So, I’ve spent all of March trying to learn more about Finland – at least the experiences I can get from home! After spending the first few months on countries where I knew nothing when I started, it was very different to instead focus on a country I was somewhat familiar with. There’s also a huge difference in terms of what’s available when you’re reading up on a well-off European country where most people speak some English – there’s no shortage of access for whatever you’re interested in.
So what did I learn about Finland?
Well, this definitely was the most “familiar” country so far – apart from the accessibility mentioned above, there were plenty of things that weren’t too far different from my own everyday life. As a Canadian, of course beautiful snowy woods and hockey are things we share with Finland, but also it feels like we’re both mid-size countries that are punching above our weight on the international stage. We both know we will never be superpowers, but we’re pleased to have a seat at the table.
The other thing that felt very familiar is a lot of the shared Scandinavian experience. My family originally is from Sweden, and there are many aesthetic and cultural overlaps – especially with food. Many of the recipes I looked up had parallel Swedish ones (though Karelian hot pot is a Finnish specialty), and flavours like pickled herring, adding nutmeg to meat, and salted black licorice are all things that are close to home for me.
That being said, the snack selection for Finland was amazing. I’m not sure you’d be able to enjoy all that Finland has to offer if you’re not on the licorice train, but I’m thrilled that I finally got to try tar licorice, as well as spicy pepper licorice!
Learning more about Finnish history was interesting, including the crystallizing of Finnish identity in the late 19th century – and then learning more about Finland’s role in WWII, both the serious and the funny parts. Identity also seems to still weigh heavy, as new immigrants have found.
One of the most illuminating things this month was asking Finns about Finnish “wackiness“. It seems that really unique Finnish things get played up as “gosh those Finns are so weird and different”, often things that aren’t that actually that popular in the country. Most of the Finns that answered had rolled their eyes at it, though there was also a hope that at least a superficial interest might lead someone into a deeper understanding of their country.