A tribute to Finland

Even though Finland is only five hours flight away, it took me 22 years to go back to the country of my birth. How wonderful to arrive just in time for midsummer, when it never gets dark, because the sun doesn’t set. It is the time of the Midnight Sun.

Driving to the Middle/West part of Finland, to the country side, the first thing to notice is the green scenery. Everything is almost neon-green. A long time of the year the surface is covered with frost and snow, but now is the time for the vegetation to grow. It’s growing around the clock, like catching up for what was missing during the long, dark winter months. The nature is exploding with green farmlands, flowers, mushrooms, berries and fruits.  Summer in Finland means weeks and weeks of daylight, night and day. On the other hand, in the winter there are long months of darkness. It’s called the Polar Nights. In the Northern city of Rovaniemi you can cross The Arctic Circle.

About 70% of the land is covered with healthy trees. This is the Green Gold of Finland. After Canada, Finland is a top exporter of forest products. Naturally, the nature highlight was walking on the forest paths where I played as a little girl. I breathe in the fresh air, filled with the fragrance of pine trees and green birch leaves. After all, Finland has the cleanest air in the world. This is where I picked countless kilos of lingonberries, blueberries and cloudberries as a child.

Likewise, the water is never far away and there is plenty of it. If we look at a map, we see Finland filled with sweet-water lakes, surrounded by The Gulf of Bothnia in the West and the Gulf of Finland in the South. Finland has the reputation of being the “Land of a Thousand Lakes”, but it has in fact tens of thousands of lakes, officially 187,000 lakes and the same number of islands. This gives an enormous and beautiful archipelago. Finns feel very close to the nature and during the long, 5-6 weeks summer holiday, they flock to the holiday homes on the coastline and the islands. How healthy it is for the mind and soul to go hiking, boating, fishing and berry picking.

The language in Finland is either Finnish or Swedish, both official languages. Our family belong to the minority of the 5,6 % who speak Swedish. Talking about language, Finns are not big on small-talk, words are chosen very carefully. They see themselves as reserved, but being calm might be a better word. Finns are just better at listening than talking.

They have a very strong sense of national identity, but the Finns can also be very proud on the international arena. It has a top school system, with fully subsidized meals for everybody. The Mother and child’s welfare is high up on the state’s priority list, with a one year paid maternity leave. We only need to mention Nautor’s Swan luxury yachts, Marimekko, Alvar Aalto furniture, Iittala glassware, the Moomins – full of wisdom for children,

Nokia phones and the sauna (there is a sauna in every Finnish home) to understand why Finland would be equal to quality. Not only can Finland be proud regarding impressive performance across a range of productions, but corruption is practically non-existent in Finland. It is the least corrupt of all countries in the world. I would not expect anything less, because I know, a promise is kept, a smile is genuine, honesty is a virtue and you can make an appointment two weeks ahead of time and there would be no need for a reminder. They would even show up on time. Have you ever heard about the Finnish word  “sisu”? It is used to explain the national character. The meaning can be translated as determination, resilience or maybe strong courage in a situation against the odds.

When describing Finland, it turns out it tops many of the world’s best-of charts, but you will not hear Finns blow their own horn, because they rarely speak of their own achievements. According to Hannu Takkula, a Finnish, former member of the EU, Israel and Finland are twin countries. “Both have strong national identities and a powerful desire to preserve their independence. Finland and Israel are young countries, both are “high-tech fanatics”, both speak unique languages, spoken by nobody else except them and both have adopted a blue and white flag.”

On the way back to Israel, we could only laugh at our Shabbat experience in Finland, when the day did not end. What about the Jewish Shabbat from sunset to sundown? We had a festive meal with family on Friday at dinner time, but lighting Shabbat candles at 10.30. Shabbat would then begin soon, when the sun reached the lowest point. Late Saturday night, while still light, we went to sleep and made havdala/ ending the Shabbat when waking up on Sunday morning. Shabbat in the land of the Midnight Sun was certainly an experience full of light.

When I go next time, I want to visit Lapland and stay in a genuine Finnish log house. May it be soon.

About the Author
Born in Finland, Ruth Brunell lived in Australia for some time. She settled in Israel in 1996 with her husband and four daughters, and now lives in Jerusalem. Ruth has a variety of professions: cook, interior designer, and real estate agent.