Every country has its national stereotypes. Brits are overly polite and adore tea. Americans love burgers and guns. The Finns are no different. They have certain characteristics, which set them apart from other people. This, of course, means they also have certain dreams and certain nightmares. To showcase the later, one talented digital media pro from Northern Finland, Karoliina Korhonen has this week launched a brand new cartoon series, Finnish Nightmares. The idea which started, she says, as nothing more than a “brain fart” is to present the most awkward social situations a stereotypical Finn can encounter. The results, though, are hilariously accurate. So much so that her Facebook page has gone from zero to over 25000 likes in just 48 hours.
At Ink Tank, we know a viral phenomenon in the making when we see it. So, despite the fact she had just 287 followers when we discovered her work, we were quick to get in contact to find out more about her cartoons, her inspiration, and her own Finnish nightmares. Now, we’re happy to be able to share this exclusive, world-first interview with the woman herself. Here’s what she had to say.
You only published your cartoons this week and already you have over 25000 likes on your Facebook page. How long have you been drawing cartoons and what inspired you to start Finnish Nightmares?
I’ve drawn a lot and grown with pencil or brush in my hand but I’ve rarely drawn “proper” cartoons. At least as a daily basis or in attempt to become a ”cartoonist”. It has been more like a tool to doodle some funny scene I’ve had in my mind and then show them to friend or two. This is why I’m just amazed by the amount of attention I’ve gotten so far. I never ever thought this would happen. It was not what I planned – mainly because I didn’t plan.
I got the idea yesterday morning. It was more like a ”brain fart” than something that I had been planning a lot. I just thought that it would be fun to present the most awkward social situations a stereotypical Finn can encounter. Just plain text would’ve been boring so I decided to doodle it out. Then kind of jokingly I made the Facebook page and thought a friend or two would like it. And then this happened.
So far you’ve published six Finnish Nightmares. Where do you get your ideas and how long do they take you to do?
I get the ideas mostly from my own life. I’m kind of an incarnation of Finnish stereotype when it comes to social awkwardness. Some people have already told me some ideas via the Facebook page too. After coming up with the idea making of the comic itself doesn’t take longer than an hour.
The six you’ve published so far showcase some famed Suomi characteristics, such as the fear of small talk and hugging. Why do you think Finns are so nervous about human interaction?
I wouldn’t say it’s fear. It’s just something we’re not used to and it makes us feel uncomfortable.
The Finnish culture I live in respects personal space and privacy. Adding to that we usually reserve the physical touching to people we care a lot for. Therefore when a person who you don’t know well comes too close and tries to greet you by hugging you as if you two were bosom friends it feels weird. Kisses are even worse because some Finns (such as myself) reserve kisses only for the significant other. It can be seen very flirtatious (or even worse) when someone attempts to kiss someone they’ve just met.
But in longer and closer relationships touching and hugging isn’t so uncommon and feared of.
What comes to small talk. I actually had to use google to find out what people say when they’re doing small talk. It’s not just something we do with strangers. We can answer with a word or two but if we’re not genuinely interested in you it feels forced and phony to pretend that we were.
For some small talk brings the embarrassing situation when the other person asks how their day has been and they describe everything they’ve done that day until they realize the other person didn’t ask that literally. That has happened to me more than once.
And some of us just feel like asking questions or trying to talk continuously without any proper reason, even if they were about lighthearted subjects, would be a bit intrusive. It would be bothering the other person’s personal bubble of peace and silence around them. It’s more common to respect that imaginary bubble of personal peace than break it in an attempt to just chat with someone.
Of course, these are all stereotypes and there are Finns who are like fishes in the water when it comes to social encounters with hugs and small talk. This is just my experience.
Finally, what are your own three worst Finnish nightmares?
First of all would be a situation where it would be clear that small talk is required. I just can’t think of any proper questions for people I have never met before. Especially if I would have to introduce myself at that time too. The most likely I would introduce myself, ask the other person’s name and say ”pleased to meet you” and then my mind would go blank.
The second one the one I did the cartoon about. Stumbling or slipping in public. It really hurts more in soul than in body if you slip and fall and someone sees it. I feel like Finns are generally afraid of what other people think of us and slipping down in public is your personal catastrophe of embarrassment.
And the third one is when you’ve met someone few times but you don’t know if you can call them an acquaintance yet. Then you two meet on the street and you start to think if you know them well enough you can greet them. If it goes well, you greet them and they greets back or the other way around but it can also go very wrong.
Either you greet them and they don’t greet you back which basically is the silent sign for you that they don’t want to be in any contact with you or then you both stare at each other too shy to make the first move and pass each other after awkwardly long stare and embarrassment.
So there you have a fascinating insight what is rapidly becoming a Finnish internet phenomenon. As an English immigrant living in Finland for more than a decade, these traits are all hilariously familiar. Yet on another level, it’s also interesting to see that we Brits share some too. So maybe we’re not all so different after all.