Monday, 12 September 2011

Finnen von Sinnen - My Finnish Wife

This blog has been a little neglected in the past couple of weeks. But I have a good excuse: I was lazing around on the Caribbean island of Antigua. And, strange as it may seem, I found it hard writing a post about Finland, or even thinking of writing one (I realize sympathy towards me might be in short supply here, so I won’t dwell on this).

That said, I did put my down-time to good use, as one of the books I read was by a foreigner commenting on Finland, the Finns and the Finnish language. Sounds familiar?

The book, by German journalist, writer and philosopher Wolfram Eilenberger, is called “Finnen von Sinnen” (literally “Finns out of [their] mind” – a Teutonic rhyming version of the old “Crazy Finns” cliché). It was published recently in Finnish under the title “Minun suomalainen vaimoni” (“My Finnish Wife”)(1).

Minun Suomalainen Vaimoni - Finnen von Sinnen

“Finnen von Sinnen” recounts the author’s encounter and subsequent wedding with, errr, his Finnish wife. Along the way, he charts (with affection, it must be said) his experience of all things Finnish.

All the usual stuff is there – drinking, sauna, silence, Marimekko, the tricky language, etc. The book is humorous (without quite being a laugh-a-page) but also at times a little serious and introspective. After all, what else would you expect from a German philosopher? [My turn to wheel out an old cliché!]

Some bits did make me laugh out loud though, such as Eilenberger’s observation that mämmi, the traditional Easter dessert made of rye, was invented in Finland centuries ago, but never left the country’s border! Or his description of his pre-wedding last minute jitters, in which he expresses concerns about whether he can ever really fully understand and love a woman from an another culture who speaks a language he doesn’t master: someone reassures him that in Finnish “I understand you” and “I love you” both take the partitive case (“minä ymmerrän sinua” and “minä rakastan sinua”), indicating that Finns only ever expect to understand or love “part” of someone, not all of them!

All in all, an enjoyable book to read on a white sandy beach in the tropics... Ooops, sorry folks!

(1) At the time of writing, I don’t believe it has been published in English (I read it in German).


  1. "I have a good excuse"

    I vehemently disagree!

  2. "indicating that Finns only ever expect to understand or love “part” someone, not all of them!"

    That is kinda beautiful isn't it. I never even thought about it before...

  3. Of course in truth partitive is also used to express incomplete tasks. So, both loving and understanding are ongoing processes.

  4. I like that explanation, Anonymous! It's more hopeful!

  5. IT is often so in life, I find, in my mid-fifties, that everything is about understanding and loving. If one is young or tough-minded, loving and understanding are difficult. These are skills that evolve with time and experience and usually, alas, a few failures in all departments: work and love. As time passes, and the brain mellows, one understands more and loves more and overlooks a lot more. The love of a young man at 16 for an older woman, say, about 30 (as in the READER film), is a naive love based on self-exploration through the embrace of an older and wiser person. As he himself ages, he understands and loves himself and all people more, including women his own age, since he can finally see them more clearly.

    I was absolutely head-over-heels infatuated with Finland at 22, with the way of life, the men and women, the sound of the language, the quietness and the homey-ness and seriousness of it all. Alas, I went back at age 46 in the year 2006, and found myself alarmed at my completely new take on the people. The gorgeous green landscape still enthralled me; the food was still delicious, but I "understood" the people more (I.e., I understood the world and myself much more), and saw their faults with a painful awareness. My love for Finland weakened, but I still am obsessed, as one can see. For here I sit and write to all of you, as if my heart were broken! Was I in love then, and if so, with what? From lack of true understanding?