View Full Version : Unflappable Finns

June Pelo
10-04-04, 23:24
An article in the New York Times by Lizette Alvarez relates how Turo Herala, a theater director, tried to bring "anger venting" classes to Helsinki but his efforts failed.

He said that Finland suffers from some of the world's highest rates of suicide, depression and alcoholism, and that anger in Finland is a bigger taboo than sex. Self-control in Finland is very important. You cannot show anger; it means that you can't cope. If a person is very temperamental and alive, expresses emotions like anger and happiness, the person is seen as infantile.

Some would say this taciturnity has served Finland well, particularly during the Cold War. Finns also cringe over compliments. They don't dole them out and they don't take them in. As part of a group therapy exercise, they were asked to name one thing they each could do well. No reply. When the people in the group were asked to give someone else a compliment, they couldn't.

Ingrained with modesty, Finns are almost physically unable to boast or show off. They cannot self-promote - it is considered a sin. Liisa Keltikangas-Jarvinen, a professor of psychology at the Univ. of Helsinki, said that she receives American resumés and cannot help but view them suspiciously. She said she feels shame when she reads those 'excellent' portfolios.


Margaret Rader
11-04-04, 00:42
I wonder if the emigrants carried any of this to the USA? My father (first generation in the US) was extraordinarily proud of his children but found it very difficult to express it. If we showed signs of boasting, he said we were getting "the big head."


12-04-04, 04:02
Hello to Margaret and June:

June, you've raised a very interesting topic here. From my experience growing up in my community I would say that anger was certainly expressed but other emotions were kept hidden/remained silent. Praise was not very commonplace. One did not regularly compliment others and even now I find it very awkward to receive a compliment graciously. Certainly boasting was NOT acceptable.
I must say that there were cases of alcohol abuse/alcoholism. I've wondered about the roots of that problem.
As to depression, I know that my oldest sister suffers from light deprivation in the winter months. She has to keep a special light over her work area to counteract the lack of real light. Without this light therapy she becomes depressed. As Swede-Finns are people of the north, one wonders how this lack of light might have affected the population.
I would agree that the Swede-Finns I know are not a terribly demonstrative group. I do not remember any public displays of affection or tender emotion. As for myself, people who do not know me personally consider me to be very serious and sober. My closest friends know I am quite zany with an offbeat sense of humour. I had never really thought of this as a group identity, but rather just my personality.
I will be quite interested to read what others have to say on this topic.

14-04-04, 14:40
There are some regional differences in Finland. The Carelians are known for showing their emotions more freely. They cry and laugh and hug. The Ostrobothnians are more quiet and restrain from showing emotions. Anger comes more easily out than positive feelings.

They say that a Carelian funeral is happier than an Ostrobothian wedding.

These are of course stereotypes, but they contain some truth.

I was raised by Ostrobothian parents, and was from time to time told to restrain myself.

On the other hand I was told to be humble but not to humiliate myself. In other words there were some limits on how modets you should be. A certain amount of self-confidence and pride in the heritage was quite in order.


Tracy Boeldt
15-04-04, 01:00
I found this to be an interesting article--it explains a lot of my own family's expressions. I have to apologize for the long pause in my activities here at the forum, but I just lost my grandmother last month. This article would of been very interesting to her, since she didn't get along with her mother and that there wasn't a whole lot of emotional feelings while she was growing up. I started to research her family just so that I could give her peace, but than caught the "genealogy bug"! So, I thank you June again for the article.


June Pelo
15-04-04, 02:12
I'm reminded of some characteristics my father brought from Finland - honesty/integrity. He could not understand why it was necessary to have an agreement in writing. He felt that if a person agreed to do something, a handshake was his bond.

I remember one time part of a finger was cut off by a machine while he was working for Buick Motor Co. He was taken to the hospital and after being treated, they sent him home. But he didn't want to go home. He said it was his responsibility to return to work and finish what he was working on. His supervisor told us to keep him home for a week - it was difficult to do so.


15-04-04, 02:30
I have an audiotape "Suomalaisia Kansanlauluja" by Martti Talvela and he says this in part about Karelian music:

"Compared with the songs from Southern Ostrobothnia they are softer and show a vein of warm humour"

I suppose now I will have the RIAA and Jack Valenti breathing down my neck for daring to quote Mr. Talvela without their permission, even though the tape was made in Finland!