This blog is your window to Finnishness. Here you will find blog posts written by students of Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) describing their personal experiences and notions of being a Finn or living in Finland.
Since I was a kid I’ve always been sort of a little forest fairy or nymph. I spent the first few years of my life in Finland, the second half of my childhood in Sweden, and now that I’ve gotten to do a bit of traveling, I couldn’t be happier to have got to grow up in the north.
Tampere in summer, picture taken from cliffs in Pyynikki. Photo by Emilia Brändh.
Keskustori at night. Photo by Emilia Brändh.
So many moments lost and found in the woods, magic discovered in hidden ponds and adventures made in wet swamps, on steep cliffs and misty fields.
My nationality is something I’ve always kinda thought about a lot, and never really been able to pinpoint what I am. What I should answer when someone asks me where I’m from. Here and there? Is that good enough of an answer? Being a bilingual dual citizen and culturally confused kid, I’ve spent a lot of my life wondering who I really am, and what country I really belong to. Because even though technically it’s just a word on a passport or ID, it still matters and means a lot to us.
Lush green pine forest in Ylöjärvi. Photo by Emilia Brändh.
If you’re a bit of a “citizen of the world” instead of belonging one country in specific, nationality can be tricky.
But when I swim in Finnish lakes in the golden evenings, run through Finnish woods in the foggy mornings, light candles on Finnish cemeteries around the cold, harsh Christmas times… I feel like yeah, this is who I am. I am really Finnish, and I feel like I am home.
It’s like a tangible magical dust floating in the air.
Keijärvi in summer. Finland is THE PLACE to have deep thoughts in nature. Full solitude. Photo by Emilia Brändh.
Finnishness is something I can feel on my skin.
It’s the light on summer nights when the sun doesn’t set. It’s the raindrops on your face when you leave your umbrella at home because there’s no way it will suddenly start raining when the sky looks so clear (but this is Finland we’re talking about, so you should know better and always be prepared!). It’s the chilly breeze in the autumn. It’s the frost biting your cheeks, and it’s the wet pine branches slapping against your body when you take a brisk morning walk in the forest.
Finnish people value honesty, silence, responsibility, cleanness, calm, loyalty, security and determination.
I love how our nature and the beautiful, peaceful landscapes around us are a constant reminder and expression of all those values.
That’s the kind of Finnishness I want to be a part of.
Frosty trees and frozen Iidesjärvi lake seen from Kalevankankaan hautausmaa. Photo by Emilia Brändh.
Golden strolls in the evening sun. Photo by Emilia Brändh.
Hi there, my name is Pedro Luna and I’m an International Student coursing his second year of studies in Finland. And although I’m not Finnish, in the next lines of this –hopefully– short blog post I’m going to try to define what Finnishness means to me.
To give some context, when I was asked to explain the definition of Finnishness I first went to see what the literature on this subject says. However, none of the online dictionaries I looked up on had an answer for me. So, I figured that in order to understand the meaning of this word at its full extent we should first break it down into the words that compose it: Finnish and ness.
1.relating to the Finns or their language.
2.the language of the Finns, spoken by about 4.6 million people in Finland, and also in parts of Russia and Sweden. It is a Finno-Ugric language related to Estonian, and more distantly to Hungarian, and is noted for its morphological complexity.
WORD ORIGIN. a native English suffix attached to adjectives and participles, forming abstract nouns denoting quality and state (and often, by extension, something exemplifying a quality or state)
As a result of this quick research, I could then define Finnishness with certainty as “The quality, state or characteristic of being Finnish”. Brilliant, innit!
Given this situation, I decided to use my relatively short experience living in Finland to describe what Finnishness mean to me. So here it goes:
It is waking up early in the morning, grab a huge ass cup of coffee for breakfast, and go out to school or work even when there’s no daylight yet, and a not-too-friendly -20C outside. It’s also drinking at least a couple cups of coffee more during the morning to get through the day. Black coffee preferably.
Finnishness is slushy streets in October, but an incredible white Christmas in December (with the most delicious pastries you could ever imagine !). On top of that, Finnishness is frozen lakes , dipping in those lakes and ice skating with friends while the cold wind hits you hard in the face.
