The Finns are actually distinct genetically from their European neighbours, and their language is a Uralic language instead of an Indo-European language. The Finns arrived from different places than the other populations of northern Europe, in other words, and as such it’s not surprising that their culture is a distinct one.
Every Man’s Right
Perhaps the most notable aspect of Finnish culture is the ancient concept of “Everyman’s Right,” which refers to the collective right of the people to use public and even certain private property for recreation, pasture, or exercise. Many countries have long traditions of “commons” or public access to land, but this tradition is particularly strong in Finland and informs many of its cultural and governmental institutions today.
The Finns have a strong belief that every citizen has a right to not just land but the public, shared resources of the state. Some refer to this as a “welfare state” attitude, but it’s more than that – it’s a strong sense of compassion for their own citizens and a sense of collective responsibility. It’s quite refreshing in today’s cynical world, in my opinion as a humble translation services professional.
This goes both ways, of course; while everyone has the right to walk or ski the countryside, for example, no one has the right to impinge on gardens or private property, and if traversing a farm will lead to damaged crops it is forbidden. The concept is one of mutual respect and benefit, and is quite lovely, if you think about it.
The Finnish culture has a twin concept of self-sufficiency as well, which is what makes it so fascinating a study. Whereas mutual benefit and the sharing of resources is celebrated in Finland, so is the idea that every person should be able to provide for themselves and take care of themselves. This forms a counterbalance to the idea of freedom to roam and shared resources and keeps the culture from being one of simple welfare and government support of people.
One aspect of this attitude can be seen in the Summer Cottage phenomenon in Finland. Almost everyone has a cottage near the water, almost always built by hand by a relative or ancestor, usually outfitted with traditional sauna. In fact, the sauna in the family cottage may be seen as a universal symbol of Finn-ness. The independence of this ideal is representative of the Finnish people and their attitude, which is to both support their neighbours and yet be fiercely independent.
If you have the opportunity to visit Finland, by all means do so – it is a beautiful country, populated by kind, independent people.