I have lived in Finland my whole life. Finnishness to me means a lot of different things. Mostly it reminds me of a safe, peaceful and beautiful home. To get the best picture of what it means to me, I’ll list a couple of things below.
Beautiful and fresh nature
I have lived my childhood in a place where the forest with its lakes has been right in the backyard. Now when I live in a city, nature is still not far away. In Finland you can go to enjoy the nature without going far away. You can escape the real life hassle at any time which I love about Finland. It is also true Finnishness if you are able to be prepared for any weather here in Finland. In the same day it can be cold, windy, rainy and sunny…
I would say most Finnish are nature loving and we enjoy going to the cottage at summer and going to sauna and the lake during winter. We also enjoy our own peace with the most important people around. The calmness that the nature brings is good for our soul.
Finns are quite modest. We appreciate what we have, the beautiful nature, a country where we can live in peace and where we do not have to fear things as we may need in some countries. Finnish people usually speaks about things that are essential in the specific matter and that’s why we don’t consider silent moments awkward. When you are in a public small place as Finn, we consider that we don’t have to say anything to others. I would say Finns are thoughtful, trustworthy and straight forward, however we are still quite private people. We usually don’t have the need to be sharing everything about ourselves and we rather listen to others. We like our personal space.
I was borned in Eastern Finland near the National Park Koli. I have been living there my first nineteen years of my life and enjoyed it a lot. After high school it was time to move forward to study some interesting for me, so I moved to West Finland Southern Ostrobothnia.
People are different in different parts of Finland. In East Finland we used to talk lot about our personal life and happenings, but in West Finland it takes time to make friends and get the trust to invite you in someone others homes. People in Eastern Finland are more open and take people as friends really quickly. We like to be open minded and show our personality straight.
I´m posing naked at Koli and it’s okay for me. So I understood very quickly, that no need to go further out to sea to fish, as us Finnish people like to say, to understand difference between our little country and how people feel and think about your talking and acting about your personal life.
When telling people that you are from Finland, many don’t even know where Finland is. If they do the most common stereotypes about our culture and country are snow, Lapland, Darkness, Nature, Northern lights, sauna, quietness, and sometimes our great education. Yes we are part of the Nordic countries and there are similarities, but Finnish culture is unique in its own ways.
For me Finnish culture has many layers and constructs from different aspects. Some pillars for me would be nature, traditions, peacefulness (unless we win the hockey championships) and personal space.
As Finland has so much nature that is free for everyone to explore and enjoy, it has become a vital part of our culture and so called “Finnishness”. There are lakes, forests, sea, fields and so many other scenery all around Finland that everyone can find their own form of nature that they like. And due to Every man’s rights (jokamiehenoikeudet) we can all enjoy the nature freely, given that we respect and treat it as a living organism that needs to be looked after. We go to the nature to find peace from the busyness of the cities and to get some exercise. Nature is integrated into our everyday lives, Finland is not called ‘the land of thousand lakes’ for nothing.
Finns are really traditional and it can be seen in our culture. Of course culture changes as time passes but ancient traditions can be still seen in our culture even today. Sauna culture is one of these old traditions that doesn’t seem like ever going away. Sauna is part of our big holidays like Christmas and Midsummer as well as everyday routines. Other traditions like traditional dances (seen in the picture) are still danced in these events called ‘lavatanssit’. One can see that this tradition will go on because there are people from different generations attending the dances.
Peacefullness and Personal space:
Like earlier mentioned, Finns like to go out to nature to get some peacefulness in their life. I think that is one of the reasons we were voted the Happiest country in the world last year. Finns are hard working but we know how to find the balance between free-time and work and we know how to relax. People go to a summer cottage for some peace and relaxation. With this comes the personal spaces. Finns like their own time and spending time with their selves whether it’s at home, at the cottage or in nature. We function best if we find a good balance of own time, socializing, working and free time. Personal space appreciation can also be seen in buses: If there is a empty space somewhere in the bus, Finn will not sit next to another person but rather choose a seat all by them selves.