But Finnishness is also enormous green areas everywhere. There are beautiful parks surrounded by trees, plants, and animals where you can just breathe nature!. When the summer arrives, everything gets even better, endless days where you got more than 15 hours of daylight, food fairs in parks and loads of festival. It is people biking everywhere, picnicking in the central park, enjoying the sun in a terrace. It is their summer cottages by the lake, having some beers, a couple of mosquitoes’ bites and then straight to the lake to get refreshed. All of these moments add to the safety and all efficient public system that make Finland a great place to live, study, work, and of course, party. I couldn’t forget to mention, Finnishness is ice hockey and going crazy when winning the world cup, but it is also tidily celebrating the independence day.
To sum it up, Finnishness is not just a word, it is a complete enriching experience in every single aspect of your lives that personally, I would not have been able to experience anywhere else.
Travelling to and living in different countries can really make you appreciate the culture you have grown up with. At least for me that is the case. Listed below are a few “features” of Finnishness which I really appreciate especially compared to other cultures and countries.
One unique feature of Finnish culture is the value of personal space, as shown in the picture below. This actually is a common sight at bus stops in Finland and it is hard for some people from other cultures to understand. A part of Finnishness is appreciating the quiet moments and not feeling the pressure to socialize if it is not necessary.
People can just quietly pass each other and still acknowledge the person they are passing, in the Finnish culture, without it being considered rude. In some other cultures it is common to greet people on the street or at the bus stop, this is considered common courtesy. For example passing a person in a supermarket at an aisle in the US, they would say “Excuse me”, this was strange to me because there was plenty of room for them to pass and in Finland people would just quietly pass behind the person.
This ties into the lack of small talk in the Finnish culture and a key part of Finnishness for me. People can take the same bus with the same people for a year and never talk to each other because there is no pressure for that. This might be perceived as shyness or being rude which might be hard to explain to other people. Instead it should be considered as a good feature in people, because once a Finn starts a conversation with someone else it usually has a purpose and is not just forced small talk. Also when asking someone how they are, a Finn truly wants to know how have you been and are expecting a better answer than just “good”.
The other thing I really appreciate in Finland is the nature. I know this is a common answer among Finns but there is not many places that have similar nature opportunities like in Finland. You do not need to go far to find a quiet piece of nature, even if it is just the park or a small patch of forest. There are always trails near by where you can for example take your dog for a walk and it is not hard to find.
The distinctive four seasons are also very valued here, even if the summer is short and winter is dark. I could not imagine myself living somewhere where I could not experience both the warmth of summer and the beauty of snowy winter.
These are the things that come to mind when talking about Finnishness to myself. I hope people visiting Finland get to experience these in a positive way and Finns remember to appreciate these features even in the darkest times of winter.
One can come across the term ‘performativity’ in many fields of study ranging from anthropology to economy and linguistics, but I heard it for the first time in my course on Central European cinemas. We were discussing national cinemas and how might they reflect their source cultures, and in this context the term means something along these lines: to emphasize, through one’s own action, typical stereotypes and traits associated with one’s national culture.
Something clicked in my head. I remembered the times I have felt a bit uneasy witnessing Finnish people, especially when they’re abroad, engaging in a performance of ‘being Finns’. Or the many times I’ve done it myself. How lovely that other nations share this hobby as well! (The cinematic culture we deemed extra-performative was, by the way, Slovakia.)
Performativity can be a nice, humorous way of dealing with partly accurate stereotypes, especially the not so flattering ones. If you cannot deny it, embrace it. So when my Balkan friend teased me for my perceived ‘Finnish negativity’ I decided to play along, perform, and proudly linked him this article about toxic positivity: https://www.hs.fi/elama/art-2000006042031.html . Damn right we’re negative, positivity kills!
Learning this term helped me also, for example, to contextualize the innumerable Finnish films and books sharing one or (usually) more of these national traits: nudity, being drunk, fighting, fighting naked while being drunk. “If this is what they think of us, here comes” seems to be the motivation of authors producing this kind of content.
Having this new perspective in my arsenal hasn’t made me necessarily love the beforementioned traits or their portrayal in Finnish culture. But seeing this play with negative stereotypes is an international phenomenom makes it maybe less red-neckey and more.. symphatetic. We’re not alone!
When talking about Finland often you will see people talking about how they are introverts and how boring it can get in Finland, if you do not know how to have fun that might be true.
