It is the culture that makes a place unique and, as we are talking about Finland here, a little bit weird. It is the culture that makes you say what? Whaaat?!
I feel that our relatively odd habits are a part of our charm. A major part of our charm. Actually, now that I think about it, I’d even slam an equal sign here and say Finnish quirkiness = Finnish charm.
So what are we Finns like? What’s Finnish culture like?
In no particular order and with various degrees of usefulness, I’ve compiled my observations into this list of 30 Cultural Facts on Finland.
I hope these nuggets of information help you feel more at home in Finland and become even more curious towards the Finnish way of life!
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Facts on Finland: Greeting and Talking
#1 Shake hands. No way we are kissing anybody on the cheek. It’s definitely a handshake. In Finland, you should handshake both men and women. If you are in an informal situation, a simple nod of the head or a wave of the hand suffice.
Here are two helpful examples of an informal situation:
Example A. Picture a housewarming party. When you arrive, the people in the living room turn their heads to see who’s there. A Finn at the doorstep would just wave her hand and say “Moiiiiii” and continue her way.
Example B. When you arrive at a public space, even when it’s a rather intimate (think the locker room of your gym or a classroom), you don’t need to say anything.
#2 “How are you” means more. The quickly said sentence “Hey, how are you!” is a common opening phrase in the US. Say it in Finland and most Finns will be confused. Most likely you’ll hear the crickets inside our head.
That’s because, in Finland, “How are you?” is a proper question demanding an answer. Thus, we are honestly thinking about our wellbeing and what we should answer. Only the most internationally-savvy Finns will have the prompt answer “Great, how are you!”
#3 Avoid money questions. You don’t ask a person about their salary. Nor do you ask a Lappish reindeer owner how many reindeer he has. It is like asking how much money he has on his bank account. Money things are private in Finland. #4 Just call the Tax Office. Funnily enough, the annual income information is always public in Finland. If you desperately want to know somebody’s salary, just call the Finnish Tax Office and ask. Finnish logic!
#5 Distant neighbor relationships. Finns may have no idea who their neighbors are. This is especially true in apartment buildings. We don’t want to disturb our fellow inhabitants by asking names and other questions.
#6 The note. If you make too much noise in your flat or park your car wrong, Finns don’t make a scene and confront you about it. Instead, you’ll find a snappy note.
Facts on Finland: Eating
#7 You decide your portion size. At a Finnish home, food dishes are usually put on the table. You’ll see the pan with meatballs and the pot full of potatoes. Everybody takes food personally and makes their own judgment about their portion size.
Adults serve adults only by request, for example, when something is out of reach and too much trouble to lift.
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#8 Help yourself. You don’t have to wait for the host to suggest second helpings, fill up your plate when you want.
Often at some point, a Finn offers you more food. If you are full, you don’t need to take anything. Unless you are visiting your Finnish boyfriend’s mom, in which case you absolutely take more!
#9 Eat everything. You should always aim to eat all the food on your plate. Leaving food uneaten is a bad habit in Finland. That being said, you don’t have to digest potato peels or fat bits.
When the food is messy, you can sometimes spot a small cup circling on the table. Finns put their potato peels and fishbones into it. Follow the example! The cup is playfully called ‘the cruise ship’ (risteilijä in Finnish).
#10 Milk with a meal! Water and milk are the most popular drinks with meals. Don’t be surprised if there isn’t beer or wine in sight.
#11 Savory Finnish breakfast. Finns rarely eat anything sweet over breakfast. Jam isn’t a popular bread topping. Most likely, there’s butter, cheese, cold cuts, and veggies.
Facts on Finland: At Home
#12 No shoes. You never wear shoes at somebody’s home.
Unless you are invited to a big home celebration, like a graduation party. In that case, guests may arrive with two pairs of shoes. They’ll walk in wearing their outdoor shoes and change into their party shoes in the hall.
#13 Making a bed. In bed, we use a pillowcase type of a duvet cover.
