BANGKOK — Wrapped in a deep blue Marimekko shawl patterned with subtle unikko poppies, the Finnish ambassador says her favorite character in The Moomins is Little My.
“The Moomins are something very universal,” ambassador Satu Suikkari-Kleven said. “There’s a philosophy behind them about tolerance and respect for people just the way they are. These values are in their stories.”
The mischievous main character’s name is pronounced moo (มู), by the way.
Of course, they’re also “very cute and sympathetic,” even the rambunctious Little My. “She’s so strong, and believes in herself,” Suikkari-Kleven said. “She’s mischievous, a little bit mean but has a good heart.”
Moomin merch, from books to bubble tea, as well as Marimekko brand clothes and furnishings, are by far the most recognizable Finnish imports to Thailand.
The annual volume of trade between the two countries is 500 million EUR, or about 16.8 billion baht. Lesser-known traded items include industrial machinery components and agricultural products from Thailand, and energy tech products from Finland.
Finding a new friend from Helsinki in Bangkok isn’t an impossible task either. From a country of 5.53 million, 150,000 Finns come to Thailand a year – the top destination outside Europe. About 2,000 Finns have made Thailand their home.
She says the Scanidavian “flygskam,” or flight shame movement, which discourages plane travel for environmental reasons, hasn’t put a dent in vacationer numbers to Thailand yet. But it’s “very much something people are thinking about.”
“I know people who don’t visit me because they don’t want to fly,” she said.
To see a glimpse of Finnish eco-consciousness, the Finnish comedic documentary “My Stuff” (2013) is screening for free at EmQuartier on Sept. 27 as part of the Nordic Film Festival. It follows a man who puts all his possessions in storage and only allows himself to take one item back a day. (The other Finnish film showing is “One Last Deal” (2019), a drama about an elderly art dealer.)
Finland is famous for its excellent education system, and Suikkari-Kleven says her country is ready to give tips to Thai educators.
The Finnish and Thai education systems can be starkly contrasted. Rather than “forest schools” and free unis, Thailand is notorious for its get-what-you-pay-for system. Only the middle-to-upper strata can afford private and international schools.
“I’m glad that our education system is well known. There are many aspects that Thai educators may be able to implement,” Suikkari-Kleven said.
Suikkari-Kleven, 52, has been posted in Thailand for three years, after past postings in Norway, the US, and France. When asked to confirm or deny a stereotype about Finnish people, she honed in on introversion.
“Finns are introverted and shy. It’s something in our character. Sometimes we want to be observant of the situation,” she said. “But of course, there’s lots of talkative Finns too.”