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Sisu – The Untranslatable Quality of Finnish Character

Sisu – The Untranslatable Quality of Finnish Character

Language is a funny thing. It does more than just provide us with a means of communication and a way to describe the world around us. Language is invariably shaped by the culture from which it derives. The Inuit people have forty plus words for snow. The Japanese have a dozen different greetings depending on the level of politeness. And the Finnish have Sisu. 

The Untranslatable Finnish Word

So often we develop specific vocabulary within a culture to embody a concept that is intrinsically understood to those people but can be difficult to explain to outsiders of that specific group. Words that embody the spirit of a culture in a way that can be difficult to translate, turning single word concepts into long rambling explanations. 

Even within a culture, words or phrases take on entirely different meanings between different generations and social groups – how else would you explain slang?

Some words carry a meaning greater than the sum of their letters. They carry an almost tangible weight.  The power and spirit of the culture from which they were derived and they cannot be easily replaced. 

Sisu is one of those words.

Sisu – The Unique Quality of Finnish Character

Anyone who has ever had the privilege of visiting Finland knows that it is a beautiful but undeniably harsh country. Winters are long and cold, darkness coming early on in the afternoon and lasting well into the late morning and, in some areas, even stretching out for days on end. Long dark winters and short moderate summers, which may or may not arrive at all, limit the growing season to a preciously short period of time. Food shortages, difficulty growing, traveling and even communicating between villages can make life in Finnland a cold, quiet and isolating experience.

Sisu embodies a unique characteristic of Finnish culture in a way that no other single word can.  It goes beyond determination, grit, humility, and perseverance in a way that is difficult to explain.  Sisu is the second wind to your second wind.  The drive to keep going, no matter what, but with a quiet dignity that makes it differ from the glory of the American understanding. 

When you think you have nothing left, and then you keep going anyways – that is Sisu.

When you work to accomplish something, even if it seems impossible – that is Sisu.

When you quietly persevere, simply because it is what you have to do – that is Sisu.

To Finns, Sisu is a way of life.  A quality of character that one carries with them, to call on in times of hardship.  It is something that is universally understood and simply expressed.

But to ex-pats living around the world, Sisu is easier said than understood when talking to their new neighbors, especially for kids.  Explaining Sisu to kids who are growing up in a cultural melting pot can be difficult.  Holding onto that cultural cornerstone is something so important, for many cultures, to carry their language and history onto the next generation.  But that doesn’t mean it is easy.


This is why I am so excited to be introducing a new line of picture books, specifically designed to explain those inherently undefinable and unique words that fail to translate from culture to culture.  ‘Nordic’ will explore new words and concepts that can be difficult to explain to kids but are so important in Scandinavian culture.

Starting with Sisu.

Sisu is the first in the ‘Nordic’ series.  It is an illustrated children’s book designed for kids ages 4-8 to help explain and personalize the concept of Sisu.  The book is written at a second-grade reading level and is beautifully illustrated by the amazing Clementine Petrova.

Sisu is available online now and will be in stores starting on March 1st

Finish Culture

South Florida is an absolute madhouse of a melting pot.  From Cuban to Puerto Rican.  From German to Jamaican to Jewish.  From Haitian to southeast Asian.  From Swedish to Swiss (and yes, those are two separate countries, as discussed here)

But what a lot of people may not know is that Lake Worth Florida is home to the single largest population of Finnish speaking Finns anywhere in the world other than Finland. 

This high population density means that Lake Worth enjoys more cultural access and events than other parts of the world.  Including – The Midnight Sun Festival.

Organized by the Finnish American Club, Midnight Sun is a celebration of Finnish culture and Heritage organized every year in Lake Bryant Park.  The festivities begin Friday, February 28ths, and carry on through the March 1st weekend.   Traditional Finnish songs and dances, food exhibitions, classic car shows, the ever-popular ‘Wife-Carrying’ contest, and celebrities such as this year’s winner of ‘The Voice Finland’ are always popular.

But this year they will be joined by none other than your favorite Nerdy Nanny!  We will have games, activities and, of course, copies of Sisu and all your favorite Nerdy Nanny books available for sale Saturday and Sunday in the Kids Corner. 

Come by to see us and take in the sights!  It’s sure to be a blast.

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