This article is illustrated with the artwork of the brilliant David Shrigley, which I much enjoy browsing during sleepless nights.
When still living in Finland, I always felt a bit like a black sheep amongst my people. I’m very bubbly and social, probably gabbling whenever there’s an opening. Already at a young age I was told by my mom that I must be a latino soul mixed with a northern body. But then, when I moved abroad, it hit me; I really am a dyed-in-the-wool Finn and there’s no denying it. For me, foreign social customs often seem unnecessary and excessive. In Finland, if someone asks how you’re doing, it’s totally acceptable to give the “Well, my life is being sucked to the black inferno of depression and my mom is drinking again, but otherwise things are cool” answer, because they probably really want to know (Why else would they ask? thinks the Finn). However, in the States for example, the only appropriate answer is “I’m well thank you, how’re you?” and everything else will give you weird and long looks.
This is a post of my love-hate relationship towards my people. Some of what I thought to be their worst qualities have in fact shown to be purely golden!
Untitled (Circus), David Shrigley 2015
We’re crazy about waiting in lines.
There’s this one store in Finland that gives out free buckets whenever a new store opens. Yes, Buckets. Usually red ones. This day, roughly an hour before the store opens, the queue has already grown to be hundreds of meters long. The buckets always run out in the blink of an eye, and the events make front page news nearly every time without a doubt. Not to mention occasional occurrences of cheap gas or discounted flights. We put on our weatherproof clothes, get on the spot at least an hour before the opening time, and queue as only the Finns can.
The survival of the fittest; the free bucket mania. Image source: ess.fi (Not by David Shrigley, surprisingly)
We’re quiet, sometimes grumpy and can seem sort of anti-social.
Well, perhaps not the millennials of the Helsinki metropolitan area, but in general. It’s not something we intend to do as an insult. The Finnish mentality is simple; why talk if there’s nothing important to talk about. Language is used as an unavoidable means of communication, not to create a chit-chatty atmosphere. Silence is rarely seen as awkward, and it’s actually quite nice just to be with someone and get all silent together. Even though we might seem grumpy, we’re honest and hospitable people. If a Finn promises something, it’s a matter of honor to live up to his word. Less talk, more action!
Untitled, David Shrigley 2014
Finns do not bring out their problems.
This concerns especially middle-aged men; my step grandpa for example avoided going to the doctors’ for so long that he eventually had a wide-spread Stomach cancer and was given just a few weeks to live. I suppose the mentality behind this is to not bother others with ones issues, and especially to avoid being felt sorry for. This can be seen to lead to a bunch of issues. Isolation, substance abuse, aggressive behavior and depression occur in situations where there’s no outlet for the negative emotions. For our nation, the past has not been easy; we’ve been under the rule of both Sweden and Russia, and as the underdog we have a history of having to fight for even our basic rights. Back in the 1950’s, after several decades of fighting in wars, the country was nearly in ruins. It hasn’t been an easy road to where we are today, and the development has been due to a lot of cold hard work. But Finns do not whine. Our working mentality is well known and valued across the world. We simply do what is needed, on time, no unnecessary questions asked.
We have a unique need of personal space.
Have you ever rode a Finnish bus? The story begins at the bus stop. Even if it’s rush hour, you’ll never see two people standing closer than a meter away from each other. The odds are, the crowd is quiet too. If there’s a bench and a thin seating space left, one shall absolutely not sit on it and risk touching someone else’s thigh or shoulder. Then you board the bus. If there is room, one shall only over their dead bodies sit next to someone. If the nightmare scenario of the bus being so packed that the only seats available are next to someone happens, god forbid if you get all friendly and initiate a chatty little conversation. Please just don’t.
There is Nothing, Then There is Something, Then There is Nothing Again. David Shrigley 2015.
Finnish people don’t take credit over their achievements.
If your Finnish co-worker finishes a huge project astonishingly and you congratulate him, he’ll most likely go all “Oh no stop it it was nothing”. I see this as a real shame. It’s important to give and get credit from hard work, not least from yourself. To have some healthy pride over ones achievements is sometimes essential: to be able to tell the world with a child-like enthusiasm “Look, I made this happen!”. Not giving oneself credit when credit is due is a slippery slope to underestimating ones skills and capabilities, and thus underachieving. But there’s a very valuable aspect to be derived from this. The Finns are not ones to indulge in bragging. Even if someone has done really well for themselves, has a huge villa to live in and a garage full of all toys imaginable, you seldom hear or see them showing off. This is a matter of honor, discretion and manners. It’s highly appreciated that money is not a topic of discussion, but rather something hovering in the background, a private matter.
And last but not least, let’s talk about the infamous Finnish accents in foreign languages
As you all probably know, Finland has a tradition of successful Formula 1 drivers. However, when the drivers later attend the interview after scoring a metal, the tables get turned. Whenever Kimi Räikkönen opens his mouth, the rustic rally English comes out to play. Finnish people in general tend to have a relatively large vocabulary and good grammar. Yet the flowing, melodious pronunciation just isn’t compatible with our way of speaking. Not to mention the “finlandssvenska” people gladly point out when us Finns try our luck in speaking Swedish. 95% of the times I gather my courage and try to hold up a conversation in Swedish, I get called a mumintroll. I doubt it’s ever intended as offensive, but more likely to imply that I’m cute and funny. Nonetheless, I’ve grown pretty tired of it, but will not yield: practice is what makes perfect! What I’m proud of is that every citizen in Finland is required to undergo at least three years of studying swedish, aside of the 7 or at minimum 6 years of mandatory English studies. On top of this, many choose to study a third or even fourth foreign language, usually german or french. How about that, huh?!
A proud Finn over and out. Happy weekend everyone!