Ask the Finn

Since we seem to be doing the Tour des Nordiques at the moment and Sunspace wanted one ;), ask away.

Background info: I’m 25, female, living in the capital city Helsinki, so take all information I give with that in mind (although I will try to get other opinions if possible or relevant).

No polar bears here, either. Plenty of cell phones and pigeons, though. And lakes, of course. Yes, we have mastered the concept of walking upright. Next we’ll be taking a crack at this thing they call “fire”.

What are your summers like? Your winters? What are your favourite activities to do in those seasons? Any special memories you want to share?

You really picked a day to start this thread. Can you tell us about the reactions to the shooting?

Since I think a lot of us see the Scandanavian countries as one bloc, can you tell us about some of the individual foibles and stereotypes about them individually, if there are any?

During the Cold War, were the Finns practical people who kissed up to the Soviet because they really had no other choice, or morally base people who cut a deal to profit off the misery of the Soviet (Russian, whatever) people?

I can see both side of this question and would value your thoughts very much.

Is it true that Finns are perpetually drunk and spend their days alternating between knife fighting and lounging in the sauna?

Others, I’ll get to your questions when I get home from lectures this evening, but I had to comment on this because it’s the biggest news story right now:

People are in shock. People are sad. People are very angry.

There was a similar shooting less than a year ago in Jokela, ~40-50 km from Helsinki, where an 18-year-old shot 6 students, the principal and nurse of his school, and then himself. Previous to that, in 1989 a 14-year-old student in Rauma had shot two of his classmates who later died in hospital, but on the whole, school shootings are extremely rare in Finland (most school-related violent incidents tend to involve knives).

Therefore, when the Jokela case broke, the whole nation kind of went into a collective state of shock and mourning: “Well, of course these things could happen somewhere ELSE, like in the STATES, but not HERE, it’s SAFE here.” Following the Jokela case, there was a huge amount of discussion about youth depression, bullying (the shooter had apparently been severely bullied for over 10 years), the relatively easy process of obtaining a handgun in Finland, the perceived lack of opportunities for people growing up in small villages, and so forth. I think now, the reaction is angrier because it seems like nothing was learned from last time.

A member of a Finnish forum I participate in, stealthunit, says the following (translated, of course):

“Was the gunman’s intent, after all, to get his own 15 minutes of fame before his death? In the previous case, there were 5-page special reports in tabloid magazines daily for about two weeks; I doubt that would lower the motivation at least. Also in the last case, the reporters behaved very unethically, interviewing high school students in shock etc.”

So as you can see, right now the reactions are quite angry and, in some cases, extremely cynical, as people recall what was done (or wasn’t done) as a result of the Jokela case. Some are calling for tighter gun laws, others are calling for more resources into preventing children and young people from becoming isolated, depressed, angry, and ultimately misanthropic, still others are blaming it on first-person shooters.

Good to know that some forms of stupidity are international. Actually I’m struck by how similar the response you are describing is to the response we saw at, say the Virginia Tech shootings. I’m sorry this has happened.

Personally I think therein lies the key to a lot of issues with young people. I remember teenage angst but it didn’t seem as severe or as wide spread as it is today. It’s good to know kids are kids from where ever they stand on this rock, if we can find common ground as parents and as a community we might be able to help them understand what ever it is they are struggling with that turns them sour.

What’s the relation between Finnish speak Finns and Swedish speaking Finns? And what about Åland?

TV and computers mean kids don’t hardly have to learn to get along with each other or anyone else these days – they can live in their rooms amd de-personalize everthing. When they DO go out into the real world – it’s a lot nastier than they expected from what they could tell from their monitors. So they pick up a pistol, because that’s how it’s done in virtual reality.

Just my two cents.

Well, Finland lies between the 60th and 70th parallels with Helsinki on the 60th, so approximately the same as, say, Alaska. However, the Gulf Stream is close enough to warm things up a little, so southern Finland is more of a temperate climate while the north is more subarctic. An average summer day is ~20 degrees Celsius, with highs sometimes over 30. Last summer was quite rainy and the temperatures didn’t climb quite so high; there were some really nice sunny days in June and July, though. Also, the sun sets late and rises early: in Helsinki during high summer, the sun will set at around 10:30 p.m., but it’ll never really get dark and the sun will start rising again at around 3 a.m. In the very northernmost part of Lapland it won’t set at all.

Winters, on the other hand, are dark. Dark and usually quite cold, although like Priceguy said in his “Ask the Swedish guy” thread, they’ve gotten warmer and wetter. Last Independence Day (December 6th) I was out picking mushrooms…and found some. There should be snow; the more common occurrence, however, at least in the bigger cities, is wet slush. Average temperatures are now ~-10 to -15 degrees, with lows below -20 and sometimes -30, if it’s either north enough or generally cold enough. The sun will rise at maybe 10 p.m. and start to set at 3 or 4 at the latest; the more north you go, of course, the less sunlight you will get at all, and the very northernmost parts of Lapland will average maybe an hour or two of twilight during the darkest times.

I snapped a few quick shots with my phone on the way home from school; these were taken at around 7 p.m. and then 40 minutes later. In high summer, it would start to get like this in around 3 hours; in the dead of winter, it would have been like this three hours ago.