These are few points that I think means to be Finnish and tells what Finnishness is. I enjoy and respect our culture and think I will miss some of the aspects while I am doing my exchange. Let’s see shall we!
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 of Finland and what Finnishness means to me the first things that come to my mind are nature and polite people .
Finland’s nature is one of a kind. Finland is known for its lakes, clean water, clean air and beautiful landscape. What makes Finland’s nature even more beautiful is the 4 seasons. During every season the nature changes and new colors come.
Finns are also very polite and have good manners, they don’t yell their orders in cafeterias or push to be the first one to get into the bus. They line up and wait for their turn. Finns are also very trustworthy people, if they promise something you can count on it.
Writing about Finnishness is actually pretty hard. I wouldn’t say that I am the most Finnish person that there is or that I am super hyped about Finland as a country but it is definitely a great thing to be a Finn. Here’s some reasons:
I am not a huge nature loving person myself even though Finland gives one of the best opportunities for enjoying it in the world. You can freely walk wherever you want to, go camping or swimming and collect berries and mushrooms pretty much anywhere for free. Still, I often find myself being amazed of the beautiful surroundings.
Finnish people are often being told to be shy and quiet. I think that is both a good and a bad thing. I personally love that you don’t have to make small talk with everyone in Finland if you are having a bad day because no one is expecting you to. It is also great that Finnish people usually have a big need of personal space and it is ok not to be the most social person ever.
Then again, it can be a bit weird for foreigners when trying to get to know a Finn. We might easily seem mean or not interested, but that usually is not the case. I have being told so many times by my foreign and also some Finnish friends that ‘you seem so shy and focused on your own stuff but when you start to talk you just wont stop’, and I think that applies to quite many Finns. We just need a little time to get comfortable.
It’s safe in here
Finland is a safe country to live in. You can walk alone in in the middle of the night even in the big cities and you don’t have to be afraid. Finnish people are also usually very helpful, if something happens, someone will help you – though you might have to ask for the help yourself, Finns might not offer it to you without asking. It’s also safe in the way that you can trust the police and health care to take care of you. We are also offered a lot of support by the government in form of free education, maternity leaves, unemployment support and other great things which you might not get elsewhere.
The Finnish nature is something that Finnish people are really proud of. It’s an important part of the Finnish culture, national identity and everyday life. In Finland the nature is all around you no matter where you are. Even in the cities you can find forests and lakes and experience the Finnish nature. After all, 78% Finland’s total area is covered by forests and 9,4% by lakes.
Enjoying the nature often means clearing your mind, having alone time and relaxing but to different people it can mean different things. One of the best parts about Finland’s nature is that you can experience and enjoy it in so many different ways: you can go biking, hiking, picking berries or mushrooms, swimming, canoeing, camping, skiing – you name it. The Finnish nature has a lot to offer and so it has something for everyone.
Finnish people have a kind of built-in need to be in touch with nature. The Finnish nature represents peace, safety, silence and purity, which are essential values to Finns. I think, the Finnish nature answers to the need of silence and peace that Finns have. In my opinion, the Finnish nature reflects the Finnish identity and mentality. Finns are often described to be silent, persistent and though, which, I imagine, comes from having roots in the majestic Nordic nature.
I was born in a small town called Vaasa. When I was a child, we used to spend summers with my family at our cottage by the lake Lappajärvi 120 km from Vaasa. It was the place I learned to swim. I think I was spending most of my time in the lake. It was so much fun to play in the water. My mom has told that I was very interested in nature. I was always searching the ground. In school years I was a scout girl and enjoyed to spent time hiking in the forest.
My definition of Finnishness is Finnish nature. If I stay for a long time abroad nature is that thing what I miss from Finland. I have visited 48 countries around the world. For foreigners who like to experience the Finnish nature, I recommend a hike in Lapland or a cottage vacation by the lake.
