BASIC INFORMATION ABOUT FINLAND
Welcome to Finland – our country of extremes and contrasts! Our winters are cold and dark while summers are filled with light and warmth. We enjoy steaming hot saunas and sometimes we go ice swimming - just to mention a couple of examples.
Your start in Finland will be easier if you know a bit about Finnish culture before arriving in here. Finnish customs and manners are clearly European, codes of behaviour fairly relaxed and attitudes quite liberal so there aren’t any fundamental social gaffes of etiquette one can commit to fatally damage relations.
As Frank suggests here, being open-minded towards your new surroundings is the best way to go:
Finnish living room
There are 13 clickable elements in the following image - Each will give you tips that help you become familiar with the Finnish way of life, culture and customs.
See if you can find them all!
How to survive Finnish seasons
How to survive Finnish seasons
The contrasts between the Finnish winter and summer are quite extreme. Summer is dominated by almost continuous daylight and warm weather, whereas winters are cold and there is hardly any daylight during the day. The weather varies also depending in which part of Finland you are.
Here are some valuable tips from Josefina:
Talvi - Winter
Joulukuu (December) – joulu = Christmas
Tammikuu (January) – tammi = Oak
Helmikuu (February) – helmi = Pearl
Things to remember during winter...
- Celebrate Christmas!
- Kaamos – above Arctic Circle sun doesn’t rise at all for several weeks
- temperatures between 0°c - -35°c
- remember to dress warmly
- Aurora Borealis, especially in Lapland
Kevät - Spring
Maaliskuu (March) – maa = Earth
Huhtikuu (April) – huhta = Burn-beaten area
Toukokuu (May) – touko = Farmer's spring work
Things to remember during spring...
- snow starts to melt
- Vappu - May Day celebrations
- days get longer
- trees sprout leaves
- takatalvi… (winter returns after you thought it has gone…)
- getting a bit warmer but don’t pack your winter clothes yet…
Kesä - Summer
Kesäkuu (June) – kesä = summer
Heinäkuu (July) – heinä = hay
Elokuu (August) – elo = harvest
Things to remember during summer...
- Juhannus – Midsummer celebrations, Night of the midnight sun
- Midnight Sun – above Arctic Circle sun doesn’t set for weeks, evenings and nights are bright in whole country
- temperature about 20°c
- go to forest and pick berries like blueberries, cloudberries
- eat Finnish strawberries
- beware of mosquitos…
Mayuree on Finnish summer, Midsummer Festival, Finnish way of life:
Syksy - Autumn
Syyskuu (September) – syys = autumn
Lokakuu (October) – loka = dirt or mud
Marraskuu (November) – marras = old word for death
Things to remember during autumn...
- ruska – fall colors in nature
- days get shorter
- it rains a lot
- go pick mushrooms
There’s nothing more Finnish than sauna. For Finns it is a way of life that is passed on from generation to generation. Sauna is for cleansing and relaxing – peace and quiet are important parts of the whole experience. In the old days sauna used to be a gateway in and out of this world: women would give birth in saunas and upon person’s death the body would be given a final wash in sauna.
People go to sauna with family members, friends and business partners alike. Women and men go to sauna at separate times except within the family. It is common to go to sauna without clothes. It is good to place a small sauna towel on the sauna bench before sitting down. The temperature in sauna is usually around 80°c. Each Finn has their own ways of bathing in sauna. There isn’t any right or wrong way to do it – it’s a matter of preference. Avoid extremes, listen to your own body and follow your own rhythm in moving between the hot room, the washing room and the open air, perhaps including a dip on the lake or roll in the snow. After bathing it is customary to continue the occasion with conversation, refreshing drinks and perhaps some snacks or a light meal.
Heidi and Eric introducing the Finnish Sauna:
Tipping has never really fitted comfortably into Finnish way of life, because service is included to the price paid. Still tipping exists in certain extent – while no-one will object to being tipped, very few will mind not being tipped.
Smoking has decreased in recent years and attitudes towards it have become more negative. Smoking in public buildings and workplaces is prohibited by law. It has also been banned in most restaurants and other licensed premises completely.
TUPAKOINTI KIELLETTY - NO SMOKING
As a guest in a Finnish home
In Finland you should always agree upon visits to other people’s homes in advance, even with good friends. Finns value their privacy and want to be prepared for hosting a guest. It might take a while to get to know Finnish people but once you do, you'll probably notice that they are really warm-hearted and nice people.
