The taciturn Finns – is there any truth to the stereotype?

The image of the taciturn Finns is a much-repeated stereotype that is still common. At the same time, Finns are automatically subject to being compared with other nationalities.

“However, no one has actually studied the nature of this taciturnity,” says Anna Vatanen, who is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. “In what situations are Finns reticent and compared to whom?” Vatanen decided to take on the task herself.

Vatanen looks at how people who are acquainted with each other behave in natural interaction situations. She studies how they react to moments of silence during a conversation and how they create such moments: what marks the beginning and the end of silence and what happens in between. Is the silence natural or awkward? Do the persons involved feel the need to busy themselves with something else during the silence? Vatanen bases her analysis on videotaped conversations.

Vatanen looks for pauses and repetitive patterns in the pauses. Her aim is to find any general strategies and relate them to the common suppositions about Finnish taciturnity and findings from studies in other languages.

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Moments of silence

Although it is early days, Vatanen already suspects that there is something unique to the way Finns relate to silence. Earlier research has shown that pauses occur even among English-speakers. However, during these pauses, the parties typically focus on something else, like petting a dog or fetching a book. In conversations between Finns, there are moments when nothing happens at all.

“They just remain there, quite relaxed,” Vatanen explains.

“The most interesting thing is not necessarily how long the pause is, but what happens during it.”

Vatanen’s research material includes discussions while eating breakfast, driving in a car, playing board games and visiting a friend. Naturally, some pauses occur when a speaker focuses on something else, such as the next move in the game. But, as Vatanen points out, such situations do not always require everybody else to stop talking.

“Even a couple of seconds of silence may feel like a long time. If there are many such moments and they don’t seem awkward, it probably means that the people involved are alright with them.”

What is silence?

“As a matter of fact, ‘silence’ only means that nobody is speaking in a situation,” says Vatanen. “But there are other kinds of interaction, such as nods and looks, which makes silence slightly misleading.”

It is also a matter of how people manifest their connections. Words are not always required; just being there is sometimes enough.

“Maybe it’s characteristic of Finnish-speakers to refrain from saying anything at all. It may be a normal way of being together. On the other hand, even if Finns have a different attitude to silence than other nationalities, it does not mean that Finns are always, or in general, ‘taciturn’. Furthermore, you mustn’t treat ‘Finns’ as a homogeneous group with just one, common way of doing things.”

In spring, Vatanen will travel to Australia to work with her colleagues there. She is eager to learn about the Australian researchers’ views on the subject and if they see it as something strange or anomalous.

“I don’t think I will be able to establish where the notion of the taciturn Finns originates, but I hope and believe I will be able to reveal something about the reality behind the stereotype.”

In 2016, the Finnish Cultural Foundation awarded Anna Vatanen, PhD, a grant for post-doctoral research on the theme of taciturn Finns.
, Jenni Heikkinen.

Olli Mäki’s story charms director

“Artistic freedom is everything for a film-maker. Maybe it’s easier to ask for it once you have proved yourself to be trustworthy”, wonders film director Juho Kuosmanen.

His movie The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki won the prize of Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival, and great success has been predicted for the movie and its director.

The overall effect of the publicity the movie has got thanks to Cannes will only become clear later, but Kuosmanen says that at least the partners in the movie have liked the attention. According to Kuosmanen, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki seems to be selling well overseas, and the director is also happy if other Finnish film-makers receive attention thanks to the film.

“When one film-maker from a country is noticed, it usually means that people start looking at the whole country.”

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An exceptional man, an exceptional movie

The idea for The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki came in 2011. Kuosmanen tried to write a couple of scripts, but they just did not seem to progress. Taulukauppiaat (The Painting Sellers), the movie Kuosmanen directed as his graduate work, had won best student movie award at Cannes earlier.  This meant that Kuosmanen’s first full-length feature film would also be shown at the festival, putting even more pressure on the work. The Kuosmanen came across the story of boxer Olli Mäki.