Favorite summer activities: hanging out in the parks downtown with friends, going to the beach, going to the summer cottage. Finns are really big on summer cottages, preferably by the lake.

Winter: …well, personally, I’d like to go into a semi-hibernatory state from about mid-November to late February, but other people seem to like things like snowboarding, downhill skiing, and the perpetual favorite, flying abroad to somewhere warm. :slight_smile: The traditional image is of a red-cheeked Finn skiing their way cheerfully across a blazing white winter landscape, but the reality is perhaps less sporty and more sedentary.

No special memories spring to mind immediately. I’ll write them down as soon as they come, though. :slight_smile:

I don’t think that’s true at all. Maybe it plays some role in the small group of kids who are really antisocial and mentally ill, but for most kids I don’t think this is true. No matter what computer games are like, kids still get stuck with each other at school for most of the day, so more time gets spent learning to get along than playing computer games.

Well, technically Finland isn’t part of Scandinavia, which is generally regarded as Denmark, Sweden and Norway. If you take Iceland and Finland along (and also Greenland, Åland and the Faroe Islands), you have the Nordic countries. Basically you have four countries with at least generally mutually intelligible languages and then the weird one in the corner with only 8% understandable people (The Finnish-Swedes).

Some stereotypes which can be found in Finland regarding other Nordic nations:

Danes go hø hø hø and eat pølse and various other artery-clogging pig-related products and smoke weed all the time (this mostly comes from assuming that Christiania represents the attitudes of all of Denmark). Lots of beer, as well.
Swedes** are stupid and gay (for some reason, every Swedish man is assumed to be gay). They are what Gladstone Gander is to Donald Duck: an insanely successful, handsome, well-to-do guy who constantly beats us at everything and has never had to do anything really hard. The love-hate relationship between Finland and Sweden is probably more a construct of the Finns; I don’t think Swedes really care.

These two YouTube clips from a crappy Finnish sketch comedy show from the early 90’s kind of shows how Finns stereotypically feel about Swedes.

Norwegians dress up in wool sweaters and ski all the time; they’re kind of sporty but dumb, but not as dumb as the Swedes. There’s a category of jokes in Finland involving “The Finn, The Swede and The Norwegian”, in which the Finn always prevails, the Swede is always the laughingstock, and the Norwegian is the middle man.

Icelanders…I don’t even know, sit around in geysirs and eat rotten shark and dress up like Björk all day? Finns don’t really have any common stereotypes about Iceland; I guess it’s not close enough or something.

Congratulations on coding it successfully, but how is that character pronounced? I only know it as “the Nordic letter that looks like Uranus.”

Well, it’s for a reason that the term Finnlandisierung, or “Finlandization”, was coined in Germany in the 1960’s. The term refers to a country maintaining a perceived neutrality in foreign affairs while still carefully maintaining a policy of not upsetting the much more powerful country next to them. In Finland, though, many people considered this term a pejorative; people at the time saw this process of semi-appeasement as a method of survival as a sovereign nation. Remember, we’d just fought two wars with the Soviet Union during WWII, and gotten our asses royally kicked in the second one. Therefore, it seemed to make perfect sense to just lay low and avoid annoying the big guys again for a while.

Finland and the Soviet Union signed the YYA agreement (“yhteistyö, ystävyys, avunanto”, or cooperation, friendship and aid) in 1948; this agreement required Finland to resist any future attacks by “Germany or its allies” on Finland or on the Soviet Union through Finland, and to request Soviet aid if necessary. (Finland, if you recall, was a German ally during WWII in order to get help driving the Russians out of Finnish Lapland). However, the agreement stated that Finland was allowed to stay outside any major conflicts and maintain a neutral position during the Cold War.

However, the process of Finlandization (“suomettAminen”, becoming as Finland from the outside) was accompanied in Finnish internal politics with suomettUminen, a Finlandization from within. This involved heavy self-censorship of the media, and adopting pro-Soviet Union attitudes. Most of the politicians, cultural personas and journalists who valued their careers avoided talking or writing about such issues as Russian labor camps or even the fact that it was the Russian aggression which started the Winter War in 1939. The public criticism of Soviet policies didn’t really start up until the end of the 1980’s when Gorbachev rose to power.

Like the Wikipedia article states, a very famous quote by Finnish political cartoonist Kari Suomalainen defined Finlandization as “bowing to the East very carefully so as not to appear to be mooning the West”.

There’s been a fair deal of discussion on Finlandization in Finland over the past, say, ten years. Now, it’s okay to say that maybe Finland went too far in its self-criticism and self-censorship during the Cold War, and so people are talking more openly about events during that period. There are still some taboos, though, which seem to be opening up only now: one of them is former President Urho Kekkonen, who was president an insanely long time from the 1950’s to 1982 during the main years of the Finlandization process. During his presidency, Kekkonen was elevated to almost superhuman status because it was believed that he was the one who was keeping Finland on good terms with the Soviet Union; it was only several years after his death that people started to talk openly about his alcoholism, his failing health and his censorship policies which probably contributed to the Finlandization.

