It is easy for me to see Finnishness through other culture’s eyes – I have lived in international environments and have had numerous close relationships with people from other cultures. A topic which almost always comes up when talking about Finns is how serious and hard to interact with we are. I’m going to start this blog post by talking about our quietness.
Small talk isn’t a part of Finnishness really at all. Finns do not feel weird about being quiet together – actually, many times you see Finns getting awkward when having to be in the situation for small talk. It just isn’t part of our culture! We enjoy the moment of eating together in silence. Not to mention spending time in the forest together, where absolutely it is even desirable to stay silent and enjoy the nature (I’ll get to that later). For many foreigners this is hard to understand. As in some cultures talking and interacting together is a way to show you’re enjoying each others company, it can be challenging to feel comfortable with a Finn who barely responds to questions and focuses only on their food.
This brings me to honesty. I think a reason for Finns tending to be so quiet, is because they don’t actually care to talk about things which don’t have a meaning at that moment. Finns are honest people, who won’t complement you for sure unless they mean it. A funny cultural clash I have experienced is with Italians, who have a tendency to talk and make plans without even having an intention of sticking to it. On the contrary, If a Finn makes plans, most of the time it is remembered and anticipated to happen.
Being reserved, shy and modest around (new) people is a very Finnish thing. It is very Finnish to doubt yourself while getting out of your comfort zone and even during success it is hard to show pride in yourself. So what comes to interaction, it is not very Finnish to go from 0 to 100 and be comfortable and open about yourself with someone you have just met. It takes a little bit of time for Finns to melt down and be comfortable in a new encounter. However, once this phase is over, Finns can be very loyal, trustworthy and cool people to hang out with.
We also have a big thing for personal space. We really want our private space especially while being in the public. You can see this clearly on bus stops, public transport and in lines. It is great especially in lining up, because you will be respected in your place. On the other side, outside of close relationships, Finns don’t typically enjoy physical contact that much. If we touch someone accidentally, an apology will probably come out as a reflex.
Finnish culture is very much based on being in connection with nature and our environment, tradition, self-sufficiency and egalitarianism. Our food and buildings are very hands-on – the food is healthy and simple, our houses are based on practicality without anything being too fancy. Our aesthetics aren’t anything extra, and we favor natural resources. Finland is the land of forests and lakes and it is in our culture to connect with that. Forest walks in silence are commonly known to be a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle.
Finnish are egalitarian, women are independent and tough, and expect the same treatment as men. Our nature allows us to be quite self-sufficient and we work a lot to be able to achieve this. It is in the Finnish nature to have “sisu”, a sort of toughness.
Sauna is of course a solid tradition among Finns, most Finns have their own sauna at their house or “mökki”, a winter or summer cabin in the woods. A typical Finn would have their wooden mökki and sauna, in which they would spend most of their summer holidays in. The sauna would be heated up naturally with a wood stove, which is already kind of like a grounding ritual. The days would be spent by relaxing outside of the mökki and doing practical chores like cutting wood. Then sauna and swimming in a lake.
I guess for me that is the very essence of being Finnish. Being in the nature in silence with your closest ones and enjoying simple things, which is actually quite beautiful. Finnishness is about being tough, honest and humble at the same time.