The random number generator I’m using to pick new countries really seems to love blue and white – three of the four countries so far have had blue and white flags.
This month I’ll be learning more about Finland, and so to take stock – let’s see what I already know about it at the start of this month. I definitely know more about it off the bat than some of the other countries I’ve picked, and it’s been on my list of countries I want to visit for many years!
- I know that functionally it’s similar to other Nordic countries – strong welfare state, high standard of living, free press and healthy democracy. I also know that despite modern similarities, Finland has a different cultural background from the rest of Scandinavia – the language is Uralic, not Germanic, for example.
- I know a little bit about Finnish history, mainly that they have been invaded by their neighbours frequently – Sweden and Russia. Similarly, during the Cold War, I know that while they weren’t Communist or under direct control by the Soviet Union, they were neutral-ish but in the Soviet orbit – giving rise to the term Finlandization.
- Finland also famously ground down the Soviets with winter guerrilla tactics in the Winter War during WWII, and Simo Häyhä is the most credited sniper in history. I also know that the Winter War didn’t really count as a “win” for Finland, and as a result of treaties to end the war, the Finns ceded most of Karelia to Russia.
- I do have a tenuous personal connection to Finland – my mother’s family is from Sweden, and I did a 23andMe DNA test a few years back. It turns out part of my mom’s family is ethnically Finnish, but since we’re culturally Swedish and there are many Swedes with Finnish background, it’s a pretty flimsy connection – there’s no family actually from Finland.
- Of course, in terms of soft culture, Finland’s most famous product are Moomins – and interestingly, their creator Tove Jansson was a Swedish-speaking Finn (not to be confused with the above) – a distinct linguistic minority in Finland.
- As a Canadian, I’m particularly aware of Finland as a strong hockey country. I’m a Calgary Flames fan, so legendary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has always been a hero. I also was lucky enough to see the Finnish women’s hockey team play Sweden for bronze at the Vancouver Olympics – Finnish President Tarja Halonen was there, and I remember Finland winning (we weren’t too thrilled at the time, we were cheering for Sweden, but it was a great experience).
- I don’t know too much about Finnish cuisine, except that they share the northern European love of salted black licorice (yum!) and that they have a specific tar-flavoured licorice that’s unique to Finland.
- I’ve read the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic, many years ago and it may be worth a re-read. It’s a 19th century work that builds off of Finnish folk tales and has a deep cultural impact today in Finland.
- I love the Hydraulic Press Channel.
- I know that death metal is disproportionately popular in Finland, but music-wise, this ridiculous song is one of the most memorable Finnish songs I know. Presented with apologies:
Ok, no apologies, this song is great.
I also know one Finnish swear word – perkele! – used to great effect in this video highlighting the most important difference between Canada and Finland … how we get bears out of our yards.