Finland from the Inside: Eyewitness Reports of a Finnish-American Journalist, 1938-1997

Finland from the Inside: Eyewitness Reports of a Finnish-American Journalist, 1938-1997 by Paul Sjöblom is a collection of the author’s English articles originally published in Suomen Silta, a cultural and news journal comprised mainly of Finnish articles, but also some in Swedish and English. This collection was divided into three themes: articles about composer Jean Sibelius, whom Sjöblom was proud to know; articles about the Winter War and the Continuation War; and articles about Finnish identity, language and culture. The cover of this book shows the author with Sibelius in 1938. As a Fennophile I confess I did not learn anything new from many of these articles as I have already read so much about Finland, yet I did enjoy the excitement Sjöblom felt at first meeting Sibelius and later when the great composer asked him (in 1949) to address him by his nickname, Janne:

“What Sibelius meant by that handshake and pronouncing the nickname he was familiarly known by was that from that moment on we were friends on a first-name basis.”

Sjöblom also wrote about the rare opportunity he had in seeing Sibelius conduct an orchestra for the last time. Sibelius did not use a baton and also refused to allow cameras in the concert hall, so all we have are artists’ sketches, including one hastily drawn by Sjöblom.

The third part of the book was spent reanalyzing the theories about the origin of the Finnish language and the migration to what we now called Finland. Debate stirs over the origin of the Finnic people; Sjöblom posits that Finns are genetically 75% western European, a percentage that would surprise most Finns. Most theories put the ancestral home of the Finnish people in central Asia. The Sami people live in the far north of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. They are commonly known as Lapps, but their proper name is Sami. These people have a longer history in Finland than the Finns, yet the Sami speak a Finnic language. How can this be? Sjöblom suggests that the Sami were a smaller and weaker race, who

“gradually lost their grip on their own primordial mother tongue and expediently adopted the speech of the dominant stock.”

The final article was entitled “Sauna Lore Galore” but Sjöblom spent a good full two of its four pages swatting at a bee in his bonnet. Sjöblom attended the VI International Sauna Congress in Helsinki in 1974, and was irked to no end by the English speakers’ pronunciation of sauna as saw-nah instead of the proper Finnish way of sow-nah (where the first syllable sounds like the word for a female pig). He called the English speakers supercilious and ignorant. Yet when a Finn spoke, alternating in English and Finnish, he changed his pronunciation of the word as well:

“Apparently, the speaker was under the impression that he was showing a special courtesy to his English-speaking listeners.”

I do not find this discourteous or the least bit ignorant. Imagine if I was in Paris talking in French to French citizens about their city. I would say Pa-ree yet flip over to saying Pair-iss when speaking English to the same group. I would risk sounding ignorant if I used the proper French pronunciations of lingerie and foyer when speaking to an English-speaking audience. Either that or come off as comically pretentious.

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