Tag Archives: humility

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.

“Why would you move here?”

Not that long ago, I caught myself asking this question from this Irish guy who had just moved to Finland. What he answered is not relevant, but I think this question shows pretty well the humility of us Finns. We know that we are a small nation in the Northern part of the world, and we work hard to make people notice our existence. Still it always seems to amaze us if someone knows something about our culture or if someone is willing to be a part of it.

Kuvahaun tulos haulle finnish nightmares someone knows finland

Just about a month ago I read this article about the quotes that describe the Finnishness the best. One of them was “Ei minua varten tarvii keittää” which can be translated to “There is no need to cook just because of me”. Finnish people are usually very modest and they do not want to bother other people with their needs. This can be seen in everyday life, for example in public traffic. People do not want to sit next to people they do not know and they certainly do not want to communicate them. Even when they are sitting next to the window in a bus and want to get out. Some brave individuals might say something to the person sitting next to them, but most of the time they are expressing their need to get out by coughing or moving restlessly. Sometimes, in worst cases, this might lead to travelling couple of extra bus stops, but that is OK as long as you do not have to talk to strangers.

Kuvahaun tulos haulle finnish memes bus

The modesty can also be seen in other situations. I often overhear people talking about the problems they are having, for example with their family or co-workers. Other people have annoying habits and the Finns like to complain about them to their friends. This sounds really normal and it happens everywhere, right? The difference is that we do not do anything about it. Again, we are trying not to bother others with our own needs. This might lead to bigger problems later when the little annoying things pile up and people need to confront them.

The humility and modesty can also be seen in the following situation. Try to compliment a Finn. Or try to tell them how wonderful their country is or how well something works. Normally people would say “thank you”, if you compliment them and they might even carry on the conversation about well-working public transportation or good healthcare. “What is the reaction you get from a Finn?” you might ask. Instead of “thank you” you will get some mumbling about how “it is nothing” or “this old thing” or some argument how there should be more busses from Hervanta to Tampere City Center.

Kuvahaun tulos haulle complimenting a finn

In Finland it is very common that people speak at least two languages. We are taught English and Swedish in school and many people speak at least English pretty well. The problem with learning languages as a Finn is again our modesty and our perfectionism. We often compare ourselves to native speakers and get frustrated if we are not on the same level as them. Many of my foreigner friends have told me that they find it easy to communicate in Finland and that almost everyone they have met has spoken really good English. Despite of the good level of English, people are too shy to speak it, because they do not trust themselves to be good enough.

Kuvahaun tulos haulle finnish nightmares english

All this modesty in humility hides the fact that although we always find something wrong with Finland, we are secretly very proud of it. It is our “isänmaa” – “father’s land” and we want people to know us and our country. We are happy if someone asks something about Finland, knows someone Finnish or has visited our country. It is a topic that we do not get tired talking about. Especially when we are a little bit drunk. But we will not get into that in this post.

Kuvahaun tulos haulle finnish nightmares someone knows finland

In conclusion, we are always comparing ourselves to “bigger” or “better” things and often forget or ignore the fact that we seem to have it all figured out pretty well.

Nature and Modesty – Finnish values

Finnish Love of Nature

10% of Finland consists of lakes, rivers and ponds, and 78% of the country is covered in forests. Originally, almost one third of Finland used to be swamp area, Hence the name: Suomi, which roughly translates to swamp land. It only makes sense that Finns highly respect and value nature.

I spent my childhood in a small town in the countryside where they not only teach kids biology but also encourage, or force them outside to actually get to know different plants, animals etc. Even in wood crafting classes we make homes for birds. In winter we sometimes went ice fishing on a nearby lake during gym classes.

Finnish cities have lots of trees, bushes and plants everywhere. There are quite a lot of parks too even though you don’t need to venture far from any city to find forests and “proper” nature.

In the countryside towns and areas most people have at least some kind of gardens that consist of apple trees, blackcurrant shrubs, flowers, vegetables among tons of other plants. People like to live and be surrounded by at least a bit of nature.

Finnish love for nature has a history too. Like in many other countries, nature was worshipped in Finland. In Finnish mythology each part of the nature (water/lakes, forests, thunder, underworld etc.) has it’s own deity. Furthermore, forests were believed to be homes to wisps, elves, and other mysterious and even scary creatures.

Nowadays the believers of the “old gods” or that pagan religion are very few but the respect for nature hasn’t gone away. Forests in the early autumn are swarming with berry pickers desperately trying to find the best blueberry and lingonberry locations. A bit later come the mushroom pickers. People go jogging in the forests and almost all Finns know how to swim which is easily taken for granted.

One could say we are really proud of our nature.

Finnish Modesty

Despite being proud of many things, especially things that are recognised world wide, Finns tend to be really humble people. Many Finns lack the skill of being proud about themselves in public since it’s easily considered as narcism or bragging.

If we are given something the first things we say are something like: “Oh you shouldn’t have brought anything!” or “I really don’t need anything”. If kids are given money as a present they’re taught to offer it back first telling it’s too much – or at least I was.

But the modesty of Finns isn’t as simple as it seems. It is true that we don’t want to look bad and we tend to stress a bit too much what others think about us, but the other reason for modesty is that we respect people who have done us something good (a compliment for example) and highly appreciate anything someone’s given us. Nothing is taken for granted. And the Finnish way to do this is to kind of like decreasing their own value in order to increase the complimenter’s. If that makes any sense.

In a nutshell, Finnish modesty comes from deep appreciation and respect towards someone who’s done something good to us. It’s not like we feel bad about ourselves and think we don’t deserve anything.

I know I don’t.


My two cents in on Finnishness

If I were forced to best describe “Finnishness” with three words, it would be the following: humble, honest, and proud. I have lived abroad for nearly half of my young life, therefore although I am Finnish myself, I have gained valuable perspective in comparison to various other cultures.

The way humility comes out in Finns is often interpreted in different ways. For instance, to a foreigner, the fact that strangers do not engage in conversation on public transport may seem somewhat antisocial. Simultaneously, the thought process of a Finn may be that they simply respect the privacy of his/her fellow citizens, and therefore abstain from engaging in small-talk.

Finnish “personal space” at a bus stop

The second characteristic of your typical Finn is honesty. Finnish honesty can often also come in many different forms. It can be evident in the form of a blunt, yet honest response; something that foreigners may consider to be downright rude. Then again, a Finn will also give his/her peers heartfelt praise when necessary. Honesty is a value that is taught by one’s parents from an early age as something that is (merely) above all else in the hierarchy of values.

Last but not least, Finns are extremely proud of where they come from. I noticed this in myself especially, whilst living overseas as an adolescent. Any chance I got, I would speak proudly of my homeland and its beauty. This is something that gradually faded away (once we moved back), this unconditional pride in being a Finn. I think it is certainly something us Finns take for granted, all the wonderful little aspects about being a Finn. You know what they say, “you don’t realize what you had until it’s gone”. There is an exception to every rule, and the one time that Finns can collectively boast about their homeland is following sporting success (more that likely to come from ice hockey). At these times, national pride is through the roof and unruly amounts of alcohol are consumed, one aspect that is deeply engraved in Finnish party traditions.

Finnish man on an overdose of national pride (and that stuff in the red tin can)