Finland is still somewhat unknown country for many people from the foreign countries. I play lots of online video games with people all around the world and whenever I tell I’m from Finland it seems to confuse people as they are not sure what kind of country Finland is. Is it like Sweden? It is what I get asked a lot. No, it’s not Sweden, though we have many similarities with our neighbors. So, here are my thoughts about finnishness and what being a finn is like.
Finnish people tend to be described as shy, introverted and hard to approach. While I understand where it comes from, I don’t think it’s entirely true. Finnish people appreciate personal space so often if the bus is so full the person would have to sit next to someone they rather tend to choose to stand. That’s because finns usually don’t like strangers getting too close to them and want to give space.
Finnish people aren’t too fond of small talk. It’s not like we don’t do it, weather is still probably one of the top topics of breakroom conversations and coffee dates, it’s just we tend to prefer much deeper discussions with people we know. That also allows us to get to know each other better. Finnish people can be reserved in the beginning but when we open up, we are usually warm and feel deeply. We want to make others look good and look good in their eyes as well. Finns tend to be generous and polite. When we visit someone’s home or cottage it’s usually a good etiquette to bring gifts, maybe a pack of coffee or a slab of Fazer’s chocolate. Often people can expect from the visited people to give them something small to eat and of course, make coffee.
Finland has a rich nature. We still have many untouched natural spots; forests, lakes, hills, meadows, archipelago… and so on. People in general like to spend time in the nature. We also have a thing called “jokamiehenoikeus” which allows that we don’t need to own a property to be able to go to the forest to pick up mushrooms, herbs and berries for example. We can swim on the lakes as long as we aren’t in someone else’s yard and hike in forests without no one coming to tell us to get out of his property.
When I was a kid we had a boat and went sailing every summer. I got to spend lot of time in the beautiful archipelago where we could generally find any island and just put anchor down and hop in the water, taking into account that it wasn’t someone’s property first of course. People were also always friendly and helpful. It is kind of an etiquette that if you’re sailing and see someone else struggling, you go to help them. And every time you pass another boat people wave at each other. So, I really don’t agree with the “finns are unfriendly” statement I see sometimes.
In Finland we also get to experience all seasons, in good and bad. Just take for example a trip to a summer cottage. For finns it usually means serenity, slow-paced time and relaxing, and also having fun. Sauna, good coffee, reading a book on shore… and lots of mosquitoes. Ticks. Raining whenever a finn just wants to have a good time (why it’s always freezing cold during the Midsummer celebration???).
Or winter time. In the best it is piles of beautiful snow, breathtaking views, curling up inside a blanket to drink hot tea or coffee, celebrating Christmas with loved ones, skating on the lake or skiing in the forest. But often, especially in southern parts of Finland, it’s slippery icy half water half snow, freezing wind and eternal darkness. We even have a word that descirbes the weather to be “skull weather” when it’s dangerously slippery and icy. But even in the middle of the not so pleasant conditions, we have our sometimes darkish humor about it and get through.
And despite all negatives, I think positives still override the negativity. And we finns are very resilient people. We laugh when we hear about “snow crisis” going on in some other European country where they close schools and immediately go to remote work with 10cm of snow on the ground. Because we know that we are tough and honest people who show up to school or work despite the conditions. We are also creative and quick to find solutions. During the electricity crisis in the last winter people shared tons of good tips with each other through the social media on how to stay warm and save electricity.
Finland is also in general, a safe country. We don’t have big criminal gangs, natural disasters or fear of guns. Of course we still have crime and serious criminal acts or gun violations but they aren’t as common than in somewhere else. Our healthcare has been on hot topic lately due to insufficient fundings and salaries. However, we still have generally free health care that is available for everyone. Our kids get vaccinations so many major diseases like measles and tuberculosis aren’t a thing in Finland anymore. We have options for people succeeding despite their backgrounds. Of course the inequality is still a problem in Finland as well, but we have a system that makes it less prominent. Our education is free, we don’t have big tuition fees. Of course we sometimes need to buy books or other materials but even for those that can’t afford it, they have a possibility to get funding from the government and be able to study.
Overall, I’m proud to call myself a finn. Our country might be less well-known but I think it also gives us opportunities to fix assumptions and share with others of what we love about our country.