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”.
What is Finnishness? In my opinion Finnishness can be summarised with three things: sauna, nature and a lack of small talk. Here’s how those things represent finnishness.
Sauna is perhaps the most known part of the Finnish culture around the world. Sitting naked with strangers in a hot room may sound bizarre for non-Finnish people, but for Finns sauna is sometimes a place to relax and shake of the stress after a hard week of work, sometimes it’s a place to socialise and have a few (or more) drinks with your friends. It’s pretty much the only place where talking to stangers is considered normal. For Finns, having a sauna in your home is something considered almost self-evident. It is estimated that there are two million saunas in Finland, which is a lot for a population of 5.3 million. The best way to experience sauna is at a summer cottage by a lake, with a possibility to take a dive in the cool lake water.
The Finns live close to nature. Approximately 75% of Finland’s area is covered in forests. Finland is often called “a land of thousand lakes”, which is actually an understatement (which is usual for Finns), considering there’s over 187 000 lakes in Finland. Where ever you go, nature is close, whether as a small lake or as a piece of forest. The temperatures and climate between different seasons varies a lot. In summer the temperature can climb up to 30 degrees celcius and accordingly during winter it sometimes gets down to -30 degrees. The changes between the seasons require a skill to adapt to different situations, something the Finns have mastered.
No empty words
In most Western cultures people use small talk to avoid awkward moments of silence during a discussion, but not Finns. Moments of silence during a discussion aren’t really considered awkward, and they are certainly considered better than saying something you don’t necessarily mean. For an example, when asked a simple “how are you”, we have a tendency to answer literally.
The lack of empty words means that when Finns say something, they almost always actually mean it. Finns are really honest people, and when they say they’re going to do something, they will do it. One of the most important traits for Finns is something called “sisu”, which is a concept of extreme determination and perseveranse.
I asked my friend what finnishness means to him. His answer was: ruisleipää ja salmiakkia. Rye bread and salty liquorice. Personally I hate salmiakki, so that does not belong to my finnishness. What finnishness means to me? That’s hard question because I always say I was born to wrong country because I hate snow and cold weather. I’m from Tornio, Lapland, so winter sports are familiar. I am not outdoors person, but I appreciate our pure nature. I appreciate the solitude what nature gives us. And I love sauna.
I’m not stereotypical Finn; I talk a lot and I am loud. I am open to new experiences, I don’t drink that much and I don’t listen heavy metal. For me finnishness is stubbornness. And we are very proud. Sometimes (read: usually) those two things are same. Finnishness to me is night less nights, midsummer, dark humor, honesty, melancholy and turkish pepper candy. Also we have this thing called sisu. There is not English word for sisu, but it means determination regardless of cost, so we don’t give up easily. And that trait makes me proud to be Finn.
I will do my training in hotel named Viura, Logroño, Spain. I am bit nervous because Spanish people are quite different than we finns. And I will miss finnish solitude, rye bred and sauna. I’m sure I will learn many things abroad about my future profession, Spain and myself , but mostly I think I will appreciate finnishness eaven more.
When I first got to Finland, I was amazed by the gorgeous scenery and how Finnish culture closely intertwines with the nature. The country boasts having the highest number of lakes in the world, which amounts to 187,888 official ones, and Finns like to gather at their cottages by the water to enjoy their holidays with quietness and relaxation.
In the winter when everything freezes over, a greatly enjoyed traditional activity is called “avanto”, which can be translated as “hole in the ice”, since Finns swim in a hole in a frozen lake, and it is usually paired with the other national love: sauna. Whether it’s sauna or ice bathing, it shows that Finns always take it to extremes and from that they have trained themselves to be strong, hardy, resilient and determined or “sisu” – the untranslatable concept proudly used by Finns to describe themselves.
There is also a significant number of forests in Finland and Finns also enjoy spending their time there, the activities mainly consist of walking, running, berry or mushroom picking. They even have a law called “jokamiehenoikeus” or “everyman’s right” that ensures everyone can wander around forests.
Another interesting fact about Finnish culture is that it is home to many eccentric competitions such as swamp soccer world championships, berry picking world championships, mobile phone throwing world championships and wife carrying world championships.
Additionally, Finland is where Moomin, Angry Birds and Nokia came from. Its northern city Lapland is also known as home of Santa Claus.
When talking about Finland and Finnishness people always bring up the beautiful nature or the dark and cold winter. Another topic of discussion is the nature of Finnish people; unsocial, stubborn and modest. To me, however, Finnishness is a lot more. Finnishness is cottage life, sauna and most importantly, good food.
You can’t talk about Finnish culture without mentioning cuisine. For me the most important things in Finnish cuisine are salty liquorice, coffee and rye bread. Salty liquorice, or salmiakki, is a Finnish treat which is hard to find anywhere else in the world. Many Finnish people say salmiakki is the first thing they miss about Finland when they travel abroad. Finns are the people with the highest consumption of coffee in the world. It is not unusual to start your life as a coffee drinker in your youth. Here in Finland rye bread is the most common type of bread. Traditional rye bread is a dark, sour bread which can also be found dried.
