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My Experiences of Finnishness

What I’ve heard is that Finland is one of the happiest countries in the world if not the happiest. At first, I thought, how is that possible with the cold temperatures and dark winters. In the past few years, I’ve had the chance to travel, work, and study abroad and now understand why Finland is such a great country and why I love living there.

Finland is very dark during the winter, and it does get very cold, which can be frustrating at some point, but we do have saunas and homes that are built to keep us warm during winters, we have a lot of activities to keep us busy and to enjoy the cold. We eat quite healthy compared to other countries where I have been, and we are active. We do like to spend time on our own, but we do hang out with friends and interact with people more than most people think. The summers are amazing, and the lakes are perfect for swimming. The nature is also breathtaking during both summer and winter. One of the significant roles in happiness; however, in my opinion, is the good social security system in Finland. This causes less stress and more freedom, for example, students, medical care, the elderly, homeless people, and the unemployed. The social security system also has its flaws, but I do think it brings more happiness and less stress to society.

My experience of Finnishness. I have lived in Finland since 2007. My parents are Finnish, and most of my friends are also Finnish. In my experience, compared to the places I’ve been, Finnish people and Finnishness can be described as quiet, hard-working, loyal, and misunderstood people. By misunderstood, I mean this because we do not show our emotions as clearly as the Italians or Spanish people, and we are bad at saying what we mean. Finns can also be very shy sometimes, which adds to the misunderstood part.

But all in all, I think most of us Finns are packed with good morals and a good heart. We are proud of our country and our ancestors, who helped defend it. We are proud to be Finns, and we are proud of our culture and everything that belongs to Finland. And yes I do consider myself a Finn even though I wasn’t born here.

Finnishness

When I think what “finnishness” is and what it means to me, the first things that come to my mind are nature, weather, ice hockey and the level of education. When I have been travelling abroad this subject come up every time I tell people that I am from Finland.

Nature and weather 

Finnish nature itself is unique. When you show pictures of Helsinki in the summer and then you show pictures of Lapland in the winter people get confused. People from other countries can’t believe that that is same country. Four different seasons also bring their own variation. In the winter the record can be -37 degrees and in the summer it can be +35 degrees. Fluctuations above 60 degrees are not possible in many other countries. Also the amount of snow amazes many people “how can there be that much?”. In Finland we have large areas made up of only forest. Forest and conservation are important topics for finnish people. In Finland you find very little bit garbage on the streets if you compare to many other countries.

 

Finnish education

Finnish education and the discussion around it surface often, when I mention I am from Finland. Often the first note or comment is that “in Finland you have good education!”. According to research and also my own experience Finland really has good and versatile education. In Finland everyone has an equal opportunity and obligation to go to school. Primary schools are totally free for students and that is uncommon around the globe. Schools take longer time but in return they offer a too level of education opportunity. Finnish education makes it easy to get job around the world. Employers appreciate finnish education. Finnish people are often considered highly educated and people want to exploit finnish people’s skills.

                                                                     

Ice hockey

Ice hockey is one of the pride topics in Finland. Many countries have their passion for football but instead this in Finland we have a hockey. Ice hockey is big part of finnish culture. Many people connect hockey and snow to Finland. Ice hockey is interesting topic and great experience for people who come from elsewhere. Big part of finnish hockey culture is also the fans. Hockey is big part of fans daily lives. When finnish teams win something big all people live “the dream” together. When Finland won the world championship in 2019 everyone went out to celebrate it. It was big and desired achievement. Foreigners coming to Finland often have hockey game one of their bucket list ideas.

                                                                     

 

Finnishness from a Non-Finn

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Quiet

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.

Greatness of Finnishness

It is not my first time living abroad, and before for me Finnishness has always been about food and nature. Main things I always miss are the dark bread, sauna and quiet forest. Maybe it is the fact that those things are also available here, I can find “hapankorppu”, “salmiakki” and “savulohi”, also in Germany. I can go to sauna, and the nature in the Alps offers me the quietness, calmness and fresh air I love. So, for the first time, these kinds of things are close to me.

Then what does it mean, this Finnishness now for me?

I have been learning German and struggling with genders of the words. We don’t have that in our language. Our language is equal in a very unique way. I know, it’s in many languages the genders, it’s always been like that and so on, I know, I don’t need a lecture about that.

It is just an insight, that we don’t have that, and I am very proud of it.

It makes many things easier, it makes our country also even more equal in my eyes. We don’t need to define anyone’s gender, workers, family members or friends. We are free from defining us because of the language requires us. We can be whatever we want to be.

Overall this freedom of speech we are having, freedom of being individuals and speak out. When living in Finland, we always talk about how we need to be more forward, be more politically open and so on, but trust me; we are very ahead, in many things! In how many countries could government be run by young women?