I have been hiking in Lapland several times. There is something magical in nature, in the sound of silence and the freshwater what you can drink straight from the stream. Landscapes are amazing with mountains, streams, and reindeer. I recommend a hike in the middle of August when there are fewer mosquitos, but still quite warm. You can sleep in a tent or book a cottage. There is also an opportunity to sleep in cottages which are free for anyone to spend night example in Urho Kekkonen National Park.
Currently, we have a new cottage located in the countryside middle of the fields, by the lake Lappajärvi. It’s my place to relax and get new energy. It’s the place where I forget daily life’s stressful challenges. There I just am. There I used to meet my family, fish, paint, cook or read a book. Fields are long, the ground is quite flat, there are not many hills and no high buildings, you can see the whole sky above you. You can see nature speaks to you.
Before reading this, I would like to say to you (whoever is crazy enough to read texts longer than a tweet nowadays), that the following text might be a bit boring to read (here you have a perfect example of the Finnish modesty) but I am not a writer like Eino Leino or Minna Canth, I don’t enjoy writing as much as they did. But I still managed to write down this lovely list of things that the word Finnishness means to me.
What Finnishness means to me. Well, it means a lot of different things. Firstly, it means the ability to enjoy all the four seasons with all their positive and negative qualities. It means long cold winter, beautiful and lively spring, green and warm summer and rainy but colorful autumn. It means the ability to breathe in the fresh air and walk around beautiful, clean and peaceful nature.
It means the ability to be whatever I want to be and the ability to study for free. It means feeling safe. It means that everyone has equal opportunities to succeed and everyone is treated with respect. It means that you get a mum package from KELA when you have a baby.
It means a lot of coffee, beer, and sausages. And weirdly a lot of potatoes in different forms. It means eating weird foods like mämmi and liver casserole and pretending to enjoy it (some people actually enjoy these things).
It is feeling uncomfortable when someone sits next to me on a half-empty bus or a train. It means the weird look on my face if a stranger begins to have a conversation with me. But then again it means being completely fine with going to a public sauna and sitting there half-naked with people you don’t know. It is the feeling of community when people go crazy over something successful that a Finnish sports team does and the feeling of pride when Finland related stuff appears international movies or TV series. It means the pride and respect I feel when I hear the national anthem of Finland and think about how Finns fought for the independence of our country.
It means going to the cottage when it is Midsummer and eating rice porridge when it is Christmas morning. It means watching the independence they celebrations and listening to Finlandia together with family. It means celebrating vappu with friends and eating a lot of munkki with sima.
Finnishness means that it is ok to complain about being chosen the country with the happiest people in the world. Lastly and maybe most importantly it means queuing up to get a free bucket and hoping to win the lottery. Overall, it is an honor to be able to call this country my home and to live in the same country with Santa Claus, of course.
There is so much more to it as well, I am sure, but here are the first things that came into my mind when I started to think about the meaning of Finnishness.
Ranking among the very best in air quality, not too many people, one of the highest concentrations of forest per km2 make it one of the best places in the world to breathe. More and more of the population live in the cities nowadays, but the forest is always near and easily reached.
The vast majority of Finns highly value nature and enjoy the outdoors. Having all four seasons gives a lot of variety to our lives. Some people may complain about the cold winters, but I believe they secretly still love it. This also brings different pastimes depending on the season. We are mostly familiar with snow and winter sports though, many of these can be impossible to do in many other countries. It would be very hard to imagine life never having seen snow.
One of the year-round pastimes is obviously Sauna. I’m happy to live in the current “Sauna capital” that is Tampere. The pleasurable feeling of heating yourself all red and jumping on snow is one of the best ways to relax the body and mind.
Next month I’ll begin my exchange studies abroad. Having lived all 23 years of my life in Finland, I know there will be a myriad of things I’ll miss about this country. But I’m sure I’ll be even more appreciative of them when I return.