What is Finnishness -Mitä on suomalaisuus?

I thought I would write 5 positive and 5 negative adjectives how Finland and Finns appear to me now when I have lived overseas for many years. It is interesting as I do not see or feel myself being a Finn anymore. There are so many things that seem strange, concepts I have forgotten or emotions or behaviour I cannot relate to. Finland is a lovely country and many people always ask me why  I left and why I don’t want to return.

Why I left? Simple. I did feel there was a chance for better life FOR ME out there. I know, many Finns do not believe this. Therefore I want to highlight I felt it was the better life for me, not better life in general.

Why don’t I want to return? I really do love London. London is like a complicated cheese, immediately you may not like it but the longer you stay the more you fall in love with the city. London has amazing job opportunities, quick access to everywhere else in Europe, the night life is fantastic, the restaurant selection is without comparison, the multicultural vibe and cosmopolitan life style both attract me and I have found so many great friends there that will stay forever such.

What is Finland then? For me the positive adjectives that I associate with Finland and Finns are:

1. Loyal

2. Trustworthy

3. Honest

4. Pragmatic

5. Equal.

Loyal because in Finland if you find a good working place you may stay there for life time. Finns are also extremely loyal as friends. It may take time to build the friendship but when it has been built it stays.

Trustworthy because many Finns find trustworthy as one of the most important qualities in a human being and in a worker.

Honest because in Finland you may lose your wallet on the street and someone returns it with the money in it.

Pragmatic because in Finland things are organised in a way that makes the whole society function well and efficiently. Best example being when I discussed with my best friend in Finland and she said how easy and cheap options nurseries are. The quality of the nurseries is stock standard (cheap, only 250e a month!!) and going back to work has been made so easy for women. Women do not have to hunt the nurseries, compare the quality, calculate their salaries versus nursery fees, plan the nursery run. The approach is pragmatic, women should be able to return to work without a hassle, why would it be made complicated and impractical?

Equality because all the Finns have a chance to educate themselves for free. Everyone can put their babies to same good quality nurseries and schools. Everyone can go to the university and complete bachelor and master degree for free.  Every woman can return to work without it being financially impossible. People are at least tried to be put to the equal position as far as the state is concerned.

What are then the negative adjectives that I associate with Finns and Finland?

1. Simple

2. Jealous

3. Stingy

4. Melancholic

5. Antisocial

Simple because Finnish Lutheran church, war time and poor past seem to have rooted deeply into the society and its people that the simple life is admirable. If you live an extravagant life style it is like a deadly sin and you should be ashamed for it or at least keep low profile. I totally disagree, if I have a chance to travel, fine dine, have a cleaner and nanny, not struggle and not live simply I certainly will do so. If you like simple life, live it, if you don’t please do not pretend to do so for the sake of  it being seen somehow ideal or superior.

Jealous because Finland is so hard trying to make people’s life equal then if someone has more it will cause jealousy. I never saw this myself whilst I was living in Finland but after have been away for a long time and talking to other expat Finns they all seem to think the same. In many other countries due to different classes or social groups people at least seem to accept that some have less some have more. They may feel sad but jealousy is not the striking characteristic.

Stingy because…oh well..I cannot even remember how many times my poor big hearted Australian husband went out with Finns and bought rounds of drinks and never ever got even one drink return. No, if  you as a foreigner buy a drink in Finland and offer it to a Finn, do not expect to get anything back. They will drink as much as they get for free but never pay back. You either play the Finnish game of buying your own drinks or you will end up paying all the rounds. Same applies to food. Whereas in England we always split the bill half with the friend couple and we never calculate who had what, this does not apply to Finnish dinners. No, in Finland you pay exactly what you eat, with your own card preferably and there is no way you would pay someone else’s dessert if you did not have one yourself.

Melancholic because…I don’t even know why I do feel this way it just has been my experience. It seems that when Brits get happier when skulling down beers, Finns start opening up about their horrible life and in the end of the night you know everything that is wrong in their lives. I guess heavy metal music and its popularity tells also a lot about the Finnish melancholic mindset. You can blame the climate, darkness or the history, but this is certainly something you notice if you hang out with Finns, they are not naturally cheerful spirits.

Antisocial because you may sit in the room with Finns and they stay quiet and actually enjoy it. It is a cliche but true as well. I remember how difficult it was for my dear Australian husband to get used to the midsummer celebration at the summer cottage. Sometimes people just sat quietly, staring at the fire in the fire place sipping their wine and not talking. He could not understand it, now he does and won’t get bothered. Sometimes Finns just don’t feel social and they are not afraid to act on it.

I know my 10 adjectives of Finland are quite provocative and my Finnish readers probably get annoyed with my stereotyping. Sometimes it is just very refreshing to look at your own home country from stereotype point of view. It does not mean all people are like that.

I guess I think of those 5 positive adjectives when I have my short moments of longing and when I do miss Finland. Being so ,those 5 negative adjectives are why I feel like a stranger every time I come back here. It is interesting isn’t it. My relationship to Finland is kind of a love hate relationship. I love it when I am far away. When I come back I remember why I left. For me the most important thing is that I do feel happier in England. I do miss all my family and friends for sure and sometimes have tears running in my eyes just thinking of them but the life I have in England with my own little family feels so much more like me.

I hope after reading this whether a Finn or a not you can think of 5 positive and negative adjectives about your home country. It is a funny game! If you want to comment, feel free and write your adjectives!

In fact I would like to challenge one of my blogger friends who recently moved away from Finland to write down her adjectives! So Love and Life it is your turn!


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