I’ve been thinking about the Finnish culture of coping. Is it a thing? It feels like something that defines a whole national characteristic, but whenever I think of something like that, scores of counter-examples also come to me.
To the extent you can ever say anything general about 5.5 million individuals, then I think that the requirement to cope for oneself and everyone else would be it. I can’t really point to what has drawn my attention to it these two weeks I’ve lived back in Finland – perhaps the fact that I’m not coping – but I’ve noticed a mercilessness. Everyone has to manage on their own steam and if they can’t, the judgement is heavy and a bit gleeful.
The gleefulness has an element of relief – everyone feels the pressure for themselves, too, and crumbles around the edges, and at least when it’s someone else lying drunk on the ground, you’re relieved that you’re not crumbling to that extent. I’ve written about the Finnish need for conformity before, which also plays into a dynamic where you only ever feel like you’re all right if you meet the agreed-upon standards of properness – have that lamp, don’t put out your Christmas decorations too early, abide by the housing association’s ‘quiet hours’, separate your recycling.
Underneath the copism there is a base layer of perfectionism. Finns are often made fun of for apologising for their perfectly serviceable language skills, which is symptomatic – they really believe that it ought to be better.
I wonder what the real root is. Is it to do with being thrust into independent nationhood quite suddenly and recently? Is there a collective sense that we’re proving ourselves still? Or is it in the Finnish gene pool – were the Fenno-Ugric tribesmen of Siberia concerned about the next hut over thinking they couldn’t hack it? Probably the extensiveness of the social security is a bit to blame. Whether or not the safety net actually is seamless, there is a perception that no one actually needs help from the fellow human, because the state will take care of it. It’s probably been eroding Finnish culture since its inception in the 1950s.
Of course, no nation can withstand the pressure to be perfectly nice all the time. That’s why we excel at car racing and other insane sports, and have the most heavy-metal bands per capita in the world.
Some select pieces of 3yo conversation – all around the topic of hair for some reason. Must be on his mind a lot.
- ‘Everyone can’t see her hair, because she has blankets on her head.’ [About a carer who wears a hijab]
- ‘What happens if your house is made up of hair?’
- [In response to me explaining that some families have only boys, some only have girls, and some have both boys and girls:] ‘Or hairy ones.’