Finnish “culture and personality”

by , under All categories, Enrique

I just looked over an ”adaption guide to Finland” for Russians that move to the Kymenlaakso region in the southeast of the country.

While these types of publications may have good intentions, they tend to generalize complex matters such as Finnish culture and personality. One of the matters that is surprising in the guide is how few – if any – social psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists were used. The guide states that Finland is a “feminist” country, although women still make about 20% less than men.

Under the part that attempts to show some traits on Finnish personality, I chose a few descriptions that caught my eye:

1. Statement: What is essential for the Finns? The most important matter that characterizes him/her is his/her patriotism. The Finns love their country.

(Mikä on olennaista suomalaisessa ihmisessä? Kaikkein olennaisinta on hänessä patriotismi. Suomalainen rakastaa omaa maataan.)

Comment: Is this something unique? Does it suggest that I should fear Finns and take special care not to offend Finland? Does it suggest that Finns may have difficulties accepting others because patriotism, or nationalism, gets in the way? Why is this attribute the most important for the authors?

How I would change the sentence: Finns, like other people in different nations, love their country. So? Are the authors suggesting that people in some countries are not patriotic?

2. Statement: Finnish culture can be described as individualistic.

(Suomalaista kulttuuria voidaan luonnehtia yksilökulttuuriksi.)

Comment: Is this a unique trait in a modern industrialized nation? How do we measure individualism?

3. Statement (this is one of my favorites): The Finns are bashful and quiet. He is not very social if he is around strangers.

(Suomalainen on ujo ja hiljainen. Hän ei ole seurallinen eikä hän ole kovin aloitteellinen juuri koskaan kanssakäymisissään, jos hän on tuntemattomien ihmisten seurassa.)

Comment: How do Finnish men and women meet at bars? How do they make friends?  What study proves that Finns do not take the initiative when they are around strangers? These types of affirmations, which are not true, only help to reinforce stereotypes about Finns. There are quiet, loud and medium-loud Finns. Some will take the initiative while others will shy away from it. It depends on the person. It is ridiculous to claim that it is “Finnish personality.”

4. Statement: Finns are quite stubborn and in that character he/she is incredibly steadfast.

(Suomalainen on harvinaisen itsepäinen ja siinä piirteessä on hän uskomattoman luja.)

Comment: Like with the above-mentioned statement, are there any studies that prove this? What percentage of Finns are stubborn and which are not? I have never seen a study that measures stubbornness. Isn’t pigheadedness a personality trait as opposed to a national trait – if there ever was one.

5. Statement (this is a “gem”): Finns tend to react slowly…

(Suomalainen on hitaanpuoleinen.…)

Comment: This is the stereotype of the stereotypes mentioned by the guide. Again, I ask, what studies do the authors use to back such a statement? What percentage of the Finns are “slow?” What do they mean by “slow” and compared with whom?

CONCLUSION: These types of statements about Finnish culture are not useful because they only confuse perceptions of Finnish culture since they are not based on any empirical study. If anything, they are subjective perceptions that reveal more the stereotypes of the authors — at the best they show how the authors want foreigners to “see” us.

  1. Tiwaz

    However, when you look at individuals (boastful, noisy, quiet and shy)… Do you think that these individuals represent population?

    No, when dealing with population you use averages. Are Finns, overall as multitude of people, more likely to be introverted or shy?

    In cultural sense, yes they are. Culture here places value on being modest, quiet and serious. So, to foreigner who doesn’t know jack s*** about this culture, it might be better to just say that Finns are quiet and shy, because it is most likely easier to get the message through that way.

    Of course, it also has it’s downside. They do not learn Finnish cultural norms this way, so your criticism is very warranted.

    As for patriotism… In Finland being patriot and showing it is not sin like it nearly is in some countries. There is unfortunate trait far too common in Germany for example that people almost get a stroke if they are suggested being patriotic.

    So it might indeed be wise to warn immigrants of this. Insulting Finland is not going to score you much points in life.

    By the way, there appear to be even studies that put Finns very high in patriotism, at least in sense of willingness to fight for their country.

    “The willingness of Israelis to fight for their country if needed is the highest among other
    developed countries where this question was presented. 85% of the adult population in Israel said
    they would be willing to fight in a war to protect the country, compared to 75% who expressed this
    willingness in 2001. This figure includes the Arab public, whose readiness to fight is significantly lower
    (27%) than the Jewish public (94%). Citizens of Japan (16%) and Germany (32%) are very reluctant to
    go to battle for their countries. Both of these countries bear a military history that does not at all
    constitute a source of pride. Finland (83%) is at the top of the list (after Israel), and the United States is
    far behind (63%).”

    Issue about “feminist” country has certain points, but was delivered poorly.
    Women are strong and independent in Finland compared to multitude of other nations. It is again product of conditions. Men would be away for extended periods of time to relatively recent days. Hunting, logging and so forth. (proper agrarian society where man would spend only day or few away at most came here relatively late)

    During this time, wife of owner of the house was one who controlled everything. She held the keys to everything, not her husband. So while Finland is not matriarchal society, female position in it has been traditionally stronger than in many other areas.

  2. DeTant Blomhat

    Well if you look at the authors – they are Russians and are writing for Russians and reflecting to the “Russian way of thinking”. They are not writing the guide for some social scientist but for your average normal person on the street. And for your average person on the streets the comparisons can be best made to the “general consensus of the things we all know”. Keeping in mind it is also not made for a person widely travelled, but has lived most of his adult life in the same village.

    What comes to a “femisnist” country – apart from having a women as a president that boggles the mind in many places, but then again so do the Irish – Finland really has the tradition of “strong women” – so if you come from a patriarchal society you might have some adjusting that you have a woman as a manager who bosses you around. See not everyone is as enlightened about gender equality.

    1. Russians also are quite patriotic. However if you get a person say from the UK such thing as flag days and such – I’ve heard more than once that this is a sign of “nationalism” that is for some a curse word. So yes – from a Finnish point of view this person apparently is not “patriotic” as he thinks flying the Union Jack is something a skinhead would do and not his janitor.

