Finnish Culture

The motto for the Finnish army was more or less: Koti, uskonto ja isanmaa. Or in English: Home, religion and fatherland. All three (with the exception of religion, for reds) were close to the average Finn. While patriotism may not have been something openly spoken about - poems and lofty speeches would have been scoffed as brown-nosing the hated authorities - but it was, and is something very strongly felt. People had a strong, quiet pride in their country that was expressed, like many other emotional or idealistic things, only indirectly.

Home was the axis of Finnish rural life. The dream of every man and woman was to have a house, and fields, and family of their own. Without proper medical treatment and social security available, children took care of their parents when they were old and feeble, and the sick and poor were provided at least a grudging living by the whole community. The sauna can really only be understood in the context of the Finnish home: It is perhaps the most poignant symbol of family solidarity, a place where people go to relax, and socialize with each other; saunas are also a place where friends, work-parties and in general groups of people go, a ritual of social bonding, often with members of the same sex, but especially in a family context, not always.

People were expected to conform to quite defined roles of masculinity and feminity. The manly ideal, depending on the region, was generally some variation of the "strong silent type". The man was expected to take responsibility for his household, work hard and be modest. There was definitely a hint of machismo in the air, but it was very different from the Mediterraenan kind Men who spoke too much, especially bullshitters, and "fancy" men were mocked as being womanly. Women, on the other hand, were also expected to work hard, look after their families and in-laws, and often to take care of the real running and finances of the household. There is an old Finnish saying, that loosely translated goes thus: A bad wife is the cancer of the house, and spends all the family's savings, but a good wife is the blessing of the household, and will bring it great prosperity. Beauty was not the prime quality by which women were chosen as wives, but rather industriousness, and moral fiber. Blond, blue-eyed women were thought to represent the beauty ideal. Note, that skinniness was considered to be unhealthy, a possible sign of tuberculosis - while the ideal woman was not fat, she wasn't Sticks either.

Finnish social life, in general, tends to have its own eccentricities. "Personal space" is respected much more diligently than in probably pretty much anywhere, except Japan: People are very reserved, and open social contact, especially between strangers, is only socially acceptable in certain circumstances. Finns may genuinely care for, and like each other, but the generic Finn will be damned if he's going to show it openly. People wonder why Finns drink so much, but one reason for this trend is that when people are drunk, they break free of their reserve and generally taciturn natures, shrugging off what outsiders have called the "brooding Slavic quality" of the Finn. People didn't drink often, but when they did, they drunk a lot - in fact, alcohol was, and is one of the centres of social life in Finland, the one occasion when it's ok to be openly friendly and even emotional in public. Aside from this, dances, Church meetings, various working and hunting groups, associations and political parties tend to be the nexuses of social activity Often with these, one also finds the sauna and alcohol, generally together.

(with more thanks to Matti)

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