My first experience with anything Finnish was the Finnish camp Salolampi at Concordia Language Villages in northern Minnesota (a group of total immersion language and culture camps). I worked at the Japanese camp (Mori no Ike) for three summers in my early twenties. During orientation and other events, we would gather with all of the other camps and a few times; I met with some of the people who worked at Salolampi on occasion. I was fascinated with the northern European camps (Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, and Finnish camps). Maybe I can go back one of these summers and work in their kitchen as a baker or something.
|Salolampi, the Finnish camp of Concordia Language Villages.|
The name Finland goes back to references found on three rune-stones. It’s believed it was named after a tribe of people called the Finns. The Finnish word for Finland is Suomi, believed to be a Proto-Baltic cognate for the word for “land.”
Finland lies in northern Europe, just east of the Scandinavian states (Denmark, Norway, Sweden) and north of the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). It’s bordered by Sweden and Norway to the west and north, Russia to the east, and Estonia to the south (and across the Gulf of Finland). This makes Finland one of the northernmost countries. In fact, only one world capital is farther north than Finland’s (and that’s Reykjavík, Iceland). Finland is the land of lakes and islands: it has over 179,000 islands and 188,000 lakes (take that, Minnesota and your ten thousand lakes.) Ice Age glaciers and their retreat formed many of these lakes and the flat, gravelly hillsides seen in much of Finland. Mountains are found in the far northern areas of the country, known as Lapland, which lies in the Arctic Circle. With nearly 86% covered in taiga forests and wetlands, Finland is one of the most forested countries in Europe.
Archaeological evidence suggests that settlers moved into Finland sometime during the Stone Age (around 8500 BC). During the mid-1200s, Finland fell under the rule of the Swedes. At this time, only the peasants of the southern portions of the country spoke Finnish, while the northern regions spoke Sami. Those of the upper crust of society and government spoke Swedish. After the Reformation, Finland converted to Lutheranism. During the 1700s, Finland was literally caught in the middle of several wars between Sweden on one side and Russia on the other. In 1809, Alexander I took Finland in the name of Russia, where it remained a dependency until they declared their independence in 1917. Finland fought a couple wars with Russia during WWII, resulting in the ceding of three areas. Prior to hosting the 1952 Summer Olympics, which brought many international visitors, Finland generally had an agricultural-based economy. It really tried to remain neutral in the Cold War, dominated by its neighbor Russia. During the 1980s, Finland made several changes regarding its economy and regulations, now making it one of the most stable countries in Europe and in the world.
Finland’s capital city, Helsinki, lies just across the gulf 50 miles north of Tallinn, Estonia. With roughly 1.4 million people in the metro area, Helsinki was chosen to be a World Design City and has also ranked highly in best cities and most livable cities lists. The name Helsinki was given to the area where the first settlers landed, named after the Hälsingland Province in Sweden where they came from. I was surprised to see that the average temperatures rival those of Chicago. (I keep trying to convince my husband we should move to Helsinki, because the weather is similar. He’s a native Chicagoan, and he’s still not convinced.)
|The Angry Birds theme park in Tampere, Finland.|
Due to the large forested areas in Finland, timber, paper factories, and agriculture are important sectors of their economy. However, their northerly locale creates some difficulty in growing an array of crops because of the shorter growing season. Technology and information-based jobs are also rising in Finland. The open-source operating system Linux was created by a Finnish software engineer; the phone app Angry Birds was also developed in Finland as well as Nokia phones. Some of the world’s largest cruise ships were built in Finnish shipyards.
About 75% of Finns are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the largest churches in the world. In 2013, a little over 22% reported not following any religion at all.
|Hei = Hello|
In Finland, not only does Finnish have official status, but Swedish as well. In Lapland (the northernmost region), the Sami language also has official status there. Finnish is one of the few European languages that are not part of the Indo-European family of languages. The Finnish language is closer to Estonian and Hungarian than it is to the Scandinavian languages. You’ll also hear Russian, Estonian, Somali, English, and Arabic in the minority areas. The most popular foreign languages studied in school are English, German, and French.
|One of my favorite Internet memes.|
About a quarter of the country lies above the Arctic Circle, which means that in the summer there, the sun does not fully set for nearly 73 consecutive days (sometimes called the “midnight sun.”). In the winter, it doesn’t rise at all for close to 51 days in a row. Finland boasts one of the best educational systems in the world and one of the best healthcare systems as well. Finland’s press has also been ranked as one of the freest in the world. These things alone are probably what helped to rank Finland number two in the Gross National Happiness report by The Earth Institute. Much of their cuisine is based on fish and vegetables. They generally don’t eat as much red meat as other countries, but it is on the rise. However, the dish I chose uses beef, so call it what you will. It still sounds amazing. And I’m hungry just thinking about it.
Up next: holidays and celebrations