If Americans are known to be outgoing, the British elegant, the French romantic and the German rigorous, then what are the Finns?
A comic book that has been widely discussed on Chinese social media answers this question.
Finnish Nightmares by Karoliina Korhonen features Matti, a “typical Finn” who prefers minimal contact and appreciates his personal space. The uncomfortable social situations described in the book, such as having to stand next to people in an elevator, and wanting to try a sample snack while fearing the shop assistant, have struck a chord with many Chinese youth.
It has lead to the popularity of a newly coined word jingfen, or “spiritually Finnish,” which refers to being introverted or even socially awkward.
When the Chinese version of Finnish Nightmares was printed in June, Rauli Patasvuori and his Chinese colleagues had a good laugh, because many who know Patasvuori see him as “a typical Finn.” Patasvuori gladly mocks himself and even bought several copies of the book as gifts for his friends.
“It is true,” he said. “Finns are straightforward and warm, and we like people but sometimes we like our own space more.”
He explained that, in Finland, it is very common to see that when coming into a bus or elevator only half full, people think it’s already full and won’t enter, as they’re afraid that they will have to sit or stand next to each other.
To befriend a Finn, you have to be the proactive one, according to Patasvuori. “[When] we also want to be friends with somebody, it is hard for us to express it. So it’s easier if the other person in the beginning is more into it and giving more.
“I was in Finland once for a few days, and it’s really [like that],” testified Valerie Sokolova, a 24-year- old Russian student in Beijing.
She gave an example that, back in Russia people in a line usually stand next to each other, while in Finland people stand about “four meters away” from each other.
“They don’t smile when walking down the street, but when you ask them something, they are very friendly.”
Johanna Heikkinen, a veteran expat from Finland who speaks fluent Chinese, considers herself “partly Finnish and partly not,” because she values privacy and her own space but also enjoys conversations and the company of others.
She recalls when first coming to China about two decades ago as a student, she had an interesting talk with a language tutor.
“He said that I was too lively and happy to be a Finn. He had another class of Finnish engineers, who were quiet and only answered to people with a yes or no,” she said. “[But] my friends testified that of course Johanna is a Finn. ‘She also likes going to naked saunas, enjoys a walk in the forest and really values nature.’”
Connecting with introverts
According to Heikkinen, the “national personality of Finland” of being low key is also shared by many Chinese people she knows.
“[Both] try to be modest and not make too much noise about ourselves,” Heikkinen said, adding that the difference is that Chinese prefer to be around people while Finns prefer to be alone. Patasvuori thinks that his time living and working outside of Finland, including 1.5 years in China working in retail, has changed his reserved nature.
“I was forced to learn to communicate with people, without
Jyri Lintunen, Press and Culture Counselor at the Embassy of Finland, holds the comic book titled Finnish Nightmares.