As I look up new stuff to learn about Finland, I’ve been noticing a bit of a common theme. A lot of articles or videos in English, both by Finns and non-Finns, seem to really play up the “Finland is so wacky and different” angle – where they take things that are unique to Finland and really ham it up. I wanted to see how people in Finland saw this – was it seen as a way to share their country and culture, or does it feel like stereotyping or ignoring real life in Finland? I posed the question to the Finland subreddit and here’s a sampling of some of the answers I got:
“…it gets somewhat tiring to read about heavy metal knitting, mobile phone throwing contest and hobby horse racing as if anyone does those things.”
“I think every country likes to emphasise their uniqueness, even if those specialties are in fact shared with others (eg. saunas of different forms are actually part of other cultures too). As for Finland, for me it depends on what the “wacky” thing is.
I like seeing folks try our foods and sauna. Personally I’d like to see more people try out kalakukko and Karelian stew, but I understand those can’t really be exported without spoiling. I also like when visitors showcase our nature, though again I wish swamp tours with their own natural features would be more common. Many of our national parks have swamp routes that are safe and they are even in our name (swamp = suo, Finland = SUOmi, though it’s just a coincidence AFAIK).
What I don’t like are the alcoholic stereotypes. I have grown to hate the overused pic of the shirtless guy waving our flag obviously drunk, that is often used to imply celebration. I also dislike the lazy swear words that everyone learns and overuses online. Great, you know ‘perkele’ and ‘vittu’, you are a genius language learner, yey /s. But do you know even what those words mean?
Also as has been discussed in this sub recently, it feels like some stuff is more commonly brought up online than among Finns themselves. Like the glorification of sisu or the epic sniper Häyhä. We don’t really emphasise them, though of course we appreciate them.
So to sum up, it depends. We Finns sometimes care overmuch what others think about us, but it’s nice that others are interested in how we live. Even if it’s just to make a youtube video of grimacingly trying out salmiakki for clicks.”
“They’re something anyone could remark about if you said you’re Finnish, and I personally prefer clear, humorous stereotypes to being completely unknown. It’s also a great feeling for most foreigners to be able to show that ”Hey, I know that place! (somewhat)”
It’s just a thing folk can say when they see something related to Finland and they recognize it. People want to belong and flaunt whatever, whenever on the internet, and showcasing the fact that they know stuff (even stereotypes or very simple surface level linguistics) about a relatively weird country to them is probably a really cool thing to showcase.
That’s why I personally don’t mind but I do see how people might be growing tired of it of course.”
“Each of the singular things gets really tiring after a while. The general ‘Look, these guys are weird’ also gets tiring after a bit of a longer while, after you have rotated through many enough of the singular cases, which also got tiring in a shorter while, as I said.
However, the laws of human behaviour and laws of media probably dictate that we’re stuck with this bullshit, so you just need to do your best to avoid it.
If it can be the catalyst of someone learning things they didn’t know about Finland, I mean learning those things properly and not some scandal-laden entertainment, that is definitely good, nonetheless. Same is true if someone gets genuinely interested in Finland because of that – such interest must not be shunned for extraneous reasons. What I’m saying is kind of like an ‘Accept good gifts given even for wrong reasons’ mindset.”
“Foreign media reports on Finland are usually very generous. I think from the Finnish side there’s someone feeding these stories to internationals news outlets. I’ve noticed that Finns are very very sensitive to perceived criticism of Finland – so as long as there is no critical content then Finns will be o.k with the stories”
I know that several things I’ve touched on this month – free buckets, 40 year old graffiti, the WWII solider on meth definitely end up in “Wacky Finland” type lists. However, I hope I’ve also been able to get a bit deeper than that superficial level this month.
It’s really interesting to hear from folks from Finland on how they navigate these kinds of questions, and a big thank you to everyone on the subreddit that answered!