I am not a native-born Finn but someone who adopted Finland as my homeland (of my own, free choice). I quite like it and have become more Finnish over time, including the comfort and appreciation of silence.
Q: first, do Finns consider themselves Scandinavian, and do Scandinavians include the Finns amongst them? for that matter, do Finns include themselves among "Western European societies"?
To be accurate, Finns are Nordic. But the term Scandinavia does get used to mean Finland: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scandinavia#Terminology_and_usage
Finns don't seem to care too much about the distinction, but we mostly use Nordic here to describe ourselves. Finland definitely considers itself a Western European society. I think this has to do with its uneasy relationship with Russia (which owns all of the east and occupied most of the south until recently). There is no north of north, so with the west we go. :)
Q: I'm enough of an amateur military historian to know of the Winter War (and that it was not just of 1939, but when several months into 1940 as well) -- but do the Finns really have the lockdown on what is called sisu (what I'd describe as a combination of fortitude and endurance)? [I do, of course, admire the performance of the Finnish soldier in that war.]
I'd say yes. Finns are amazing when it comes to fortitude, endurance, never-give-up attitude, calm and staying power.
Q: do Finns really commonly not talk while dining?
They do talk if they know you (but it does take a looong time for them to get to know you), but certainly not as much as in say USA. Silent pauses and a minute or two going by with no conversation is not considered abnormal. While silence overall is much more appreciated and abundant in Finland, I do think that the anecdote and author's take is a bit over the top. Finns are not much into smalltalk - something that leads to more silence, of course. It is fairly typical to not smile nor make eye contact nor say good morning/day/evening nor start conversations about the weather with a stranger in the elevator. Also, unlike many cultures Finns tend not to think and talk at the same time (or talk and then think!). If you ask a question, expect some silence while the respondent sifts through his thoughts and then formulates a response. There are exceptions of course!
Q: if so, Finland just made my list of wishful targets
Be careful what you wish for! :-) This isn't a bad place for the truly introverted and unsocial. But if you like social contact and being surrounded by cheerful people, this just isn't the place. And then there is the bitingly cold dark winters, high taxes, lowish salaries, high prices and 8-month long winters (ok, ok.. it is just 6 months).
Q: what's so "murky" about the psychological roots of Finnish tradition? ;-\
I don't have a good answer to that one. But I certainly wouldn't call it murky, just different. Before I came here, I had read a few books about the country and society. One of the authors made an interesting point about the psychological roots of Finnish society by observing that they seem to have imbibed the worst of both the countries that ruled/occupied it. The stark Lutheran emphasis on not wearing makeup/jewelery, being stern, not being self indulgent, never displaying one's wealth supposedly came from Sweden along with the church. And the towards alcohol (i.e. you drink to get pissed and get there as quickly as you can) supposedly came from Russia. After having lived here long, there does seem to be a grain of truth to this. Things are changing though - many young women seem to wear jewelry and makeup like anywhere else. And as disposable incomes rise, seems so does the consumption. And the suicide rate has abated a bit lately.
The quietest I have experienced is in the forests of eastern Finland, along the Russian border. I spent three days camping and biking without seeing a single soul - just me, the lakes, trees, mosquitoes, horse flies and the oppressive heat (it was summer). Of course this isn't absolute silence like that chamber the author or Mo describe, but it was meditative nevertheless.