Monthly Archives

November 2016

[The Hieno! Suomi 100 series] Interview with Dr. Ed Dutton, a Religious Studies and evolutionary psychology researcher based in Oulu.

Finnish Education, Finnish People, Foreigners in Finland, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office
Ed Dutton

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Dr. Ed Dutton!

Dr. Ed Dutton is a Religious Studies and evolutionary psychology researcher based in Oulu in northern Finland. His current research examines both religion and culture in terms of evolutionary psychology, especially personality and intelligence.

Personally, I’d read Dr. Dutton’s research even before coming to Finland, and I have always found his propositions intriguing and thought-provoking. I appreciate Dr. Dutton very much for his candidness and intellectual honesty in this interview.

Enjoy! ~♡


TH: Hi Dr. Ed Dutton! Can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing in Finland?

Dr. Ed Dutton: Hello Wan Wei.

I came to Finland in 2005. I was finishing my PhD at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, and I met my girlfriend, who’s Finnish. She got a job in Oulu as a Lutheran priest, and so I followed her over. I began by working as a journalist at this English language newspaper known as the 65 Degrees North.

I’m currently working as a Religious Studies and evolutionary psychology researcher based in Oulu, and also write for various magazines and newspapers.

 

TH: What are the three things you appreciate most about Finland?

Dr. Ed Dutton: If I compare Finland to UK, I’d find that in general, Finns are more honest.

How should I put it? It is like there is this bell-curve of honesty—the average Finn is more honest than the average English person, or most other people I’d met in the European countries. So I don’t have to worry about a lot of things, for instance, locking my bike, or locking my door. I do think the average Finn is more honest and law-abiding.

The second thing I appreciate about Finland is the safety in this country.

I don’t have to worry that something will happen on the streets at night. There are parts of England where you know for sure you are seriously unsafe, and you don’t get that feeling here.

Thirdly, I like the fact that Finland is sparsely populated.

I like the fact that we don’t have many people, and I like the fact that we have a lot of land and space.

When you have many people cramped into a small space, there are high property prices and the standard of living drops. Conversely, when a place is sparsely populated, the standard of living is higher in many ways.

And this leads to a more harmonious society, as in the case of Finland, where the income gap is also smaller than that of the UK.

 

TH: What do you think is the one common misconception of Finland and Finns that people have that couldn’t be further away from the truth?

Dr. Ed Dutton: I think one common misconception is that a lot of people think that Finns are Scandinavians, like the Danes or Norwegians or Swedes, but they are not.

Finns are more like Northeast-Asians in some ways.

This is because Finns have the highest percentage of East Asian genes as compared to other European people—about 10%. East Asians have a small gene pool, and Finns have an even smaller gene pool.

Therefore, Finns don’t think like the average European. It seems to me more that they think like the average East-Asian.

For example, in Japan there is this phenomenon known as “Japanese shame culture”, and in Finland there is also a kind of “Finnish shame culture”. They are quite similar. Both cultures are very concerned about what other people think about them, they are very socially-oriented and do not want to stand out in a group. Like the Japanese, Finns also tend to have high conscientiousness and agreeableness. They are very altruistic and rule-following.

My own research shows that the Finnish IQ is the highest in Europe, and this is supported by data. Interestingly, being intelligent is correlated with being honest and not committing crimes. And this is really relevant to all the things I like about Finland: Honesty and low crime rates.

The Japanese and the Chinese have an even higher average IQ at 105, which is even more intelligent that the average European. If you look at the average intelligence of Finns, Japanese and Chinese, you will find out that the average is high, and the range is low. This is as opposed to the average IQ of Europeans, where the average is lower, and the range is higher.

This means that in Europe, there are more stupid people and also more extremely clever people who are creative people with truly brilliant ideas. Genius is a function of outlier high IQ and relatively low Agreeableness, meaning altruism, and Conscientiousness, meaning impulse-control and rule-following.

This is why geniuses can think outside the box and don’t care if their new ideas offend people. This, I think, is why there is a low per capita number of Finnish geniuses, if you measure it in terms of science Nobel prizes. There are too few people per capita with the genius intelligence-personality profile. This is partly due to the small gene pool. Extreme, outlier IQ gets thrown up due to random gene combinations. If you have a smaller gene-pool, this is less likely, hence the Finnish and East Asian IQ range is so narrow.

Here, I can refer to this research done with Doctor Kenya Kura titled “Why do Northeast Asians win so few nobel prizes”. And we found that even though Northeast Asians are very clever—cleverer than Europeans—they don’t have this curiosity and individuality to appear outstanding as researchers as compared to their European counterparts. Finns are really more like Northeast Asians in that way.

So yes, I think one common misconception about Finland is that they are just like other European or Scandinavian countries. Well, Finland is not—Finland is more like the countries in Northeast Asia.

 

TH: What do you think are some things that are unique to Finland?

Dr. Ed Dutton:

The first thing I would regard as unique to Finland is the sauna culture.

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The idea that “Come over for dinner, and after that let’s take all our clothes off and sit together naked in a very hot room…and drink.”