    2. Well yes, but for example popping over to a friends house unannounced with all your aunts and grannies – thats still normal in Russia. Not as much here.

    3. Finnish men get liquid courage. But again you are being obtuse – if you go walk around Helsinki and are in public transport – you notice – nobody speaks to each other. For someone from a babbly culture where it is traditional to get to know how your neighbours third cousin is doing – this might seem a bit cold and distant. And the question is exactly how and when do you start a discussion – the “rules of engagement” are slightly different. Though for a comparison the people in Paris public transport seemed if possible more quiet.

    4. & 5. Well, for the first one – you try and make a Finn change their opinion 😉 And again we must compare to Russia. And then with the “slowness” lets say in Finland you don’t get things done with as much spontainety maybe as elsewhere.

    I lost the link, but I’ll read it through better once I have time. I just wonder what kind of a result would it be if you wrote one with your social psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists. Would they measure our skulls?

  3. DeTant Blomhat

    Yes well I went ahead and read the part on the “Nature of Finns” and while the statements removed from their context sound somewhat peculiar – they are explained by examples, which make it clear what the author is after. Like the “individualism” bit of the survey that most Finns would wish to live in the city on a lake in their own house without neighbors.And the explanation on how the social interaction goes – this bit on how to break the ice and get to know Finns. I’ve read several bulletin board entries of “finns being patriotic because they always buy kotimainen tuote”. And the feminism bit is explained as well – I think Tiwaz and I wrote before reading through the article and for some odd reason we came up with the same explanations. A few bits there made me smirk like the old yarn about slash-burn farmers, but I wonder where did you get the idea of dismissing this guide as something not worthy? Before that bit was a few – written by social psychologists – bits on culture shock and the different options of assimilation and integration and whatnot.. And this bit is only 1/10 of the guide itself which explains in detail “how to do things”.

    Maybe you should read the guide through yourself with a bit of thought – it might help you from being separated and marginalized.

  4. Enrique

    Henrik Majander, I believe the hint you made yesterday is serious. You should offer an apology and from now on, make your comments with your real name. Maybe then you would be more careful about what you say.
    Nobody has to tolerate threat hints and it is totally out of place.

  5. Tiwaz

    Regarding this name issue.

    Is Enrique your name? Is it REALLY your name?

    We cannot tell actually. You might be Martti Möttönen from Ivalo, who pretends to be Enrique Inglesias or whatever.

    Because of that, golden rule of Internet debate is to concentrate on content, not debater.
    Person who does not use his/her name or name which might be real name is not any less right if their comment is true.

    So stop whining about names. If you have nothing else left to refute the comments presented to you, it might be more graceful just admit your defeat and that you were wrong instead of trying to hide behind complaints about other people not presenting their names.

  6. MSeppala

    I am finnish, however live in Arizona. A family member mentioned the other day how they can certainly tell im finish.. I dont know much about my heritage, so i decided to do some googling, its quite funny but every single “stereo type/characteristic” describes me almost to the t. I’d love to visit Finland someday.

    • Enrique

      Hi MSeppala, thank you for your comment. Well, I hope you will be able to visit Finland one day and hear about your journey.

  7. KS

    That’s a very interesting comment. I think some aspects of our heritage might be “hard-wired” into our personalities and traits, despite living elsewhere. As another example, after years of research and genetic testing I finally proved my heritage is Finnish–despite my grandparents changing their name and hiding that from us (the came here during Finnish civil war). But I knew all this 20 years ago–it’s just intuition.

    • Enrique

      What exactly did they reveal? Were a few Finnish genes with a whole bunch of Western European ones?

  8. KS

    Well, I’m not going to elaborate on needless details to the point of a possible argument. Statistically, there are certain “markers” which are more specific to Finnish populations. That’s all–it’s simply a confirmation of my own “gut”, and personal research when my grandparents were so close-lipped about our heritage. It’s hardly a suggestion of “genetic purity” or anything of the sort…I hate that stuff. I just came here to comment on MSeppala–and not stir up your blog. Best!

    • Enrique

      KS, you are not stirring up anything. Many thanks for sharing your comment. Why did you grandparents want to hide their Finnish heritage? Is it because they wanted their children to be USAmericans?

  9. KS

    Thanks Enrique, :-)
    In retrospect, I can only suspect they hid our heritage because they fled during the Finnish civil war, and settled among other Finns in Minnesota, US. There were two bitterly opposed factions at the time in Finland, and a deadly backlash against those who sided with social-democratic reform–the “White Terror”. This probably explains why my grandparents were so afraid of “people coming to get them, if they who we were”. So it’s sad they hid our heritage, but I managed to discover this with a little evidence…and determination. :-)

    • Enrique

      Good for you, KS. I am very happy that you have found your heritage. Now, you should make an effort to know more about Finland, the Finns and their culture. An important part of that culture are the immigrants and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. That is probably a good place to start. I we can help you along that rich path, do not hesitate to ask.

  10. KS

    Thank you Enrique. It has been interesting to find some connections between the past and who I am now. In particular, I find the concept of “sisu” as personally inspiring during these difficult time. It’s one of those qualities which strike deeper than the usual cultural tribalism/stereotypes even present here in America. I’ve enjoyed your blog so far, and will certainly visit again.

    • Enrique

      Thank you very much again for your comment. You are most welcome to join us whenever you please. We have a lot of readers and I am certain there would be many of us who would be interested in helping you to know more about Finland and its culture.