Finnish culture has a lot of traditional foods which can’t stay mentioned; Karelian pie, Karelian hot pot, and traditional Finnish Easter dessert made from rye flour, called mämmi. For me, these traditional foods bring back memories of my childhood.
Finns don’t always go to the nearest supermarket to get their food, because our beautiful nature provides us with berries and mushrooms, for example. Some Finns even have their own small fields in their backyard, where they grow their own potatoes, carrots, beetroots and other veggies.
There is no Finnishness without sauna culture. The first thing us Finns mention to foreigners is how great the Finnish sauna is. Sauna is the place where even the most unsocial Finn may open up, but even then, it’s not certain. Sauna is also the place where you can show your guts, so called “Sisu”, when you compete who can withstand the most heat the longest. When you have burned your skin off in the scorching sauna, it is typical to take a cooling dip in the cold lake or even roll in the snow, when there’s no water nearby.
Having sisu means that someone is unyielding and determined. He/she has endurance and resilience. That’s what the Finns are known for and very proud of. Sisu can be connected with sports. Especially cross-country skiing and ski jump where Finns have succeeded.
Finnish people need their own personal space. It’s not okay to go and hug or kiss a stranger or even an acquaintance. I guess almost everyone is familiar with a picture from a Finnish bus stop where people are standing a meter from each other just because they need their own space. They might do that even if it’s raining and everyone won’t fit under the shelter. Or perhaps it’s just a bit exaggerated.
Finnish people don’t mind being silent. Sometimes it’s even desirable. When you’re driving a car in a bright summer night and listening good songs. Or when you’re enjoying the heat of the sauna. You seldom hear strangers talking to each other in an elevator or in a bus. First foreigners might find this behavior strange and disturbing but during time they might start to enjoy it. Enjoy those lovely moments that doesn’t need to filled with small talk.
In my opinion there is not one correct answer to that question. Basically, you can’t just say that someone is Finnish because she/he acts in a certain way. It is quite random in which culture you were born and nationality is just a tiny part of your personality, it doesn’t specify what kind of person you are. But people seem to love categorizing and that is the reason why we have all these stereotypes.
Now it is time to figure out how Finnish you are. The test is based on common stereotypes of what Finnishness is. You get one point for every claim that fits in you.
Your best and only coping mechanism is drinking. No matter how small or big your problem is, the best solution is to drink yourself into oblivion. Next day you may have a major headache but the problem is forgotten!
You hate Swedes and Russians. You don’t really know why, but does it even matter?
You don’t want to meet new people (unless you are drunk). It is awful. Especially you don’t want to get to know people from different cultures. People are dreadful anyway, so why even bother…
You are shy, socially awkward and you hate being centre of attention (unless you are drunk). So it is better just to sit still and quiet somewhere in shady corner and try not to breathe so loud.
You have sisu (sisu can be translated as gut or persistence). At least you think you have. Sometimes the line between stubbornness/foolishness and sisu can be a little flickering. Some may say that doing same thing in same way over and over again without succeeding in it, is ludicrous, but you say it is sisu.
You love sauna. There is nothing as awesome in entire world as sitting naked in the small, hot room and drinking ice cold beer (or Koskenkorva, or Jaloviina). The best thing ever!
All the Finns are rude, unpolite and cranky. Someone you don’t know asks if you know where is the library, you rapidly turn around and walk away. Old lady asks you to help her cross the road, you won’t. There is a fight in the street, someone should call 112, you don’t have time for that. People really should just mind their own businesses!
You don’t laugh much. Why should you? There is no valid reason to laugh (unless you are drunk) and furthermore it gives you wrinkles.
You have quite special sense of humor. You think you are funny while others think that you are just weird.
You can’t talk about feelings. You don’t want to talk about your own feelings and you definitely don’t want to hear someone else’s feelings. It is better to never ever open up (unless you are really, really, really drunk).
Well, I got one point (claim nro 9) although I was born in Finland and I have lived here my whole life. In my experience Finnishness can be whatever you want it to be. It can be openness, solitude, happiness, melancholy, shyness, bravery etc. There is no certain personality or specific behavior that determines Finnishness. After all, we are all humans, so should we rather ask what is humanity?
Finland, population of 5,5 million people is sparsely populated and when ever talking to foreign people you usually get astounded looks on their faces and a sentence “oh, so the whole country has less people in it than there is in my home town”. Our big cities are microscopic compared to some of the world’s metropolises and we, as a nation, haven’t been living in the cities, where all the commodities are close, for long.
Most of the population lived in the countryside still in the 1950’s and I think that it has had an affect in our culture and in our identities. We still have a good sense what is living in the countryside facing all the hardships in that way of living and not having everything in your access all the time. Maybe that’s why we have been raised to respect what we have and stay humble.
We also call common sense “maalaisjärki”, which directly translates to “country/rural sense”. That tells a lot about the appreciation for the countryside, basic reasoning and doing things yourself.
