As a foreigner visiting Finland, you might want to find out what’s truly Finnish. If you want to save yourself some time and experience it all in one place, you actually have to leave the country and go – to Sweden. Or, to be more exact, you don’t need to go all the way – it’s enough just to step on the boat going to Sweden.
The regular ferries running between these two countries are a perfect place to see the essence of both. When I lived in Sweden, just climbing onboard made me feel like I was heading home, and not merely in a geographical sense.
As a Finn in Sweden I was set out to fail in the style stakes, no matter what I did. Being surrounded by the elegant, socially competent and careful Swedes could make anybody feel inferior. So getting on the boat and seeing talkative eastern Finns in their matching track suits and Karjala-caps (Karjala is a well-known Finnish beer-brand) yelling at their kids (who, incidentally, also wear tracksuits and Karjala-caps) instantly made me feel like a normal person again.
Compared to what, you might think? Well, stylewise, I felt like a catwalk queen in my all-black and very swedesque ensemble. And all of a sudden I wasn’t “that loud and obnoxious Finnish woman” – the only one in our local Swedish grocery store who ever raised her voice when the kids started running around. Swedish moms, elegantly dressed in Odd-Molly (quirky/bohemian/expensive Swedish clothes brand) would just watch and smile dotingly. And make me sweat in my not-so-elegant track suit bottoms, while my nerves we’re on the verge of breaking every time one of their little darlings jumped out behind the shelves.
Here on the boat, once again surrounded by my fellow countrymen and women – my demeanour seemed all of a sudden very downbeat and demure. And I felt a warm sense of recognition in the freedom of “letting it all hang out” – because that’s what many Finns do. In some parts of Finland, it’s still considered quite silly to care about your appearance. While still living in my native country, this attitude would infuriate me, since (in a rather un-Finnish way) I’ve always liked the idea of dressing to suit the occasion. Now it just made me smile with affection.
This is a blog and one aiming to be funny too, so of course I’m making crude generalizations. Not all Finns have poor dress sense and yell at their kids. And not all Swedes are elegantly dressed wussies :-). But there certainly are some general characteristics we share with our fellow countrymen – whether we like it or not. Sometimes these can drive you mad and sometimes make you beam with pride. Either way, I challenge you to try it: jump on the boat and play Pick-the-Nation!