Why are Finns so introverted?

What does Finland do differently

Finland has the lowest new infections with SARS-CoV-2 in Europe. Experts are therefore concerned with the question of why this Nordic country is getting through the corona pandemic so well, even though it is not practicing a new lockdown. "We have learned to deal with disasters. It is clear to us that we have to adapt in order to continue to live," says Johanna Laakso. The Finn is a professor of Finno-Ugric Studies at the University of Vienna and a member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW). In an interview, she explains why the young Prime Minister Sanna Marin is an excellent crisis manager and which clichés about Finns are counterproductive.

Finland is getting through the corona crisis much better than neighbor Sweden. What could be the reason?

Johanna Laakso: This country comparison is a constant topic for us, it's like between Austria and Germany. The Finns have more respect for the rules of the game, in Sweden individual freedom is more important. Finland had a tough lockdown in the spring from which we are still benefiting. But how to respond to crises is also a fundamental question. That was shown by the shipwreck in Estonia. In 1994 a ferry sank on the way from Tallinn to Stockholm off the Finnish island of Utö, and numerous people died. The Finns were amazed at how bad the Swedes were at accepting and dealing with these disasters. For us Finns, one thing is clear: terrible things happen, we have to learn to live with them. Finland experienced traumatic battles during World War II, and that shaped us. From our point of view, the Swedes do not know how to deal with national disasters. You can't take Corona seriously. For us, on the other hand, it is clear that we have to adapt in order to move on.

The Finns have more respect for the rules of the game, in Sweden individual freedom is more important.

What is the role of Sanna Marin, the Finnish Prime Minister who took office in December 2019?

Laakso: It polarizes but enjoys astonishing popularity. Of course there are right-wing populists, corona deniers and conspiracy theorists in Finland too, but so far these have remained a small minority. The Finns tend to be more pragmatic; that is also the strength of our Prime Minister. She always remains objective in discussions and seeks a reasonable conversation. That's an important part of their positive image.

The Finns tend to be more pragmatic; that is also the strength of our Prime Minister.

Is home office widespread in Finland?

Laakso: In certain professions, definitely. Many people have summer houses that are technically well equipped. You worked there during the initial lockdown. That took the pressure off the cities massively. In an international comparison, however, the apartments in Finland are also larger, which makes it easier.

How much acceptance has the Corona app experienced?

Laakso: Many people have downloaded them and are using them voluntarily. It seems to be working well, as I hear from friends in Finland. The corona detection dogs at the airports, which are supposed to sniff out sick people, have caused a stir. Of course, that works brilliantly as publicity. But I read in reputable Finnish newspapers that it is still not certain whether dogs can actually smell Corona.

Many people have downloaded the Corona app and use it voluntarily.

Finns are quirky and not particularly social. Are these clichés correct?

Laakso: In some cases, social distancing was already practiced in everyday life beforehand. In a circle of friends you kiss and hug each other in greeting, but you automatically have a certain distance in conversation with strangers. As a student I was in Hungary at the university for six months. I always had the feeling that people were rolling over me. You come too close to me.

Social distancing was already practiced in everyday life beforehand.

Are Finns Introverts?

Laakso: The image of the silent Finns is only partially correct. I was a little depressed by the comments in Austrian newspapers, in which the usual clichés were used, for example that Finns are constantly drunk. According to statistics, more alcohol is consumed per capita in Austria than in Finland. But people just love stereotypes. The history of mentality is no longer cultivated in science; it lives on in the media. We want to classify people in an essentialist way, in times of Corona this stereotypical way of thinking is unfortunately experiencing a renaissance again.

 

AT A GLANCE

Johanna Laakso studied Finno-Ugric Studies at the University of Helsinki. In 2000 she changed to a professorship at the Institute for European and Comparative Linguistics and Literature Studies at the University of Vienna. Since 2008 she has been a member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW).