends.

One thing that has been a big thing in my identity as a Swedish speaking Finn, is playing handball as a hobby. It is a ball sport played mostly on the coastal areas of Finland and is almost completely played by only Swedish speaking Finns. The sport is big in other Nordic countries and Europe as well. In Finland it is still a small sport. I have played handball when I was younger, in a few teams and the Finnish national handball team. Handball is a very versatile contact sport that require speed, strength and coordination. Heres a link to a video showing top 30 goals in the VELUX EHF Champions League. From the video it is possible to grasp what kind of sport handball is in action. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRMLs7n-G64

One other thing that has been a big part of my identity as a Swedish speaking Finn, is a big relay running competition called “Stafettkarnevalen”, which is organised for Swedish speaking schools in Finland every year in spring. Almost all Swedish speaking Finns in Finland have participated in the event at least once or know people that have participated. Schools start to prepare for the event early on and there are different teams in different running categories such as 4×100 m running or longer distances. There is also an own category for cheerleaders to come up with their own songs, to support their own school’s teams. And there is also a mascot competition. I have participated in the event every year from when I was 12 years old to when I graduated from high school. It has always been a very exciting event to be a part of.

 

Another thing that is important to me, which I think sums up Finnishness is the Finnish nature, the forests and the archipelago. Especially during the summer I spend time in the Finnish archipelago whenever I can, because it is so beautiful. And the summer nights are never completely dark, which is cool!

Picture of the Finnish archipelago in the summer.

 

Flag for Swedish Speaking Finns: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_Swedish-speaking_Finns.svg

Picture of Stafettkarnevalen: https://stafettkarnevalen.fi/dokumentbank/

Crayfish: Picture by Biea on Pixabay

Handball: Picture by JeppeSmedNielsen on Pixabay

Finnishness

Finland has now been chosen three times in a row as the happiest country in the world, but what does Finnishness really mean? I have lived all my life in Finland and for me, Finnishness means many different things. One important thing about Finnishness is nature. Nature is always close, and Finns love the peace of nature. There are more than 150,000 lakes in Finland and there are forests everywhere. In summer, almost all Finns go to their cottages to enjoy their holiday. We have four real seasons, so the weather varies a lot throughout the year.

You can’t talk about Finland without mentioning the sauna. Sauna culture is part of Finnishness and almost every home has its own sauna. Sauna is for everyone and it is a place that will heal your body and soul. After the sauna, you can jump into the lake for a swim or even roll in the snow.

As a final point about Finnishness, I want to highlight Finnish people. Finns are often said to be honest and kind. Finns like silence and appreciate their own space. Because of this, many foreigners may find us a little shy. Finns are also proud of our country, Finland is a beautiful and safe country, and our education system is one of the best in the world.

My Experiences of Finnishness

As a Finn myself I have always somewhat resented the Finnish person stereotypes. Shy, reserved, quiet and cold (unless there is Koskenkorva). This is partly due to not being able to relate to them, but mainly because they all seem quite negative. They make us Finns seem like boring, unadventurous people, which most know; we are actually far from. I mean come on! We sit in a 100 degree room butt-naked, beating each other with twigs, just to minutes later jump into a freezing pile of snow. And this is just a basic Sunday.

A few years ago after backpacking on the other side of the world, I found a new perspective to look at all these stereotypes. I soon came to realize that all of those adjectives also have a brighter side. Maybe we are not shy – just observant. Maybe not reserved and quiet – just independent and respectful of peace and boundaries. We are not really cold – but appreciate honesty and authenticity, which we would like to identify before warming up. Koskenkorva is a nice way to start the party, but not a necessity for us to have a laugh. In fact, Finnish humor is one of a kind, and our close relationships warm and jolly.

In Finland we value our nature and family, our cultural roots and individuality, our education and health, our achievements and overcomings, and peacefulness and safety. The four seasons, sauna, our hockey team, summer cottages, salted licorice, lakes and forests are just some of the most beloved Finnish gems. All in all, Finland is a beautiful country with a great story, and us Finns are more than the age-old clichés. As with all other nationalities, stereotypes are often over-simplified generalizations that can be cracked beyond the surface.

 

Finnishness and the cabinfolk

Having been living in Finland for my whole life, I’ve always thought of it as the optimal place to live in. Huge green forests, thousands of lakes that are just made more beautiful by the chilling winters. If you’re lucky enough, you might even catch a glimpse of the northern lights.

A view from a lake near Pälkäne we saw while hiking

The Finnish people have a mentality of keeping everything to themselves, not talking to strangers, but at the same time, they usually have a very tight group of a few people, with whom they share everything. Seeming a bit cold to strangers and being warm with your own friends is very common. But at the same time, if you ask a Finn for help in anything, you can be sure we’ll help you in every way we can.

Part of Finnishness is being proud of what we have. Not in a way of showing off your flashy Ferraris or wearing a lot of bling, but more with the simple things. Simple things like the nature, our work, and what we’ve made ourselves, with our own hands. A big thing that combines these 3 things, is building your own house, in a forest a few kilometres away from a city centre, a life goal of myself as well. Also having a cottage, or a mökki, further away of anything is a big thing to be proud of, and to enjoy in your own peace and quiet.