Frankly, that sounds a bit crazy.

I’d been to saunas elsewhere, in Latvia for example, and they are not naked—they have towels! So Finns come up with this excuse, like “Oh, you might have chlorine on your swimming trunks, from the pool. Someone might be allergic to it.”

And I’m just like—“Rubbish. Why don’t you just admit that we Finns are a bit kinky and like seeing each other naked. Please respect our culture, tradition, way of thinking and doing things.”

You know—just to say it out, rather than come up with some excuse of “chlorine”.

TH: Hahahaha!

Dr. Ed Dutton: It took me a long time to get used to it. Also, it is always awkward when you see someone whom you know, naked. Especially when you see them again in school outside of sauna.

I’d been to this hotel once, and they had a mixed sauna! And people came into the mixed sauna after that—husbands and wives– and you do see them at breakfast the next day, you know.

The second thing I would say is that the Finns have a really sophisticated way of dealing with the cold weather. I guess this is because the cold weather is the norm in Finland.

In UK, we have school uniforms and students can be in shorts even when it is so cold outside. In Finland students wear warm clothing, gloves and hats.

In particular, my wife and I went to England in 2006, and she was horrified to learn that there is no central heating indoors in the house we stayed at. She couldn’t believe it because Finns are used to having warm indoor spaces.

The third thing I would say that is unique to Finland would be the way Finns communicate. I have never seen it anywhere else in the world—the silence. You sort of forget about about it after living in Finland for a long time.

Yes, the “quietness” is probably something unique to Finland. In Finland, it is perfectly okay to be quiet, and you can expect one to be quiet too.

Also there are noises, such as “joo”, “o-ho”—which can mean a lot of things in different tones. These sounds are not exactly words and they are used frequently in communication in Finland.

So I would say the use of these “sounds” as a way of communication is rather unique to the Finns.

 

TH: Haha, are there any more?

Dr. Ed Dutton: Yes, and a fourth might be…of shoes!!

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Nowhere else in Europe have I been systematically and without exception told to take off my shoes before entering a house. Not in UK, not in Scotland, not in Ireland, not in Spain …and always in Finland.

So that is very Finnish!

And this gives rise to related problems such as having holes in socks.

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There is probably this conspiracy in Finland to destroy socks that because there is grit on the grounds due to the snow, and this grit destroy socks. Then you have to take your shoes off and expose your socks with holes, and that will compel you to buy new socks…so seriously, if you sell socks in Finland, you will make big money.

I bet the Socks King of Tampere is currently a millionaire.

TH: Hahahahaha!

Dr. Ed Dutton: Yes! Socks.

 

TH: In this article, you argued that “And Finland is more nationalistic, more tribal, than the UK.” How do you think “multiculturalism” can fit into the nationalistic narrative?

Dr. Ed Dutton:

Let’s first define the term “ethnocentrism”.There are two aspects to “ethnocentrism”: Positive and negative. ‘Positive’ means you are altruistic towards members of your own group. ‘Negative’ means you don’t like members of other groups.

In my opinion, Finns seem to score higher in positive ethnocentrism rather than negative ethnocentrism. This means that Finns are more trusting and protective of their own groups. Well, this is probably the case because the Finnish gene pool is small, and Finnish parents invest heavily in their children.

So you see, with the case of Finland, it might be the case that they are like the East-Asians and are more nationalistic due to a smaller gene pool. Because they are more genetically similar to each other, you would expect Finns to be more nationalistic than for instance, Swedes or Danes.

This is because each Finn is more related to another Finn, so you are indirectly passing on more of your genes by being altruistic to a Finnish stranger than you would if you were a Dane and acted in the same way.

Also, there are also some other factors you might like to take note of, such as for example, war or stress. Stress can result in elevated nationalism.

On the other hand, because Finns have such high intelligence, it might correlate to low self-esteem. This might correlate to other variables such as high suicide rates, and so on. So if you have low self- esteem, then you are more concerned about what other people think of you.

Therefore, this low self-esteem might explain the tendency to simply follow and adopt what other countries are doing as well. And this might, ironically, make Finns at least want to think that they are more ‘multiculturalist’ because this is what the ‘big boy’ countries are doing.

Let’s go back to the topic of “multiculturalism”. If you are too multiculturalist, then nobody can really say anything or speak their mind about national identity without the fear of “being offensive”.

If you are too religious, then everything that runs contrary to what you consider as the truth will be offensive. If you are too irreligious, then there is no sense of eternity or purpose, and there is nothing to die for, and the nation collapses. In much the same way, if you are too multiculturalist there’s nothing that holds society together. If you’re closed off to foreigners, then you become insular and stagnate.

And therefore the question is really maintaining a sort of “summer” or “autumn” of civilization, where you are in between the two seasons. The idea is to have a good balance of what “Finnishness” is.

 

TH: So, who is a “Finn”? How would you define it?

Dr. Ed Dutton: Who is a Finn? Well my wife is a Finn.

 

TH: Will you ever be a Finn?

Dr. Ed Dutton: No, I will never be a Finn. And, perhaps, nor would my daughter be, as she’s ‘half-English.’

