Smoke Sauna – flickr creative commons

Since there has been a lot of talk and recent questions appearing lately like “How come we can’t _______ more like the Finns” — fill in the blanks with education, economics, social welfare etc. And that I myself am half Finnish on my father’s side of the family and my largest influence being Finnish culture because of this. As well as according to my mother “I’m going to raise my sun like a Finn.”

I thought I would write a little something on Finland and Finns, just so you know what Finland is all about. Which in and of it self is a bit of a challenge, as Finns themselves are unsure about some aspects.

First of all, the question “Where did/do Finns come from” ? Answer: they didn’t “come” from anywhere. They have always been there is one way or another.

The Finns never ‘came’ to Finland, because Finns, Finnish identity or Finnish language in its present sense have never existed anywhere outside Finland. What now counts as ‘Finnish’ has been formed here, during thousands of years, influenced by many peoples, languages and cultures.

Many Finns have learnt at school that our ancestors arrived from the east (where languages related to Finnish are still spoken) some 2.000 years ago. This was a plausible theory in its time, but not any more: contrary to what was believed in the first half of this century, Finland has been continuously populated ever since the latest Ice Age, that is: our first ancestors lived here already some 9.000 years ago. Of these first people of Finland very little is known: we don’t know where they came from (from the south, of course…) or what language they spoke (it could have been Finno-Ugrian or even some language of a completely unknown ancestry). Of course, even after that Finland has received many cultural and language influences from many directions.

Secondly, where did the Finnish language come from ? [An even more controversial question]

A few decades ago the family tree of the Finno-Ugrian languages was interpreted as a map showing how the FU peoples wandered to their present homes. Modern archaeology obviously does not support such wide migrations. Also recent loan word research has shown very old Indo-European loanwords especially in Finnish and the westernmost (Finnic) branch, which means that some pre-form of Finnish must have been spoken relatively close to the Baltic Sea already quite early.

On the other hand, Finnish is certainly related to languages spoken in Middle Russia and West Siberia. This means either that the area of the Finno-Ugrian (Uralic) proto-language has been very wide, reaching perhaps from the Baltic Sea to the Urals, or that we must find alternative explanatory models to account for the spreading of these languages.

Indeed even this is highly disputed by some. What is known is that Finnish has zero roots in any of the Indo-European languages, which makes it so hard for non-Finns to learn. Not only that, it wasn’t until the 16th century that a written language was developed. This has been very difficult since there are so many vocalizations in Finnish that do not translate well to the Latin based alphabet. Some not at all.

It has been shown that Finns lived isolated from the rest of Europe, which would account for the differences in culture and society. For one thing as many, it not most of European societies and culture are male-dominated. Finnish culture is much less so. Equality of the sexes has been there almost from the first with Finnish women being the first to win the right to vote. These days women make up 40% of the business leaders and government representatives.

We are all aware of the social and educational programs in Finland and other Nordic countries, but you need to be aware this attitude is deeply ingrained in the culture. To take care of one another and what benefits one, generally benefits all — a view not held by many of European ancestry.

Finns tend to be quiet and reserved. Bragging on ones self is considered uncouth and even arrogant. They also expect you to be taken at your word and they at theirs.

Sauna — it’s a religion. Get used to it. I mean really, nearly every house or dwelling has one. Many built on docks or piers of lakes. You ALWAYS take sauna naked. Then once appropriately hot, run out and jump into the lake. No matter what the lake’s temperature is. If a lake is not handy, snow will have to do. Repeat this as many times as one wishes. Mixed sauna is common as well.

I have to admit I have only been to sauna once or twice when I was quite young with my father.

Finns drink more coffee than even us and 6 cups a day is average.

Male/female relationships are a bit different as well. Living together before marriage is common, known as trial marriage and common law marriages are frequent as well.

All of this leads to a society that is very equitable indeed.

So to ask why can’t we be more like Finns and Finland is the same as asking why can’t chimpanzees be more like baboons. The question really is with out merit.

They do have a unique sense of humor.

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