Our whole society is so advanced when it comes to digitalization, it phenomenal! Everything is smoothly working, after few clicks you can do most of the official things instead of queuing in various office buildings. Information about important things is available in many languages. And not to even start to talk about sustainable development, and the actions towards it. How our work life and study life is done, how we believe in open conversation, teachers and student are equal and we are being encouraged to think ourselves and to question the knowledge we get. There is no more old-fashioned stiff way to talk, addressing people with their titles and last names.

So for me Finnishness is state of open mind, creativity, equal mindset and freedom.

Finnishness


How would I describe my lovely home country Finland to someone from abroad? First I’d probably confirm some of their prejudices: yes, it is very cold. Yes, people don’t talk much and sometimes can even seem rude. After this I would also deny some of the prejudices like “you have polar bears in Finland right?” and “you are always drinking tons of alcohol”. Not everything you read on the internet is true….

About the winters: yes they are actually cold, dark and long and I probably wouldn’t recommend visiting Finland between november and march or at least not the eastern part as the eastern parts might not even have snow. But there are some good things about the cold winters like going to sauna few times a week to warm up. Finnish people are well known sauna fanatics and I can say I’m one of those people who are crazy about going to the sauna. Sauna is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the warmth and even have a conversation with a stranger.
What’s better than going to the sauna? Ice swimming and then going to the sauna obviously. Ice swimming has gained lot of popularity during the past few years and new ice swimming spots are opening up.

So what about the summer then? Well, usually it’s really nice. Sun is shining non-stop and even the finns start to smile and even talk to strangers! Temperatures don’t go that high but sometimes they do and then everybody literally runs to the beaches to enjoy the warmth. Only downside of summer is the fact that it’s so short. So better enjoy every day of summer before it’s cold again.

Finnishness

What comes to my mind when someone asks me to tell something about Finland? I’m sure I am not the only one who first starts to tell about how cold and dark are Finnish winters and how quiet and grumpy Finnish people are, But what else Finland and “finnishness” has to offer? When you really think about it, we do have rich culture and nature here in Finland. Winters may be dark and long, but then again during summertime sun is always up and it’s not too hot, but warm enough to survive in shorts and t-shirts.

How about people then, Why they are considered to be rude? In my opinion, I think Finnish people are extremely polite people and do not want to offend anyone or be a nuisance in any way. Thats why our behavior may seem odd and rude to someone else, who comes from another culture. And of course our culture lacks the thing called small talk. And we like to say that silence is golden, which I agree. Of course everything changes when you go to sauna with a finn. In sauna, there is even some small talk, whether it is about the löyly or last nights ice hockey game, it doesn’t matter, it’s there.

Finnish nature is also pretty exceptional (if you don’t really count Sweden or Norway). The whole landscape differs whether you are in southern, northern, eastern or in western Finland. That is something you have to keep in mind when you want to tell something about Finnish nature.

So, thats my thoughts about finnishness, from the land of long and dark winter, where the happiest people in the world lives.

 

Finnishness to me is…

Nature

Finnish people have very close relationships with nature. It can be observed that Finns prefer to live close by it. Sport activities, spending free time, walking and wondering, family time – all are done in contact with nature. But Finns not only use the nature, they also take care of it and understand the importance of keeping it safe and clean.

Picture taken from www.finland.fi

I love winter time in Finland, it always feels exciting and magical. It is the perfect time to travel to the north of Finland to visit Santa Claus park and to see the northern lights.

Picture taken from www.santaclausvillage.info

Sauna

Going to sauna if one of my favourite part of Finnish culture. I myself go to sauna at least once a week. It is a perfect place to relax and to get warm =)  It is very interesting phenomena, that sauna can be found in almost every building and even inside apartments.

Picture taken from www.foreigner.fi

Thoughts about Finnishness

For me personally, Finnishness means safety, cleanliness, and quietness. The first two are most apparent when comparing Finland to southern countries, where you can see the opposite. I appreciate the fact that the environment is kept clean and waste is sorted. I’m disappointed to hear news from abroad about harassment of women and their experience of insecurity. I’m not saying that those things don’t happen in Finland, but when measuring equality, northern countries are on their own level.

For myself quietness is a double-edged sword. I’m socially more active, than an average Finnish male. That’s why traditional silence and withdrawal makes me confused. After all I don’t see myself as a prototype of a Finnish person. My roots are from Eastern Finland and Karelia, which is nowadays a part of Russia. I have noticed that people who grew up in those areas are often more talkative, social, and carefree than the people from Western Finland. There are many types of Finnishness. You get three totally different people when you take one from Pohjanmaa, one from Lapland, one from Savo, and bring them to the same room. Despite the differences in people’s characters, cleanliness, honesty, promptness, and individual freedom are common values for every Finn. In this context I must mention the unofficial national beverage: coffee. With coffee you can surely make a quiet Finn chat.