Well, you could define any term in any way as you deem fit.

“Intelligence” for example, if one of these words—what would anyone mean by “intelligence”? We have different kinds of intelligence.

So the key idea is to think about what other people understand by what this word means. Normally we are talking about categories that allow you to make successful predictions. We design our own categories so that we can navigate the world to make predictions.

So if having the concept of having the category of a “Chinese-Singaporean” is useful and only useful to the extent that I can make accurate predictions, then the categorisation is useful. For instance, it might guide me to certain rules of behaviour in Singapore: I should not do this, I should not say this, I should do this, I should do that.

So to the extent that useful rules can be formed so as not to offend people of a certain category, such as “you should take your shoes off before entering the house of a Korean person” and “that is not true in the case of entering the house of a Dutch person”.

Therefore, the categorization of a Finn is useful to the extent that you can make correct predictions about Finns. Therefore, the stereotype of a Finn would be the stereotype of an “ethnic” or “native” Finn. That is what stereotypes are all about, and to that extent this is why stereotypes can be useful.

And I do think that from the Finnish perspective, this is how “Finns” are defined—the “ethnic” Finn. The discourse on what constitutes “Finnish-ness”, although it is changing, is still fundamentally a ethno-nationalistic discourse.

So will I ever be a Finn? No, I don’t think so. I wasn’t born here and I am not ethnically Finnish.

Of course, there may be foreigners who have lived in Finland all their lives. And even though they might speak Finnish and really understand the Finnish way of life, they are not ethnically Finnish.

And ethnic Finns can of course say, “We accept them as one of us”– in the same way that a family might say “we adopt a child not related by blood as one of us”. It does not mean that he might be as typical as one of the ethnic Finns.

All in all, this boils down to the observation that here in Finland, the whole construct of what constitutes a “Finn” is a very ethnic one. In this sense, the construct here in Finland of “who is a Finn” is different from the construct in America, of “who is an American”.

So I don’t think I’d ever be a Finn, and I don’t think my daughter will ever be considered a Finn, at least by most Finns.

 

TH: Finland will be celebrating its 100 years of independence next year. What are your dreams and visions for Finland’s future?

Dr. Ed Dutton: Well, I certainly hope that intelligent Finns can procreate more!

The IQ of the average Finn is going down, and going down rapidly and intelligence is what predicts the ability to sustain civilisation.

You know, I just watched a video of the founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, on youtube. Didn’t he have a QnA session at a university in Singapore, where a young lady aged 29—a PhD candidate–asked him a question?

And Mr. Lee counter-questioned her:

“Do you have children?” “No.”
“Are you married?” “No.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?” “No.”

So you see, this is the problem, isn’t it? Intelligent women dedicate most of their 20s and some of their early 30s to having careers, and they end up going past their fertile age. Simply put, the IQ of future generations are going down. And Mr. Lee’s advice to her is to do her PhD, and have her boyfriend.

I admire Mr. Lee’s sense of humour but he also has a point So yes, this is one challenge I feel—that the intelligent Finns need to have more babies, particularly the intelligent ladies.

My second wish for Finns and Finland is for them to be more creative! There is this atmosphere in Finland where they have to follow the rules all the time, and there is little room for mistakes.

It is known as “Shut up, don’t be different. Perform and shut up.”

And I do think that that is a sad thing. There are three Finnish Science Nobels. Two of those lived abroad and one of them spent a significant amount of time abroad.

I don’t think that is a coincidence.

 

TH: Then I have a question, how do you survive in Finland? You don’t seem like a conformist! * laughs *

Dr. Ed Dutton: I don’t–I get into trouble!

But I’d rather get into trouble you know, than to just bury my head in the ground.

I do appreciate Finland—it really is a nice and safe place to live, but the price you have to pay is simply the need to conform. It really is a question of getting the balance right.

Well, I do hope Finns can be less obsessed with laws, rules and order. Be less obsessed with your job as a part of who you are. My observation is that career plays a huge part of how a Finn defines himself. It is okay to not follow the rules sometimes—there is no need to be scared of controversy, especially if the things you are saying are right!

Be more creative! And the way to do this really, is to increase the gene pool. Have more foreign spouses, for example?

Well, actually from my observation, I’d noticed that Finnish ladies might have a tendency to select spouses that are from countries that are perceived as richer or more important than Finland, like Britain, Germany, America or Australia. Finnish men however, usually end up with foreign spouses from Eastern Europe, or Britian. The exception was East-Asia, where East Asian women might end up with Finnish men, which is the exception to the rule. This might be because people look up to Western cultures in East-Asia.

So yes, my wish for intelligent Finns: do date, get married, and have children.

 

TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Dr. Ed Dutton: Well, I suppose—based on the research on the IQ, I would like to urge intelligent Finns to procreate more in Finland.

qjvluhtpx7u-janko-ferlic.jpg

Have children and rescue your country–Fertility rates decline dramatically after you are 35! The thing is that as people get more intelligent, happy and secure, the desire to procreate seems to decrease.

