Yeah, so I haven’t posted in forever, I’m sorry to my two avid* readers (*accidental). Gimme a break, I have a life too you know. Lol, jk, I just developed an addiction to knitting.
So as some of you may know, I’ve been living in Finland for the past few months. I have posted about the mysterious land of the Finns before, but from a visitors perspective. Now, having lived here for some time, I am posting from the perspective of a spy, behind enemy lines. In this scenario, the enemy is a sort of indifferent and mild mannered people with mostly blonde hair and blue eyes who are most definitely not to be confused with the Swedes. Sweden is the one with ABBA and Volvo. Finland is the other one. Not the rich one, that’s Norway. Well, yeah, it’s rich, but not compared to Norway. In Norway everyone gets a Lambourgini and some Chanel booties as a gift from the state. Here, the government just give you baby-stuff. Think Nokia and Angry Birds and Lordi, that angry band who won the Eurovision a few years back.
In this senseless article, I am taking time to analyse and discuss (and shake off writer’s block) some aspects of Finnish culture that often baffle and amuse the foreigners who come here. So lets get down to it:
Before I came to Finland, Dill was a character on the Rugrats. Remember Tommy’s little brother? That guy, not the ginger kid. (Chuckie, like us all, was just misunderstood) In Finland, dill is a staple part of one’s diet. I grew up in a garden centre and until I came here, I couldn’t have even told you what it looked like, let alone what to put it with. It’s this mildly flavoured and scented herd, sort of similar to parsley, but more grassy and stringy. So what do you put it with? Everything. You put it with everything. Chips (crisps or taytos if you’re Irish) – what flavors come to mind? Cheese and onion, salt and vinegar, smokey bacon, am I right? Hell no, in Finland you better believe they’re putting dill on them.
It’s not that they love being naked. They don’t (or at least I think they don’t. I don’t know. That would explain a lot) It’s just that there’s a general acceptance for it. It stems, probably, from the sauna culture, which I’ll talk about later. But Finns are totally cool being naked (and I mean stark naked, as the day they were born) around each other. It’s a part of the culture I have definitely not warmed to. I don’t wanna see that, and I don’t wanna talk about that. I spent 20 years in a Catholic country, and spent my school days forced into a casket of skin-covering tartan, being given a healthy dose of Catholic guilt and shame. So when I walk by the sauna in my building to the laundry and see a completely naked stranger, chatting to his completely naked friend, I get more uncomfortable than a chauvinist at Emma Watson’s house.
Awh yeeeeah. When you speak to a Finn about the famous things I mentioned above, they’ll almost all immediately retort with “We invented the sauna too!” There is usually one in every home, sort of like a kitchen – treated as a necessary part of the home. I honestly don’t get it. I don’t fancy being shut in a wooden box sweating myself to oblivion and then getting into a cold shower/frozen lake for the lols afterwards. Every Finn reading this is like “Oooh but the health benefits/hygienic reasons/relaxation, etc. etc” I’ve heard it all and I am not buying it. They’re very serious about it too. Like, yes, there are electric sauna’s in the home, but it’s not the same heat, you know? Nope, I don’t know. Finns are all about the wood burning saunas at their summer cottages, preferably next to the aforementioned lake where they have a much softer heat. I didn’t know that heat could have a texture. Apparently it most certainly can. Now get in that damn sauna and you better like it! 😀
Pentik, Marimekko, Iittala, Fiskars, Moomin. Anyone who has ever been to Finland will immediately recognise these brands. They are all Finnish concepts, authentically Finnish and more expensive than the rent on a small apartment in Turku. Finns litter their neat homes with all manner of these things, from Pentik candle holders, to Marimekko curtains, Iittala Aalto vases to a collection of Moomin coffee mugs. And of course, a trusty orange scissors from Fiskars. They legit go nuts for it. Recently I was passing by a Marimekko store that had a 20% sale. It was like Black Friday, but with more blonde haired politeness and less yelling. Even though I have grown to love all of this stuff, I can’t really explain the fascination. None of it really has a function. For example, although they make lots of stuff, most of the popular Iittala glassware doesn’t actually do anything. Holding a teelight is not a function, It’s just in a fancy shape, or a fancy colour, but realistically, who needs a curved and mounted glass bowl to put their keys/jewelry/sugar in?** I guess, from the point of view of a Finn, it’s better to have fancy but functionless and overpriced stuff from Finland in your tidy and organised home, rather than fancy but functionless and overpriced stuff from Sweden.
