Interview Ambassador Finland Päivi Marjaana Kaukoranta
For the online version of the Embassy Festival this year, ambassadors from all over the world have kindly agreed to talk to us about their home country, their customs and traditions and much more. We were delighted that Ms. Päivi Marjaana Kaukoranta, Ambassador of Finland, agreed to tell us all about Finland!
Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview! How long have you been living in the Netherlands and what other cultures have you been able to explore previously?
I’ve been here for two years now! Before my move to the Netherlands I lived in Belgium, the U.S.A. and of course, Finland.
Finland has been a loyal supporter of the Embassy Festival for which we are very grateful. Have you visited the festival yourself?
I have! Last year was the first time that I was able to visit the festival and that was just wonderful. There were a great number of visitors, and there was so much enthusiasm and effort shown. I enjoyed the opportunity to just walk around and meet with lots of people from different nationalities. It allowed me to get acquainted with their cultures and products. I was really impressed by the festival. We brought Joulupukki, the Finnish Santa Claus, with us. The Finnish Seamen’s Mission (Rotterdam) was also present.
What do you hope people learn about your country or that they notice when they visit Finland?
For us, nature and wildlife are extremely important. Finns have a very strong and close relationship with nature. I hope people know about the Northern Lights, which is a magical phenomenon. Then there’s also the exquisite architecture of course.
At the Embassy festival, we celebrate unique and inspiring traditions and experiences that the participating countries offer. Could you please elaborate on some of your customs and traditions people might not be familiar with, but would you like to share, something that is typical of your country?
We have a few customs that are very normal for us. Going to the sauna for example. Or ice hole swimming. You make a hole in the ice and you swim in the ice-cold water. You can do this after you’ve been in the sauna, but it’s not necessary. There’s lots of places where you can do that in Finland. People do it, because it makes them feel good and alive. I’ve done it myself, when I lived in Finland. When you’re in ice-cold water, it gives you a shot of adrenaline. And like in other Nordic countries, Midsummer is a very important holiday for us. Families often travel to the countryside for it, to their summer cottages. In the summer, the sun hardly goes down at all. So, after a long – and very dark – winter, you gather up your friends and family and celebrate the Midsummer. There’s often a bonfire, and it’s also custom to run in the fields, and pick flowers, which you then put under your pillow, after which you’ll dream about your future partner.
‘There are more saunas than cars in Finland (over 3 million) and more heavy metal bands per capita than any other country in the world.’
What are things that are very typical of Finland, but that people might not know or heard of?
Did you know that Finland is very famous for its heavy metal music? There are many incredibly famous heavy metal bands that are from Finland. Finland has more heavy metal bands per capita than any other country in the world. Amorphis, HIM (until 2017) and Nightwish for example. We’re also the world’s most heavy drinkers of coffee and milk. And in addition to the more traditional sports, Finland has many unique and quirky sports such as Wife-carrying championships, Mosquito hunting competition, Mobile phone throwing, Swamp Football and Air Guitar
Cycling, kissing three times on the cheek, having breakfast with bread and cheese or hagelslag are some of the traits in which you could recognise Dutch traditions or customs in day to day life. Are there particular traits that you have, that would be easily recognisable, linked to your culture?
We drink coffee pretty much all the time. We also go to the sauna quite a lot. In fact, most flats come with a built-in sauna. Even the small ones! There are more saunas than cars in Finland (over 3 million). People in Finland are also much more active in the summer, because of the long hours. In the winter they tend to sleep more. In the northernmost part of Finland there are days in the winter when there’s no daylight at all (‘polar nights’) and it’s the complete opposite in the summer.
Following on that question, are there any Dutch customs that you’ve taken on yourself? Do you cycle everywhere, and have you tried hagelslag or stamppot?
I used to cycle and roller-skate to work in Finland. And since I moved to the Netherlands, I’ve been cycling every day. Since the start of the pandemic, I haven’t used my car at all. I don’t need it, as the landscape is very flat, and everything is within cycling distance. I’m very fond of the cycling culture here. And you can tell that other countries are catching on. Here, nobody raises an eyebrow if you’re cycling to a fancy event for example.
If people would like to hear music, typical of your country, what would you recommend they listen?
Naturally, I would be inclined to name the heavy metal bands mentioned previously. I also have to mention Kaija Saariaho. She is the most played and internationally best known Finnish female composer.
‘On our last trip to Finland we brought home 10kg of proper rye flour back to the Netherlands. That’s how much we like it!’
One of the best ways to get to know a different culture is through its food. Could you tell us about a signature dish from your country, that you would recommend people try, to get a sense of your country? And what is it that makes this dish special and typical of your country’s culture?
I can mention Finnish Crepes, the recipe of which is in the Embassy Festival recipe booklet. People in Finland often make them outdoors, when they’re at their summer cottages. Lovely to make on an iron pot, over the fire. We would often top it with cream and jam.
Karelian pies I also have to mention. Karelia is the birthplace of the delicious Karelian pasties and they’re a national icon. When the Finns go abroad, they want to take these pies with them. I serve them regularly when I host receptions at the residence. You serve them with an egg and butter topping.
Dark rye bread, made from sourdough, is also very traditional in Finland. The most traditional one is made with a hole in the middle. The hole is there because in the old days there used to be poles in the ceiling, from which they are hung when there weren’t any freezers. My husband makes rye bread here. On our last trip to Finland we brought home 10kg of proper rye flour back to the Netherlands. That’s how much we like it!
What were things that surprised you when you moved to the Netherlands, regarding Dutch culture?
Well, I’ve actually found that Finland and the Netherlands are quite alike. The positive mindset and everyone’s always very friendly. I like the gatherings I’ve seen outside of front doors for an evening drink in the summer. The culture here is very natural and down to earth. People go to concerts quite casually. Your museum card works so well that we have used it as a model when creating our own museum card system in Finland.
What makes you proud when you think about Finland?
It’s taken a lot of hard work to get where we are now. Since the Second World War, we’ve grown from a poor country to a wealthy one. It’s been proven that we score incredibly high when it comes to happiness, gender equality and education. I’m incredibly proud of how the country has developed to a stable and happy country.