And really—let’s think more outside the box. 🙂


The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feature photo of Dr. Dutton and his daughter courtesy of Dr. Ed Dutton. Other photos from Unsplash. We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did!🙂

To Finland from UK: Interview with Peter Seenan.

Foreigners in Finland, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office
finland from uk

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Peter Seenan, a foreigner who moved to Finland from UK!

Peter Seenan is a content manager at Leedfeeder and a language specialist, editor and proofreader. Peter is also the first person in this series who is nominated by a friend who found him inspiring and charismatic. He is also fondly mentioned as a great example of an individual who has put in effort to understand and appreciate the Finnish culture and way of life.

Enjoy the interview! ♡


TH: Hi Peter! Can you tell us more about yourself? Why did you move to Finland from UK?

Peter: Hi, my name’s Peter Seenan and I’m a 30ish-year-old Scotsman from St. Andrews now living in Helsinki. I first came here on Erasmus exchange – to study, weirdly some say, Finnish politics and culture – back in 2004 and I was hooked by Finland.

I work for a Finnish tech startup called Leadfeeder as head copywriter and proofreader and when I’m not doing that I help out Finnish companies with all kinds of English language-related and business growth tasks like ghostwriting, proofreading and promotion.

Many Finnish companies have international customers or they’re trying to grow globally and they want to speak in a manner that doesn’t sound weird to a native speaker’s ear. Plus of course with so much business strategy revolving around content marketing in today’s digital era there’s a huge demand for original writing that attracts prospects and educates existing customers.

In my spare time I also edit for students and academics at Finnish universities and I’ve been doing that for many years now – it’s lots of fun and very rewarding and I get to read many marvelous theses and publications and help very talented people get into the likes of Harvard and LSE.

One of the most common questions Finns ask me is “why are you actually here?” and I like to imagine that question isn’t so much a personal attack as a throbbing curiosity about what makes someone move to Finland – I admit that many would consider it a strange choice. One of my initial reasons for coming to Helsinki was simply because no one else from the University of Edinburgh was coming here in autumn 2004 and I liked the idea of being something of a lone wolf. That and the fact that my then GP mentioned something about Finnish women being completely wonderful.

Since the end of Erasmus I’ve lived all over the world – including far less bleak and dark climes – but I loved Finland even after my initial study-year infatuation had passed and I was always looking for ways to come back because it suited my values and outlook (I’m only occasionally bleak).

One thing that I love about Finland is the nationwide belief in the life part of a work-life balance (seen, for example through generous paternity provisions) and despite my multiple jobs I still have time for lots of hobbies. I think the ones that would have surprised 21-year-old me in September 2004 would be my love for ice-swimming, sauna, an archipelago-inspired sport called swimrun and cross-country skiing.

 

TH: What is the most important/ meaningful event or experience that happened in Finland?

Peter: There have been a number of times when I’ve really felt this is completely extraordinary – many of which were simple experiences but deeply life-affirming, like the snowfall in my first year here when Finland turned into a Christmas postcard and I would stare at it mesmerized for hours.

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I still remember my first sauna with a ton of Finns and foreigners a month or so into my Erasmus experience. It was incredibly surreal and quite special at once: at the start of autumn we travelled to someone’s old country house – the whole experience felt modest despite being quite a grand house – and we caught fish and cooked it on an open fire, jumped into the lake, sang naked in the sauna and crawled around on a forest floor looking for mushrooms. I remember thinking to myself that I’d never have imagined collecting mushrooms to be such a communal ‘thing’ and it was then that I started to realise what Finland was all about: taking pleasure in the simple things, slowing down, enjoying nature’s jewels and being grateful for your surroundings.

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Things are a lot like this in Scotland but here it’s taken even more seriously – country cottages play a big role in this – and sadly sauna isn’t yet a part of culture in Scotland (I’d like to change that).

Last time I was home for holiday I built a sauna out of a tent on a Scottish beach on the Atlantic-thrashed west coast among the dunes and wild sheep and everyone had a marvelous time, with mint instead of eucalyptus. Sauna has a profoundly important role in life and death in Finland and the film Steam of life captures the sauna as the oil that help turns the cogs of this society during some of the harsh conditions we face every year.

 

TH: Can you tell us what are the top 3 challenges you have faced in Finland as a Scott who moved to Finland from UK?

Peter: Honestly, I’m one of the lucky ones. I haven’t had major struggles but I’m not convinced there isn’t a glass ceiling for foreigners, as my friend Gareth Rice has discussed at length.

The weather is hard to adapt to – despite the fact that my homeland is not known for its tropical heat – and it’s dark for a very long time here. It’s probably worth it when balanced against the midnight sun, but I do wonder if life would be a tad more palatable were it not a country of such extremes. I don’t particularly mind the cold, but when it’s dark too it does sometimes feel unbearable and I’m quite sure that it affects the national psyche for about 6 months of the year or more every year. When the day’s first challenge is stepping into a howling gale and 3 feet of snow and you haven’t even encountered your boss or faced office Juhla Mokka then life can seem difficult.

