sunnuntai 10. huhtikuuta 2016

Finnish culture from a point of view of Erasmus student – Michal Micor

 [At first I would like to introduce a small disclaimer that my observations are based mostly on an academic society and represent private opinion. ]

I came to Finland because I was quite interested in Finnish culture and way of living. I started to read various blogs and watched lots of videos related to Finland and Finns. Also two of my best friends have been in Finland and have told me a lot of stories. I learned a lot about various facts as well as stereotypes about Finnish people. One of the most common stereotypes is that Finns are shy and closed . Another one is that they need to be drunk to get social. And yet another one is that they never talk or smile to strangers and run away if strangers talk to them. Many of these stereotypes are not true or at least not entirely true and might be very harmful if misunderstood. I have talked to many Finnish people who were completely strangers to me and I don't remember a situation when somebody was running away from me. Some particular people were a little nervous about me bothering them, but well... everybody can have a bad day .The truth is, even though the first minutes might be awkward, later it isn't that hard to keep up conversation and soon you can notice that Finns are nice, kind people. They also don't need to be under the influence of alcohol to have a conversation (of course it helps in some cases J). There are many student organizations which organize events, unlike the club parties (at those events there is no alcohol or only a little of it). For example LUT Chaplains or hiking club “Ulvova Susi”. The thing about Finns and their relationships is that they seem to be much more focused on the quality of relationships than on their amount. In many cases they don't even practice small talk. Long silences during  tea with a friend is normal for them, unlike for me (In my country we even have a sentence relating to "awkward silence" used just to break a silence if the silence during conversation is longer than 10 or 15 seconds). For foreigners it likely sounds weird or even impossible, but once my Finnish friend got a little annoyed with my talkativeness and asked to say nothing until she says something. As a result we spent around 5 minutes saying nothing, just drinking tea. After that she was laughing that she could literally hear my thoughts "Don't say anything, Don't say anything ,....".
This is because as far as I noticed Finns don't practice talking for talking. They are talking when they have something to say. Therefore they do talk to each other, smile to each other and in many cases, they are absolutely not shy. In fact some of them are quite talkative and open, but you need to know them better, than "Hi, how are you?", to notice that. It is not enough, because greeting people, when you are passing them by, as warmly as you would do in many European non-Scandinavian countries, is not so much practiced in Finland. As a result you simply need to talk to those people and have actual conversations.

Finns have developed many other interesting ways of socializing with each other.
One of the most amazing examples of creating possibilities to spend time with other people are “guilds”. Students in Finland in many cases can choose subjects they study. That means that every student has a little "individual" study program. This also means they are meeting many new people in new classes. In order to bind particular groups of students like Electrical Engineering, "guilds" have been created. It is something like a micro association of the particular profession.

They have their common guild room in which students can rest and relax with a cup of coffee between classes. The guild also has a board to supervise it and therefore guild members can organize various events for university’s students.

Another way are sitz parties. They are a pleasant combination of alcohol and singing. So you can both drink something, sing a lot and meet many new people. Basically the whole point of sitz is singing, but between songs you drink. This might sound easy... but after a couple of songs, a couple of shots and a couple of beers it might turn out that you brought your inner singer to a completely new level.... Aside from sitz parties, Finnish people enjoy also simple joys like board games or computer games for example in the student union basement (the area in the basement of the university for parties). Imagine an average club room filled with people sitting in front of tables with board games or computers and enjoying their time. That's exactly how it looks. During many events like this, parties or barbecues there is a sauna available for participants. It is very popular. After all, sauna is an important part of Finnish culture. Finns are very close to nature, so in the typical Finnish sauna, people are sitting naked, one next to another. This is rather exceptional, because normally Finns are keeping a huge personal space for themselves. This is best observable at the bus stop. If you see row of people standing in one meter distances from each other, it means they are probably Finns.

A particularly interesting example of culture in Finland are the Saami people, which I had a pleasure to meet during my trip to  Lapland.  I visited  a reindeer farm owned by them, located near a village called Inari. Aside from the mentioned farm, in Inari there is also a Saami council and a museum.
Saami are native tribes living in the northern part of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Their main way of survival in the past was focused on breeding reindeers. Nowadays they preserve their way of living and they continue their craft in modern ways. They breed reindeers, sell their meat, organize many tourist activities like reindeer sleigh rides or presentations of their traditional dresses and huts and manufacture handmade crafts which are sold to tourists.  
They have developed an interesting way of breeding reindeers. Due to the fact that there are not so many natural threats for reindeers in Lapland, they breed relatively fast. Saami took advantage of that and they limited their role to mark ear of a reindeer with a very special and sophisticated set of cuts (so they know to whom reindeer belongs) and count them once a year. Overpopulation of reindeers is solved by selling them for meat production purposes. In the meantime, Saami are making handmade medallions, toys and knives from reindeer’s horns.

What really impressed me in those people is their will to adapt. Aside from selling their handicrafts to tourist they also adapted to make guided activities like feeding reindeers and riding reindeer sledges or making exhibitions  of their original style of life. In fact, activities including reindeers have become so popular that some reindeers have even their photos on services like Instagram. In order to be able to do so Saami speak at least 4 languages (Saami, Finnish, Swedish, English and also often German and/or Russian). Between periods of counting the reindeers, Saami people travel around Scandinavia and give concerts of their native music. As I mentioned above, they have even their own council, where they decide how to better adapt to the modern world and also a museum of their own history open for tourists visiting Lapland.
So if you would like to visit Finland, but you are afraid of cold, closed, shy Finns... just fear not, come and see for yourself, what is a reality (and in case of desperation just talk to students :) )

Text by Michal Micor, a student in Independent Study in English course

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