Being a person who was born and raised in the hot region of Saudi Arabia while being from Pakistan, I already had a pretty high tolerance for weather and different kinds of people. Coming to Finland was more of an adventurous experience for me, with a mindset of achieving what I had in mind and making loads of connections which was a must given the studies at TAMK.
There are a lot habits I may have picked up on to better understand Finland and enjoy its all year round winter and most importantly keeping yourself warm and motivated in such weather. Although, coming from a hot place such as Saudi, my cold tolerance should have been little to none but even my Finnish friends are surprised as to how much I can take tolerate. On the other hand, I just believe Finnish people have low tolerance for cold at least the Finns in my circle.
This treat that is much more than just a sugar coated doughnut is the perfect combination with your morning coffee. Although I have not seen a lot of Finns do that but I guess I can get a bit creative when it comes to mixing up cultures and creating new combinations in general. Of course one is not enough and if you eat too much then you would be ruining your summer body, luckily for you there is alot of time until summer, here in Finland. A fun challenge could be, as the famous saying goes you are a legend if you can eat munkki without licking your lips (as in cleaning the sugar that gets stuck to your lips and mouth), Try it the next time you have one or the first time you have one!
What I am about to tell you is going to blow your mind and you might think that is crazy talk but here in Finland we actually can prove that nothing is crazy talk we do crazy on daily basis. One of the best activities and a great way to bond with your friends or friends you just made is to go to Avanto. Although I am not quite sure what the activity is called but my friends and I have been calling it Avanto and that’s what we would like to call it for forever more. This is also a very interesting activity as you may learn a lot about your new friend circle or just a great way to better understand your friends and their personalities.
So imagine having -15 degrees which is not a lot in Finnish scale and image there is a hole in the lake within the ice/snow and you have a sauna that is almost always 95 degrees hot, now imagine combining these into a crazy adventurous activity cycle that lasts for usually an hour. Apart from the health benefits you can gain from such an exercise, you need to have certain amounts of guts and daredevil attitude to do something crazy like this. You start off by taking a shower and then relaxing in the sauna when you feel your body is getting to hot or you feel as in you have enjoyed enough then you go to the hole or body of water in ice which is actually warmer than the temperature outside (usually 1-3 degrees) and you take a dip. I have not dip my head in the water all these years but I have been told you feel like you might pass out so remember, other than your head you can go crazy and dip in for as long as you want and then you come out (not to forget all of this happens outside so the -15 is not a foreign factor playing a part but your best pal in a way). After the dipping and if everything including your hair hasn’t already frozen and is about to fall you go back into the sauna and basically “melt off” and relax.
Although you can repeat the cycle as much as you want but do remember to take some sausages with you to fully enjoy the experience and needless to say all this hot and cold mess is going to make you very hungry.
I still remember having a group with my friends called SoluBois, but this if you know TAMK you would know where to get your free coffee from and if you did not know, well now you know. Not only is it a place to just get free coffee but the Student Lounge is so relaxing and calming that it does give you a bit of extra motivation during your lecture breaks. I have been in various parts of the world in very interesting situations but Solu is by far the best place to meet new and interesting people, where you do have the sign of “No discrimination” but you still do discuss heavy politics and in general heavy topics with a person you JUST met. Of course all of that while respecting the other person and keeping it a healthy debate, however, time spent in Solu has definitely made it worth the while and almost certainly guarantees a smile on your face even if you have 10 minutes to spare.
My advice would be, before listening to people’s opinion about how boring it can get and how there is almost nothing to do in Finland try the activities locals do, the culture is filled with different sorts of vibrant and colourful stuff even if the weather is not so colorful. Definitely, trying avanto will grant you a lifetime experience and will certainly introduce something about your personality that you were not aware of.
Also don’t forget to eat a lot of munkkis and drink a lot of coffee so that you are hydrated and warm within your winter jacket.
