“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?
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.
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.
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”.
When people hear about Finland, they think about snowy winters, vast forests, endless amount of lakes, the Finnish sauna, the almighty Nokia and probably even polar bears (yikes). These things are mostly nature-related but I think the true Finnishness is in our personality. We have great national pride and that really shows when we achieve anything significant.
Everybody unites at the point of victory and even though we might be regarded as a tad shy and quiet, nobody is quiet when we qualify for European championship in football or win the ice hockey world championship. That’s the moment when everybody unites and celebrates as a one big group, which is the purest form of Finnishness if you ask me.
Even though the Finnish bureaucracy might be annoying at some points, travelling around the world has shown how well everything works in Finland (except VR), and that’s something we should be proud of. As some wise guy has once said “It’s a lottery win to be born in Finland”!
When I think about Finnishness, I think about people who are at first reserved and quiet, but when you get to knew them better, they are social, warm, trustworthy and the most honest people you’ll ever meet. I also think that Santa Claus, snow and the northern lights are things that Finland is famous for.
As a Finn I love nature, silence and sauna. Especially in the summer when you can run straight from the Sauna in to a lake or the sea. It is the best thing about the Finnish summer. I also love Ice swimming during the winter time. I love the Finnish nature and I believe we have a lot to see in Finland. During the summer time the archipelago is enchanting and in the Wintertime Lapland is a winter wonderland with snow and the northern lights. The thousand lakes, forests and national parks are worth to visit, there you can get closer to a Finnish mindset.
Finns appreciate personal space and private time, so if your Finnish friend needs some time of their own after a long weekend trip, give it to them. We are not angry, we just love spend time alone sometimes,e specially after social events.
Finland is a very safe country. As a woman I can walk alone in the city at night time, it’s very usual in Finland. My Spanish friends were borderline angry with me when I left club and walked home alone. It also didn’t help that I tried to explain them that I do this every time in Finland. Small children may also walk alone to the School and back, and it’s completely normal in Finland.
I can proudly say that in Finland we have safe environment, quality education, high equality and we can trust our government and police departments.
When I describe Finnish people to others, I usually just say that we’re quiet or shy. I don’t personally really think that, but compared to other nations we really seem like it. But I think what really defines us more than “quiet” is “honest”. There’s no need for courtesies or small talk: we just say what we have to say and that’s it. It might come across as shy, quiet or reserved but to me it’s all I need. The concept of small talk was so unfamiliar to me that I’ve really had to put my back into learning it! I still struggle with it from time to time. It’s also hard to tell sometimes if a foreign person is qenuinely interested in talking with me or if it’s just small talk. Usually with Finns I don’t have to worry about that, which is relieving. If somebody asks you how you’re doing and you answer with how you actually feel, it’s only normal and even expected.
Even though the way Finnish people speak can be a little short on words, our language is really versatile. It’s wonderful that a lot of Finnish people can speak many different languages beside Finnish, but sometimes I wonder if others have noticed the beauty of their own language. I find constant joy in all the wonderful little phrases and words that have gained their meaning in the older times but which are still used today. Sometimes while talking I realize what the words we use actually mean. For example “marraskuu” means “November”, but what it literally means is “moon of the dead”, but you never really stop to think about it!
To me Finnishness culminates in how our language could bend into so much to best fit what we’re feeling inside and yet we choose to say so little. Only the necessities.
That… And the completely bright nightless nights when you can just sit on a dock watching insects fly over a lake, hear a faint cuckoo from the forest and smell the smoke coming from the chimney of a sauna. That too.
I’moriginallyfrom Estonia sofinnish culture wassomethingnew for me. Estonian culture is mostlyborrowedfromRussia etc.Finland, on theotherhand, has culture mostly of it’sown. WhenItellforeignersabout Finland I beginwithoureducationsystem and ourhealthcare. ThosearethethingsI’mmostproud of as a finnbecauseourhealthcare and educationsystemarebetterthan in mostcountries.
As othershavewritten, nature is important to us. Weareproud of ourforests and lakes. Thebestway to enjoyournature is to spendtime at thecottage in thewoods, near to a lake. That’swheretownspeople and hardworkersrelax. Alsowehavemanynatureparksnear to bigcities and thecitiesitselfhavelots of vegetation.Ournaturechangeswiththeseasons and everyseasonhasit’s beauty. Finlandsspeciality is Lapland, wherethewinter is longest and snowiest. Summers in Laplandaremagical. Thereyoucanexperiencethegreenmountains, thequietdeserts and thenightlessnights. Thenorthernlightsare a mustsee!
Becausenature and climatearesoimportant to us, wecarry a hugeresponsibility for them. Sometimes it canbeoverwhelmingwhenwemakenot-so-goodenvironmentaldecisions. Like whenwebuyplaneticketsto somewherewarm and sunny in themiddle of depressingwinterorwhenwechoosespanishcucumberinstead of finnishbecausethetaste is better. Butwecompensateourbadchoiceswithmanygoodchoices. For example, ourrecyclingsystem is veryadvancedandmostfinnsutilize it. Ourgrocerystorearefull ofgreenerand organicalternatives and finnspreferdomestic products. Alsothepopularity of finnishrecycledcrafts and design is on therise. Notforgettingourcomprehensive and functionalpublictransportation, whichreducesprivatecaruse. Finnishness is love and greatresponsibilitytowardsournature.
Grasping the meaning of the word “Finnishness” seems very easy, but also remarkably hard to point out. First things that come to mind are saunas, northern lights, cold people, ice hockey, snow, and an incredibly complicated language. But Finnishness is way more than that.
Sure thing, Finns do love their sauna, and for the longest time I didn’t like the experience. Growing up in a country where most of the year is over +30 degrees, I never really saw the point in sitting in a wooden room in high temperatures. Recently though, it’s been growing on me.