To be precise, the blanket goes inside the duvet cover. In a double bed, there are usually two duvets, so there’s no fighting over the duvet at night.
#14 Dishwashing differences. Finns don’t have a dishwashing sponge, we have a dishwashing brush.
#15 Extraordinary cupboard. In every kitchen, there’s a specific cupboard above the sink, called astiankuivauskaappi in Finnish.
It’s an empty net shelf, and you put dishes to dry there. The drops fall down to the sink. Genius!
#16 Bottle recycling. Cans and bottles are always, always, taken back to the store and recycled there. We even get a little bit of money when we return them.
#17 Everything is recycled. On that note, we Finns love to recycle. Most homes are separating at least regular trash, biodegradable, cans, and bottles.
#18 Weird small shower head. In the toilet, there’s often a small shower head by the sink. That’s for the intimate wash.
#19 Sitting on sauna bench. You always sit on a small towel when you are in the sauna.
Also, you wash yourself before and after the sauna. Read all about sauna etiquette on my helpful post.
#20 Moving flats. When you move, you leave the kitchen, cabinets and shelving systems for the next person. You also leave many of the appliances: the fridge, oven, stove, and dishwasher.
The laundry machine, microwave and most surprisingly all lamps move with you!
Facts on Finland: Out and About
#21 Almost fragrance-free nation. Many Finns are sensitive to perfumes. Wear fragrance lightly.
#22 No smoking. Smoking isn’t cool in Finland. You are allowed to smoke on the terrace of a restaurant, but all non-smokers secretly hope you wouldn’t. Recently, many terraces have become non-smoking with a small, dedicated area for smokers.
#23 Forage away! In Finland, we have a concept called ‘Everyman’s right’ (jokamiehen oikeus in Finnish). It allows everyone to roam freely in nature, eat and pick berries and mushrooms anywhere in forests.
Also, you can camp out overnight in a tent, vehicle or boat, as long as this causes no damage or disturbance to the landowner.
#24 Drinking your own drinks at a party. ‘Bring your own drink’ is another Finnish concept.
It goes like this: You want to throw a party but don’t want to pay for the guests’ drinks. A Finn just let guests know that the event is OPM (Oma Pullo Mukaan in Finnish) aka Bring Your Own Bottle.
This is crucial information if you will study in Finland! Most parties are OPM.
#25 Where’s the sale? Finns love a good sale and are always looking for a great deal. Driving ten minutes to the other way is a price we happily pay if there is a good discount or cheaper petrol to be found.
#26 Speeding can be very expensive. In Finland, if you get a traffic ticket, it will be according to your yearly salary.
#27 Dating rules. Finns date only one person at a time. In fact, in Finland, dating means that you are in a relationship. If you are going on dates, you are 100% NOT dating, you are single.
#28 Stay warm. Most Finns dress very practically.
There is an old Finnish saying ‘Only ugly people need to dress up’ (Vain rumat ne vaatteilla koreilee, in Finnish) which might explain a bit how fashion was regarded here back in the day.
Oh, and there’s the tiny thing called weather. Between October and April, it is somewhat or seriously freezing. Here you can find my detailed clothing tips for winter and free packing list.
#29 Santa is Finnish. We are crazy serious about the fact that Santa Claus lives in Finland, not at the North Pole.
#30 Being naked is not always sexual. For a Finn, there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, sexual about being naked in the sauna.
Wow, that was the list! All thirty items.
What was the biggest surprise? Can you come up with more Finnish things that the world should know about? Comment below!
Looking for more information about Finland and Finnish culture? Check out some of my other posts:
- Best Finnish Language Learning Resources for Beginners
- Learn the Secret of Making Finnish Friends
- How To Understand Finnish Culture on Compliments and Gifts
- Finnish Greetings: Hello in Finnish and 15 Other Great Greetings Words
- Alvar Aalto Getaway in Jyväskylä: Two-Day Itinerary with Design & Nature
Warm wishes from Finland,