Finnish “culture and personality”

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.