     
Pictures of a lakeside mökki

The sauna culture is also a very important part of Finnishness to me. Just being naked alone in the sauna with a can of beer, is a great way to wind down from all the stress of the workday. With friends, the sauna is a place to talk about whatever comes to your mind, there’s something in the sauna that makes people more honest, and that deepens friendships. There’s also a bunch of public saunas, usually in the swimming halls, the gyms, or near lakes, for ice hole swimming in the winter. In addition to the sauna being a place to relax or deepen friendships, it is also very beneficial for your body, due to the heat shock. It is no fluke, that there’s an estimated 2 million saunas in Finland, with a bit over 5 million people.

 

Finnishness Throughout the Years

Over the past twelve years I’ve lived in Finland, I’m never found such tranquillity in a place such as this, not like back home in Scotland. At the beginning it was hard, not to mention experiencing a proper cold winter and full of darkness but over the course of my life, growing up during my teenage years, to early adult years — It really has dawned on me that this is a home all on it’s own; for the people who breath in the fresh air and truly value what Finland has to offer. One of the most interesting parts of when I moved here was actually being pretty outgoing and talkative: As Finland is more of a peaceful and calm place to set up camp but to truly live and study here, I started to become myself more calm and shy and sort of adapting to their culture. Of course personal space doesn’t bother me too much but it’s definitely taken a transitioning turn to let me become sort of Finnish myself in a way just by living here so long.

Under the Finnish Sun

In terms of ‘Finnishness’ — It’s just a beautiful thing on it’s own. You’ve got your cottages to grant you a sense of escape in the nature of the forests, you’ve got your saunas burned with the likeness of some lovely smelling wood. In terms of other countries relying on technology as a huge thing in society, Finland would happily live without electricity in their cottages and not to mention; picking berries in their forests and building their own houses out of wood. Sure, Finland is relatively dark half of year but during summers, they truly bring such spirit — Especially during their midsummer festivals where skies never go dark, they celebrate all weekend and come together and celebrate. Common space isn’t always a huge factor, perhaps in cities or on public transport — but that wouldn’t stop anyone from going to the sauna fully undressed and squashing up next to each other just to enjoy the hot burning air which helps their blood flow and jumping into the snow right after.

Adventures Throughout Finland

My time in Finland has been ever so amazing, just a few years ago I had never been to Northern Finland and I took a weeks trip up there with a bunch of students and it was really magical. Trees covered in snow, visiting the Santa Claus village, petting reindeer and husky rides. So Finnishness, for me atleast is not just one particular thing: It’s a feeling you get when you experience so much at once and gives a sense of adventure you couldn’t find anywhere else.

Of “Finnishness” and the escape of small talk

Finland. My home that is now two seas away. Country of thousand lakes surrounded by green forests filled with mushrooms, berries, wildlife, and pine trees.

Long winters have over time turned warmer making them even darker while urbanization has in most cases made the distances between neighbours shorter. People still have the need for their personal space, so they are eager to escape to their happy place at the countryside summer cabin whenever possible. The long distances of rural past not long ago have given people a healthy do-it-yourself mentality compared to many of the other Europeans. They often prefer to do quite a lot themselves instead of buying a service. Traditionally out of necessity, but now to prove themselves, to save money, or just for a hobby. Self-service mentality rules at restaurants, and pub culture is only taking baby steps. Due to long periods of freezing weather, even friends just walk past one another on the streets only quickly nodding their heads to each other instead of stopping for a small talk. When you keep moving, there are better chances of not getting frostbitten toes, and the Finns are aware of it. They will see each other when the weekend comes at their common friend’s place for board game and beers. They rather gather around at someone’s flat than go to pub where music is too loud, beer is expensive and both (the music choices and the tap beer) suck anyway. At the friendly gathering they can have the questioning where they were heading the other day (in case they can’t naturally pick up a more meaningful topic) while enjoying their time at much more comfortable setting than would be commercially available.

PHOTO: H. Myllymäki – While his Scottish neighbours use a service to take care of their garden that might be available just by asking from the landlord, a Finn gets a lawnmower and has uniquely ugly patch of grass on his yard. In addition, he also records his own sound effects instead of using a commercial sound bank, thus tying work and “pleasure” together on the same sunny afternoon.

There you have it. The basis of what makes Finns appear untalkative, grim, socially awkward, and generally bad people by the standards for social situations in many other countries of the world. Why the streets are empty after six o’clock on the weekdays and you can fit into a pub on the main street after nine on a Saturday night. Whereas truly I’d say, Finns just don’t have a culture of hiding behind empty words such as a phrase “professional standards” at a commercial company selling a service for a mundane job. To me, that’s the essence of so called “Finnishness”.

Finnishess

In Finnish summer the biggest and one of the best things is to go to the summer cottage. There we spent weekends and hopefully weeks of our summer. Especially midsummer is the time when everyone goes to the cottage. And because of that, all the cities gets empty. Usually Finnish cottages are by some kind of water. And there is not that much ”modern” comfort as we have in our homes. This also depends whose cottage it is. Some people make it modern and some make it more oldish (without electricity etc.)

Dock, Lake, Finland, Dark, Evening, Water, Nature, Blue

What to do in the cottage then? Just chill, drink, eat grilled food and go to sauna and swim in the lake. It is a place to spend peaceful holiday with friends and family (usually with friends it goes more partying than just chilling).

Smoke Sauna, Summer, Holiday, Lake, Nature, Scenic

I think one of the important things in cottages are that they have to be ”in the middle of nowhere” further away from the cities. In the nature where is silent. Finnish summer is one of the most beautiful things what we have. And even better if it’s warm and not snowing.