“I thought that through it I could address the same feelings, i.e. pressure and success, and what it means to different people.”

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki depicts Mäki’s preparations for his upcoming world title fight. At the same, he realises that he has fallen in love.

Kuosmanen was interested in how before the fight Mäki was built up to be a national hero, even though the boxer himself was expecting something less than heroic.

“Olli Mäki was a good boxer, but his kind nature was in conflict with the harshness of the sport.” As he was an exceptional boxer, it was necessary to make an exceptional boxing movie.

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Recreation from silent movies

Now Kuosmanen is working on two scripts, and over the winter he is shooting a silent movie for the Loud Silents festival. In store is a new version of Finland’s oldest film, Salaviinanpolttajat from 1907.

Kuosmanen has previous experience of making silent movies; in 2012 he made the movie Romu-Mattila ja Kaunis Nainen. It is being shown again in Paris, at the film archive in conjunction with the premiere of  The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki.

“The periods between films are long, as are the processes, especially when you want to be involved in everything. For this reason it is good to have some shorter projects in between, so that there is still that feeling of doing things together and a bit of playfulness. Silent movies are refreshing projects and they also bring with them ideas.”

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is in theatres from 2 September 2016.

Juho Kuosmanen has received grants from the Finnish Cultural Foundation for artistic work and making his movies.
, Jenni Heikkinen.

Vibrant contemporary art

Between 2014 and 2015, the North Ostrobothnia Regional Fund carried out the biggest ever regional project of the Finnish Cultural Foundation. The project budget was nearly EUR 300,000 in total, of which the Cultural Foundation contributed EUR 250,500.

In the Pohjavirta project, eight works of contemporary art were produced for the region of North Ostrobothnia. The works are a gift of the Regional Fund to the municipalities involved and will remain their property. All the works are public art, and they are placed in busy locations not normally known as sites of contemporary art. The locations include a port, alongside fields and a town square. In fact “New locations for art” was used as the project’s working title.

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Aki Roukala: Contemporaries, Pudasjärvi. The work consists of eight life-size portraits on glass panels placed in different locations in the centre of the small municipality.
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Jouna Karsi: Spirit of the Poem, Haapavesi. The work shows a folk poet who lived in a small village and who was shunned by his community. In this work, the poet finally gets access to books, demonstrating his right to learn and express his opinions. The work also reminds us of the importance of tolerance.

The project was carefully prepared, and local actors committed to it early on. All works involved local companies as partners. Local people were also engaged; the works were about them or they took part in the implementation process.

An open idea competition was announced in early 2014. Artists were given a free hand, as the aim was to produce something entirely new. The entries were expected to be surprising, placed in untypical locations and combine different types of art. A total of 116 ideas were
received, and they included a broad range of different entries, from visual arts to dance.

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Eeva-Kaisa Jakkila and Jussi Valtakari: Over the Time, Taivalkoski. This is an 18-metre-long footbridge that re-establishes the connection between the centre of the municipality and a small island in the middle of a river. The river is also part of the work.

The final selections were made by a group of curators consisting of Antti Tenetz from the North Ostrobothnia Regional Fund, Janne
Kauppinen from the Oulu Museum of Art and artist Petri Sirviö. Mike Watson, a curator from Britain, was also involved in the process.
One of the pieces was chosen by a jury, while 12 others were selected for further processing by the artists and the curators.

The curators played an important role in the project. They discussed the criteria and realisation of the entries with the artists,
encouraging them to adopt new thinking and use new materials. Even though the curator–artist partnership is now common in the Finnish arts scene, not all artists are familiar with the practice. For this reason, the aim was to introduce the artists involved to the arrangement.

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Joonas Mikola: Isolation, Oulu. This is a large steel cylinder with a bare outer surface, encouraging local graffiti artists to cover it with their work.

The curators selected the remaining seven works of the project on the basis of the revised entries. In the end, only works that will remain on permanent display in public spaces were selected. In fact, a continuous and permanent physical presence was one of the selection
criteria applied by the curators. As expected, high artistic quality and local relevance were the other criteria.