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Sometimes I feel the weather is mirrored in social interactions; they can often feel skeletal and infrequent. Many foreign friends have told me they find it strange that on a Monday morning it’s perfectly normal not to bother enquiring how your colleague’s weekend was and the same sort of detachment seems to apply when a colleague is off sick. Few people react with “get well soon” and after a holiday people just ignore you like you’ve never been anywhere.

I know we all lead busy lives (or at least we think we do) but sometimes I think that some of these so-called soft skills – the ability to actually speak and enquire – will need to be drilled into Finland if it is to internationalise effectively and seem less weird and insular.

I’ve lost count of the number of times in the startup world I’ve heard the phrase “we’ve got to be more American” by which it’s taken to mean be less Finnish about our achievements and talk them up more. But this all starts at home; if you can’t find the energy or time for everyday social graces then you’re not going to be able to talk about yourself very well on the global stage.

The Finnish language is obviously the third challenge, but at least it has very regular pronunciation so that’s one positive. Clearly the difficulty of the language creates other challenges, such as employment and the ease with which one can penetrate Finnish life, but language classes are very affordable here. I’ve been lucky insofar as I’ve always had employment that didn’t hinge on my grasp of Finnish skills, but there was one time when I was overlooked in favour of another candidate who was a Finn, despite Finnish language skills not being an advertised requirement.

TH: Do you think there are solutions or better alternatives as to how we think about these three challenges?

Peter: There’s not much one can do about the weather but getting out there and being active is pretty important for one’s mental health and I like the Finnish attitude to getting stuff done whatever the weather – actually, I admire it. It’s hugely refreshing having come from little Britain with terrible delays to transport services caused by moderate weather conditions to see society functioning perfectly in mid-winter and people going about their daily business despite the weather. It’s with good reason that “snow-how” is a term associated with Finland.

I don’t really see the fact that Finnish is such a difficult language to be a big problem. Finns are generally very good at English and very understanding when you throw around a few Finnish words and get mixed up between pikku and munkki – as I used to. Those who learn Finnish stand out in the crowd and for that reason Finnish language is a challenge to be embraced.

I think Finnish work culture will change more rapidly when organisations understand that a company culture of empathy is an economic imperative. Many wide-reaching academic studies already demonstrate the economic importance of fostering an environment in which people feel they are valued and listened to but it will take a long time before Finnish companies understand what practices they should adopt to foster these values. The more that companies like Google publish research showing the link between psychological safety (empathy and conversational turn-taking) and success the greater the likelihood of jurassic work culture changing – in Finland, as elsewhere.

 

TH: How do you reconcile being “Scottish” and “Finnish” at the same time?

Peter: Scotland and Finland have a lot in common and for that reason I think it’s easy to be a Scot in Finland. But I don’t consider myself to be Finnish despite living here 5 years. Perhaps in part because I find it hard to get properly worked up about the President’s independence day ball.

Being from a small country means having a strong national identity that’s hard to shake off and in Finland, like everywhere else in the world, it feels like an asset to be Scottish.

Three encounters this week illustrate how enjoyable it is to be a Scot here and how often I’m reminded of my nationality.

On Thursday in the sauna at Yrjönkatu uimahalli a Finnish man – upon hearing I was from Scotland – started exclaiming how much he wanted to visit Scotland and how happy he was that I was someone who enjoyed a nice hot sauna, earlier in the week I got talking with a Swedish-speaking Finn in the leaves of Hesperianpuisto who told me he was a descendant of a Scot, and on Monday during a phone conversation with a customer of Leadfeeder he mentioned his brother was doing academic research in my hometown at St. Andrews University.

 

TH: What are the three things you appreciate most about Finland?

Peter: I love the drama of the changing seasons and the cultural events that trace them. The first of May roughly marks the beginning of spring proper where we collectively picnic in driving snow, midsummer represents the land of the midnight sun and in autumn I look forward to crayfish parties on jetties in the archipelago. Because the changes of season are so dramatic one feels at the mercy of nature here and so it seems natural to mark the passing seasons with such unswerving commitment to alcohol.

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I love too the centrality of sauna in everyday life. It’s not quite a substitute for the pub as one BBC journalist suggested recently, but it’s just such a wonderful and enjoyable tradition and it, like the weather it protects you from, changes with the seasons. The experience of a mid-winter sauna and a perishing swim and a sauna under the midnight sun are starkly and beautifully different. One of my favourite saunas in Finland is a free public sauna that can be found tucked away at a beachhead in Kustavi. I stumbled across it this summer after a tough day of cycling. As I heard someone say the other day: everyone is equal in the sauna.

It’s difficult to capture in three what I appreciate most about Finland, but every day when I walk to work I think how fortunate I am to live in a city as green and uncrowded as Helsinki. It takes me 15 minutes to get there and I live 10 minutes walk from the beach. Not having to commute is one of the best gifts one can have and it makes a tremendous difference to your quality of life (I used to live in Delhi so I know what it’s like jostling for space as a cow cuts you up on the inside lane).

 

TH: What do you think are some of the popular misconceptions of Finland and Finns?

Peter:

  • That silence is rude and Finns aren’t warm-hearted.

