Pia Olsson, Professor of Ethnology, is describing how Finns see themselves to the international group of 22 journalists. She has done some quick nethnography, in other words she googled “Finnish customs” and picked out the most common descriptions.
According to her results, Finns are laid-back, quiet, realistic, chronically insecure, reserved, but also helpful and egalitarian.
"Why did it take until this year to pass the law on same-sex marriage?"
The audience launches questions at the end.
“So, if Finns are supposedly equal, why did it take until this year to pass the law on same-sex marriage?” wonders Oleksandr Guzenko, a student journalist from Ukraine.
After the talk, the group descends the steps of the University’s Main Library. On every floor, other library visitors look up at the group happily chattering away.
“I think it’s true about them being quiet. We got quite a disapproving look from that woman over there,” one of the group whispers.
You even have paternity leave!
This year’s visiting journalists, aged 21 to 29, were selected from among some 1,500 applicants. The number of visitor hopefuls doubled from 2013, when the Foreign Correspondents’ Programme was last arranged.
Eskedar Kifle from Ethiopia and Yohannie Linggasari from Indonesia submitted their applications based on their friends’ recommendations.
“I figured it would be interesting to visit a country I knew hardly anything about and which I’d be unlikely to see otherwise,” says Kifle.
"Ethiopia is developing very quickly and needs good models."
Kifle, who works at Capital, an English-language financial newspaper, hopes her reports on the visit will create enthusiasm and motivation back home.
“It’s obvious that the basic structures of your society are solid,” says Kifle. “Ethiopia is developing very quickly and needs good models. As a journalist I have an audience and can tell them about the things I’ve learned in Finland.”
Linggasari, a journalist at CNN Indonesia, specialising in human rights, education and equality, is very interested in Finnish equality.
“You not only have maternity but also paternity leave! And the day-care fees are reasonable. I want to hear more. I’m also interested in the status of sexual minorities and same-sex marriage.”
Baffling milk drinkers
Kifle had heard about the Finnish stereotypes before her trip.
“I was prepared for people being self-effacing, shy and quiet,” she says. “But that’s not what they’re like, at least not as much as I expected. People here are friendly and smiling. It’s clear, though, that they value their personal space.”
In Linggasari’s opinion people seem happy.
“They can be silent without feeling uncomfortable,” she points out. “I think that’s better than in Indonesia where we always try to come up with something to say.”
"People seem happy."
The young women are also surprised by the huge consumption of milk.
“You drink milk with your meals, even though it’s just for breakfast,” Kifle chuckles.
“And the range of dairy products in stores! There are so many choices it’s impossible to find what you’re looking for.”
In addition to learning about Finland’s history and the Finnish language, the journalists spent a day at the Tvärminne Zoological Station in Hanko, and another getting acquainted with the Finnish school system and teacher education.