  11. fofa

    I was just googling the Winter War and arrived here. My grandmother was pure Finnish and I had many Finnish aunties and uncles. I can assure you that even having 1/4 or 1/2 Finnish blood in the U.S. cannot cut the ties to the genetic homeland and the peculiar traits. The men typically don’t marry or have children, love their alcohol, are shy and downright anti-social. We are all worry warts and stewers. The women are tough as nails, a tendency to analyse too much and be too considerate of others. We tend to put other people’s feelings and well being ahead of our own,but NEVER underestimate the toughness and vengeful qualities of a Finn if wronged too deeply. We are thoughtful and considerate and are taught to do the right thing, and think independantly above all.
    I can tell right off if someone has Finnish blood, there is a type of quality to the person radiating out of them. I have scared many a person over the course of my life by saying to them “you have Finnish blood, don’t you?”. The Finns are fiercely independant, individulistic, analytical and extremely clever. They had to survive in winter conditions where you could have a blizzard move in within minutes, and lose your life. They had to observe, nature: clouds, wind, animals, sunlight, they had to become hypersensitive to survive. Finns also possess magical gifts. Finns typically prefer to do things alone or in the (quiet) company of perhaps one other person…like hiking, rafting, skiing, anything to do with nature and observing nature. If you are Finnish you can usually hold a tremendous amount of liquor with no obvious impairment, you will be the last man/woman standing in any type of endurance feat and if it is physical work you are not lazy at all but love to bepressed to excell and overcome, you will prefer to work weekends when the rest of the herd takes to the beaches/mountains etc., prefering to have your alone time in the middle of the week. You will do your share of bitching and moaning about things but with a wicked sense of humour about how your body is falling apart or whatever else is ailing you. You also will know how to unarm any detractor with a deadly aimed tongue that will unmask their worst and weakest character points and flaws (all that quiet observation)and leave them cut to ribbons with just a few welltimed and chosen words. I love the memory of all my ancestors, the Lempes, Toivos, Inas, Ottos, Selmas and all who showed me how to put salt in my coffeepot to brew the best coffee and also make the best bulah breads. The worst fault of a Finn is they insist on doing the right thing, even to their own detriment, and we are stubborner than mules. We will survive anything.
    I had a great housemate who was a vietnam war veteran. He was on a recon and his company ended up surrounded and were being slaughtered. He was shot up with 9 bullet wounds and huge chunks of shrapnel in his body. He was shot and knew he was going down. He said something kicked in, others will call it adrenaline, but he had the will to stay on his feet and keep that machine gun bursting until he dropped, alive, the only survivor. Tha is called SISU.
    I love Finland though I have never been there. Finns in the U.S. have a melancholy longing for their genetic homeland.When young, my father was a golden gloves boxer and was undefeated with a usual TKO by the third round. Finnish. Sum up the weak points of your opponent and then go for them. My father later lived his life surrounded by trees, cutting them, thinning them, cultivating them, and my litle cousin grew up doing the same thing, but he flew to Finland this year and said that the feeling of peace and homecoming he felt when he stepped off the plane and got up north, was incredible. He took a bit of both of our father’s ashes to Finland and rested them there. If you have Finnish blood you know it because you don’t fit in in the U.S. culture. And once you meet other Finns and especially ones straight from Finland, you realize what’s going on. That’s my big two cents on the matter. Long live Finland. Long live the Sami. I love and honor my ancestors.

  12. Antero Pietila

    Stereotypes — whether employed by us Finns or by others — usually end up being overgeneralizations. It also seems to me that the brightest and most aggressive Finns trying to conquer the world have been able to overcome their reputations as shy, morose and slow.

  13. Tuukka H.

    Speaking strictly on matters of culture, here’s one insight into Finnish thought that many new arrivals might benefit from hearing.

    The standard of what qualifies as politeness is very high here (many people on the street aren’t polite, by this very standard: natives suffer from such endemic rudeness every bit as much as foreigners or immigrants).

    Respect a stranger’s personal space. Compare it to entering his house, if that mental image makes more sense. Knock on the door, and WAIT for their invitation before barging in and slamming your opinion in their face.

    Here’s an example of what I’m trying to express. For those uninterested in the hearing the account, feel free to skip the story.

    – – – –

    A few years ago, a colleague invited me to join him at an old gym where he was a member.

    I was green as summer grass to this hobby. I can only imagine how comical I looked to the other members when I tried out some of the equipment or moves.

    One day, a very racist-looking guy (going by stereotypes: Caucasian, ripped, bald, tattooed, sporting a black T-shirt with a nationalist logo: the very essence of the skinhead stereotype!) approached me. “Excuse me, but could I give you some advice?”

    “Erm… What about?”

    “Well, you see, when you’re using this gadget…” what followed was a very businesslike explanation into what I was doing wrong, why I was literally missing the whole point of the exercise and so on.

    The point of the story? This person, who had both right and seniority on his side, brought up the issue with a polite sort of deference. It didn’t matter that he was -and could prove it- right where I was wrong. He was trying to tell me something, so he couched it in terms of “do I wish to hear what he has to say, or not?”

    Remember this: people in Finland are apt to despise you as an egomaniac if you step up and announce that they’re doing something wrong, you’re going to tell them how it should be done. An Australian chef commented on this blog in the lengthy “have you suffered racism?”-thread. His comments did not indicate whether he’d committed this mistake, but I did wonder if this was the manner in which he had gone about proving his self-professed superior professional skills to his Finnish colleagues.

    On a similar vein, the host of the blog has been criticized for coming off as someone who marches into Finland and informs the natives how things should be done. The same sense of offense is present in these comments, the sense of someone offering an opinion that’s unsolicited and rudely expressed.

    “But is it rudeness, or just someone being far too touchy for their own good?” one might ask. As a very cosmopolitan Swiss teacher I once had put it, “in a multicultural environment, what you THINK you said doesn’t ultimately matter. People will respond to you according to what they HEARD, and that can be a very different thing indeed from what you intended.”

    Food for thought.

    • Enrique

      Hi Tuukka H, thank you for sharing these cultural insights. We should look out for stereotypes and be careful not to prejudge people.

      I personally like to debate issues. If you look at who is debating this issue, you will find a long list of Finns with a dismal number of “immigrants” taking part in the debate. Even atheists are giving their opinions over Islam never mind white people affirming that there is no racism in Finland.

      Moreover, I am not an outsider to Finland because I have lived here for decades, my mother is Finnish and brought up three children here. I have worked hard to advance and contribute something to my community. This blog is one way to begin; ie debating.

