On Being Finnish

While trying to promote my book, Lost Ground, I’ve come to realize just how Finnish I am. Finns are notoriously bad at promotion–that’s why much of the world believes the sauna is a Swedish invention!–and especially at self-promotion, or anything that smacks of self-praise. “Oma kehu haisee,” we were told– “bragging about yourself smells bad.” This does not make for good salesmanship, even if you are selling something of the finest quality. On a serious note, it enables phenomena like the post-World War II era known as Finlandization, when Finns deliberately downplayed anything that might offend their Russian neighbour. I recall hearing in ’70’s Finland: ‘yes, we cherish our independence, we just don’t make noise about it.’

I’m not sure where this distaste for self-promotion comes from, whether it’s hard-wired into Finnish DNA, or the cultural product of centuries of being squeezed between the Swedes and the Russians and having to keep a low profile. Having grown up next door to the U.S.A., I know what you should do to promote yourself and your efforts, but to a Finn–and a Canadian to boot–it’s like pulling teeth without freezing.

I’m not sure what studies have been done on this subject, if any.


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