The North Ostrobothnia Regional Fund needed expertise in a wide range of areas for such an extensive multi-art project. The curators and the Fund secretary were extremely busy throughout the project. The producer played an important role in issues concerning contractual practices, permit processes and funding. One of the main aims of the Fund in the project was to share the expertise that it had accumulated over the years. For this reason, an online arts acquisition package aimed at facilitating such acquisitions was produced as part of the project. This means that the project will have a lasting impact.

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Minna Jatkola: Sound of the City, Raahe. Wind and steel are the main elements of this piece located in the port of Raahe. The sounds of the piece are created by the combination of wind and the immobility of the steel structures. This is a joint undertaking involving local schools, the port and long-established industrial firms. It reflects the changing character of the city.
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Rita Porkka, Johanna Riepula, Niina Jortikka and Tero Mäkelä: Giants of Mankila, Siikalatva. This is a concrete visualisation of an old story about two giants that lived on opposite banks of a river. The working group and the village residents erected these five-metre-tall sculptures, which now stand in the centre of the village.

Text: Anni Saari

The first photo:
Jaakko Mattila and Jussi Ängeslevä: Pylväsvuo, Ylivieska. The work was inspired by the architectural elements of the local farmhouses, local landscape and the tools used by farmers in their daily work.

 

 

The Pohjavirta project by the North Ostrobothnia Regional Fund was the biggest ever regional project of the Finnish Cultural Foundation.
, Jenni Heikkinen.

Chinese tourists as target group

– The best way to reach Chinese tourists is to use their own social media channels, explains researcher Yu Guopeng.

Between 50,000 and 60,000 Chinese tourists visit Finland every year, and the Chinese are the biggest spenders in their travel destinations. The Chinese often pick their destinations on social media.

– For this reason, Finnish tourist companies, too, should learn how Chinese tourists use social media, says Yu.

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– Social media in China is very different from Western social media because it is under strict state control. Nevertheless, Chinese tourists use it more or less in the same way as Westerners.

Facebook and Twitter, which are familiar to Finns, are banned in China, but the Chinese have their own channels, some of which are even more influential than their Western counterparts. The most popular of them is WeChat, which resembles Facebook.

– The Chinese know little about the sites used in the West, and for this reason publishing information on them is futile even if the content is excellent. For example, YouTube videos are useless because the whole channel is banned in China.

Translating company websites or Facebook updates into Chinese is therefore not practicable, and tourist companies should have a presence in the services used in China. Links to other sites rarely function, which means that they, too, are of little use.

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It would better to encourage Chinese tourists to talk about Finnish destinations in their own channels than to produce updates in Chinese.

– Chinese tourists trust stories appearing on WeChat, and information spread by word of mouth is very important to them. Communication in WeChat is mainly between friends and family members, and their recommendations are trusted.

According to Yu Guopeng, tourists should be encouraged to share their experiences and those who post updates should be rewarded.

– Many people are lazy when travelling and do not post any updates afterwards even if they liked the place, while others are too shy to share their stories.

Rewards also encourage people to say more and in a more interesting manner. The rewards could be in the form of gift vouchers.

People could also be offered suggestions for updates, or they could be urged to pick the things that interested them most in the destination. The important thing is to have tempting updates.

– I have noticed in my research that the credibility of previous updates and service ratings used to be important. Creating interest is now the top issue, and the updates must also be appealing, explains Yu Guopeng.

– When consumers get interested, they ask further questions about prices, locations and so on.

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Photos by Harri Tahvanainen

Yu Guopeng, a student at Åbo Akademi University, has received two grants from the Finnish Cultural Foundation totalling EUR 34,000 for a dissertation on tourism and social media applications.
, Jenni Heikkinen.

Plastic beauty

The saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is literally true in the work of Wiebke Pandikow. Pandikow turns recycled plastic bags into jewellery.

