Love thy neighbour

Finland’s geographical situation is a curious one. Not only are we far up north, we share a large border with Russia. Then there’s the practically uninhabited part of Norway and a slither of Sweden. And across the Gulf of Finland, we have Estonia.

The Finnish maiden – the country is supposedly shaped like a woman. Except she lost one arm and parts of her skirt some 60 years ago.

We have a special relationship with each of these countries which perhaps reveals more about Finland than it does from our neighbours..

Given our somewhat problematic history with our Eastern neighbour, there’s always a certain tone we use when talking about Russia. It’s either a scared whisper or a demeaning remark. Finnish military still practices for a possible attack from the East.

From a young age we’re taught to be skeptical about Russia and the influence they’ve had on us if often ignored. Our food culture is surprisingly similar to theirs and we’ve even been influenced by the language. Finland is, after all, in north east of Europe but somehow people always forget the eastern part.

Russians on the other hand have too many neighbours to remember we exist. But we do!

Then there’s Sweden. The neighbour we love to hate and have a complicated inferiority-complex over. It always seem they do everything better than us. When we triumph over something it’s a cause for national celebration. Not least when it’s in ice hockey.

Being under the Swedish rule for 700 years left it marks, most noticeably in the fact that Swedish is an official language in Finland.

The Swedes on the other hand think of us as slightly pathetic drunks.

Now, Estonia is all kinds of awesome. They speak a cute language that sounds like a Finnish dialect but isn’t. They have similar words which mean completely different things; the word for mother in law in Estonian means ghost in Finnish. The word for mother in Estonian sounds like a mother pig in Finnish. And so on.

Furthermore, Estonia is cheaper than Finland so every year hundreds of thousands of Finns flock to visit Viro to buy cheap alcohol. You have not experienced true Finland unless you’ve been on a ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn.

The Estonian migrant workers keep our construction business going. So we have nothing but good things to say when it comes to Estonia.

Now, the Norwegians. Nobody really knows much about them. We like them because they share a similar twisted relationship with Sweden. But then when you visit the northern border of Finland you realise they stole all the mountains. Conveniently enough the Norwegian border is right where the mountains start. Damn those sneaky oil-rich Norwegians…

But in the end we shower them with points at the Eurovision Song Contest every year. This year we might even give some points to Russia since their representatives, Buranovskiye Babushki, speak Udmurt, a language related to Finnish. And as everyone already knows, Eurovision is the true measure of neighbourly relations.


Practically related

There are 5 389 170 people in Finland (1/11/2011). There’s also a theory that most people are connected through six degrees of separation; meaning that if you’d name a random person anywhere in the world, there’s only a six people separation between you.

Well for Finland that’s more like two.

Whenever I meet a new Finn abroad, I’m almost certain we have mutual acquintances – especially as they’re likely to have lived abroad for a while, hung out with a similar group of people and studied a similar subject.

When I meet Finn in Finland it’s still a similar case. Except there’s a higher chance we’re actually related since my dad has like a 100 cousins, me and my sister have probably hundreds of second cousins we know nothing about.

Whenever there’s a new celebrity in Finland, there’s always someone saying: “Yeah, I went to school with her” or “He’s my cousin’s teacher.”

I’ve met a Finnish girl in Newcastle who happened to be from the same (relatively) small town as I am and who was friends with my cousin. Some Finnish guys got kidnapped in East-Timor years ago, one of them was my classmate’s dad’s boss. One popular artist when we were kids was my friend’s teacher’s husband.

The list goes on forever really. There’s always a connection.

Yesterday it was announced that my awesome friend Anne is going to be the host of the Finnish national Eurovision selection. Today her brother wrote on her facebook-wall that one of the contestants is his boss’ daughter.

It’s a small world. And, by the way, now you all know Finnish celebrities by proxy as well.

But if you thought Finland is close-knit, it’s even worse in Estonia. There everyone really knows each other. Or that’s what it seemed like with my friend Triin.