Tag Archives: cultures

Refactoring the Finnishness

When one should describe the typical Finn, we often hear following stereotypical things. Finns are shy, they love salmiakki and sauna, and can overcome any obstacles with their strong guts (sisu). Plus, Finns love sauna and getting drunk. Speaking of alcohol, this is troublesome especially during the midsummer eve, as we love swimming too.

So there you have one version of traditional Finnishness. But is this really true? To be honest, in the modern society we don’t rely on stereotypes, at least we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t describe Finnishness by the book, but make our own version of it from own experience. That’s what I’m going to do.


To me Finnishness means loving the nature, and being proud of ourselves/our customs. This might be due the fact that many countries don’t care/know about Finland, but when we are acknowledged internationally, we feel like achieved something relevant (We go to ‘torille’). Thus, we have formed a way to like the things we are good at like ice hockey. This can be seen, for example, in the latest UEFA 2021. Finland hasn’t been very good at football, but they did very well this year. Suddenly all Finnish people were watching and talking about football, even though they weren’t earlier into it. Paradoxically Finns are humble, but we secretly think ourselves better in some aspects. In addition to humility, Finns are quite law-abiding citizens, we respect education and our customs like sauna for example.

As the globalization has tied more countries together and mixed different cultures, Finnishness too has changed. Therefore, we all are not like described above. Not only due the globalization, but due the individuality in the center of today’s society – we want to separate from the mass. Not all Finns love sauna or drink alcohol or have a cottage to go during the summer. Some of us love living in the cities, brag about themselves, and might like things from other cultures closer to our heart. It all comes to our surroundings which make us what we are, and what we want to be like. We are influenced a lot by other countries and global trends, for example by American products, which changes ourselves and therefore Finnishness itself. This is by no means bad thing, it’s just the way it is.

In a summary, traditional Finnishness is about the stereotypes we all know. At its core, we are on a way to become this stereotyped Finn, because we are affected by our surroundings (our parents say that mämmi is good and make us eat it. So there’s potential we start to like it too). However, the globalization and our awareness of individuality has changed us to choose our own path, so Finns along with the Finnishness are constantly changing as they represent our people.

Shy, afraid or is it just a part of our culture?

When I think about Finnishness the first thing that comes to my mind is

why are we so shy?

Shy to touch, to talk, to be near.

The “Finnish nightmares” cartoon series created by Karoliina Korhonen are the best example of what we are really thinking during real life situations. Sharing an elevator with a stranger can be a bit awkward to us. When a stranger looks you in the eye and smiles…. that’s even more awkward! “Is this person invading my personal space?”

Is it because we are too shy to have direct contact? Are we afraid? Or is it a part of our culture ?

It might have roots in our history. We have been living in isolation for quite some time. It might be because we are attached to our personal place, because we have so much space here!

There was a brilliant article from Yle Turku, written by Michael berry who says:

“Finnish silence is a method of preserving harmony with nature, oneself and others. It’s natural for Finns to move between fluent active listening and speaking while respecting others. A Finn thinks profoundly before expressing himself on a subject of importance,” (M. Berry 2013)

Maybe being silent is not that bad at all. Maybe we should learn to accept it, and just be proud of it. What others see as shy, is just our way of being polite. Our way of respecting others. We are not better, or worse, just a different kind of people.


Let’s talk!

What is an effective way to combine people to form a culture? It is a language. In our case unique, rare and a strange-sounding language. Finnish has only more or less 5 million speakers in Finland and minorities in Sweden, Norway, Russia, Estonia and even in the USA, Canada and Brazil according to Wikipedia (Wikipedia. 2017. Finnish language).

