Jonathan Kandell in Smithsonian Magazine:
Dour climate and isolation have made the Finns a grim people. That, at least, is the conventional wisdom regarding this nation of 5.3 million. They would have reason enough for melancholia, having endured not only eons of winter but also centuries of dominance by more powerful neighbors—first the Swedes, then the Russians, then the Soviets. (The country declared its independence after the fall of Russia’s czar Nicholas II in 1917.) Finns survived all of this by dint of sisu, their phrase for stolid perseverance in the face of long odds and frequent disparagement. Even their old capital, of which Finns are justifiably proud, was designed by an outsider, Carl Ludvig Engel, the famed German architect hired in 1816 to rebuild Helsinki when it was hardly more than a town of 4,000.
Now, after years of self-doubt on the sidelines, that capital has grown to 561,000, and the Finns are finally stepping out into the sunlight of modern Europe. They are even showing the way for the rest of the world: Finns were among the first to embrace modern telecommunications, arming themselves with Nokia cellphones, a local product that they unleashed upon the planet, and one that keeps virtually 100 percent of this once-reticent nation chattering away, breaking down the vast distances that characterize their sparsely settled country.