      If you read some of the comments and opinions on the Internet on immigration in Finland, don’t you think that that type of behavior is totally against what you are saying? In other words, it is ok for us (Finns) to insult and belittle those that are not part of our society because we systematically exclude them. If they criticize us then we go off the wall. Immigrants and all types of people should debate and use our democratic institutions to voice their opinions. It is the best way to ensure that immigrants are also taking part and integrating in our society, which is theirs as well.

      In a nutshell, this is the aim of the blog: Migrant Tales is a blog that debates some of the salient issues facing the immigrant and minority community in Finland. It aims to be a voice for those whose views and situation are understood poorly and heard faintly by the media and politicians.

  14. Paul

    Fun to read the debate, I’m 1/2 Finnish, and grew up in Canada. Moved to Australia 2 years ago. Was granted Finnish citizenship 1 year ago.

    It is hard to explain, but the older I get the more I realize that my Finnish heritage DEFINES ME in such a profound way that I am awed. And I have never even visited the country. I would describe my core personality as Finnish despite having lived in other cultures (Canada, Philippines, Australia) my whole life.

    Also, my body type is Finnish. My wife and others around me don’t understand why I am always hungry and I don’t gain weight. I appreciate the comments above about Finns being hyper-sensitive to the outdoors. Everyone in my family has gained or was born with what I would describe as an almost primal connection with nature.

    As my siblings and I age, we are all drawn to visit the homeland we have never known. I guess I am on this blog to try and understand the people I will meet there someday. My Ukki passed away a few years ago and my Mumu won’t last much longer. I mourn the loss of those links in my family chain but I hope that myself and my siblings can impart our heritage to our children and nephews and nieces in a way that allows them to understand the core of who they are.

    -Canadian Finn in Western Australia

    • Enrique

      Hi Paul and welcome to Migrant Tales and our family. We all enjoy and have a close affinity to Finland. I am very happy if we can help you along your soujourn back to Finland. Only a couple of decades ago did Finland start to acknowledge us, children of Finnish immigrants. When I came to Finland in 1978 I wasn’t even seen by the law as a Finns because my father was not from this country. I believe that we have to fight for our place in this country. There are over a million that emigrated from here. That’s a lot of people like you and I.

  15. Lotta

    I’m 100% Finnish. I’m independent. I just cannot work in groups and I was born with a connection to nature. I’m not even 14, I’m a girl and I’m already willing to give my life for my country. I am no sissy and all of these describe me perfectly.
    I have a deep longing for my home country, which I had to leave 2 months before my 9th birthday, in 2006. I would do nearly anything to go back and I get the feeling of home sickness everyday. When I DO go to Finland though, I immediately get the feeling of belonging. Like I’m a part of something.

    Although I have lived in Australia, my Finnish traits will only diminish when I die.

    • Enrique

      Hi Lotta, and welcome to Migrant Tales. I know the feeling and what you are experiencing is what some call “restless yearning.” It is like traveling with your sentiments to Finland from a distant place. Why don’t you tell us more about your longing for “home.”

  16. Ed

    Lotta….may I comment on your comment :). I too am 100% Finnish living in Canada. I totally share your feelings for Finland…and even though I haven’t been there yet…I would fight for my origin. How crazy is that. I intend on traveling there soon for the first time :) Thanks for this space to air my thoughts and read the comments here-Ed

  17. Mylie

    I am visiting Finland in 10 days and a bit nervous.
    I’d like to know more of the differences of Finnish culture especially in relationships between men and women comparing to Germany or Western culture.
    People said, Finnish culture are very different from European culture.
    OK, I may find about the “drinking habits”, Finns like to drink a lot and what about in other issues in life?

    • Enrique

      Hi Mylie and welcome to Migrant Tales and Finland. I hope your stay will be a memorable one.

      For one Finland is a part of Europe so I don’t understand the statement that our culture is very different from Europe’s. Just lay back and enjoy the visit. We’d be happy to hear about your visit.

  18. Connie

    Wow. This is amazing. I have always known I’m half Finnish, 3rd generation born in the US. I know I look Finnish, just like my father (only the female version). My bone structure matches to a “T” and I am very lucky to be attractive. But…having been raised here and not in areas where other Finns settled, I didn’t think you could inherit cultural personality traits. YOU CAN! So, at 40 years old, I’m happy to find out that I’m not some oddball that is different than everyone else. There’s an entire country full of people who are a lot like me. It’s because I’m a Finn! I’ve been learning more and more and I can’t believe how much I match Finnish culture and personality. So many things are making sense now. I see there are many more who are also learning the same thing. I just can’t believe it.

    I’m 108 lbs and I can eat more at one time than many men and I never gain weight. I am capable of drinking these same men under the table and never could understand how. I am known for being strong, independent, and I have NO problem being alone, in fact, that is my time to enjoy. I have never been married because I don’t feel like I “NEED” to. If I choose to date someone, I always have the same problems…I’m not mushy at all, don’t like needy, clingy behavior, if I say “I love you”, I’m saying it because I mean it, not because I have to say this constantly to make him feel secure. Evidently, I’m not sensitive, emotional, or mushy enough for typical American culture. I believe you should be around someone only if you WANT to and never because you NEED to. I hate people coming to my door unannounced. I have trouble with small talk because it doesn’t make sense to me. You either have something you need to talk about or you don’t. I can be stubborn. I don’t look for fights, but if I know I’m right, I will stand my ground and am fierce in an argument. I believe in patriotism and could never understand anyone who would not defend their country.

    I could go on and on because I’m so excited to understand why I’m this way and to know that I’m not the only one after all, but this is my big HELLO to everyone here. It is VERY nice to meet you.

    • Enrique

      Hi Connie! And welcome to Migrant Tales. You are delighted to hear from you. We have a lot of interesting Finnish identity debates here. Some of our bloggers, like me, have a Finnish background. Hello and we look forward to hearing more of you.

  19. Joel

    Good god, what Connie described above are the characteristics of what I love about Finnish women. I told my Finnish gf the other day, “Chiquita, I think you have poisoned me against American women”

    I’ve traveled to 31 countries (Uganda, Chile & Malaysia among others) and I have to say Finnish women are some of the most unique and interesting that I have ever met. Strong, independent, smart, sexy and can drink a shot of vodka like a pro. My kind of women!