– I’ve always hated plastic. It’s horrible, it’s everywhere and it clogs up nature. Now I love plastic because it can be turned into any shape, she explains.

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Video: On Art and Science: Wiebke Pandikow’s Plastic Jewellery

Pandikow’s methods are as ordinary as her material: She creates art using a clothes iron.  When shaping leaves, she also uses a soldering iron. When worked with hot tools, plastic slowly changes shape, and everyday items turn into something totally new. Depending on the temperature, it may start resembling a sensitive, translucent plant or an old bone.

Plastic is durable. Even thin, lightweight pieces are sturdy and can be treated casually. Different kinds of bags turn into slightly different pieces.

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In recent years, Pandikow has been fascinated by the thin bags used for fruit. They can be made into a translucent material that reminds Pandikow of fungi.

– As our oceans are oversaturated with plastic, maybe animals will learn how to use it.

An American collector was the first customer for Pandikow’s plastic jewellery. Some of the pieces are works of art, while others come in handy as durable household items.  People are often puzzled by the unusual material.

– Many people see the pieces and ask themselves what an earth they are, says Pandikow with a laugh. A common guess is that they have been produced with a 3D printer. However, they are made entirely by hand. Making one piece can take up to 40 hours, and mastering new shapes requires a lot of practice. Pandikow has had her fair share of burns. However, as she says, a goldsmith is used to handling hot materials.

Raincoats made from plastic bags served as the inspiration for Pandikow’s “plastic bag jewellery”. About two years ago, she started trying out different uses for the bags and noticed that they can turn into lots of shapes. In her jewellery, Pandikow combines plastic with such materials as bones and pieces of wood. She once found inspiration in an old medallion that had belonged to her mother, which became part of a piece.

– I’m really happy that I could use the medallion for its original purpose. It keeps the memories alive, says Pandikow. Her other materials are also recycled items. Even though Pandikow gets through lots of plastic bags, she emphasises that she only uses bags that would be discarded anyway.

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Pandikow is inspired by nature, and she often finds material for her art when strolling along the beach.

– I come from a village of 20 people, so it’s no wonder that I use natural motifs, says Pandikow, who moved to Finland from Germany nine years ago.

She is inspired by nature, and her choice of material also encourages her to use natural motifs: Plastic is made by humans and symbolises the human impact on nature.

– It’s really sad if our actions lead to our environment becoming uglier and less diverse. It’s bad for us and for our children, but it’s not so bad for nature itself. Nature can put up with all this, but we can’t.

Pandikow’s web page

Facebook-page

Photos and video: Harri Tahvanainen

Photo of Past: Wiebke Pandikow

In 2015, designer Wiebke Pandikow received a grant of EUR 12,000 from the Finnish Cultural Foundation for her artistic work.
, Jenni Heikkinen.

Defender of the diversity of life

Professor Hanna Kokko was awarded an award for outstanding cultural achievement at Cultural Foundations Annual Gala on 27 February. The award was given to a researcher of courtship and evolution and the defender of the diversity of life.

Kokko specialises in theoretical ecology and evolutionary biology.  She took her matriculation examination in the German School in Helsinki in 1990 and graduated as a Master of Science (tech.) from the Helsinki University of Technology. She continued her studies at the University of Helsinki, writing her doctoral dissertation on the evolution of sexual choice and courtship in 1997.

Hanna Kokko is truly cosmopolitan scientist. She has worked as a post doc researcher at the University of Cambridge and at the University of Glasgow and as senior assistant at the University of Jyväskylä. In 2004 she was appointed professor of animal ecology at the University of Helsinki.  Then she was appointed as an Australian Laureate Fellow, considered to be the country’s most distinguished scientific post.  Now she has returned to Europe, taking up the post of a professor in evolutionary biology at the University of Zurich.

