Because of my Finnish background, even before moving permanently to Finland in 2009, people have always shown interest in knowing more about this land “so far away”. It’s funny sometimes to realize the power of common sense and the myths which come along with it. To help clarifying some of them I will write here 10 very common myths of the “land of 100 thousand lakes” (187,888 to be precise) according to my experience.
1.”The Scandinavian people fascinate me. One day I would like to know Finland.”
I sometimes receive this type comment by my followers. If I didn´t know the myth, would probably think the person is talking about two different things: the Scandinavian people and the wish to know Finland. Finns are not Scandinavians. Scandinavia is a historical and cultural-linguistic region characterized by ethnic-cultural heritage and common Germanic related languages. It consists of three kingdoms: Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
It is correct referring to Finns as Nordic, but not as Scandinavians. Finnish people have a different origin and the language is completely different.
2. “I wanna meet a handsome Finnish Viking.”
This is also a real comment I have read on Facebook.
I understand the association because of the appearance, Nordic people look like each other very much. Living here you can distinguish certain peculiarities; but there are indeed people who could come from any Nordic country if we consider the looks. One thing is a fact: although there are historical records showing some Finns joined the Vikings – easy to understand because of the proximity – Finnish people were not Vikings. This is a characteristic of the Scandinavian people.
3. “How can you live half an year in the light and the other half in the dark?”
I don´t know if this is still a popular belief about Finland but people used to ask me this question a lot. It is true that winter is dark; however, it isn´t “night” 24 hours a day and neither for 6 months. Same goes for summer, there isn´t a 24-hour-midday sun. From November to the end of January the days are shorter, but we have a few hours of light. In southern Finland, around 5/6 hours; up north, around 2/3. It´s true the sun doesn´t appear high in the sky; the day looks more like a late afternoon, but yes, the sun appears for a while. In the summer, June is the lightest month. The sun rises a little before 4 am and sets around two o’clock in the morning. In the north, the sun does not set at all, it stays a little down in the horizon leaving the sky beautifully pink, yellow and orange, and then it rises again in a couple of hours. From December 26, days start getting longer again, around 10 minutes a day until the summer when, around June 24, they start to get darker. It is a cycle.
4. All Finns are blond with blue eyes.
The majority of the Finns are Caucasian but not all are blond with blue eyes. There are many people with brown hair and eyes who are 100% Finnish, no foreigner background. I would say the average number of people with blond and brown hair is very similar. Dark eyes are a little rarer when there is no mixture but they are quite common up north among Sami people. There are many Finns who would not be described as the stereotype.
5. There isn´t poverty in Finland.
It is correct to say that there are no people living bellow the poverty line in Finland but there are poor people here. The social welfare system doesn´t allow hunger or homelessness however, no person who depends on it could be considered even as middle class. Who has no source of income receives from the government the exact amount to live but this money is not much and sometimes is not even enough; people have to queue at the social service department to get help for making ends meet. The average number of people in the risk of poverty in Finland (income of about 1,200 euros per month or less) is somewhere around 13%, according to the official website Stats Finland.
6. There is no violence in Finland.
Unfortunately it is a fact that where there are people there will always be violence.
There is no way to compare the violence here with the big metropolises, of course. The small social gap and good education are factors that help reduce violence. I´ve never heard, for example, of any case of robbery followed by death, kidnappings or such things however, unfortunately, domestic violence is something very common. Murders are mostly passional crimes and there are only a few per year (usually less than 10). Violence in Finland is closely associated with alcoholism which has high rates here. There are isolated cases too, of course. This article shows various statistics related to violence and death in Finland.
7. Finnish language is impossible.
Since I am half-Finnish, look 100% Finnish and have a Finnish name people tend to assume I speak the language perfectly but I don´t. My father never taught me the language and 7 years ago my Finnish skills were quite poor, mostly based on chidhood memories and a couple of courses I did while visit the country before. It was very difficult for me to learn and I had to work really hard but I can guarantee: after two years of intensive studies and being immersed in the language I believe one can speak Finnish well enough to work. Nothing is impossible if you really want to achieve it.
8. All Finns had an excellent education and have accomplished higher education.
Although among the OECD countries Finland is on the top of the list for best public basic education, this is relatively new; result of a process which started in the 70s.
For this system to reach a good level of equity it took 10 years, so only those who went to school in the mid-80s could really take advantage on this excellence. Another important fact is that the system is revised and changes are made every 10 years. The first review, done in 1985, brought a lot of new stuff and, of course, it took a while longer for it to reach a good level of equity. The Finnish population who´s actually enjoyed the number 1 education system is still very young: they are at school right now or aren´t older than 30 years old.
As for higher education, in Finland there is no cultural thought saying that a university degree is what will cause you to “be someone in life.” The system is very complete and offers excellent choices of professional technical degrees. The vocational education lasts three years and, in professions such as electrician, plumber, nursing assistant and metallurgy, for example, wages are often as good as those paid for people with a bachelor’s level. Usually in Finland who goes to the university does it to pursue an academic career or at least to achieve a master´s level. Those with a direct interest in the labor market usually go for the vocational colleges or polytechnic colleges. In this 2013 table you can learn more about the educational level of Finns.
9. All Finns speak English and Swedish fluently.
As I explained in the previous section, basic education in Finland only got equity in the mid-80s. Among younger people, many speak English very well but among the population over 40 years old, many don´t speak or speak very little . I’m not saying that Finns over 40 years old don´t speak English, okay? But it´s very common to find people who don´t speak, especially in small towns and in the countryside.
As for Swedish, it is the second official language of the country and the teaching of Swedish language is compulsory in schools during basic education. However, there is a great resistance from the Finns in learning it. The so-called “Finnish-Swedish” people are around 5% of the population and they are mostly bilingual, speaking both languages perfectly. Among the other 95% this is not a reality. There are a lot of people who only understand the basics and the vast majority is keen to “forget” after school ends.
10. Finns are cold and insensitive people.
This is an unfair and clueless judgment, in my opinion. You cannot judge an entire population because of personal characteristics. It is true that foreign residents in other countries go through many difficulties during their process of adaptation and not all receive care and support. This is not something that only happens here, it happens all over the world and there are always happy and sad stories. According to 2013 statistics (I couldn´t find current data), about 430,000 people take antidepressant drugs in Finland. For a population of 5.3 million, this is a very high ratio. I’m not a doctor, but I don´t believe this index would be so high if most people were so cold and insensitive.
I think Finns are extremely sensitive, what seems to be the issue for what I observe is that they internalize all feelings. I don´t know in what stage of life this repression of feelings begins but I think this is the problem that many confuse with insensitivity. Individualism and reserve are, in my view, the strongest characteristics of the Finns. Usually they think they might be invading your privacy if they ask something personal to you and you will feel bothered if they come to talk about their problems, however, there are exceptions and many ways to break this barrier. My advice: learn to observe and analyze before judging. This is always the best way to find the path and open doors.