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I actually think Finnish silence is a great virtue and that many other countries would do well to practice not spouting shite the whole time. Finns just patently don’t care for following global social norms and I think that’s completely admirable. Knowing how to be silent is as much a skill as knowing how to be an entertainer and perhaps Finns’ abilities to shut up and listen is what makes them highly successful peace builders and educators.

  • Finland… just another Nordic country.

Nope, it’s really not.

For all kinds of reasons that become apparent when you start exploring the North. Culturally, Finland has more in common with Japan than Sweden and knowing Finnish will do you no good if you’re trying to order a coffee in Copenhagen.

  • That Finns are all depressed.

Weirdly, no. They might be good at looking menacing on public transport but Finland actually came 5th in the 2016 world happiness report. Perhaps it’s the widespread belief that everybody else is miserable and you feel okay that makes people happy.

 

TH: What are the three things that are definitely “Finnish”?

Peter: The drying cupboard above your sink where you can put wet dishes and forget about them is certainly one. I’d never seen this before I came to Finland and I don’t think I’ve seen it anywhere else to this day. It’s as clever as the chopping board that sits flush over the sink with a small hole for bio waste.

Another thing that’s as Finnish as a silent elevator ride and took a bit of getting used to is beating the crap out of a fellow human in a sauna with a birch branch. My first encounter with this instrument of pleasure came only months into my life in Finland in 2004 and featured a rather robust and fierce grunting man. I can’t remember the sauna now but this naked gent turned to me from the bench in front and handed me a birch branch. He pointed vaguely to his backside and turned round to face forward and await my treatment. Unsure how to proceed and not wanting to hurt him I began to prod him gently from behind in a sort of playful tickling motion. Very quickly he turned back round with a look of thunder and grunted angrily at me. I thought I might be beaten to death then and there with a sauna bucket and stick. But instead he gestured that I should whack him, so I duly set to work.

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There are many facets of life here that give rise to the feeling “only in finland” (such as the way people don’t f*ck up public amenities just because they’re bored) and one particular favourite of mine is how okay everyone is – from all walks of life – about visiting a composting toilet in the countryside. Like free public saunas they’re wonderfully maintained and often beautifully decorated. Someone should author a book on how Finns tend not to destroy public goods for fun like people do in other countries and it should feature sympathetically decorated composting toilets in the middle of nowhere with hanging wall art and vases of flowers.

 

TH: With regards to integration, do you have some tips for immigrants who want to stay in Finland permanently, because they love this country? Please give tips that are not too impossible! 😛

Peter: Don’t dismiss Finland just because it doesn’t fit your worldview. In most cases there’s probably a perfectly good explanation for why something’s the way it is – I mean, it makes sense that one wouldn’t have time for idle chit chat if one risks death from frostbite. Try to understand the culture – you’ll learn a lot that will ultimately have a profound effect on your life here. I know other foreigners who came here for Erasmus in 2004 and stayed for good.

Try to adopt some cultural habits and life will become easier. Don’t ask people how they are unless you’re ready to hear how they actually are. Learn how to pronounce Finnish place names even if you don’t understand the language, or use Swedish to help you out at first. Learn a few Finnish expressions straight away, like Suojakänni (it means protection drunkenness). If you’re in Helsinki, leave Helsinki occasionally, even if it means you have to learn how to poo in the forest between two parallel tree trunks. Understand that you can integrate in Swedish as well as Finnish. Swedish was the first language I learnt here for any concerted period of time and you can get citizenship by passing a Swedish language examination.

Don’t hang around at home sending CVs, get out there and meet people. I don’t think Finns are particularly good at marketing themselves and it’s only now that people are talking about exporting their education system or dreaming up terms like “snow-how”. So I’d recommend that now’s a good time to be confident in your abilities and make your mark in person. In the startup world, young Finns are cottoning on to the fact that if you walk the walk people will believe you and you’ll go far. It’s still unusual to find Finns who are flush with confidence and for that reason it’s typically thought that he must have a reason to be confident.

 

TH: What are your dreams and visions for the future?

Peter: I enjoy living in Finland and I feel constantly challenged, in part because it often feels like I’m living on a frontier, which in some respects I am.

I can work anywhere in the world I please because Leadfeeder doesn’t require my physical presence and nor do any of my other clients, so it has crossed my mind to spend some of the tougher weather months elsewhere. India is only 6 hours or so from here and I know I’d also enjoy living in other Nordic countries, like Sweden or Denmark.

I plan to start my own journalistic endeavor as part of the Finland 100 programme and that way I’ll get to meet lots of other people around Finland during this momentous year. I’d like to contribute to the narratives that emerge from this country in the next 12 months and if I keep long-term roots in Finland I’d like to be more active in grassroots projects and initiatives for the common good.

 

TH: We’d be looking forward to your activities in the next 12 months!~Finland would be celebrating its 100 years of independence next year. What are your dreams and visions for Finland’s future?

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Peter: I would like Finland to continue on the same path and remember what it has stood for during the past century, namely judging itself by the way it looks out for the most vulnerable members of society.

