Why everything you think you know about Finland might be wrong

Two seemingly random events inspired this post:
– I spent the weekend out in the countryside in Lammi/Lieso, Finland helping out at a kirpputori (garage-sale-type of event)
– I took the garbage out today.
Two super random things, none particularly out of the ordinary, yet my brain was on both times, and so maybe I learned something.

First, I helped out at a kirpputori where lots of customers were dropping by and I was the only foreigner there. I have to confess I haven’t spoken much Finnish since my summer holidays from gymnastics coaching started, so I challenged myself to speak Finnish for the weekend. Over the two days, I met and interacted with lots of strangers, as well as people I know quite well, or had met briefly before. What I noticed was a little unexpected, namely: there’s a big difference between city and country-side culture. This shouldn’t come as a big shock, but I think as a foreigner I am as guilty as the next person of blobbing groups of people together.

When was the last time you stepped outside Kehä III and really met some people? Original photo.

When was the last time you stepped outside Kehä III and really met some people? Original photo credit.

Finland is a small country, but travel north, east, west or south; go into cities or small villages and if you really spend time around people, you’ll notice the cultures of each place differ. In this particular case, they differed quite a lot. My weekend companions said my name so often, I was shocked. I wasn’t aware this was common in Finland, since it isn’t in Tampere or Helsinki and it’s something always notice because I like it when people use my name. In addition, strangers were so friendly out in the countryside, that I took great pleasure in sitting outside and welcoming everyone who was attending our kirpputori. Everyone greeted each other loudly – some had met prior, but I was meeting people for the first time, and still I got some very enthusiastic and vocal responses. Small chat was not uncommon, as we discussed how the sale was going, whether or not it would rain, how friendly the dogs were or how playful the kittens…all in Lieso, Finland.

After coming back to the city and taking out the garbage today, I greeted a woman coming out of the garbage room (in our building, people are generally very friendly). She looked my way but quickly looked down as I said ‘Moi!’ and though I strained my ears, I’m pretty sure she didn’t say anything back. Having spent the weekend in out in the country, I no longer saw this as a ‘Finnish’ thing (even though many Finns do say hi back usually), but rather as a city thing. It was a very slight change of perception, but it felt like a big step in seeing shades of grey where I previously saw black and white.

I bet if we try hard enough, we could make a list of things stereotypically Finnish, and then disprove them all by finding places in Finland where this doesn’t happen at all!

Have you noticed differences between different parts of Finland? How have these differences changed your perceptions after returning to where you live? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below 🙂


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Hi! I’m Irina.

I’m a multibelonger to Finland, Canada and Romania, without ONE language or culture to call my own – I have several. My intention is to be present where I am and find inner peace and harmony where ever life takes me. I’m embracing the gems of the ongoing cultural and linguistic transition which is my life and hope to inspire others interested in doing the same. Read my story & more about what I do here.

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