Like the letter ö. :slight_smile: I’ve had to explain this to quite a few people and the explanation I usually use is “say the word ‘bird’ and leave out everything but the vowel sound”. It doesn’t exactly do the trick, but it’s the closest I can think of.

Finns love the sauna; it’s an integral part of the Finnish culture. In old days, women would heat up the sauna and give birth there, and the bodies of the dead would be given their final baths in the sauna, so the sauna followed you through life. Nowadays, it’s still a very strong part of what we do: many modern apartment buildings will have a sauna built into every apartment. All swim halls and most sports facilities have saunas available so that people can make it a part of their post-workout routine. Sports teams, work teams, student groups will all arrange get-togethers where the sauna is heated up. It’s still said that the best way to get Finns to befriend new people is to get them (drunk and) into a sauna.

Finns also tend to kill each other with knives rather than guns. Carrying a knife, or a puukko, around was very common before in some parts of Finland and especially the Ostrobothnians were previously famous for a “häjy” image which involved loudness, raucousness and knifefights. Also, a large number of Finnish murders or manslaughters come about while drunk and at somebody’s house, which means that a kitchen knife is often more easily at hand than a gun or some generic heavy object.

And Finns do like their alcohol. In terms of absolute alcohol, there are countries where the average consumption is greater, but for some reason, Finns like to drink theirs raw. Being able to drink your kossu without making a face is considered manly and tough, and I remember laughing out loud at an X-Files episode where Scully and Mulder claimed that several people had to have been in a location because no-one drinks 12 beers by themselves. The attitudes are slowly changing, thankfully, and a night out does not automatically have to mean drinking until one passes out and wakes up in a pool of one’s own vomit.

So there’s a bit of truth to that statement, although maybe not “perpetually”. Sometimes we’re also hung over.

Hmm. That’s a bit of a difficult question. Some background: there’s approximately 290 000 people in Finland whose mother tongue is Swedish (about 5,5% of the population, not 8% as I erroneously stated in a previous post). The Swedish-speaking minority has been here from about the 1200’s at the latest, and is mostly concentrated near the coast area.

Because of certain old political decisions and mandates which are fairly complex and I will not go into here unless specifically asked to, Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. This means that every Finn is entitled to receive government services in their own mother tongue. The National Broadcasting Company in Finland, Yleisradio, has one channel solely for Swedish-language programming. All street signs and notices must be in both official languages, etc.etc.etc.

This also means that all Finnish-speaking Finns must learn Swedish in school, and all Swedish-speaking Finns must learn Finnish in school. This is the root of the “pakkoruotsi” debate, where some Finnish-speaking Finns loudly complain that they do not see the reason to study a language which they will seldom, if ever, need because most Swedish-speaking Finns speak Finnish very well. I have not heard of Swedish-speaking Finns complaining about the mandatory Finnish.

Many of the old business and culture magnate families in Finland are Finnish-Swedish: Serlachius, Stockmann, Ahlström etc. Because of this, there is a tendency among the Finnish-speaking population to consider the Swedish-speaking Finns a “cultural elite” with a very closed and isolated sense of community. There is a term used in Finland even among the Swedish-speakers, “ankdammen” or duck pond, which refers to the small circles in which Finnish-Swedes move and where everyone knows everyone else.

Generally, I don’t think the relations are too stressed between the average population. Finnish-speakers might good-naturedly rib their Swedish-speaking friends about how “pappa betalar”. Swedish-speaking Finns have certain cultural traditions which are celebrated mostly by them, like the Lucia pageant, or only by them, like the Stafettskarnevalen for school children, but it’s not like there’s two completely separate groups of people fighting for living space here or anything.

Åland is a little different. It’s an autonomous demilitarized region where the only official language is Swedish, with 91% of the population Swedish-speaking and 5% whose mother tongue is Finnish. Ålander men do not have to attend the otherwise mandatory Finnish military service. They have their own flag, their own Post Office and their own parliament. When Finland joined the EU, Åland had its own election. They opted to join the EU but they are not part of the tax union, which makes it possible for ships travelling between, say, Finland and Sweden to sell items tax-free if they make a stop in the capital, Mariehamn.

Thanks Aura for answering. I’m a bit familiar with Helsinki since I have family living there. I love the marketplaces and the saunas (though I’m the obvious American wearing a swimsuit). The zoo, island fort, amusement park, Seurusaari, and museums are all quirky fun. T.V. is painfully bad.

Questions on my mind:

  1. Is there such a thing as a hot Finnish guy? I swear in all my visits there, I only saw one and actually I don’t have proof he was Finnish. The women are generally quite beautiful and appear so independent. How is the dating and marrying situation there? Is it true that if a woman has a child with a Finnish man she gets a monetary gift from the government?

  2. Do you find this article from the Wall Street Journal to be correct about the educational system in Finland?

  3. Apart from Helsinki, where should I visit next in Finland and why?

Speaking of all Swedish men being gay, how’s the situation for GLBT people in Finland lately? I’ve met several gay Finns who moved to Sweden because the political climate in Finland was too harsh. I haven’t heard anything about the current state of things, though. What’s your take on it?