When comparing Finnishness to the surrounding nations, one must consider the Finland’s young age. Finns have existed for ages but most of the time under the control of other nations like Sweden and Russia. This means that decisions were made elsewhere, and Finns were forced to respond to demands from others. Although a modern Finn does not have a straight contact to those ages, their effect is still noticeable in Finnish identity. Freedom and defending it is one of the holiest values in Finland. This resulted in tragic wars in nations early years.

People are humble and honest. The importance of community is worth more than individuals. In this matter we are living in a transitional phase. In recent years, the importance and appreciation of the individual has strongly increased. Things have changed so that communality, and the good things it has brought us, are in danger to fade away.

Overall, the average Finn has lived in wellbeing for only the last fifty years. Before that, the coldness, hunger, and deceases have followed the everyday life of the Finnish people. Most of the people lived a miserable life under scary circumstances. Now when these problems don’t exist anymore, most of the people can enjoy their lives wholeheartedly and that’s the way they want to keep doing, and if possible, on the individual level, increase their standard of living. People want to make their dreams come true. Hard times can still be seen in the older citizens’ frugal and humble behaviour. In these features, there is the hidden the power that brought Finland from one of the Europe’s poorest countries to one of the wealthiest. Times will change and I think that we live in the middle of changes. I believe that after the next ten years my home country will look very different than what it is now.

Finland man and flag pin

(Royalty free stock photo from Dreamstime.com)

Finnish celebrations

For me, the best thing about Finland is our holidays.

New year’s eve is dedicated to parties, foods, drinks, friends and of course sparklers and fireworks.Friends gather around to have a good time, many people rent a cottage or host parties. Most of our money is disappeared in the sky thanks to fireworks.

Easter is dedicated more to family and dinners. Stores are full or Easter eggs, decorations and of course famous mämmi. As a child, it’s even more fun because you go to this folk tradition (virpoa) and you prepare your outfit and birches for it.

After Easter comes the first of May celebration. All the graduated put their graduation caps on and visit the markets to buy balloons and licorice. After that in some cities, you go to watch new engineer freshman’s getting their dew and go to parks for a picnic. Later on, students gather around with their overalls on to parties. The next morning is dedicated to brunch.

Juhannus the midsummer celebration is the biggest thing you can imagine to happen in Finland in the summer. Younger generation rent cottages, book hotel rooms or wild ones just take tents with them and gather around to these huge 3-day festivals with biggest Finnish artists. Calmer people go to cottages by the river, enjoy barbecue and funny “Olympic” games.

Independence day is dedicated to everything related to Finland. In the morning you watch Tuntematon sotilas (“the Unknown Soldier”) movie from tv and the evening you spent watching Independence day reception from presidential palace admiring beautiful dresses and dances while eating Fazer’s chocolate.

Preparation for Christmas starts early. Stores get filled with Christmas chocolates and decorations. Towns become Christmassy with trees, lights and shop windows. Christmas eve on 24th of December is the main day. Sauna and rice porridge are part of traditions as are also watching this television program where children call to Santa Claus and of course Snowman film. People visit the graveyard to ignite candles for the people passed away. Big Christmas dinners with ham, salmon and different casseroles are enjoyed with families and some visit church in the night.

Finnishness in the point of view of a Finn

Finnishness in the point of view of a Finn

 

A very weird word as Finnishness can mean so much for us northerners, who are understood by no one and live a peaceful life in a place that many can’t even point on the map. Unless you’re well educated of course, no shots fired towards anyone… I’ve visited multiple countries in my short lifetime, and each and every time it’s so wonderful and funny to tell some facts about us Finns; About our personal space (Of course showing the picture of the bus stop is a must when talking about this subject), our weird sauna traditions that might or might not include swimming in a frozen lake or rolling naked in the snow, or how crazy everyone gets when Finland wins the world ice-hockey championships (hope for the best! Edit: Well turns out we won!!!). For myself, the most important traditions we have are the midsummer’s celebration (with kokko of course, see pic1) and the midwinter’s cold nights (pic 2). It’s kind of funny since both of the celebrations include the use of sauna and swimming in the lake. Doesn’t matter if the lake is frozen or not. We swim in it. Always.

pic1 pic2

 

Many Finns come across as silent and self-centred, but the reality is, after an awkward small talk session, we turn out to be one of the warmest people you’ve ever met. Seriously. And if someone after a small talk session doesn’t open up, just give him/her few beers or shots of vodka and witness the results yourself; truly warm people! Oh, and talking about alcohol, we Finns have even invented our very own alcoholic beverage, which we love so very very much. It’s called Lonkero (pic3), which is basically a long-drink, but not quite. To understand how it differs from a long-drink that can be ordered in a bar across the globe, you just have to taste it. It’s same but it’s different, and it’s better.

pic3

 

We Finns are proud of our country, but we welcome anyone for a visit or two. Anytime. And if I’ve learned something from my previous holiday trips, is that many people eagerly want to come and visit Finland after all of the funny stories I’ve told and the pictures of our nature (pic4) I’ve shown. Everyone’s welcome to Finland!

 

pic4