Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Fear and (self?) Loathing in Finland

I have been tying to understand why and how I have developed such strong negative feelings about many of the ways Finnish Culture. It seems irrational and it is hard to nail down.

So why am I writing this ... fundamentally I'm writing to try to make sense for myself, writing to see what others may think if they choose to comment on it and writing to assist my learning.

Normally I try to keep these feelings buried within (other Foriegners here have cautioned me and looked about carefully to see who is around, before speaking in hushed tones warning me about saying anything dark or broody about Finland). It struck me as so theatric the first time it happened but it has happened so often I can't help but wonder why.

But hiding my feelings has never been something which I have agreed with. To me it is the way of the psychopath or the deceiver (who typically do well in politics) and not the path of an honest man.

Some Finns you have admitted to me that they know themselves to be moody and on occasions given to reactions and negative bouts which they admit they may not have if they were in a better frame of mind. Occasionally it is blamed upon the climate (darkness and rain). I'm inclined to agree, as I feel that encroaches on my own (previously steady, jovial and energetic) disposition.

Living in a perpetual night, lacking the daily rhythms seems to take its toll. Could it be we are so strongly shaped by the environment around us?

As you (may) know I have spent some years living away from my own culture, the ways, the foods, the climate and environment I know so well. Living in Japan was both fascinating and exasperating. I experience many things which can not be ascribed to a discrete experience but which are the result of an immersion in a society. I took some time to comprehend and assimilate those experience and naturally it involved altering to some extent who I am and how I perceive the world

Fundamentally I strive to understand the world for what it is, not for what I think it is.

This requires that I understand the place I'm in from the local perspective, not simply from my own perspective. So far my approach to this has been to begin with the history, preferably as written by the locals. Knowing the most obvious exterior of the culture helps too and so understanding the local mindset on religion or spirituality helps too.

Finnish culture has been hard to identify for me, compared to Japanese or Korean cultures (both strong and distinctive) Finnish culture seems far less clearly defined and observable. I suspect it is somewhat hidden under the facade of "westernization" ... buried beneath the homogenizing externalities such as clothes and cars, with little to distinguish it from other European cities.

But Finns are most certainly not Germans, Swiss or Italians. They at first seem to act similarly to Americans (incl Canadians), but once you get past the few English speakers (who seem to behave differently) quite different (to the USA) cultural differences emerge.

For one thing, Finns have struck me as being quite proud, proud of themselves, proud of anything Finnish. Sometimes it borders on arrogance. Strangely enough (and not immediately visible on the surface) there is this self doubt that exists at the same time. Perhaps this provides some sort of explanation of the phenomenon to strongly degrade everything outside Finland while at the same time seem to adore it. I have never met a people who so commonly and so stronlgy refuse to buy anything from outside the country as I have in Finland. This is all the more strange (to me) when you consider that Finland is part of the European Union

I have looked for what the source of this pride is, is it the pride in the culture? pride in a long history of accomplishments? Looking around one can find none of the "great" things which figure in propping up the arrogance of places like Egypt, the Roman Empire, China, Great Britain, Germany or the United States. It seems to me that one has to struggle through history to find anything about this little speck on the map which was not even aware of itself as a nation two short centuries ago.

Perhaps the answer lays in fear ... and fear drives many hates. Looking around the borders Finland has Sweden on the west, the arctic on the north, Russians on the east and across the Baltic to the south is among other places Germany. Sandwiched between these places Finland has struggled variously with Sweden and Russia, tried to align itself with Germany and generally (recently) tried to make something of an entrepreneurial go at building a business empire in the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet Empire in the recently independent states such as Estonia.

Finns strike me as being fundamentally nice individuals who are often totally unskilled in inter-relationships. They frequently lack conversational skills (even in Finnish among Finns) and are occasionally more comparable to a Savant (at least in Australian society). This seems to be more the case in the Countryside than in places like Helsinki (and I'm wondering if its more an Eastern Finland than Western Finland thing...)

Perhaps this fear of things drives the loathing of places and the self consciousness of the reality of geography and history.

It happens to be the time of year when the TV is steadily broadcasting all the stuff about the Winter and Continuation War. That is the most recent and perhaps most major conflict with Russia. I think the purpose of this is to stir up emotions in Finland and (in an oddly Orwellian way) focus Finns on remembering that they hate Russia (incase they forget) as much as it serves to remember the suffering and sacrifice of their grandparents.

Strangely almost noone in Finland seems to focus on how much Russia (before the Stalinst period) did for Finland. Its a bit like that scene from the "Life of Brian" where the agitants ask "What have the Romans ever done for us?"

Well, for one, Russians gave Finland itself ... in my *(recent) reading of history, the Finnish War seemed to be between Sweden and Russia and fought on Finnish soil. A strong motivation for Finnish participation in that war was the promise of autonmy from the Russians and the degrading of their ties with the Swedes (who saw Finland mainly as a source of stuff).

Its kind of funny that the battlements and forts which were built by the Swedes to hold their territory against the Russians were eventually captured and used by the Russians to essentially make it impossible to retake Finland. This fort is an example of such (quite near where I live)

Some interesting reading:

So I wonder if the "chip on the shoulder" that Finns seem to have is an externalization of their own troubled self image.

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