Finnishness also has a lot to do with nature. There’s nature literally everywhere in this country, and I love being surrounded by the peaceful wilderness that is so easily accessible, which makes it such a crucial part of Finnish culture. Berry and mushroom picking, hiking, orientation inside forests, summers spent swimming and fishing in lakes. Even during the cold months, Finns find a way to still be close to nature by practicing a lot of outdoor sports.
You can’t talk about Finnish culture without mentioning the unique way Finns mind their own business. It took me some time to notice how this mindset applies to almost everything, but Finnish people tend to go out of their way to not bother others. This applies to almost everything: quiet restaurants, personal space, filling up all the window seats on the bus and avoiding any seat beside someone else, and queueing for everything, amongst many other daily situations. And I’ve really come to appreciate this particular part of Finnishness.
I first moved to Finland back in 2012 for a 9th grade one year long exchange, and thought I was ready for Finnish culture, given that my grandmother who was 100% Finnish had a huge part in raising me. But it turns out I wasn’t quite ready for what was to come, and being a foreigner with Finnish roots didn’t prepare me from the differences between Latin America and Northern European cultures.
Christmas is an important time for us to rest and spend time with our friends and family. It’s one of the most important holidays for Finns, I might say. People usually take at least a couple days off and many travel during that time. Usually to spend Christmas with relatives or to be somewhere northern to surely have snow on Christmas eve.
The tradition of a Finnish Christmas is, among other things, to give the gifts on Christmas eve, on the 24th of December. The eve is the most important day overall, usually. Of course the traditions vary in different families and yearly, due to work, for example. So, I speak from my own experiences and on the base what I’ve heard from other Finns.
Traditionally the 24th day starts with rice porridge and cinnamon. Sometimes we hide one almond in the porridge. It depends on the family what is the result of finding the almond. Sometimes it means that the one finding it can open one present or s/he has to sing a Christmas song. At our grandparents it means that the one finding the almond must do the dishes. So oddly, sometimes the almond is left undiscovered.
As Christmas is a religious celebration, many Finns go to Christmas church on the 24th. Usually in the morning, sometimes during the day or at least to light the candles on the family graves. Many go to church’s events to sing Christmas songs before the eve as well.
The day is usually full of waiting and preparations for the night. Children’s task is to decorate the Christmas tree. Some do this before the eve though. We tend to dress up a bit fancy for the eve’s dinner. The traditional main dish is ham or turkey and different casseroles. In addition to these there are other food as well. In our family we eat lamb, fish and loaf. My personal favorite is roe, sour cream and red onion. For dessert we usually have cheese and fruits. As Finns tend to drink on the celebrations, it’s normal to have at least mild drunkenness from the wine and dessert drinks.
If you have your own sauna, it’s normal to go to the Christmas sauna, naturally. If Santa Claus didn’t bring the gifts during the night between 23th and 24th, it’s expected to happen before the night of the 24th. It’s very common that families have a Santa visiting every year, especially in families with small children. Usually the Santa is the same person every year, someone who happens to be away every time Santa visits. Some people hold on this tradition even when the children have grown up and everyone already knows who plays the Santa’s role.
The most awaited part is to give and get presents. It happens usually after dinner and lasts approximately one hour. The older I have grown the more joy I get of giving presents and from the time together with my family. And good food, of course. The 25th is a very laid-back day to spend with the family as well. We usually play board games and children play with their new toys. The food on the 25th is leftovers from the eve and of course all the chocolate and other delicacies all around the house. Additionally, one tradition many young people have is to go out with friends on the night of the 25th.
The nature of Finland is one of my favorite things. Here we have something that every other country doesn’t – the variation with the seasons and the variability in the nature between the south and north. One upside in particular, to my mind, is the big size, tranquility and purity of most of our forests. We have our problems in Finland as well, of course, as clearcuttings. Still, overall, I think our nature is in good condition and there are good laws to protect the animals. When I was a kid and we lived in the countryside, I got to see a lot of animals while playing outside, mooses and foxes for example.
Nowadays, walking in the forest or going to a cabin in the wilderness is an important way for many people to lower the stress caused by hectic work and school life. Even more than before, I think. Nature comes in the first priorities for many Finns.
Again speaking from own experiences, I really enjoy the nature of Lapland and Central Finland. The following pictures are from Central Finland, Hyrynsalmi from last summer. It’s the place for yearly Swamp Soccer World Championships, Suopotkupallo. Speaking of which, that is an event which wraps up a lot of Finnish culture. People playing football in a swamp in the middle of nowhere, usually drunk every day of the tournament. However, one of the very best parts of the yearly Swamp Soccer is to watch the sunrise at the lake after the tournament.
When I think about finnish people and Finland, two things pop into my head: our beautiful nature and our pure desire not to communicate with each other. Here’s what I mean.
Folk of few words
If you encounter a finnish person, you might notice that, generally speaking, we are not a very chatty people. We usually don’t like to chit-chat and so we try our best to avoid any situations where we might have to do that. For example in the bus, we would much prefer to sit alone than next to someone and this is why we will try to sit on an empty row if we possibly can. Of course when we do talk we are very polite and kind, we just might sound a little rude with our short answers and overall awkwardness in that situation.
All of four (but mostly one)
Seasons. We get them all (even if we don’t really want to). We get the snow when it’s winter so we can play some winter sports, we get the heat in the summer so we can go to the beach and get a tan (or seriously sun-burned). We get the color shifting trees, shining on us all the colors of Fall, and we get the long lost bird singing and sun after a gruesomely long and dark winter. We finnish people tend to say that we have winter most of the year and that our summers last for about a month. Of course that is not the case, we just feel like it. All in all, we get to witness all the seasons of the year and to me that is a blessing.