I went to Finland to visit two friends in Tampere in the March of 2014. Russia had just annexed Crimea and ebola has broken out in Africa. I wanted to take a look at the North before Aaro was driven somewhere else, which turned out to become Munich. Now I only need to take the S-Bahn to hear him sing Karaoke. But green beer is not to be found in his new home.
A weekend+ in Tampere
I could only give this country a prolonged weekend during a springy March, but usually such a weekend with local friends is enough to get a taste, idea and feeling for and of a place. It's tourism+.
On the first day we didn't spend much time in downtown Tampere, safe for a walk and eating some reindeer, with some non-local beer, as the local one supposedly sucks ass. Tampere, or all of Finland from what I can say, doesn't make you awe at its obvious beauty, nor post selfies posing at popular places everyone will recognize, nor checkout places you know you must see. It is not a shiny country that needs to be recognized and be treated with the status of a celebrity. The country is enough by itself. Just like the people on the street are not overly preoccupied with their looks or judging the looks of others. The cities are beautiful, but don't hide their origin, which is work.
Factories can still be seen in downtown Tampere and not far out of Helsinki city center. High-tech is embraced, since it makes life easier, but it doesn't feel like the culture is focused on technology. Yet, there is no fear of including technology in every day life on a scale unthinkable in Germany.
My exposure to Fins was limited by time, but the few interactions I had were with a unique type of people. Neither are they Germanic, nor Scandinavian. You missed the all smiles people and hot dogs of Denmark, but you also did not have to deal with the grumpy faces of Germany.
The best way to understand and feel Finland is simply to experience sauna, the magical place that makes everyone equal.
At my friends apartment, you could reserve the housing's own sauna complete with meeting room next to the sauna, which can be used for negotiations or parties, or both at the same time. Even when you are at a party, so I was told, which includes nudity and booze, there's still no sex or checking out involved, if you are a Finn.
There is no artificial fuzz around sauna, since it is such a deep part of culture. It's like we in Munich adore and enjoy Augustiner, but we don't need to fuzz around it. The beer in the bottle or glass is so good in itself, that we don't need a special ritual or bar to add artificial value to it.
For Finish sauna, there's no need for wellness or recreational marketing. No fancy vitamin drinks, no atmospheric music, no carefully crafted essences for hot stones. Just water, the Sauna troll and hot air. And that is perfect. Relax you can at home, at the sauna you just take a bath in hot air and dip into a frozen lake. Have a beer, make policies, laugh and go home. Pragmatic.
Sauna != Sex
If you want to experience Finland, go to a sauna and leave all American or European concepts of what nudity means outside.
I'm sure that eastern Germans, with their history of embracing nudity without sexual connotation, will find this natural, but for me, who grew up in a society where nudity and sex are dealt with in a paradox way, it is a refreshing concept. If I see boobs, I smell sex. But that is not sauna in the finish sense. Sauna is nudity, but it is neither arousal nor judgment, it is neither starring nor showing off, it is simply relaxation and chatter. In my value system, full nudity is confined to private quarters, while over sexualized television and marketing create expectations of nudity and sex, which become more and more inhumane.
On the one hand, we industrially produce underage models, dress them scantily and enjoy our sex scenes on TV, but on the other hand we marginalize nude beaches and confine sauna to those exhibitionist enough. When we get naked, our expectations of the opposite body are often preoccupied with idealized visions. If we don't live up to those ourselves, we either indulge in sports to match them or suffer from a lowered self-esteem, limiting the comfort with our bodies.
The finish model makes life easier in relation to self value and awareness, because the image of one self and it's projected image to the outside world, is altered when you see your fellow citizens naked. There is no need to put up a show, to lure the other sex with apparel or styles. You know what is underneath the mask, you know no one is perfect, you know everyone has problem zones, you also know how comfortable you can be in your own body at any age and in any size.
Fins don't judge each other in the most delicate of situations, when seeing each other nude.
The absence of social rank and materialistic status make this great equalizer a core culture builder. You can't cover you balding head with a sports car in a sauna - and neither do you have to.
Take nudity, separate sex and make sex a thing of the mind
The other great side effect of separating nudity and sex: It shifts the focus from the body to the mind. While the excitement of touch and marvel at the beauty of creation remains, the mind plays a stronger role. Good sex only happens when the mind is in it. Without a focus on nudity, a melting, a merger of minds is facilitated. A pure consumption of bodies, like in the appeal- and sex-driven society of Munich, loses its short lived gratification. This would be a blow to many who have built self esteem and careers purely on this form of consumption.
If you want explore this piece of finish and thus original sauna culture, just go to a sauna or nude beach and feel comfortable the way you are, without staring at boobs or cocks.