A friend of mine once met a man online. He claimed to speak French, English, Italian, Spanish and Finnish. Finnish seemed very odd to this combination. As they were writing to each other in Finnish I was sure that he was using Google translator and just messing around with my friend. It turned out his father was Italian and her mother was Finnish. The family’s children had lived their whole life in France. When I asked him what have been the benefits of speaking almost fluent Finnish he replied ”Not really anything. It has been only useful as a secret language with my siblings. And to communicate with Finnish relatives in Turku”. [He spoke with a strong Turku-dialect with a French intonation which was very amusing to us at



picture1. Oh, how much seeing this picture gives me simple joy. Yksinkertaisuus.  (source: Very Finnish Problems. 2017.)


History matters

Languages evolve constantly. New words are invented with modern needs. Other words are getting out of fashion and forgotten. Finnish is a young language comparing to any bigger country and their linguistic heritage. We have our ”100-year independency birthday” coming up this year which amazes people from old countries like Spain, China or Iran. We are a young nation. The first document of a pre-Finnish language, Finnic is a birch bark letter no. 292 from the beginning of 13th century (Endangered languages. 2017). Whereas the earliest examples of Chinese language are divionary inscriptions on oracle bones from around 1250 BCE and Chinese culture is one of the oldest in the world (Wikipedia. 2017). Their country and culture can be traced back thousands of years.

You can only imagine which culture has more history included in their heritage and words describing their historical culture. Does Finnish have different names for its historical eras while Chinese people name different eras according to their rulers? Well, sometimes in the spoken language we may speak about “the times when Kekkonen was the president”, but nothing like long eras like the Chinese have. Short history could be considered as a factor built in our national identity. We don’t have as many national tales of legendary deeds or heroes to pass on to our generations. We have Kalevala, but it isn’t considered as a children’s bedtime story nowadays. Before Elias Lönnrot wrote down this Finnish mythology in the 19th century it was being passed on to generations orally. It has contributed to our storytelling habits and written language, since there was barely any Finnish literature 150 years ago. Usually tales have been considered as an important way to pass on morals to community and children. Therefore each culture has their own kind of stories and heroes which affect the national identity.


A little about the hidden ways how language works to pass on cultural mindset


Back in high school my French teacher used to tell us how one’s mind works with the language one speaks. For example in Finnish we say I miss you ”Ikävä sinua” or ”Ikävöin sinua”. This could be translated more like ”I am yearning for you”. But when a French person says ”Tu me manque”  they are actually saying you are missing from me.  Languages have words that really don’t have a translation or the same kind of use. An example of this is a simple ”please”. Spaniards say ”por favor” which could be translated more ”to do a favour”. Asking for something without saying please can be considered rude in English and in Spanish. But us Finns, we don’t really say please. For us kind voice, eye contact  and a thank you is enough to be polite. We have the translation to please as ”ole hyvä” which would be literally translated ”be good”, but it is used more to say you’re welcome. Or as Spaniards would say it’s nothing as ”de nada”.

Every language has their unique words that can’t be translated with one word. This is typical for every language in the world. Finnish has many words for different kinds of snow whereas the language of Eskimos has even more. They are words that can’t be translated into English with one word, because English doesn’t have the same words for snow. This is simply because so many different words for snow haven’t been as significant in the native English speakers daily lives.

Note that the language you speak as your mother tongue is usually the language you think in. Which leads to the fact that your mother tongue affects your personality, morals and customs. It can be a much more powerful tool to unite people together.  Scientists have discovered that people who are bicultural and speak two languages may unconsciously change their personality when they switch languages.  I bet many bicultural people can relate to this.

So, to really know Finnish or any other culture it is useful to be aware of how our language affects our mindset, culture and daily lives. And then simply enjoy sauna.


This text was written with passion. Comment or share to carry out discussion about the topic.


Yksinkertainen kiitos,

Lilja Harala

Physiotherapy student




Endangered languages. 2017. seen 13.4. http://www.endangeredlanguages.com/lang/2368/samples/7822

Wikipedia. 2017. Finnish Language. seen 13.4.2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnish_language

Wikipedia. 2017. Chinese language. seen 13.4.2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_language#Origins


Very Finnish Problems. 2017.  https://pbs.twimg.com/media/C8-fu8BXcAAlHnz.jpg