    Btw Enrique, I did like low-riders as a kid, growing up, wanted nothing more than a 64 Impala. Now as an adult, Im more of a Porsche guy 😉

  20. pasi arasola

    Hi there

    fell here by accident, while searching Google for Finnish personality traits.

    I think you were a bit harsh on the manual, I rarely see that kind of material with footnotes. I totally agree psychologists should be helping make it, although cross cultural psychology material might end up as bad.

    I think the way you complain about the manual is very Finnish, I find myself doing the same all the time.

    All these comments have me wondering about nature and nurture, surely these traits are not all genetic?

    • Enrique

      Hi Pasi Arasola you have a neat email name! Welcome to our blog. The guide for Russians moving to Finland was probably made by a Russian. There are more holes in it than anything else.

  21. Mary Mekko

    I work in the tour industry of San Francisco. One day, with a full busload up in Napa, I noticed one fellow, about 40, from the Midwest, very American in his speech and friendliness, with a German-sounding last name: i.e. typical American. As I walked behind him into the winery, I could see just from the shape of his legs (in shorts) and his way of walking, the way his hair grew thin and straight, the shape of his head and the quality of his skin and fingers, that he had Finnish blood. He also emanated a certain tough inner quality that most Americans do not, something inexpressible, something closer to the Japanese spirit.

    SO I asked him, are you of Finnish descent? Of course, bingo! The grandparents were from northern Finland, and on the other side, they were half-Finnish and half-German. He was NOT amazed that I could tell. He knew he was a bit different than most other European-Americans. His wife, an American non-Finn, was the one who was surprised.

    Somehow I got a deep and wonderful thrill, knowing that there are such special people in the world called Finns, that I got to know in the 1980’s living six months there. When you live in the babble-babble yak-yak American culture, you are very happy to meet a serious person such as Finn. At least I am! We Irish are somewhere halfway between: we yak a lot and get into positions of authority where talking is very important (i.e. politicians and tourguides) but we are underneath all the levity a serious-minded, even depressive folk, closer to Finns.

  22. Suomitytto

    I am 100% Soumalainen (Finnish), of the fourth generation living in America. I have grown up among Finnish people as the area in which I live is densely populated with Finnish people. Some personality traits of the Finnish people are they are very, very hardworking, super stubborn, extremely laid back, free spirited, family is very near and dear, very private about their personal lives, generous to the point where they would give up a necessity to help another, are not confrontational and will usually shy away from these situations, obnoxious and loud around friends and family, quiet, calm, and collective in a crowd, many Finns have a sarcastic sense of humor and are quite witty, will do anything for a good, deep belly laugh, definitely do not take life to seriously, do not stress to often, as mentioned above very, very loyal to their beliefs, problem solvers, can find the loop holes in every situation, very often will not let others know when one is in pain emotionally or physically, find humor in the aftermath of anything once all is said and done, much much more but that’s all I can brainstorm off of the top of my head for now. Finnish people are very health conscious and take care of their body. Finnish people are often very, very physically strong and have a lot of endurance. Finnish people are very athletic and very often dominate at the sport that they play. Some Finnish people love extreme sports and have the need for speed.
    Physical traits of Finnish people-
    Facial features are fairly short forehead, usually deeper set eyes, the eyes are usually located higher up on the face, many Finns upper eyelid can not be see because of the deep set eyes, eye color varies but is usually a shade of blue, if not blue hazel or green would be next most common, followed by shades of brown, which is a lot less common, Finns have a longer nose, high cheek bones are almost a definate. The face type that most commonly is observed is a round face.
    Finns either are really tan or very fair skinned with freckles.
    Hair color is usually blonde, but all shades of brown are also prevalent. Strawberry blonde/orange/auburn are common too. Black hair does occur occasionally, but definitely not too common. Hair can be straight, curly, thick, or thin.
    Body types- Finns in general are usually average height, not too many tall ones. Men are usually stocky with an athletic build. Females are either really, really petite or have a athletic frame. Finnish females are known for their larger breasts, example: Pamela Anderson.

    • Enrique

      Hi Suomitytto and welcome to Migrant Tales. It is always nice to have Finnish Americans visiting our blog. Some Finns may look like you say but a Finn can just about be anyone today. Living in the United States, a bet a lot of Finns married with different nationalities, even Amerindians. I’ve read a few articles about the Finndians. How did the Finnish community where you grew up see marriage with different ethnic groups.

  23. I-am-here

    ” many Finns upper eyelid can not be see because of the deep set eyes…” Is that your way of saying that you Finns have Chinese slit eyes?

    When I first moved to Finland,it really puzzled me to see blond people with very round faces, high cheek bones, and slit eyes. I secretly call them the “blond chinese.”As much as Finns want to deny it, I truly believe that Finns are mixed with Mongoloid blood. There is no other way to explain the slit eyes, round faces, high cheekbones and short stature! There is a particular presenter on one of the morning tv shows , who really, really looks chinese. In any other part of the world, she would be considered Chinese, yet she is ethnically 100% Finnish.On my daily commute, I see several others like her.

    Another striking feature of the Finns, is their rather pudgy noses.Most Finns have short ,fat noses like what most of us black people have. Their noses are not at all like the long,narrow noses of other Caucasians.Just have a look at Soini (Persu guy) and see for yourselves the shape of his nose.His nose looks rather odd on a white face.There is nothing wrong with a short nose, but it is just that certain races have certain shaped noses.

    Of course Finns are all rather short. I have seen the shortest people in my life here in Finland. Tehy are as short as the Chinese and other Asians.Perhaps it has something to do with their low protein intake. From living here in Finland, I have realized that most Finns eat lots of potatoes, and very little meat (at least in comparison to where I am from.)

    Another thing which puzzles me about the Finns , is the fact that the women here seem to have really big behinds.In the US, there is a saying that “black women have booty”, but my “booty” is flat compared to that of Finnish women.It is all rather strange to me.Most other caucasian women I have seen have flat, large bottoms, except those who have had enhancements done.

