Guest post: Love in polar opposites

1 Sep

Imagine an alternate universe with more female ministers than male in government; where there are no words for “he” and “she”, and women frequently take the active role when it comes to finding a partner. Finland is a 22 hour flight from Australia.

As an Australian expat living in Finland, it is clear that Australia is still a relatively patriarchal society. I always tacitly assumed I was quite progressive, but upon arrival, prejudices from my native land stood out like an ugly rash which I never knew I had. Women can be relied upon to be more insecure than men within relationships, right? “Treat them mean, keep them keen”. A woman in a position of power must have masculine traits to have got there, obviously.

Finland is a country where women have a more equal hand on the controls of society. This has rebalanced the dance of dependence between the sexes.

If you want a career, a kid, and a downtown apartment, then having a man around is optional.

With the appropriate career options and welfare backup available, it’s possible to regard men as a lifestyle choice or an appendage. Without the historical pile of bonus chips males can bring to the gaming table of relationships, more choices are available to women.

This seems to lend extra confidence to Finnish women. They are happy to take the initiative when it comes to meeting men, and it’s possible for a man who displays any trace of a desirable trait to sit quietly in a corner of a bar and wait passively to get hit upon. Foreign women have told me that a stint in Finland has helped them become more proactive when it came to finding guys because the competition can be so fierce: a man going out in Finland can feel like a barrel-dwelling fish at the Finnish Rifle Association’s free-vodka-and-ammo party.

It’s not exactly my forte, so I needed help with the following question. What are the desirable traits of Finnish men? “The best men on earth when you find a good one”, according to one of my sources. They are completely honest to a fault:

a typical response to “does my bum look big in this?” would be “yes, but I don’t care.”

Finns don’t have the traditional gender-role hang ups, so talking about equality is redundant. Finns in general are outdoorsy and active, good dancers, intelligent, idealistic, and well-read.manMap learns about love on the other side

After the first sauna it’s obvious Finns are comfortable with nakedness, and Australia has a prudish, almost Victorian sense of modesty by comparison. In contrast, the Finnish language is notoriously awkward when it comes to emotional intimacy. “Mina rakastan sinua” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “je t’aime”, or “te quiero”. However, “I love you” is not thrown about lightly: it is reserved for profound, constant feelings. Finns don’t talk much, especially about their feelings, but when they do it is sincere and worth listening to.

Finland is full of such contradictions. Finns pride themselves on their honesty, but to an Australian, if people aren’t constantly and loudly expressing feelings it amounts to emotional subterfuge. It’s a conservative, conformist society, yet personal quirks are encouraged and respected. Finns are universally down-to-earth: a seemingly aloof fashionista in downtown Helsinki probably got the mosquito bites covering her legs from picking mushrooms with her grandma.

Small talk is a foreign concept, so trying to strike up a conversation with a Finn can be like writing your words on snippets of paper and throwing them into an abyss. However, most people are grateful you’ve acknowledged them. Unless you have a good grasp of the language, reconsider showing off your Finnish skills when out on the town; it’s better to stick to English and appear exotic than be mistaken for a Finn with a speech impediment. More importantly, the language is not forgiving of slight mispronunciations: I’ve accidentally made some bizarre faux-pas, including expressing a wish to do something to chickens which would only be legal in Sweden.

Finland has a heavy-drinking culture, and alcohol is relied upon both as a crutch to overcome social awkwardness, and a valid excuse for almost any social blunders. It’s better to get out of central Helsinki early, before things get too messy later in the night.

Online dating is popular with Finns, partly because Finland is a technologically advanced society.

It’s not seen as a desperate move, but a convenient high-tech solution.

I think Finnish women like to feel in control of every aspect of their life. I could see them preferring to analyse and select a partner through a web interface, rather than place themselves at the mercy of chance and dive into the social chaos of wider society.

Starting in a salsa club, I tried putting myself in a woman’s shoes for the purposes of this article (figuratively). One patron described it as “a roomful of women, and five men”. Needless to say, I didn’t bother searching for the missing men for the sake of this blog. However, I found the males downstairs on the way out, although judging by the state they’d left the toilets in, you wouldn’t want them in your house. They were all drinking in a karaoke bar with grandma-house decor. Karaoke is huge in Finland.

After a surreal weekend out on the town ‘researching’, I’d recommend joining a club online to meet people instead: a better proposition when you consider that all you’d share in common with an average bar-goer is being single, having a vague interest in pop music, and not having anything better to do. Finns love to organise, and one nice cultural trait is that individuals are free to pursue their passions without judgement. Whether you enjoy chess, reading, fixing cars, or medieval recreation, you’ll find a friendly group of people willing to welcome you into their fold.

Finland is a unique corner of the world, full of genuine, honest people. They are often too humble to realise when they are onto a good thing, and the rest of the world is wrong. So how does Finland compare to Australia when it comes to dating? You might find it easier or harder to pick up, but I think the number of suitable people out there is constant wherever you go: there are great people everywhere. Of course, cultural differences can place stress on a relationship, but also make it more interesting; as Casanova said: “love is three-quarters curiosity”.

A huge thank you to ex-pat James for his time researching and writing this post. Hopefully Sydney ladies will summon up their Finnish sisters’ confidence next time they’re looking for guys. 

James, perhaps you can encourage some outdoorsy, well-read, intelligent Finnish men to relocate to a warmer climate …


2 Responses to “Guest post: Love in polar opposites”

  1. beachblogger September 5, 2010 at 2:09 pm #


    I’m currently doing saunas every week and can’t believe that you;re required to wear swimmers in an Aussie sauna, even in a same sex one … yes maybe we are more prudish …

    • Lucie Stevens September 5, 2010 at 7:07 pm #

      Yes, just part of our heritage I suppose. Although I have to say I wouldn’t feel comfortable naked in a public sauna, even if the steam was VERY thick…

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