Love or hate? What do today’s Finns think about Russians?  

I was 13 when I moved from Russia to Finland. Now, I’ve lived here for as long as I lived in there. In this time I’ve discovered that every Finn has an opinion about Russians. Whether it’s love or hate, they’re rarely indifferent to their Eastern neighbours. But I wanted to know more. So, I decided to ask some of my Finnish friends, if they’ve ever interacted with Russians and, if so, what kind of vibe they got from that experience. Here’s what I discovered.

Demographics matter

Finnish people’s opinions vary drastically depending on their age, sex and location. For instance, older people seem to hold a grudge based on the warlike history between the two countries. It may seem strange to people my age, but things like that take time. Ironically, another country I know, that doesn’t want to let go of the events of that time, is Russia.

People in Eastern Finland have interactions with Russians on an almost daily basis. My hometown Joensuu is just an hour away from the Russian border. Russian tourists come here regularly, mostly for shopping, and two percent of the region’s population has Russian as their mother tongue. On the other hand, the rest of the country hardly ever sees Russians at all, especially in the west.

Outdated views persist

Many of the people I interviewed wanted to emphasize, that they don’t treat people of other nations any differently than people of their own. They try not to do any generalizations and they want to get to know a person as an individual instead.

There is a group of people, who can be described as Russia’s fans. They speak the language, have Russian friends and travel to Russia frequently. Nevertheless, it can also be said, that Finnish people in general have an outdated view on Russia and they even have a strong prejudice against Russians. Many Finns think, that Russians are bad behaved, rude or even insolent. You can easily make such a conclusion, if a Russian is cutting you in line or being too loud in a restaurant.

One person I interviewed works with Russian clients almost every day. She says her experience with them has been quite the opposite. “Russians look you in the eye, thank you and smile at you. And they really try to speak as good English as they can.”

Look out for languages

Speaking of foreign languages, another stereotype, that was mentioned more than once, was that Russians do not usually speak English at all. This may even seem arrogant to Finns and give them an impression, that Russians simply do not want to speak anything but Russian to them. However, one interviewee noticed, that you can definitely see, how this is changing right now. Especially young Russians know English very well nowadays.

Family matters

“Russian person is like a coconut. Hard on the outside, but soft on the inside.” Russians take their time to let people close, but once you get there you might find a dear and loyal friend. As a friend Russian person can be described as very kind and hospitable. Family seems to be very important to Russians, but they own a strong work ethic, as well. It is worth mentioning, that the church seems to have a much more significant role in Russia than in Finland.

Both are bad at small talk

Finns and Russians are very similar in a sense, that they are bad at small talk. They are direct and talk only, when they have something important to say. But then, Russians seem to be bolder and they have a better self-esteem. They dare to dress flamboyantly and to show off their wealth. Finnish people are humble to the extreme and they underrate themselves all the time.

I can personally add, that I don’t always feel quite welcome as a Russian living in Finland. Of course, no one’s ever told me anything insulting or racist to my face. It’s more of a gut feeling, that people don’t really like you, even though they don’t know you. For a very long time as a teenager, I wanted to be Finnish so badly. Now I understand, it is neither possible nor desirable. To sum up, on a high, I think people’s attitude towards Russians is changing in a positive direction, despite Russia’s foreign policy. Thanks to the Internet and globalization, Russian culture seems to interest people nowadays. Many said that wanted to travel to Russia and learn more about it. And, in my opinion, that’s good for everyone.

15 replies

  1. Russians have a significant stock of Finnic genes within their ethnic makeup. So, basically, Russia is a Finland, just coming with the Orthodox faith, huge inner colonies, imperial mentality, no Swedish influence and shitty roads. However, there are both saunas and alcoholism available.

  2. Visited a few times. There’s a great paradox about Russia: the people individually are wonderful, but the political entity they jointly form is miserable. Miserable to their neighbours, and arguably just as miserable to Russians themselves.

    • One day you may share a drink and go to an opera with a wonderfully friendly and cultured Russian, and the next day the same friendly Russian may be poking you with a bayonet, calling you a fascist because Russia’s resident dictator told him so.

    • I agree. Lovely individuals and families. But how it is possible, that in 1000 years, no development in the political system. It is always the most miserable one?

  3. No mention of persecutions and politically motivated kills? K, I’ll put more effort into informing my finnish friends.

    Refugee from Russia

  4. Quite a few people here in UK have not visited the neighbouring village… had to help a taxi driver recently “oh I have never been there”. Less than 5 miles east 😀

  5. I remember cleary when I was in Joensuu, and when I went to the city to buy something and after I introduced myself to one of the workers, the following question was epic: Are you Russian ? That look before question, and after I answered no, was epic. I will never forget that. However, my name and my face suggested that I am really russian…Anyways, I have never felt bad. Finns are extraodinary people. Would like to go back in there! Hail Finland!

  6. I might like Russian people as a friend but never as a spouse. I had a Russian boyfriend once and we have a daughter. This is like nightmare, like hell. And so is his father. I’m definitely relieved for i broke up with him but now he’s like tearing me andy daughter away from each others and lying all the time and his grandpa is aggressive and violent. There’s never been anything reliable or honest in that family. And the very dear Russian friend of mine from my high school years. She was the worst snob I’ve ever known and such a shallow diva.

  7. I have visited the present-day Russia about 30 times since 2005, last time being almost three years ago, mostly in Saint Petersburg. I love visiting the country and am looking for the next opportunity to do so. I know some locals. I know some of the language. So, I feel cozy in Russia. Besides, the first time I crossed the border was in 1984 in Soviet Union, in Tallinn. First time in Russia per se was two years later.

  8. Russian people are very nice, Putin however is a little boy inside grown man body, who has too much free time, and too much resourses to do idiotic things.

  9. A great number of Finns emigrated to North America around the turn of the previous century ( some of my ancestors included )
    due to their “affection” for the Russians.
    The overbearing Swedes had been a bit more tolerable.

  10. You seem like a person I probably wouldn’t like…maybe that’s why you have a gut feeling people don’t like you….because they probably don’t. And I can tell this just by reading your text. Finns probably don’t like you because even your text exhibits signs of the toxic Russian attitude; perceived own superiority which leads to bitterness and hostility because you don’t get the treatment you expect. Also boneheadedness aka you refuse to adapt to your surroundings in a constructive way. You’re probably not fun to hang around with either and what you call “better self-esteem” probably comes off to people as being an insufferable and overbearing (drunk) prick speaking platitudes and ranting about Finland.

  11. Hate and love thus both seem to be involved in the neural processing of what is sometimes referred to as the arousal effect of emotion (this is a technical term, so arousal can be negative). It seems that an emotion with a high arousal effect can quickly turn from positive (love) to negative (hate).

  12. Finns are guilty of survival. Russians or their Government are guilty of mass starvation, genocide, murder, etc. Russia needs to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity! Stalin the great murderer made a pact with the devil and the Russian people are still in bondage from it.

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