Tag Archives: finnishness

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.

 

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”.

What Finnishness is

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”!

My thoughts about Finnishness

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.

 

 

 

My thoughts about Finnishness

Finnish nightmares

For me Finnishness is a lot about personality. Finnish people need their own personal space and peace, even in public. If you go in to an elevator with other people in Finland, you don`t get much eye contact, because all the other people are staring at their feet, ground, walls or the roof of the elevator.  If you accidentally put out words like: “good morning” to a stranger in an elevator with you, you might just get odd looks like you would have escaped from a mental hospital or something. You can also see the need of a personal space in public transport like buses or trams. You can never sit beside a stranger, if there is even one empty pair of seats anywhere on the vehicle, because if you do,  you probably get the same kind of look than in the elevator when you open your mouth.

Sauna, beer and sausage

Three words that fits in to any Finns mouth. No matter if its spring, summer, autumn or winter, this holy triangle is close to every Finns heart. Especially in summer, the beer and sausage part takes a big part of a native Finns life, because grilling is the thing you just have to do at summer, no matter if it rains or shines. More than just a few times i`ve grilled under umbrella, but it is worth it, because the sausage tastes even better when you have needed a bit of sisu while cooking it. Being a fanatic fan of ice hockey is also big part of Finnishess. That is why the holy triangle will be emphasized during ice hockey world championship games, and once in a blue moon when Finland makes it in to the finals or even wins the cup, the importance of these things go off the charts. These things walk hand in hand.

 

That is what being a true Finn is.

Finnish responsibility

I’m originally from Estonia so finnish culture was something new for me. Estonian culture is mostly borrowed from Russia etc. Finland, on the other handhas culture mostly of it’s ownWhen I tell foreigners about Finland I  begin with our education system and our healthcareThose are the things I’m most  proud of as a finn because our healthcare and education system are better than in most countries. 

As others have writtennature is important to us. We are proud of our forests and lakesThe best way to enjoy our nature is to spend time at the cottage in the woodsnear to a lakeThat’s where townspeople and hard workers relaxAlso we have many nature parks  near to big cities and the cities itself have lots of vegetation. Our nature changes with the  seasons and every season has it’s beauty. Finlands speciality is Laplandwhere the winter  is longest and snowiestSummers in Lapland are magicalThere you can experience the  green mountainsthe quiet deserts and the nightless nightsThe northern lights are a  must see!

 

Because nature and climate are so important to us, we carry a huge responsibility for themSometimes it can be overwhelming when we  make not-so-good environmental decisions. Like when we buy plane tickets to somewhere warm and sunny in the middle of depressing winter or when we choose spanish cucumber instead of finnish because the taste is betterBut we compensate our bad choices with many good choicesFor exampleour recycling  system is very advanced and most finns utilize it. Our grocery store are full of greener and organic alternatives and finns prefer domestic products. Also the popularity of finnish  recycled crafts and design is on the riseNot forgetting our comprehensive and functional public transportationwhich  reduces private car useFinnishness is love and great responsibility towards our nature. 

Peculiarities of Finns

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.

Finland, The Land of Darkness and Light

Personally, when I think of Finland and the culture I was born and raised in, I think of the straight-forward attitude of people and the untouched nature, but also the crippling sense of loneliness. I’ve had many conversations with people both Finnish and foreign, about how Finnish people are raised to not make noise of ourselves. You have to always go with the safest option, to not take too big of a risk, to stick to what you’re used to. Finnish people are encouraged to be introverted, calm, quiet. A loud person is commonly frowned upon. This kind of mentality creates a lot of shy people, and with a lot of shy people, no one makes connections and people become lonely. When we don’t encourage expressive communication, we stop expressing our emotions. And then it turns into loneliness that can lead to depression that can lead to substance-abuse, something Finnish folk are notorious for. It is the dark side of this dark country.
I realize this is a very heavy image to portray of my culture, but it’s something I think about often and I believe it’s not talked about enough.

On the brighter side, this kind of sullen way of our people can also create unexpected connections. Finnish folk like to make fun of the depressive state of our personal nature, and humour is what truly brings our people together. It can be seen even on this blog: many of the posts feature “Finnish Nightmares”, the humorous comic about Finns struggling to be social. The humour is often tied to the straight-forward honesty that Finnish people value. It’s like in our very nature to tell the truth, no matter how it looks like. And that is something I cherish in Finnishness.

Here’s an uncannily Finnish picture of my brothers from this past Yule. I think it fits into this theme wonderfully.

“Finland, that’s one of the Nordic countries, right?”

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.

Nature:

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.

Traditions:

 

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!

 

-Niina

Finnishness

What is finnishness (to me)?

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.