Here is Frank telling about his experiences:
In Finnish homes it is not customary to use shoes indoors. It’s polite to take off your shoes when entering someone else’s home or at least ask if it is ok to keep them on. Otherwise you are not expected to dress up or anything, you can be quite casual and at ease.
Even if Finns have a strong sense of national identity, they do not expect foreigners to know that much about the country or its people. If you wish to surprise a Finn pleasantly, make sure you can name some famous Finnish sportsmen, rally drivers, Formula 1 stars, footballers, ice hockey players, composers, conductors or Heavy Metal bands – that will impress them!
Frank didn't know much about Finland when he came here - here are his first impressions of our country:
Here are some examples of famous Finns - have you heard of any of them?
- Jean Sibelius – composer
- Linus Torvalds – Software engineer
- Alvar Aalto – Architect
- Tove Jansson – Novelist, creator of Moomin-characters
- Saara Aalto – singer
- Teemu Selänne – Ice hockey player
- Sami Hyypiä – football player
- Aki Kaurismäki – Screenwriter
- Valtteri Bottas – Formula One driver
- Paavo Nurmi – long distance runner
- Tarja Halonen – former president of Finland
- Kaija Saariaho – contemporary composer
- Esa-Pekka Salonen – conductor
- Nightwish – Finnish Heavy metal band
- Lordi – Eurovision 2006 winning band
- Kimi Räikkönen – Formula One driver
- Angry Birds – Video game
Finlandia is probably the most widely known composition of Jean Sibelius - you can listen it here:
Finns are often eager to know what the rest of the world thinks of them so you will be repeatedly asked what you think of Finland.
If you wish to take a humorous peek to a Finnish mindset, you can google “Finnish Nightmares”.
Cost of living in Finland
Eating and drinking
Finnish food consists mostly of meat, fish, potatoes, rice or pasta. Vegetarian and vegan food has become increasingly popular nowadays and special diets are taken into account in most places. It is common to eat two warm meals a day.
Lunch is eaten quite early, between 11 and 13 and evening meals at home are eaten around 17-18. In Finland adults, too, often drink milk with meals. Beer and wine are drunk with restaurant food in the evening but rarely during lunchtime. At day care and school children are served meals free of charge. In the beginning of a meal you wish "hyvää ruokahalua” – enjoy your meal!
At some stage during their stay all foreigners will be asked to taste Finnish traditional delicacies like mämmi (Easter Dessert Pudding: sweetened oven-baked rye malt porridge, served with sugar and milk or cream) or salmiakki (salty black liquorice candy).
Here's Heidi introducing Finnish wild food in one of our workshops:
The alcohol consumption in Finland is close to European average, slightly over ten litres of pure alcohol per person per year. Consumption of wine and beer has increased as opposed to spirits, it varies somewhat according to socio-economic differences and by region.
Alcoholic drinks are quite expensive and their purchase has been limited with age restrictions. Only milder alcoholic drinks like medium strength beer and cider can be bought in grocery stores, otherwise import and sale of alcoholic beverages is controlled by state-owned Alko stores. Driving under the influence of alcohol is prohibited and can lead to a severe punishment.
When talking about eating and drinking in Finland one cannot pass our dearest drink ever: kahvi - coffee. It is a fact that Finnish people consume more coffee per capita than any nation in the world, approximately 12 kg per person per year. There isn't really an occasion coffee would not be appropriate – you can drink it anytime, anywhere.
If you visit a Finn, you will certainly be asked whether you would like to have a cup of coffee. Finns do not drink coffee just for its refreshing qualities, it is much more of a social activity. People have a break, relax, sit down, sip leisurely and chat over a cup of coffee. Usually there's something sweet to have with coffee, like traditional Finnish pastry, pulla.
Meeting and Greeting a Finn
Brief and firm handshake with eye contact and a nod is a common way of greeting in formal situations. This goes to men, women and even children. Friends or relatives may greet each other by hugging but cheek or hand kissing is not very common. Eye contact is important when talking to others, telling that you are being frank and honest towards that person you are talking to.
