(The original Finnish version was published in the weekly supplement Extra of the newspaper Turun Sanomat on 31 July 2004.)
They say that Finns generally lack self-esteem and that we suffer from an inferiority complex as a nation. You may have heard the old joke about a Finn and an American who both saw an elephant. The American instantly started thinking about the value of the elephant’s teeth and meat, while the Finnish guy was wondering: ”What does that elephant think of me?”
There might be a seed of truth in this joke. It’s easy to picture how Finnish people get seriously mad for being insulted, whereas some other European would just shrug his shoulders. In recent years, the way how the prodigious doping scandal of the Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti (2001) shocked Finland, has been a real school book example of the Finnish people’s habit of worrying about their national reputation abroad. Back then you could see half a dozen special TV reports one after another and each one of them was just about the usage of doping among the Finnish skiers.
Last month hundreds of Finns bothered to react when Conan O’Brien, a famous American talk show host, called us stupid and impatient. O’Brien had planned to insult every country in his show, but before he even said anything bad about Finland, he received a hostile post card from here. In his show Conan asked the Finnish people to send more of those cards and got a unique collection of ”greetings” from Finland. Hundreds of cards and letters, actually. Eventually O’Brien found it best to apologize to us and praise our country.
After laughing a while I started to think that this whole episode is quite ghastly after all. Late Night with Conan O’Brien is mostly about humour, and making such a big deal of an insignificant insult won’t make us look good in anybody’s eyes, including our own. One single Finland-related joke on TV has now been mentioned as an actual piece of news a large number of times in the Finnish media, for example twice in the tabloid Iltalehti (on 11 June and on 21 June) and also twice on the TV channel MTV3 (on 21 June). Is our self-esteem really so low that we feel the need to write big headlines if Finland receives even a tiny bit of attention abroad?
In his talk show O’Brien also stated that none of his earlier actions has ever caused more feedback. The broadcast that contained his apology to our country has now been shown three times in Finland; first at the show’s normal broadcasting time, then as a usual repeat and then as a special repeat due to the requests from the Finnish watchers. Naturally, this is not enough. You can also see the video clip for free on many websites. Typing ”Conan O’Brien” and ”Suomi” (the Finnish name for Finland) in Google will provide you with over 2,000 links. You’ll see about the same number of hits if you replace the word ”Suomi” with ”Finland”. So, Conan wasn’t wrong when he presumed that his main audience is in Finland.