We also respect the nature a lot. Many of the Finns own a summer cottage by a lake where you can go and relax and enjoy the nature. And because our towns and cities are reasonably small, you are able to go to the nature basically in minutes. It doesn’t matter where you are, in a city center or at your home, there’s always lakes, rivers and forests close by which you can enjoy of.
I think these reasons, among other things, have molded us what we are as a nation and given us common sense and “sisu”, which we appreciate in ourselves. We are a rational nation with a will to work hard and we won’t give up even facing hardship.
This is what I’ve learned to appreciate in Finland and in Finnish culture and I can be proud of my Finnishness in all of the metropolises of the world.
I have thought about Finnishness a lot. I find our culture and behavior peculiar and interesting: On the other hand I sometimes feel very annoyed with our country and the way we act but on the other hand I’m extremely proud of being born in the great North and I’m always eager to have a chat about Finland.
Okey so let’s dig in to my thoughts. These are not facts or proved knowledge. Only my experiences during these past 21 years of wandering around the globe.
People from Finland are cold. You can blame the weather and our inheritance for our behavior, but it’s a cold hard fact (see what I did there? 😀 ) that we Finns are as warm as the summer we have. We usually avoid unnecessary touching and showing affection.
I find it frustrating that in our country you have to give handshakes – not only to new acquaintances but sometimes you have to share this weird habit with relatives or even with some friends. I never thought handshaking is something natural to human beings and it always feels a bit forced – and the worst part is that it only makes you feel uncomfortable and the situation itself might become even more awkward. Unlike a kiss or a hug might release some tension and create a connection. But you know what’s even more awkward than a lousy handshake? No handshake whatsoever. Sometimes I find myself stuck to a situation where the other person doesn’t seem too interested in meeting you and even the small effort of touching the other person’s hand seems like too much to do.
But when you finally do get to know a Finnish person (even though the part where you meet and get to know to a Finn might be hard) you’d got yourself a life-long friend. Finnish people are so loyal and honest and they pretty much stick around, no matter what’s the situation.
Another thing you need to know about Finns is that we are very persistent. We even have a very special word to describe the typical Finnish persistence, sisu. It means being single-minded and relentless. Quitting is something that Finns find unsettling and the job has to be done almost perfectly. This quality is good and bad at the same time: Even I can see this feature in myself even though I’m not the most typical Finn to say the least. I basically never give up and maybe some times it would be better to just say “no” than force yourself to do something unpleasant.
And most importantly. The weather. It’s a really big deal to us. You’d think that we are fine with every type of weather but the reality is actually the exact opposite. We have a tendency to complain about the weather a lot. During summer is either too hot or too rainy. During winter it’s either too warm or too cold. When it’s spring, it’s snowing. And when it’s autumn, it’s dark. This is our circle of life and we should all appreciate it more. When you think about it.. not many countries have that much variety when it comes to weather….
I’m just kidding… The sleet is awful.
Okey, I just realized my list is not too positive. But you should all know Finland is still the greatest country to live in and there’s not enough slush in the world to change my opinion about it. Imagine, we have
opintotuki aka study grants
mustamakkara aka the black sausage
thousands of lakes
blonde guys and girls
basically no corruption
Finnish summer and never ending sunlight
one of the best education systems in the whole wide world
What does Finland and being a Finn mean to me? The answer is – if I dare say – something that a lot of Finns could very well relate to: sauna, sisu, lakes and rivers, lots of trees, silence, and space. A Finns favourite scenery often has water in it, be it a lake, a river or the sea and perhaps some trees or some other kind of vegetation. This isn’t surprising since Finland is often called The Land of a Thousand lakes. It does describe Finland well because if you’ve ever driven through Finland during summer, all you can see is blue lakes, rivers and green forests and fields passing by.
As lakes are everywhere, so are the summer cottages too. To me and a lot of Finns, retreating to the cottage during summer is a very important thing. The peace and quiet and the simple joys that the of the cottage offers is what makes them so attractive to Finns. Relaxing at the lakeside boating, fishing, barbecuing and most importantly going to the sauna and swimming are a must.
Sauna has been an important part of the Finnish culture for hundreds of years. It has been a place for bathing and curing different illnesses, but also a place where children were born and where the corpses of the deceased were taken before the funeral. Nowadays practically all houses and many flats have a sauna of their own and it is common practice to use it at least once a week.
I’m originally from Rovaniemi, and after moving to Tampere I have come to really appreciate the two extremes that especially Lapland can offer. Snowy, cold and dark winters and the warm, green summers with the sun shining the whole night through. The difference in the light in the summer is very noticeably compared to Tampere even though Rovaniemi is in the southern part or Lapland.
In this blog a lot of people have talked about the Finnish people and our nature which is often silent, sometimes even a bit awkward, shy and always very straight to the point. Maybe because of the harshness of the the environment we have had to live in we have had to develop a strong mentality of perseverance, sisu. It is an attribute that has helped us survive in the sometimes tough but beautiful nature surrounding us, but also other kinds of difficult situations in the past and the present. It is an positive attitude I can relate to and hold very dear, and I do think it somehow sums up what Finland and its people are all about.