    Why is it that Finns are so very different physically from other Caucasians? I can immediately tell a Finn from a Swede; the Swedes tend to be taller, with long narrow faces and long noses.This applies also to the Swedish Finns .I guess my point is that the whole white supremacy bs being thrown around by some Finns , is deeply fraught with holes.

  24. Amae

    “I-am-here”, you nailed it! Every part of your description about Finns’ appearances is so true, especially that one over the morning tv presenter, I always felt that way as well! However, all descriptions can only be subjective generalization and can never manage to include every single person… As for myself, I’m a “pure Finn” female and have a tiny straight nose instead of that very common potato kind one you described. But I am short (less than 160cm or 5 ft 4″) and have high cheeckbones and probably bear some Asian resemblance since I’ve often heard there’s something oddly Japanese in me. I do believe that Mongolian characteristics are definitely visible in Finns, whatever the other Finns might say.

    However, I don’t have a clue where you folks got the idea that Finns can eat anything and don’t gain weight? I’m pretty convinced it’s just the other way around. I’ve never seen as many round-figured people at one glance in anywhere else besides Finland. Except in USA and in Canada, perhaps. In my current home country Australia I was surprised to notice how fit people here are compared to supposed-to-be-outdoor-people Finns. Anyhow, it’s great you all are interested in your Finnish heritage and I wish you all best of luck in finding out more about your ancestry!

  25. Mary Mekko

    Funny that a racist remark can slip right in here by Tuukka H. He straight out admits that he thinks a “typical racist” is Caucasian. Tuukka, come and visit California. Meet racists of every stripe, with no skin color, gender, age, clothing or body type to distinguish them. Meet the blacks, who often resent anyone who looks “white”, regardless of their country of origin. Meet the Chinese, who despise all races, including the other Asians not of Chinese ethnic derivation. Meet the Latinos, who believe in LA RAZA, and go on about it ad nauseum, even when you ask them how a “Latino” can have a race, if the people from Mexico on down through South America are all mixed up, as in North America. Meet the European Jews, who consider themselves a step above all others, perhaps even their darker Jewish brothers such as the Eth

  26. carol joy

    What a great site. My grandparents were all born in Finland. I’d like to know more about my heritage but unfortunately I am the only one alive in my family.
    The first time I went to Finland I walked around saying “Wow! These people look just like me.”
    Over time I have come to recognize the Finnish personality traits in myself. I experienced a great sense of peace while there and felt united with “my people spiritually. I recommend anyone with Fi nnish background try and visit. I started out with a three day two night package to Helsinki and have returned several times for longer stays.I can’t wait for my next adventure.

    • Enrique

      Hi carol joy and welcome to Migrant Tales. We are happy that you have been able to visit your roots in Finland. There are hundreds of thousands of people as yourself who live abroad but continue to have a bond with this country. You are an example that Finishness can mean many things to different people.

  27. Mary Mekko

    Are there Orthodox Jews, Hasidim, living in Finland? Just curious. Do they assimilate well? They live in USA in their own ghettos on the East Coast, dress differently, speak their own language, and so on, yet normally they are tolerated well. I wonder if the Finns handle them in the same way, or do they view them with suspicion?

  28. mofasa

    About “I have never seen a study that measured Finns stubborness”..You can read this :

  29. Bernard James

    I agree with Ms. Mekko. I too am Irish and even since I first set foot in the Nordic lands, I felt an immediate connection. There are so many ways that I deeply relate to the Nordic lands that I could not list them all. One is the love of nature, naturally.
    And as Ms. Mekko states, underneath the laughter and friendliness, the Irish are serious. They live in the fog and overcast of northern Europe after all, not to speak of Viking genes and the Celtic ones. Yes, there is the Mediterranean streak of the British Isles, but that is the lesser strain.
    I was recently reminded of all this by time spent with a Finnish friend.

    • Enrique

      Hi Bernard, welcome to Migrant Tales. I don’t know about all those genes telling you what to feel…We are happy that you enjoyed yourself in Finland. The sub-arctic rocks!

    • Enrique

      Hi Bernanrd, politically correct? No scientifically correct. You should take a look at what the questionable science of eugenics led to and how it was used for political purposes. Humans learn. They are not guided like robots by their genes. The best definition I ever heard about culture is the following: “Culture is anything learned.”

    • Bernard James

      to believe in genes is NOT the same as believing in eugenics.

      however diversity is real, and it is this reality that must be overcome for understanding to occur among and between peoples.

      incidentally, in latin america there is a huge class/race/ethnicity system of segreation by people of more european origin against native peoples and those of african descent. have you worked against this? or against the caste/color system in india.

    • Enrique

      Hi Bernard, I didn’t mean that genes is the same as believing in eugenics. It’s when genes give you a whiff of déjà vu in your imagination is when I start to worry.

      Latin America has a lot of problems concerning its ethnic relations with different groups. However, I do think that this century will be one of greater acceptance and recognition for Amerindians. In Latin America ethnicity plays an important role. It plays different roles in different countries/regions.

    • Bernard James

      I am of mixed ethnic origin myself…and it is not easy to be so, nor has it ever been easy..that is just the reality i am afraid. people are deeply tribal…and this includes everyone…of all colors and religions.

      the thing that i caution about americans is that they have an extreme dose of missionary zeal, and some regions have it more than others….
      this missionary zeal assumes that the missionary somehow knows better and that his or culture is somehow better or superior…this is condescending..
      all cultures have value and have their ways of working out things….

      the key question is: what is the best way to achieve peace among peoples.

    • Enrique

      Hi Bernard, I personally don’t like the term “mixed” because it suggests that something is not mixed, which isn’t true.

      –the key question is: what is the best way to achieve peace among peoples.

      Very good question. How about values like equality, opportunity, acceptance in society? We’ll never have that perfect society because we are humans. Since our societies aren’t perfect, it means that we have the opportunity to change them.