I’m always impressed by the honesty and kindness of Finnish people. I still remembered the first day I came to Finland which was three years ago. Arrived alone at the airport in Joensuu, I did not know what to do next after picking up my luggage. I just stood, looked around and found very few people at the airport. I had to ask for help from the airport supervisor to call for a taxi. He was willing to lend me his phone and assisted me with putting my stuff into the car. When I reached my place, I met my flatmate who was also a Fin. She was friendly and always tried to create the warm atmosphere to welcome me as a newcomer. We were talking a lot about our own cultures and why we decided to stay in this city. To be honest, on my first day in Finland, I felt homesick a little bit in the first place, but then I felt warm after meeting the local people who were always hospitable towards the visitors. Another thing to mention is what I learned from my university. I attended a course which was called “Intercultural Communication”. My Finnish teacher said that a Fin was very honest and straight. If they complimented someone on something, they really meant it. On the other hand, if they were not satisfied with anything, they might show their expression on their face or tried not to talk about it. And I love this character of the Finnish as I thought, although sometimes it might be frank, I still preferred what would be real, coming from the bottom of the heart. Moreover, when I moved to Tampere from Joensuu, I got help from a Finnish old lady on my first day to TAMK. At that time, I did not acknowledge about the bus schedule system in Tampere so I was lost. Luckily, the old lady was enthusiastic to help me although she only spoke Finnish. She was supposed to get off to her place, but she still stayed with me until the end of the trip. When we got off the bus number 3 to catch another bus to TAMK, she held my hand and said in Finnish. I knew some Finnish and said “Kiitos paljon” to her. I just felt like I was her niece and taken care by a grandmother. I felt grateful to receive help from the local people in Finland.
There is a joke on Facebook, “When months in Finland are different to months elsewhere”.
Source: Very Finnish Problem – Facebook
It means that the winter in Finland lasts for months, more than six months. Everything will be covered by the white snow and the darkness will dominate the whole thing for such a long time when it comes to winter. To be honest, I get depressed from time to time because of the coldness and silence. However, I still know how to enjoy the winter here. If it’s cold, I’ll go to sauna to warm myself up. Sauna is part of Finnish culture and Finland is the homeland of sauna. I love the heat, sitting by the heated stone in one corner and pouring the water down the stone. I don’t know if anyone has tried this before. It’s kind of going to the winter lake, dimming oneself into it and then go for a sauna and just take turn like that. If you stay in Finland, you should definitely try that once.
Joensuu Polar Bear – Source: Joensuun Jääkarhut
Besides, another winter activity I love most is sledging. At first, I was very scared, but after that I got used to it and tried doing it many times. I also take an interest in walking on the frozen lake although I am afraid that this activity might be dangerous. I feel like I have a superpower to step on the water. I find it interesting to walk on the lake because it will save time to go from place to another.
Sledging in winter – Source: Google
Finland is considered to be the land of thousand lakes. Everywhere I go, I always see lakes. I never row a boat on the lake, but only stand on the bridge and look at the surroundings, especially in summer. The atmosphere is fresh, I can smell the lake and the trees.
Pyhäselkä in summer – Source: Taken by me
The view is bright with the sunlight and blue sky, but in winter, the lake will be covered with white snow.
Pyhäselkä in winter – Source: Taken by me
In autumn, I love the yellow leaves falling down from the trees. It looks romantic. Yes, it is indeed. I also want to take a rest at the lake again to enjoy watching the breathtaking view again. I can see that the lake view is quite typical in Finland. It is different from other places that I have ever been to. I find it peaceful and colorful with blue and green. It gives a relaxing atmosphere whenever I feel depressed.
I still remember how people looked at me when I told them that I am going to live in Finland. And even after three years I still hear myself explaining why I didn’t choose a warm country with sunny beaches. The questions are always the same: Isn’t it very cold and dark there? Is the language really so hard to learn? Are the Finns really so quiet and restrained?
To be honest, the long darkness is a serious struggle for me and the Finnish language often drives me close to insanity.
However, this does not define Finnishness for me.
For me, Finnishness means:
Nature: Wherever you go in Finland, the next lake or forest is always close by. In Germany, if you are living in a bigger city, you often need to drive somewhere to be in nature and the few lakes we have are usually overrun with people.
Sauna: When I was a child I sometimes went to public saunas in Germany, but I never really enjoyed them. First of all, people must be naked (also in mixed saunas) and secondly, others will look sharply at you if you make a single sound. In Finland going to the sauna is more like an event where people are not only relaxing, but also socializing. Since I am living in Finland, I became a true sauna fan – especially during the cold winters.
