What are words for love in Finnish
The sisu in you: the Finnish key to life, love and success
One of the first things that any article reveals about "sisu" is that this Finnish word is untranslatable. Authors have been trying to find a parallel in English since January 1940. At the time, the opening paragraph of a full-page article in the New York Times said, “It is not easy to translate because there is no exact equivalent in any other language.” And the headline read: “Sisu - a word that explains Finland . "
So how do you write about a country whose characterization is based on an untranslatable word? It is extremely complicated and yet deceptively simple: the authors have no choice but to explain what Sisu means, and in doing so they reveal the inner workings of Finns and Finnish society, hence what one could also call the soul of the country. This is the case with Joanna Nylund, who takes up the topic in her book: "Sisu - the Finnish art of courage" (Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage, 2018, UK: Gaia; USA: Running Press). [To be totally frank: Nylund also wrote and photographed for this website.]
Etymologically, “sisu” is related to a Finnish word that means “inside” or “inside”. That is one of the reasons why it is sometimes translated as “guts” or “inner strength”. Finland is a bilingual country; Nylund grew up in Raseborg, a town in southern Finland where both Finnish and Swedish are spoken. Nylund speaks both. (In the far north, the languages of the indigenous Sami also have official status.) But no matter which language is spoken, everyone living in Finland can lay claim to Sisu. In addition, people all over the world are interested in the concept. After just a few pages of the book, Nylund animates her readers with the words: “You have Sisu” and “She is available to everyone. It rests in you. "
In “Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage”, Joanna Nylund provides insights into Finland's culture and society. Photo: Joanna Nylund
Although the text was written in English, at the time of this writing the book is already in Dutch, French, Hungarian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Vietnamese, not to mention Finnish. The seven chapters of the book allow Nylund, Sisu, their manifestations and applications to look at from different angles.
The introduction informs us that the concept of Sisu, from a linguistic point of view, goes back 500 years or more. It can refer to "stoic determination, resilience, courage, bravery, willpower, tenacity, and perseverance". It is an "action-oriented mindset". You don't brag about having sisu, you just let your actions speak for themselves.
From here the book branches and the definition of Sisu is expanded even further or explained in more depth to show how Sisu can be used as a general purpose philosophy of life, so to speak. It comes when you face challenges such as waging war in the bitter cold of winter, which Finland once did when the New York Times published its article; but it can also help you face more mundane obstacles. It contributes to physical and mental well-being and to better communication with the partner, family members and colleagues. One can raise one's children to have sisu. It can provide the foundation for active, healthy lives or be used to work towards goals you have set yourself, and it may even help you find happiness.
In the course of her discussion of Sisu, Nylund also comes across a well-ordered, engaging cultural guide to Finland. Much of the Finnish way of life and thought either contributes to or is nourished by the concept of Sisu. Sisu always plays a role, regardless of whether you want to emulate the Finns in their love of nature or want to take a close look at the famous Finnish education system, whether you want to make the most of extreme weather conditions (or if you want to have fun while you're at it ), would like to be inspired in the Finnish way to cope with a big or small life crisis, or whether you are actually just curious about Finns.
The book contains tips at regular intervals on how to incorporate a sisu-like attitude into your own life: "Top tips for refueling: 1. Get out of the way, 2. Greet the silence, 3. Plan time for yourself" . How about: "Think prudence, 2. Think know-how, 3. Think preparation". There are even recipes that epitomize sisu and have hand-picked ingredients that range from blueberry pie to vodka cocktail with blackberries, basil, and lemon.
Bump into Sisu
Finns are known to think that swimming in icy water is fun and healthy. However, it helps to have a sauna nearby so that you can warm up later.Illustration: Naomi Wilkinson
Was Nylund ever afraid that she would go too far with the definition of sisu? If so, her fear was unfounded. "She (Sisu) covers every part of life," she says. “That's what I discovered when I was thinking and writing about it.” “She came to the conclusion that Sisu actually“ flanks a lot of things, and therefore it's not that far-fetched, Sisu in various aspects of life to find again. "
Anyone interested in Finland will come across Sisu. “The idea behind this (throughout the book) is that we show our sisu through our actions, and therefore it is necessary to speak to Finns and describe how we live so that one can get a sense of what Sisu actually means. "
In “Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage” you can find Nylund's interviews with Finns who embody this basic attitude, such as the Arctic and Antarctic researcher Patrick Degerman and social activist and researcher Emilia Lahti. The author also doesn't forget to mention other examples of sisu, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, known for his commitment to resolving international conflicts, and long-distance runner Paavo Nurmi, who set records and won Olympic medals in the 1920s.
Anyone who writes a book like this, with its compact but all-encompassing illumination of Finnish culture, involuntarily becomes the country's unofficial ambassador. Nylund doesn't mind. The role fell into her lap “unwittingly, but not against her will”, says the author.
By Peter Marten, March 2018
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