If there was a socially awkward world championship, Finland would totally win. (And totally beat Sweden. Finns love beating Sweden.) It’s not a rudeness. It may seem that way to some chatty foreigners, who enjoy nothing more than small talk with complete strangers (like me), but once you get to know the culture a bit better, you realise that it’s just a general unease in social situations. One ought not to be alarmed that the expression on the face of the man from whom you just asked directions never changes the entire time he replies. It is perfectly acceptable to sit next to someone on the train in complete silence for the duration of your journey. Waving at strangers is a no-no. Unless, like me, you enjoy entertaining yourself while you sit in a coffeeshop window, watching the confused expressions on the faces of Finns who awkwardly return your wave. Also, if you have time, and you manage to find an almost empty bus, sit in the seat right next to a Finn, ignoring all the other completely spaced-out and vacant seats. The will, no doubt, get off at the next stop, thinking you’re completely crazy and possibly dangerous. Lol. I have too much time on my hands.
Finns have a great parental system and it’s one of the best places to be a mother in the world. They have great governmental support and a fantastic education system. But what fascinates me most about Finnish parents is twofold, and both points are interrelated. Firstly, parents here are expert wrappers – their babies have more layers than an onion and are more wrapped up than a pass-the-parcel gift. They have baby grows, tops, pants, socks, heavy woolen socks, a sweater, a balaclava, a hat, a sort of padded and waterproof hazmat suit (think Walter White, but a less offensive shade of yellow), mittens and boots. There is not a breeze in the world going to get at that baby. He is zip locked, water tight and vacuum packed. (Perhaps a childhood spent essentially bubble-wrapped from the cold leads to the need to jump naked into a frozen lake) Secondly, with their cosy babies fully element-proofed, what is the best way to put said baby to sleep for his afternoon nap? Why, by bringing him for a nice stroll in the below freezing air. Because nothing sleeps sounder than an insulated baby in the snow.
If there’s one thing Finns love more than a cacooned, sleepy baby, dill and a socially awkward sauna all put together, it’s equality. Finns don’t see gender, and I mean that in the most literal sense. In the Finnish language, they don’t have separate words for “he” and “she”. They just have this one encompassing term that can mean either, given the situation. Equality aside, this can give rise to some hilarity in English when your Finnish friend refers to her dad as “she”. Lol. Both parents get parental leave in Finland, all kids go to the same level of schools, with the same prospects, they all get fed the same school lunches and the big box of gifts from the state to every new born are gender neutral. Because Finland is all like “screw you, gender rolls!” A word exists in Finnish and Swedish for a situation where two people live together and are in an unmarried relationship which is totally ok here and has been for some time. (I don’t know it in Finnish, but it’s sambo in Swedish, which also means a “sandwich” where I come from) And just recently, same sex marriages were legalized. Finns are and incredibly equal people and equality can be seen in almost all areas of society here. Politics, education, family life, etc. Maybe just not in the eyes of the Finnish stranger who I sat next to on a Turku bus. She was not feeling the equal need to engage in a conversation about the weather with me. Not at all.
Finns are different to Irish people. They don’t say much at first and they are quite shy and modest. However, once you get to know a Finn, they are likely to be a friend for life and are among the most genuine and honest people I have ever met. Although I find their tendency to shove as many vowels into a word as possible infuriating and can never understand the desire to torture oneself by consuming samiakki licorice, (it’s not candy. Chocolate and wine gums are candy. Salmiakki is were candy goes to die) I am finding myself ever so slightly veering towards Finnishism in my life. I take off my shoes immediately on entrance of a premises, I air dry my dishes, I always have milk with my meal and my dinner is greatly improved by the appearance of some fresh dill. I will draw the line, however, at hopping into a wooden hot box with some buddies to sweat it out. That type of thing is used as a questionable punishment in some countries and something this little ginger is uncomfortable with in about 8 different levels. For now, I’ll stick to the gender equality and a simultaneous and quasi love/hate relationship with Sweden, becoming irritated by their more well-known international status, all the while loving H&M and reasonably priced trips to Stockholm. Conan’s got Finnish lifestyle down.
(**Me. I do. Please buy me one.)