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Kokko has published more than 200 scientific articles, books and works that are also intended for the public at large. The book Kutistuva turska (Shrinking cod), written by Hanna Kokko and Katja Bargum in a lucid and informative style, received the State Award for Public Information in 2009.  The articles and publications of Kokko are frequently cited and she often appears as a speaker at events around the world. This is because she is able to present complex mathematical formulas in a manner that all audiences can understand.

Hanna Kokko studies the interactive relationships between individuals and groups. She is particularly interested in situations in which the good of the individual is in conflict with the good of the population, species or a community. In economics, this is called the tragedy of the commons, but it also affects nearly all interactive biological relationships at cellular level and in communities alike. In recent years, Hanna Kokko has studied phenomena such as cancer from this perspective. Hanna Kokko emphasises that we can only save our planet by preserving the diversity of species and by ensuring the existence of differences in nature.

The Finnish Cultural Foundation awards grants for outstanding cultural achievement annually. In 2016 the awards went to Hanna Kokko, professor in evolutionary ecology, rap artist Karri “Paleface” Miettinen and Jaakko Nousiainen, professor emeritus in political science.
, Jenni Heikkinen.

The Whisper of the Aurora

It is as if a woman is whispering “OK” amidst the noise. Unto K. Laine, professor of acoustics at Aalto University, is playing a recording made in North Karelia during a display of the Aurora Borealis.

According to Laine, the sounds produced by the Northern Lights may also recall a waterfall, crackling or banging. For centuries, people around the world have told stories of the sounds, but many scientists remain sceptical.

– As recently as fifteen years ago, such stories were dismissed as products of the imagination, Laine explains. He decided to look into the subject. After spending hundreds of nights making recordings, Laine is probably the only person in the world to document the sounds of the Aurora Borealis.

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Laine is the first acoustics expert to study the phenomenon, and he believes that this has been crucial to his success. He has built much of the equipment himself, and he needs hypersensitive microphones. Laine uses three microphones so that he can determine the direction accurately.  The site must be open and very quiet.

– Picking the sounds is like hitting the jackpot. It must be dead calm and not too humid, and there must be a real show going on in the sky.

Laine started studying the phenomenon in the year 2000, and his first successful recording followed shortly after that. In April that year, one of his students phoned and asked him to look out of the window.

– There was a fantastic light show going on. There was no time to waste, says Laine, recalling the situation.

He grabbed his recording equipment and soon found himself standing in the freezing cold and listening to the crackle with a cheap microphone.

– That prompted me to buy better equipment.

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How can the sounds of the Aurora Borealis still be a source of controversy? Laine, too, is puzzled by this.

– The Northern Lights have inspired fear all around the world, and this may still be the case.

The fact that the sounds have been dismissed as imaginary is one reason why Laine started studying the subject. Many people have been reluctant to talk about the sounds that they have heard because they are afraid of being branded as crazy.

– I have read stories of people that had heard these sounds and experienced an ethical awakening. I thought that maybe these people are right and have simply been unfairly derided. I felt that I had to take a closer look at the subject.

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The physical origin of the phenomenon remains a mystery. Laine believes that as the aurora is moving, the electromagnetic field also changes and triggers off a phenomenon that creates sounds at altitudes of less than 100 metres.

Laine is now planning to make new recordings, and he is checking the old ones. He hopes that one day computers will be able to pick the right sounds automatically from the recordings. Ultimately, findings by independent research groups are also needed as the final proof.

However, Laine has already convinced many of his colleagues. In summer 2014, a research team from Northern Ireland studying meteorite sounds contacted Laine and expressed its willingness to cooperate on the subject. As meteors burn up at an altitude of 20 kilometres, the sounds produced by them should not be audible. However, meteor sounds have been recorded and they may originate in the same manner as the sounds produced by the Northern Lights.

Listen to Laine’s recording:

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Photos by Janne Kommonen and Harri Tahvanainen

In 2015, Professor Unto K. Laine received a grant of EUR 26,000 from the Finnish Cultural Foundation for studying sounds of the Northern Lights and meteorites.
, Jenni Heikkinen.