When introducing themselves, Finns say first their forename, then surname. Titles are rarely used in this context, English practice “Mr / Mrs / Miss / Ms / Sir / Madam” works well. Using the familiar form of address “sinä” is commonly used between friends and acquaintances – even strangers. It is usual to address each other as “sinä” even in a workplace, all the way up to senior management. It is still considered polite for young people to address middle-aged or elderly people by more formal “te” if they do not know the person well.
It is relatively easy to get onto first-name terms with a Finn even though it is not that usual to address people by name when greeting them or in the course of normal conversation regardless how familiar one is with them.
Having a conversation with a Finn
In Finland words are taken seriously – people are expected to carefully consider and truly mean what they say and act accordingly. That may at least partially explain why Finns have such a widenspread reputation of being reserved and taciturn. Once they get started, they go straight to the point skipping small talk altogether. In any public transportation Finns can sit happily in silence concentrating on their mobile phones for the whole journey. They do not usually enter into conversation with strangers unless they have a very good reason to – for example a lost tourist with a map in a street corner will get help from passers-by as Finns rather yield of their customary reserve than their hospitality.
Here's Mayuree describing Finns' respect of privacy and peace:
Finns are better at listening than talking and it is considered rude to interrupt another speaker. Silence is also regarded as a natural part of communication, it only means the person doesn’t have anything essential to say and there’s no necessity to fill gaps in conversation with chatter.
Frank's take on the subject of silence and Finns:
Mayuree on the politeness and peacefulness of Finns:
Frank has a great suggestion on studying and understanding intercultural communication:
Finns are punctual people and stick to agreed meeting times to a minute if possible. Finns appreciate their own and another’s time, being on time allows people to manage their time efficiently. Being over 15 minutes late is considered impolite and requires an apology or an explanation. Concerts, theatre performances and other public functions begin on time and Finnish public transportation also operates according to the schedules.
Mayuree on punctuality of Finnish public transportation, even in winter:
Animation: Finns are punctual people
Gender and equality
Equality and fairness are important values for Finns. Women and men are equal and there are a lot of women in high positions in politics, academic posts and other areas of society. Women are usually independent financially and both women and men work as well as take care of children and home. Finnish women do appreciate traditional courtesy but it is the matter of your attitude towards equality that really counts – chauvinistic or patronizing attitudes towards women are unacceptable.
How to dress in Finland
In general Finland has quite casual style of clothing. What to wear at work depends of the nature of your job. If you need some sort of uniform, it will be provided to you by your employer. Otherwise you can wear your normal clothes as long as they are clean, tidy and not too provocative or revealing. You may want to bring some nice dress options for interviews, dinner invitations, or special occasions. When in doubt, it is always okay, and recommended, to ask advice from your colleagues or supervisors.
Changing seasons also affect a lot to way you dress and especially wintertime you need to be prepared – but only outdoors. Finnish homes and all indoor spaces are very well-insulated and heated. Dressing in layers is wise: you will often move from well-heated buildings out into the cold and wet and then back in again.
Mayuree on winter temperatures and Finnish heating systems:
For all seasons - apart from summer - you will need sturdy, insulated, weather resistant walking shoes. A warm waterproof or weather resistant coat and rubber boots will be useful for the rainy period of October through early December, and for early spring when the snows are melting. Woolen socks are always useful. In the winter men will need long underwear, and women long underwear, woolen tights, or long woolen stockings when outside.
If you are on a budget you can buy your outdoor outfit in Finland. We have many environmental friendly second hand shops that sell quite good quality, selected items. Check out at least UFF, Kierrätyskeskus and Fida.
Headwear is essential in the winter, you definitely need something to cover your head, ears and forehea. Knitted hat, pipo is what most people use here. If you don’t have one, you can easily purchase one in Finland. You will also need gloves and mittens, lapaset to keep your hands warm.
In Finland we mostly use wash-and-wear kind of clothes even if dry cleaning is available. Easily-dried fabrics are preferable. Clothes dryers are getting more common but hang-drying is still the rule in many households. Student housing and many apartment buildings include laundry facilities.
- +20°c: summer clothes, light jacket or long-sleeved shirt in case it rains, hat or cap, mosquito repellent…
- +10°c: long sleeved shirt, trousers or tights / leggings, coat, shoes
- 0°c: wind- and rainproof coat, warm and waterproof shoes, gloves, hat
- - 10°c: warm shoes, warm coat with a hood, scarf, layers underneath, woollen socks, hat, mittens
- - 20°c: all the above, more layers…