One of my favourite sentiments, attributed to the mayor of Bogota, which captures perfectly what Finland stands for is “the mark of a developed country is not that everyone drives around in fancy cars, but in how many people take public transport.” It reminds me of something I read in my welcome pack at Helsinki University: even the president takes the tram in Finland.

 

TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Peter: I’ve already talked for far too long and I’m hugely excited about living in Finland in 2017.


The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Photos courtesy of Peter Seenan. We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did! 🙂

[The Hieno! Suomi 100 Series] Interview with Eero Böök, the slightly mysterious Finnish gentleman.

Finnish men, Finnish People, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office
Eero Böök

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature the slightly mysterious and super hot Finnish gentleman Eero Böök!

Personally, I´d always found Eero to be wise. Through his example, I’d learnt to always make it a point to treat people with importance and kindness. Eero has extensive experience in fashion and retail in Finland and abroad, and we are very happy to have him on board The Hieno! Suomi 100 series.~

Enjoy the interview! ♡


TH: Moikka Eero! Thank you for accepting our interview. Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your experiences in fashion/retail?

Eero Böök: Hey.

I am Eero Böök. Originally from the small seaside city Naantali in Finland and currently living in London.

I have been working in fashion retail in multiple positions and also in different countries and companies. This has given me invaluable insights to the entity of retail.

At the moment, I am studying Business Management and Fashion marketing in London Metropolitan University. Besides my studies, I am also working for the French luxury brand Louis Vuitton.

Perhaps these key words describe my personality more: Dreamer, wine (sparkling), whimsy, with a million different alter-egos.

 

TH: You have such a long and rich working experience in fashion and retail. Are there obvious differences in how a Finn would dress in the countryside, vis-a- vis in a more city-like area like Helsinki?

Eero Böök: I definitely think there is a big difference to how people dress up in different parts of Finland.

One of the most obvious reason is the varying availability of brands. In the smaller communities, it is a lot harder to find pieces which are not in line as the biggest trends. This is because usually in smaller towns, the only option is to purchase from the biggest retail companies.

Having said that however, the situation has indeed developed a lot because of the emergence of online retailers and social media “marketplaces”.

For people who are interested in luxury ready-to-wear the situation is harder. The markets are too small to attract big European luxury brands. When you are making a purchase, like 3000 euros for a coat, you most probably want to feel the materials and see the actual piece before making your purchase decision.

Of course, there is the possibility to return the items purchased online. Unfortunately, I know from my own experience that sometimes you just don’t want to go through all that packing and delivery hassle, so you will end up keeping the piece you actually didn’t love.

There are also some cultural points as well. I grew up in the city called Naantali and from the fashion point-of-view I perhaps would not compare that small seaside city to Helsinki. You see, powerful self-expression through clothes might confuse the people who are mainly wearing something practical like wellies instead of Guiseppe Zanotti heels.

So, this context might prove to be a challenge for people who really have the need to express themselves, because courage is needed to show up to work or school in striking outfit. For sure you will be noticed and maybe not in the nicest way.

This might especially apply if the person is playing with clothes that will create androgynous looks. I think we are still really stuck with gender-ism when it comes to clothing.

With time I am sure that people in smaller cities would get used to these different outfits like they got used to “sushi and cronuts”. *Just kidding.*

Unfortunately, the courage and inspiration might fade away from the person before we reach that level. Creativity needs support, open space and open minds.

 

TH: Why are Finnish guys and ladies so hot? Actually, why are you so hot?

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Eero Böök: Why are Finnish people hot.

Well, usually the best things are a bit hidden from publicity. Maybe this logic applies in this case as well – we have 5 million hidden gems in Finland!

I am very flattered if you find me as one of these crown jewels.

 

TH: *♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡* As an expert in retail, can you share with us some insiders’ secrets on how to dress to impress a Finn?

Eero Böök: Well, when it comes to the topic of how to impress Finnish people I am sure that I am not the best person to ask.

This is because I have actually never dated any Finnish guy successfully. If I give any tips it would become a “blind leads blind” situation.

But if anyone knows the answer, please do not hesitate to contact me. *Laughs*.

 

TH: Well, they can contact *us*! :DDDDD ~ As a professional in fashion marketing and retail, who/what inspires you?

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Eero Böök: From the fashion marketing perspective, I’d been inspired by how big and old fashion houses are making campaigns with new generation stars like Selena Gomez, Willow and Jaden Smith.

This combination has been very successful for the companies, as they are getting new customers and publicity through social media. The visuals have been spectacular and the power of young fans is incredible.

It is nice to notice that the fashion houses –which are usually like big ships that turn very slowly–have adopted this fast-moving marketing strategy from these masters of self-branding and marketing. This is of course as opposed to seeing these younger people as threats. Or maybe, these new generation stars made big companies step down from their ivory towers.

Also, I have been getting inspiration from the subcultures of England which influence my personal way of dressing. I have been very interested in the Manchester street style–it is a very brutal and rough combination of sex, luxury, ugly beauty and sports.

A complete mess, in other words.

Unfortunately, the busy London lifestyle does not give me a lot time to wear street looks, so I have been mainly dressed in full suits.

