Finns are rightly proud of their long tradition of perseverance in the face of overwhelming challenges. This courage and determination is so much part of their character, that Finns even have a word for it: sisu.
Silly foreigners like me don’t always quite appreciate what qualifies as sisu though, as the following anecdote illustrates.
A few summers ago, my family and I went gold-panning for a couple of days in Lemmenjoki in Lapland. Lemmenjoki is a national park between Inari and Kittilä, in which a small area has been set aside for gold prospecting the traditional way. Every summer, gold prospectors move to the area, often with their family, to try and make their fortune.
The landscape there is beautiful, but the conditions are fairly harsh, with unpredictable weather and very basic amenities. But the prospectors work throughout the summer, from dawn until dusk (meaning pretty much all day, since the sun doesn’t actually set).
Some of the prospectors let tourists like us share their lives for a few days. So that is how we came to go gold panning (no luck, by the way).
Before we got there though, we had to take a boat for about 30 minutes on the Lemmenjoki River (yes, yes, I know, joki means river, but that’s how it seems to be called in English). Then we had to walk about 15 kms, a lot of it uphill and the rest across a windy plain. It wasn’t easy.
As a way of encouragement, our guide told us about the young son of one of the prospectors, who walked there with his parents when he was just 3 years old. We were suitably impressed, such a young boy completing what was a fairly arduous walk even for adults. Real sisu, toddler style.
As it happens, later that day, we met the prospector and his son (by then aged 5 or 6). We told the father how impressed we were with the young boy walking that far on his own two little feet.
The prospector simply shrugged his shoulders and replied: "Yeah, but he wasn't carrying anything..."
Oh, OK, so not sisu after all then.