European Culture

Characteristics of Finnish Culture

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"Characteristics of Finnish Culture"
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The fascinating character of the Finns can be summed up in a word "sisu". Sisu is more of a concept than something solid. The best way to describe it is quiet determination: the strength to face adversity head on, to not give up, to quietly go about ones business in trying times.

Sisu pervades all areas of Finnish life and culture and is reflected in many of the pastimes enjoyed by Finns. Finns love endurance sports and of they are winter sports, so much the better. Nordic skiing is more popular than downhill even though there are plenty of opportunities for downhill; Finns would rather slog it out on the flat than have a few minutes exhilaration flying down a mountain.

While most people would think of a sauna as relaxing, the Finns have made it into a sport; every year there are international sauna championships held in Finland. Entrants come from all over the world but the Finns thought of it: the winner is the person who endures the hottest temperatures for the longest time. The patient Finns will spend all morning collecting the wood, and preparing it to enjoy a smoke sauna; for them it is worth the wait.

Finns are generally regarded as quiet people. Indeed, it is rare to have a Finnish person enter into conversation with a stranger. Finnish people are economic with words; they say what they need to as succinctly as possible and then return to their thoughts.

This quietude can be perceived as depression; indeed, Finland does report high numbers of cases of depression and alcoholism and it has one of the highest rates of suicide of EU countries. The latter is often linked to the cruel winters where, in the north of the country in particular, five hours of daylight is the norm. Furthermore, openly expressing ones anger is very much frowned up. Finns tend to bottle up their emotions with obvious effect. While sex is a subject that can be talked about quite freely, this is a country where wearing your heart on your sleeve is the real taboo.

Finns are highly competitive; every weekend a town somewhere in Finland will be hosting a championship in something or other; tango dancing (a hugely popular pastime in Finland, air guitar playing, ski trekking, you name it the Finns have probably established a tournament.

Another aspect of this characteristic of sisu is the successful way in which Finns have managed to achieve a balance between nature and technology. Many city-dwelling Finns have cabins in the countryside where they spend their weekends fishing, walking, cycling or enjoying a sauna followed by a bracing dip in one of the country's hundreds of lakes.

All Finns, whether in the country or the city have embraced the technological age with gusto. As you would expect from the country that brought us Nokkia, the Finns are comfortable with cellphone technology and even though they might not have much to say, nobody goes anywhere without a state of the art cellphone.

Other aspects of the Finnish character are easy to deduce from what you see around you when you visit Finland. Litter is rare. People wait their turn in queues. Young people offer seats to the elderly on public transport and nobody would put their feet up on the seats of a train without first removing their shoes.

If all this makes the Finns sound boring it shouldn't. Finns love to enjoy themselves, they just do it quietly and always with sisu!

More about this author: Fiona Thompson

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