  30. Mary Mekko

    Bernard James, are you Irish in Ireland, or in USA, or elsewhere? And what is the other part of your “mix”? I just found on youtube a wonderfully dopey, yet well-harmonized version of Bohemian Rhapsody, performed by the Finnish group PORKKA PLAYBOYS. They drive out into a Finnish scene, an empty field near a forest, park in the dirt, and start playing their instruments and singing in the most cramped conditions, an old VW Polo Coupe. Their expressions are straight, no laughing. They’re great. I’ve shown the video to friends here, who at first are perplexed, then they find themselves strangely addicted to the music and serious harmony.

    I can tell you, wandering around (hitchhiking) the roads of empty Lapland, I felt so happy and at peace, I never wanted to leave. I remember even thinking near Rovaniemi that if I would or should die soon, I would die having been where I belonged, a true contentment. Of course, I was involved with a great “Rovaniemi Reindeer” at the time, but it was not just him, it was the whole wonderful feeling of forests, nature, the gorgeous colors of ruska, the tramping around helping “Helsinki Hunters” trying to catch janis, picking berries, learning some basic Finnish, eating good bread and potatoes and fish, jumping into saunas & lakes.

    Sometimes I wonder, do the immigrants love these things in Finland? Do they write about them, try to go out to the nature on weekends as Finns do, glory in the peace and beauty? Enrique, it’s an interesting tourist fact in USA: the National Park system gets millions of visitors and sells hundreds of thousands of guidebooks and nature books. They’re printed in English, German, French and Italian, Japanese, and now, increasingly, Chinese. Note: hardly a Spanish-language guidebook in the giftshops are available, because the Latinos visiting America are not interested in “nature”. They visit our great cities, love theaters and shopping and dining, crowds and parades and music and atmosphere. But they’re not to be seen in the National Parks, as are rarely African-Americans or their brethren from the Caribbean and Africa.

    Could it be that certain types of nature “turn on” something in Northern European people which turns off the darker peoples? What do you think is the explanation, Enrique? Everywhere in America you find Spanish-language aids printed, but NOT in National Parks! DMV, IRS, welfare and SSI offices, doctors’ offices, hotels, restaurants, etc. etc….

    • Bernard James


      Love of nature is a huge Nordic trait. It extends over full arch of northern Europe…North Russia I am sure…Scandinavia…..And the Nordic areas of British Isles….Ireland, Scotland, and north England…(John Muir, Scottish..He talked to boulders. Get the idea.)

      Germans not as much…but they are not as Nordic as these other peoples….
      I have never seen the Mediterranean peoples having this trait much. Nor the Alpine folk.

      Keep in mind that nature was also the basis of the pre-Christian religions in the north….
      And of course Catholicism borrowed heavily from nature worship….Christmas tree, holy water…etc…and I believe the borrowing was particularly heavy in the Celtic Christianity.

      I will have to stay more anonymous..I am allergic to political correctness and other totalitarian ideologies….and dreamers who attempt to drive a square peg in a round hole. Bad things result from this. Very bad things. To begin to get the idea, please read War of the World by Ferguson.
      I am coming to the conclusion that dreamers cause vast trouble. Trying to make the world conform to an idelogy….Marxism, Nazism…etc…

  31. Mary Mekko

    John Muir loved Yosemite in a storm. He’d climb up a giant sequoia (they’re 20-30 feet across), then cling to it through the storm and let’s say, “ride the tree”, like a bucking bronco. It was considered genuinely nuts, yet his impact for expanding others’ consciousness about nature and its preservation was huge.

    American Indian tribes vary enormously, but most originate ethnically from Siberian and Mongolian tribes. Their love of nature, or nature worship, is usually take for granted. Is it because they’re from great Northern expanses as well?

    When I take private charter groups to Napa, I drop the people at the door of fancy wineries, then park as far back with my bus or limo away from the buildings and noise. It is amazing how gorgeous the valley is up in the hills, right at the edge of these parking lots. There’s flocks of wild turkeys running up and down, squawking, right into the vineyards below; turkey hawks are circulating in the sky, hares are running frantically to avoid a quick snatch from above, starlings by the thousands are wavering in black dancing mobs in the sky. The higher you can get above the valley floor, the more gorgeous it gets.

    Especially now that it’s winter, cooler and rainier, I really love it, and I love getting away from people.

    Finally, my tourgroup will come out, loud and drunk, happy as can be. Their reality inside with noise and chatter, the search for oblivion from the self, is such a contrast to that nature.

    John Muir slept in cemetaries throughout the South just after the Civil War, as the newly freed male blacks were roaming in packs, marauding, thieving, killing and raping. He, alone as a bindlestiff on foot, knew that the black males feared the dead, so it was safe and quiet out in those cemetaries at night. This bit about him is often omitted in modern versions of his life, for fear of calling him a “racist”, but racist he was all his life. And who isn’t, anyway?

    Still, John Muir was an eccentric by most standards. In today’s world, he’d be up in Alaska.

    • Bernard James

      You speak much truth, Mary.
      Yes, when I first spent time in the Nordic lands I learned of their love of nature.I do think it is a northern European trait..Other cultural areas and peoples may be the same (but to same extent?) but I do not of them.

      You know, it is true that Christianity was built on many of the nature-worshipping beliefs of the European peoples…I believe this was esp so in Ireland.

      Keep enjoying your Napa Valley jaunts…It is nice to get away from the crowd.
      Are you Finnish as well as Irish?
      Mekko? Is that Finnish?

  32. californiasuomi

    To Mary Mekko and Bernard — I think Mary Mekko may be a take on “Marimekko”, a famous Finnish design company. I’m also 100% Finn from Michigan, and feel somewhat out of place in Southern California. Enjoyed everyone’s comments!

  33. californiasuomi

    I thought I should make some general comments also. In my experience, Finnish national pride is legendary in Michigan. My mother and Aunt were immigrants, and often spoke longingly of their Finnish homeland. Marriage with a non-Finn was very strongly discouraged. “I-am-here” referenced the facial features of Timo Soini, the “True Finns” party chairman. With his round face and wide, squat nose, his face is extremely typical of the males in my family.

