Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Meet the Germans

Meet the Germans is a website run by the Goethe Institute, and it seeks to explore "what is typical of Germany and German society." One of its blogs is dedicated to the subject of German-Finnish interaction, and in an extensive series of posts the Finland-based authors Thomas Lang and Ariane Grundies reflect on life in Finland as it's experienced by Germans. Judging from recent posts, much of the reflection concerns the topic of saunas, but there are also some insights into the difficulty of pinning down and classifying the Finnish national character:
Ich habe sehr unterschiedliche Dinge gehört: Der Finne sei so und er sei so und anders sei er auch. Er sei Heavy Metal, er sei Natur, er sei Technik, er sei Mökki ohne Strom und Wasser, er sei Mökki mit Wasser, aber ohne Strom, er sei überhaupt kein Mökki, er sei finnisches Design und ein bisschen unpraktisch, er sei zuverlässig, aber dabei ziemlich unzuverlässig und äußerst gesprächig, aber ganz schön still, er sei mehr Schwede, mehr Russland, er sei vor allem er selbst, unpolitisch politisch, stolz und selbstbewusst, doch voller Minderwertigkeitskomplexe, hilfsbereit und offen, er sei sehr schräg, aber ziemlich geradeheraus.
Interestingly, perhaps, the post notes that the Finns tend to describe themselves in terms of the usual clichés, while the Germans contradict them.


Eric Dickens said...

I lived for a total of about four years in Finland between the early 1970s and 1980. Since then I have returned for summer courses; but you mix mainly with other foreigners.

Living among the people does give you some insights. So I wouldn't say: "Ich habe sehr unterschiedliche Dinge gehört". I didn't hear things, I observed them around me.

I find the quote a little soundbitish. This is because it makes a rather poetic stab at identifying the "one and only" Finnish character. Some traits are spread across the country - like the copious consumption of alcohol. But people should take into account how far north people live, how educated they are, class, family background, Finnish versus Finland-Swedish, but also rural versus urban, and so on.

The one thing which sticks out from my experience of Finland is that on the whole the women are much more open, talkative and approachable than the men. I cannot see any ethnic, biological, cultural, or other reason for this. But women are a strong "race" in Finland. I mixed more with Ostrobothnian Finland-Swedes than with Finnish-speaking Finns, on account of my fluency in Swedish and difficulty with spoken Finnish. But I do think that Finland-Swedes as a whole (even the snorkiga ones from the capital) are easier to communicate with socially. But this male-female thing does crop up in both language communities.

I think you have to relate to individuals rather than groups. While never totally forgetting the truths that clichés can contain, you can relate to people better if you don't pigeonhole them to strictly.

Finns too have a sense of irony, so some of the self-deprecatory comments may be a smokescreen designed for the foreigner to get lost in.

David McDuff said...

>>I find the quote a little soundbitish

I think it's deliberately so. The poster (Ariane Grundies, who is a poet and novelist) is trying to sum up most of the clichés about Finns, and succeeding quite well, I think.

Eric Dickens said...

I see that Grundies also had a bursary to stay in Kraków. This will have made her more perceptive. She is also an Ossie, which makes a difference. But I would like to know where she assembled this list of clichés about Finns from. Were these Finns lobbying her, or foreigners complaining about the Finns behind their back, which foreigners are wont to do? ("Es soll ja so sein...") I can't yet access her website, as I have to install a new flash player.

A question: does ACE do as much as the Goethe-Institut to forge cultural links with Finland? I saw comments, even in Finnish, on that Helsinki Goethe-Institut's website. Maria Antas wrote there too.

David McDuff said...

>>I would like to know where she assembled this list of clichés about Finns from<<

Eric, the "mökki-nature-silent-design-technology-Sweden-Russia", etc. clichés that Ariane Grundies mentions are just about the most common ones there are, and if you spent 4 years in Finland as a foreigner you must be aware of those stereotypes...

I think what's amusing about the excerpt I quoted is the way in which the different cliché-qualities are juggled together so that they more or less cancel one another out. I read the paragraph as saying that the clichés don't really have very much basis in reality, or that if they do, they depend very much on the identity/nationality of the beholder.

Which is why I headed the post "Meet the Germans" rather than "Meet the Finns"...