 

TH: Heritage is commonly regarded as something important in the fashion world. There is sometimes concern in the industry that Finnish fashion might be at a disadvantage due to a short national history, vis-a-vis other European countries such as France, Italy, UK and Sweden.  How do you feel about this?

Eero Böök: I think our short history in fashion can be an advantage instead of a disadvantage.

The fashion world is always hungry and in fact our history in this field is not that old. We can easily create something new instead of following the strong image /vision we have once created — of irregular design.

I just read one of my favourite magazines “DAZED” that ranked Aalto University School of Arts as the top 3 in fashion. The success in Hyères fashion festival has sparked interest towards Finland as well.

The publicity that Finland has lately received proves my point that we are able to create something new. Like for example, the case of Sasu Kauppi and Kanye West.

Finnish high fashion sounds very exotic and it will be something unseen–exactly what the fashion world loves.

Maybe we just need to find a way to get these talents to work in Finland before they are headhunted by big companies outside of the country.

 

TH: Finland is commonly perceived as a “class-less” society. So if I walk along the streets of Helsinki with an Hermès bag, would I be seen as a snob?

Eero Böök: Well, I am not sure if Finland is a “class-less” society…or do we just have smaller gaps in between the classes?

Hermès bag is a funny example. Luxury accessories or ready-to-wear do not really hold big markets in Finland, so I am sure that many people would not even recognise that bag. This is because Hermès is quite discreet when it comes to the logos and people are not that familiar with the design.

In general, I think people would find you a snob if they know the price tag of the bag. People are not very used to luxury designs so they might find them unnecessary- if you have not tasted it, how could you miss it?

 

TH: Can you tell us the top 3 things/ traits you regard as “Finnish”, and why?

Eero Böök: I think there is one trait above others that I find very “Finnish” and that is our communication.

The way our humour and sarcasm comes across in our language is impossible to translate– for example in English– at least for me.

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People easily get the feeling that I am distant and maybe a bit cold. Perhaps we are just not used to small talk and cute sentences.

I have to admit that I do feel very special when I visit a supermarket in London and the person at the checkout calls me a “sweetheart”. It is very nice, but maybe because I am a bit narcissistic and attention is always welcome. You see, perhaps evidenced by this question on Finnish traits, sometimes I tend to turn the topic into myself.

I guess our spoken communication is exactly the same–as minimalistic as our Finnish style.

The second thing I would consider “Finnish” is perhaps our continuous mirroring to other people. We are all the time comparing ourselves to others and the others to ourselves. It is natural that in our small cities we pay attention to individual people on the street – as we know the streets are not too crowded. *laughs*

I think that is something we need to change. It brings a big pressure when you try to build your own style and you can’t find your own “subculture” to fit in. This is because the subcultures in Finland are very homogenous, especially from my personal point of view. You need to add slightly something “different” to your look, but you need to keep the rest in the same line with the others, if you want to be taken seriously and be accepted.

If you fail in this, “you can’t sit with us” is the result.

The third trait I find is the fear of failure. The uncertainty is always around–are we talking about work, clothing, the way we look, etc?

I think that in other words could be the famous “Finnish shyness” that we are always talking about. Perhaps “shyness” is simply a nicer word for the self-esteem problem we have in each other’s company.

 

TH: What is the number one misconception foreigners tend to have about Finns/Finland that you feel that is far from the truth?

Eero Böök: People are very interested in the Nordic countries.

I have noticed that people have a strong image of Finland, which is very funny. To me, it sounds like a “Children’s fairytale paradise” where everything is perfect and everybody is financially stable or super rich.

Like every Finn, I am really proud of my roots, which I have just realised. So I keep that image with pride and take the full advantage of it.

I think I have a lot of credibility amongst my colleagues -– simply because we have built this very sophisticated brand to our country and school system.

 

TH: What are your personal dreams and vision for the future?

Eero Böök: My vision for my future is clear.

I want to build a strong, free and professional career in the fashion marketing and branding field. My dream is to work for myself and not be locked in office from 8 to 16, five days a week. I am a hardworking person and I enjoy work in general, but I believe that a work week filled with routines would limit my creativity.

By “freedom”, I mean that if I want to go and have a weekend getaway in Paris – I am able to do it, because my laptop would be my “office”.

More flexibility. That is the life goal for me.

 

TH: What is the one 100-year-old birthday wish you would make for Finland, since 2017 is Finland’s 100 years of independence?

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Eero Böök: For a 100-year-old Finland I would like to wish Finland all the best! I also wish for an open-minded atmosphere in the midst of all the turmoil.

I started this interview talking about my home city Naantali. In a similar vein, I now want to “Finnish” this story.

The last time I visited Naantali, I actually saw a young girl with Minna Parikka´s bunny sneakers instead of the wellies. If Naantali´s street style has developed this much in the last ten years, what more can we achieve now that we are 100 years old?


The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Photos courtesy of Eero Böök and Alex Aalto. Feel free to follow Eero Böök on his instagram @eerob.

Yeah, that’s the only social media account Eero gave… 😉