My Experiences of Finnishness

When thinking about Finnishness, three words come to my mind: Sauna, Silence, and Space.

Sitting in my room I started to wonder what it is that could describe Finnishness? For one, Sauna. Finns love their sauna moments and it can almost be seen as a sacred place for us. Some go there to get peace and relaxation, some might have business meetings in this environment and others throw a party. There are really no limits to what a Finn might do in Sauna.

Our ancestors used Saunas for childbirth because they were usually the most sanitized space in the whole house. When my sister got married we had a pre-wedding sauna ceremony for her, where we would throw “löyly” and make all the spirits of ex-boyfriends go away. After this ritual, we bathed her with different herbs to give her marriage wealth, health, happiness, and babies. At this moment I have felt more like a Finn than at any other time during my nearly 25-year-long life.

Finnish people used to be very connected to nature through magical rituals, herbs and harvest. These ritualistic aspects can still be seen in Sauna: people use candles, scents and wash themselves with different herbs/shampoos etc. Every Finn has their own Sauna ritual, the content differs, but the ritual still exists.

IMAGE 1: Sauna Rituals, By Emilia Parikka


Silence came to my mind next, because in Finland there is a lot of nature area, that is compleatly silent (if you don’t count birds cherping or leaves ruffling in the wind). There is always the possibility to find some spot for just yourself and your thoughts. This can be seen in public spaces too, Finnishness is about not making too much noice about yourself, but to being modest. It’s better to be quit than to talk too much. Finnishness can be seen in not having chit chat conversations with strangers, Finns only talk when it’s relevant and they really have something to say.

IMAGE 2: Silence in Nature, By Emilia Parikka

Our appreciation to silence can be seen when there is a lot of noice, we are quick to make comments about the disruption of our peace. In the elevator we’re okey with silence and feel no need to talk to the stranger standing next to us. Even in a conversation we don’t rush too much we get to the point straight away, but if there is a moment of silence in between, it’s okey.

IMAGE 3: Elevator Ride, By Emilia Parikka

The third thing I feel very discribing of Finnishness is space. Finnish people love their personal space and you should not get too close physically. Everyone must have heard by now the joke of Finns at a bus stop staying as far away from each other as possible. It’s not a joke, it’s the reality for us, we don’t feel comfortable standing or sitting close to strangers. This need for space can be see everywhere really; standing in line at a supermarket, the classic bus stop example and going to any space inside (whether it’s a train, a lobby or a cafeteria), the Finn will find the furthest corner away from the other person in the room.

IMAGE 4: Finnish Bus stop, By Emilia Parikka

I have noticed this in myself as well, when interacting with people from other cultures, for example France, Ukraine or Spain. This feeling of personal space being invated, has been there very strongly. Once I was talking with one man from Ukraine and everytime I took a step back in order to get my personal space, he would take a step forward breaking that personal space again. In public areas if someone sits too close to me, I know immediatly that they are not Finnish. An example of this would be an empty train, if I sit in the very beginning of the train in a corner, a Finn would fidn the exact opposite corner furthest away from me. Someone from another culture might end up sitting in between the corners or even on the same row with me, a Finn would never.


IMAGE 5: Finnish Space, By Emilia Parikka

In true Finnishness, you can see all these three aspects combined: You’re in a sauna, sitting in silence and as far away from the other person there to give them and yourself the space needed.


Written By: Emilia Parikka


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