Rodney Ohebsion

Cultural Imports

Here's my impersonation of a Finnish person. "My name is Gustav, I live in Finland, and I hate all things that are not Finnish. I spend 24 hours a day spitting on non-Finnish things with my Finnish saliva. Even when I am asleep, I drool. I drool on my pillowcase—and my pillowcase contains a list of every country other than Finland."

Most Finnish people have extreme disdain for all things they regard as foreign. As opposed to Americans, who are way more open to foreign stuff.

Let me give you some examples of American cultural imports.

Back in the 80s, all American children spent at least two months acting like Japanese ninjas. Remember that? If you were a kid in the 80s, at some point you came across a ninja on TV, and you said, "Yes. There we go. I'm gonna devote myself to that. From now on, I'm gonna hide behind walls and assassinate a wide variety of people."

Us Americans, we emulate non-Americans quite a bit. As a kid, you do the ninja thing. Then later, you're in your college years, you're watching TV, you come across a Canadian guy, and he's drinking an extremely impressive amount of beer. And you say, "Yes. There we go. I'm gonna devote myself to that. From now on, I'm gonna get drunk the way Canadians get drunk."

American culture integrates many components of foreign cultures. Over the years, Americans have demonstrated an extreme interest in Japanese ninjutsu, Canadian drunkenness, Indian yoga, Mexican pinatas, and Chinese feng shui.

As for Finnish people, they're vehemently opposed to every item on that list. In Finland, if some kid starts engaging in ninja activities, some adult named Gustav will tell him, "This is not appropriate Finnish behavior. Instead of doing ninja things, you should go outside and count the snow. Quantify the volume of snow. This is what we do in Finland."

I'm pretty sure that's how things go down in Finland. Although I guess you could say that I'm not talking about Finnish people specifically, so much as I'm talking about Nordic people in general. When I think of a Finnish person, I just think of a Nordic person. I don't go the extra mile in distinguishing between people from different Nordic countries like Finland, Norway, and Sweden. I don't go the extra mile—and I don't even go the first mile. Check my odometer when it comes to this. My Nordic distinction odometer says 0.0 miles. To me, Nordic is Nordic, end of story.

Which brings up an interesting and relevant topic.

Do you ever talk to someone who's not from America, and then he starts getting annoyed when he finds out that you're not thoroughly familiar with his country? He says, "I am from Finland." You tell him, "Right. Yeah. Finland. The country where everyone's busy making watches and chocolate." And this guy, he becomes outraged. He says, "No! That is Switzerland! That is not Finland, you jerk! How dare you associate me with those damn Swedes! You should learn about the differences between my fantastic country and their stupid country!" So then you reply, "Calm down, bro. You don't have to throw a Finnish hissy fit just because I think all Scandinavian countries are the same." And then he flips out again. He says, "Finland is not a Scandinavian country, you American asshole! Scandinavia consists of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark! Finland is vastly different from all three of those countries. Educate yourself!"

That Finnish guy's got a lot of nerve. He's insisting that you start loading up your American brain with information about the individual nations of the Nordic region. He's demanding that you, as an American, should know the differences between one Nordic country and another. Do you know the mathematical audacity of that demand? I'm talking about math. I can use numbers to show just how audacious these Finnish people really are with all that "You should know something about my country" Nordic jazz that comes out of their mouth.

Let me break down the math for you. Switzerland has 8 million people. Finland has 5 million people. Do you know what other places have the same numbers? East Pennsylvania and West Pennsylvania. East Pennsylvania—8 million people, West Pennsylvania—5 million people.

So, here's what I'm saying. You knowing the difference between Switzerland and Finland would be like some Nordic guy knowing the difference between East Pennsylvania and West Pennsylvania. Imagine that. Imagine over in Finland, there's some Finnish Peugeot salesman named Gustav, and he knows that East Pennsylvanians drink Pepsi mixed with Jim Beam, while West Pennsylvanians have a strong preference for RC Cola mixed with Seagram's. It would be ridiculous for Gustav Johansson of Finland to possess that knowledge. He doesn't possess it. Mr. Johansson is busy selling Peugeots and counting snow and eating high magnesium barley. He's never made any distinction between East and West Pennsylvania. And yet, he demands that all Americans make a thousand distinctions between Finland and Switzerland. Gustav more or less comes to your home and knocks on the door, you open it, and he says, "Listen and learn, you ignorant American! Listen to me talking for seven hours about the differences between Finland and Switzerland!" And that's when you tell him, "Or better yet, listen to me spending 20 seconds kicking your Finnish ass."

The article you just read is an excerpt from the book What I Think of Various Places and People