My Canadian SO is the comic relief of my blog, and he's at it again. This post by Alex is a window to his Canadian mind, experiencing Finland as an outsider. Stereotypes confirmed, stereotypes broken? How do Finland and Finns seem for someone from the Great White North?
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Hi there, Alex here.
As you may know if you have been reading this blog for a while now, this is my second contribution other than the anthology St. Pumps joke from the IKEA post. My previous text, the seminal text aptly titled His story: the Canadian behind the scenes is available HERE.
This time, I was asked to write about my impressions of Finland as a Canadian who has had the chance of going to Finland thrice.
Before meeting Melissa, I had always kinda pictured Finland as some kind of permafrost land where Saku Koivu had grown up riding reindeer and dog-sleigh to go to free and great university. And I was 100% right as you can see.
Finland was far, close to Russia (therefore very, very alien to me as a North American) and I never expected it would be one of the countries I’d end up knowing the most about. It looked cold, barren and unwelcoming on the maps with all this northernness and I don’t think I would have decided to go by myself, Canada has given me my fair share of cold. Happily, Mel warmed me up to the idea.
One of the things I expected to be really important to do is learn Finnish. No need, they all speak English well, and some could be mistaken for native speakers to someone who hasn’t heard as many Finns speak English. Still, Finnish is the sound of Finland, a chesty language that makes it so that all men sound to me like they should be muscular giants to have that voice, but still a very musical and weirdly soft and flowing one. Finnish also happens to be one of the hardest languages to learn and I look back in envy on myself trying to learn how to introduce myself back in Leicester, all naïve and optimistic that I would speak Finnish reasonably within a year and a half. Nowadays, Finnish sounds to me like a song I sorta know but can’t remember enough to sing it outside of the chorus, I understand some words and expressions, just enough to guess what people are talking about 60% of the time and to have a blank and terrified face when people address me expecting an answer in Finnish. Finland also has interesting music, and I’m not talking about metal, I don’t care much for metal. I may not understand, but Finnish singing is very beautiful, and some of their artists have extremely catchy songs, as in they get stuck in your head forever (looking at you Elastinen). Finally, Finnish is extremely entertaining when comments and statuses are bing translated on Facebook, one little slang word and you might know someone who does slave trade.
Finland is a tech and design hub so everything is cool, stylish and very modern. Helsinki is said to have the best public transport in the world, and while me carrying my 20kg luggage over my head because the snow blocks the wheels while running to catch the bus about 2 km away from Mel’s place would not agree, you can really get anywhere fast an easy. It could be because almost every Finn I know except for 2, I’ve met through Mel and she is like that, but it also seems like everyone is really into design and fashion (well women at least, guys don’t seem to care all that much), everyone owns those Iittala plates and cups (especially the Moomins ones) and have very cool looking houses.
Now Finns. Where do I start. There is this stereotype that Finns are shy and silent to the point of being rude. It does throw one off if it doesn’t come with understanding. Sure, I have mocked Mel quite a bit about how much she stresses in situations that seem really mundane to me, and I have been somewhat shocked by the utter lack of interest people seem to have for one another, but it all becomes logical when you understand that this is how they picture politeness. They give much more importance to privacy and personal space and they feel like not talking or looking at you in the eye is just the best way they can respect your space and privacy. They treat bus seats like urinals in the sense that you should not use one that is right next to a taken one, unless you really must. What I don’t quite understand still is how you are supposed to meet new people when every attempt to talk to a stranger is perceived as an invasion.
Once you know Finns, they are just as cheerful, fun and enjoyable as anyone else, but it might be hard to try to go to Finland to make friends without knowing any first to be your ambassador.
Finland is also not as cold and barren as I thought. Canada is actually about as cold on most winter days, but is more likely to get colder. Sure Finland also doesn’t have a really nice and hot summer that we have in Canada, but almost everyone I have talked to about this seems to disagree that 30 is great anyway. Finland is barren in terms of people, it’s a gigantic space with about the same population as Ireland. A lot of the culture is based around the cottage, a secondary house, usually by one of the 168 000 lakes (actual number). Nowhere can you have as much personal space as by a lake in the middle of the vey lush and definitely not barren forest. This is where you can do nothing, drink beer, long drink, vodka, go to the sauna and jump into previously mentioned lake. Bonus point if no clothes are involved at any point in this process. I have to say not much is more relaxing.
Finland is not very renowned for its cuisine, Berlusconi and Chirac both mentioning Finnish food as an example of terrible, Chirac going as far as calling it second worst after Britain’s. While Britain indeed has terrible food, Finland is one of those places I would go to get fat without any ragrets. While I’m not overly fond of rye bread which is too hard, dry and bitter for my taste, it is mostly extremely enjoyable. I really like fish and it is a very big part of their diet. But the thing I love the most is the reindeer. We went to a Saami buffet, and I have eaten enough to make any vegan sick (and myself too to be honest) and it is just so delicious, the tastiest meat I’ve ever eaten. KotiPizza even made a pizza with it, ironically named Berlusconi, and it is one of the best chain pizza I’ve ever had. Finland has even found a way to make black liquorice tolerable to me.
However, I have a few disappointments. First and foremost, Aurora Borealis are nowhere as beautiful as I had envisioned. They basically look like clouds and without a camera, you can’t see the colours. Then again, I was told that they are more colourful the further up north so I will leave my final judgement for later. Reindeers are absolutely adorable looking, and look super soft, but they are so small, there is no way only eight of them can pull a huge sleigh through the sky.
I just came back from Finland a week ago, it was as lovely as ever and I will probably find a reason to pop by again this year for their 100 years’ celebration. Congratulations Finland, may you celebrate more centuries, you are awesome, beautiful, and too unknown for the world’s own good. Torille!
Have you ever been to Finland? Do you have similar experiences? Or are you a Finn - do you agree with Alex? Share your thoughts in the comments below!