I spend a great deal of time on the internet, most of it pursuing interests which have nothing to do with politics or current events (I am so
sick to death of everything
having to be about goddamn Donald Trump and the US election). As I've followed link after link in pursuit of whatever appealed to my personal sense of the aesthetic, the ingenious, the daring, or the bizarre, it began to strike me that a surprisingly-large fraction of the most interesting material out there originated from just one country.
When you first discover someone's blog or YouTube channel or whatever, in many cases you can't immediately tell where in the world the person is. If I find someone's work interesting, I sometimes give myself a little challenge of figuring it out. A word or two in the native language amidst a mostly-English blog, or a reference to a certain town or city as "here", or some other clue, can pin it down -- OK, now I know this person is from, say, Finland. Something a YouTuber mentions about herself -- Finland again. Or sometimes there's no guessing to do because the profile intro says it straight out -- Finland.
But wait a minute. I have to admit Finland is a country I know very little about, but I know it has about five million people, which is just one-fifteenth of one percent of the world's total population. Is the whole country populated by creative eccentrics? Is there a special Finnish sense of weirdness
that just happens to resonate especially well with mine? Are they hugely over-represented on the internet for some reason? One of the blogs I've most recently discovered is actually called Yet Another Suomi Blog
means "Finnish" in Finnish), implying that there are a lot of them, but there's a lot of everything
on the internet.
This raises another point that intrigues me. On some blogs, interspersed among the fluent internet English
, I'll see occasional passages that look like this:
Mua ärsyttää ihan liikaa joidenkin opettajien suhtautuminen kaikkiin sukupuolivähemmistöjuttuihin. Syksylläkin meidän koululle tuli immeisiä kertomaan tyttöjen päivästä ja siinä sitten oli kysymys joka oli tyyliin mitä asioita tulee mieleen tyttönä olemisesta ja poikana olemisesta, ja koska me ei kavereiden kanssa haluttu alkaa latelemaan jotain "tytöillä on röyhelöhame ja pojilla on pieruverkkarit" juttuja, niin mehän kirjoitettiin vaan että tyttö on kun tuntee olevansa tyttö ja poika on kun tuntee olevansa poika
When you look at a paragraph of German or French, even if you've never studied the language, you can often identify things like articles and prepositions and see words that look somewhat familiar (German is closely related to English, and a huge number of English words originate from French). Even with something like Danish or Italian or Spanish, you can generally make out something of how the sentences are structured and what topic is being talked about. For me, at least, most Middle Eastern languages have similarly recognizable elements because so much of their vocabulary is borrowed from Arabic, which I've studied. But Finnish looks completely impenetrable. Even the fact that it's written in the same Roman alphabet as English just highlights how fascinatingly alien it is. Sure, there are occasional obvious borrowings from English:
Unohtu vielä sanoa, että ainakin missä piireissä olen täällä pyörinyt, niin varsin queer-friendly
.....but again, that just makes it more obvious by contrast how unlike English the language itself is. And this impression is not mistaken. Finnish doesn't belong to the huge Indo-European family of which most European, and several Middle Eastern, languages are members. It's unrelated to all of those, belonging to the Uralic family, related only to Estonian and a scattering of minor languages in northern Russia (and, very
distantly, to Hungarian). It is, at least, a language boasting some interesting insults
Seriously, I'm all the more impressed that many Finnish internetters can write English so well that one can hardly tell they aren't American -- English must seem just as alien to a Finnish-speaker as vice-versa. Perhaps that's related to the fact that Finland (along with its close cousin Estonia) is among the world's top-ranked countries in education
, one of the few non-East-Asian nations to achieve this.
Finland's geographical location makes it somewhat isolated yet not completely cut off from foreign influences, something also true of the two countries most noted for eccentric and imaginative pop culture, Britain and Japan (both being island countries just off the coast of major civilizations). Perhaps such traits are best cultivated in places a little off the beaten path of history? But Finland hasn't been left to develop in peace -- it spent most of its modern history before 1918 under Swedish or Russian rule, and had to fight off a Soviet invasion in 1939-1940. Sharing a long common border with an aggressive superpower isn't conducive to a tranquil national existence. Just ask Mexico.
Every society has its own character. I pity those whose mental universe is limited to their own country, however large that country may be. There is a whole colorful world out there.