To me, the Finnish culture is both unique and balanced. I was raised in a multicultural household, my father was Romanian, my mother is Finnish, and we lived in the United States. All of my schooling was completed in the U.S. school system, and I actually graduated high school there in 2020 before moving to Finland in the middle of the pandemic to start my studies in the autumn of 2020.
While growing up in the U.S. I was raised to be bilingual, where my mother only spoke Finnish to me and my father only spoke English to me. The rest of my family lives in Finland, and we were fortunate enough to visit them annually in the summer months. One of the main motivations of maintaining my Finnish language skills was to be able to communicate with my family in Finland. Another opportunity that motivated me was being accepted to study at TAMK.
Finnish people are a rather humble, determined, and realistic group of people who really enjoy their personal space, freedom and, time. Spending time alone in nature or even at home is highly valued for a Finnish individual. It is a time for relaxing, reflection, and re-energizing. Most Finnish people also do not interact with strangers, or even acquaintances, in public places. And it isn’t a bad thing, it just shows how people mutually understand and respect each other’s personal space and freedom.
At first when I noticed this, I thought it was very odd, because in the U.S. we are friendly to strangers especially, because we are taught to be polite and respectful in public places. At restaurants or in stores, smiling at the workers or when passing by other customers is very normal and often expected. Whereas in Finland, it is unusual to see someone smiling when you hold the door open or are in an elevator.
Some of the funniest jokes about Finnish people are regarding their personal space and human interactions. If a Finnish person can avoid awkward or unnecessary human interaction, they do it. A common example I witness at school is the elevator. Within the Proakatemia building there are a number of other offices and companies who share our elevator, and all strangers I have encountered immediately choose the stairs instead of riding in an elevator with someone silently.
Another joke that began during the Covid pandemic was social distancing. At a Finnish bus stop, people are very well spaced, even if there were no regulations or pandemics, they would still stand like that. When governments started giving instructions for people to keep a 1,5-2 meter distance from one another, Finnish people amused that that is far too close.
I mentioned earlier that Finnish people spend a lot of time in nature. This concept is very calming for me and I admire the way that Finns embrace nature in their daily routines no matter the weather. It can be snowing, raining, or sunny and there are always going to be people outside. Finland’s climate allows for a variety of activities year-round. In the winter there’s cross-country skiing, ice fishing, ice skating, hockey, etc. In the warmer months people love swimming, cycling, running, and sailing. I have tried to embrace nature to the best of my ability, but sometimes it can be very gray outside, and that isn’t very motivating.
TBWA/Helsinki. 2020. Nissan Knows in Finland, Personal Space is Sacred. https://www.lbbonline.com/news/nissan-knows-in-finland-personal-space-is-sacred
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