Hospitality: Finns often seem very quiet, but their hospitality overrides this restraint. Before my studies I worked as au pair in a Finnish host family and from the first moment I felt welcomed there. During this year I received several visits from friends and family and my host family was always very happy to meet my guests and usually invited them to their summer cabin.
It’s kind of funny to be an international student studying abroad and go on exchange because I have to write the blog as if Finland is my home country, or I don’t.
After living in the 3rd country including my home country Vietnam, I have explored so many things about the world and people and myself. Even this year’s experience changed me so much that this blog would have been so different if I would have written it at the beginning of my exchange, but as usually procrastination won and things got in the way and now I’m spending my free days at the end of it writing EVERYTHING.
To the point, what is Finnishness for me?
Kindness and genuineness
Of course, there are different people everywhere but I believe in general the majority of Finnish people will return a wallet to the owner if they can. Or else how can this country be so peaceful? I forgot my wallet at the printer at TAMK overnight twice and always got it back at the info desk. Finland gained my trust in people but also spoiled me as it made me less cautious of the “dangerous world” out there.
Incredibly freezing winter
Experiencing half a year of snow then was so extreme that I don’t think I will ever forget the filling cycling across the city when it covered in snow or how my hand freeze after few second without a glove on. Being away for a year after 2 years spending winter in Finland, I did miss it quite a bit.
This is the thing I miss the most when I’m away. When I was in Vietnam, it was already so hot that I’m afraid of sauna but in Finland, it was so cold that it makes me freaking love sauna. I think, sitting in a sauna is meditation, I’m not patient enough to meditate myself but when you sit in a sauna, it’s so hot that you just want to sit there and breath. I also love the feeling when you go out to the freezing temperature and your body is still hot like a piece of coal from the sauna.
I’m from the capital city in Vietnam where it’s packed with houses and building. The only place we can see the most of the sunset is near the biggest lake in Hanoi, West Lake, which is not even as big as Säijänselkä lake. I enjoyed every single time watching the sunset from Rauhaniemi where I used to live. When the sky is clear, the water is still, reflecting the orange ball slowly slides under the skyline. But the sun is too strong it can’t hide in the summer as you still see the light move under the skyline.
When I talk to foreigners about Finland and Finnishness and they don’t know much about it, I usually explain that Finland is kind of like a cross between Russian and European influences with its own flare. It probably gives them a pretty good image of what we are working with, but I believe it is much more than just that.
When I think what Finnishness means to me, many things come to mind. For me Finnishness stems from family, friends, the language, the culture, the nature and the very land itself. It comes from the songs my mother and grandmother sang to me and the stories my father told me when I was little. One example of a song that my grandmother used to sing to me when I couldn’t sleep below.
Nuku Nuku - Ancient Finnish Lullaby - YouTube
Traditionally there are a lot of songs in Finnish and they have a strong influence in the culture and folksongs show how people used to see the world around them. Many of them are melancholic, which in it self is a stereotype of Finnishness, but it does have a little truth in it, though there are a lot of happy folksongs too. These songs have a strong impact on my image of Finnishness.
A lot about Finnishness comes from geography both physical and political. And from history. Without history there would not be now. What sets us apart from our neighbors is in the end our language. The sayings, poems and such reflect the Finnish personality, and there is no shortage of sayings, there are lists online that have literally thousands of them. Next couple of sayings freely translated by me.
-Kell’ onni on, se onnen kätkeköön. (Eino Leino)
The ones who have happiness, shall it hide.
-Minkä taakseen jättää, sen edestään löytää.
What you leave behind you, you will find in front of you later
A lot of Finnishness comes from our geography as I said earlier. For example, the stable of Finnish culture, sauna, wouldn’t really be the same if we lived somewhere, or especially going for a swim in a lake after it. Sometimes it is easy to forget how many we actually have compared to most places.
A lot of Finnishness, or what I experience as Finland, comes from the general feeling of the country. For example, the nature or the architecture. It is just the familiarity, that makes me feel that way. When going somewhere farther than Sweden the difference in overall feeling often becomes pretty clear. This, of course, comes from the people too since we are after all pretty reserved around strangers.
I do find other cultures very interesting and really like learning new things about them, which is why I’m going to go and see the world. I believe that it will make me appreciate my own culture more and in a new light.