    During my working career, I had one boss who was totally inscrutable. I never understood where I stood with him. It later turned out that he was also 100% Finn, and I then fully understood why!

    In Michigan’s upper peninsula, Cornish copper miners immigrated in the 1850’s to work the newly discovered copper mines. When they moved on, the Finns (including my grandfather from the Tornio area) arrived and adopted the Cornish Pasti (small pie having meat and potatoes) as an ideal food for lunch underground. Because it was so integrated into the Michigan Finnish culture, I never knew until my sixties that it wasn’t even a Finnish dish!

    • Enrique

      Hi calirnoiasuomi and tervetuloa to Migrant Tales. I did research on the Finns of Argentina and the same thing was hoped: to marry within the group. This was a very common hope among many first-generation immigrants, who hoped that their children would not “assimilate” too much. If we had in the 1960s the so-called generation gap, imagine how many “cultural gaps” there were and still are between the parents and children of immigrants.

      How did your family classify a “100% Finn?” Does it mean that that person only married Finns/people with Finnish background? What do some Finnish Americans think about the Perussuomalaiset?

      We look forward to hearing more about your Finnish-American experience. Thank you for dropping by!

  34. californiasuomi

    Enrique, it’s not too hard to classify someone as 100% Finn, because most of the immigration to the U. S. from Finland took place between 1860 and 1915, and the immigrants clustered into communities across the northern U. S. My mother immigrated from Kuopio and, while my dad was born in northern Michigan, his father immigrated from Alatornio. Although his mother was actually from Haparanda, Sweden across the Tornio river, my father made it clear that she was of Finnish nationality. In my large family (5 brothers, 4 sisters) about half married Finns, and those families retained their ethnicity with descendants also marrying Finns. Those that married non-Finns (like me) have kids that know they are 50% Finn, but only retain a passing interest in ethnicity. So, my ancestors may have a point in their desire to have their offspring marry ethnic Finns.

    Funny you mentioned Argentina. My dad said that one of his uncles (Heino Metsavainio) emigrated to Argentina and bought a ranch there. None of us speak Spanish and so we’ve never found out if he established a family there.

    Regarding Finnish politics — my family all left before independence, and as immigrants weren’t even much interested in U. S. politics. I will see my niece in March, however, and will talk to her about it. After her parents divorced, she moved back to Finland with her mother and lives in Espoo. Looking at Perussuomalaiset ideology in Wikipedia, I have a feeling that they must be part of the Finnish desire (along with the British and Germans) to not be too quick to support EU countries with financial problems.

    Our local ice hockey team, the Anaheim Ducks, has four Finnish players including superstar Teemu Selanne from Helsinki. He is well liked here because he speaks fluent English, communicates very well, and loves the team and Southern California — and it shows! My brother and I love sports and follow Finnish players in Ice Hockey and the Olympics.

  35. MaryMekko

    What I always envied and admired in my long-time travelling friend from Aanekoski was her absolute view that she is Finnish and that Finland is a great country, small and tough, with SISU. She had no shortage of complaints about the Finnish men, but she conceded that it might have something to do with the maternal side of the upbringing. As an American, even though sure and proud of my pure Irish descent, I felt it was nothing special to belong to a nation of 300-plus millions of many, many miscellaneous roots and mixtures. Anyone can be an American. To be a Finn is truly special, and should be treasured and kept for the future.

    To hand out Finnish citizenship at random, as we do for folks in USA, would be to dilute and destroy a strong and unique culture. It may be inevitable, we may all be doomed to one big planet of melting-pot relativistic multiculturalism, but it will be sad, when old cultures are gone. Aren’t people always moaning the loss of individual tribes in the Brazilian jungle, or the many tribes wiped out by Europeans in Argentina in the 1800’s? Yet if you follow the real multicultural arguments out there, you could think., well, what difference does it make? Didn’t European arrival enrich the more limited cultural and biological groups in South America? So their cultures and languages were often lost, wasn’t the amalgram worth it?

    Amerindians are a dying group; almost all are mestizo in Mexico today. Is this a shame? OR, perhaps as Enrique advocates for Finland, an advance over the old limited ways of only Aztec peoples?

  36. californiasuomi

    Thanks for your comments, Mary. I do believe immigrants and later descendants should value and retain their cultural heritage, but there should be assimilation and the immigrant culture should be clear about their loyalty to the country they live in. One of the serious errors in U. S. policy toward immigrants was the treatment of west coast Japanese-Americans in WWII. Fundamentally, we didn’t trust their loyalty to the U. S. and interned them into camps until some decisive pacific sea battles made it clear that a Japanese invasion of the U. S. west coast wasn’t going to happen. Maybe there was so little assimilation into american culture that the vast majority of people were very suspicious. Even our FBI and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t think there would be a problem, and it wasn’t seen in Hawaii.

    I think to be successful, an immigrating people group must be considered industrious, honest and loyal – and there must be enough assimilation and willingness to learn the English language so that these characteristics can be seen by the rest of the population. I think the Finnish Americans had these characteristics.

    I have yet to visit Finland, and my wife would love to go. Besides my niece, I have relatives in Kuopio.

  37. MaryMekko

    Apparently it was FDR who was adamant about emptying the West Coast cities of Japanese-Americans. He fought to push through the same for Hawaii, but that would have drained one-third of Hawaii’s population, destroying the economy, so Congress vetoed it.

    Considering that FDR was complicit in the arranged bombing of Pearl Harbor, stirring up the anti-Japanese hatred with propaganda, it’s obvious that the Japanese-Americans HAD to be an enemy for FDR’s plan to get us, a nation wary of another European war, to go to arms. My own father was horrified when I bought my first car, a used Datsun; it was Japanese!

    I don’t know what Eleanor said about Japanese relocation camps, but who knows if the two of them weren’t playing “mean Dad, nice Mom” to ameliorate the public?

    I concede, as would anyone with experience, that the Japanese are very hard-working and self-controlled, not dissimilar to Finns in fact. They’re a lot different from “Americans”, whatever group you want to include under that wide umbrella, especially blacks!

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