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!