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 the relatively odd Finnish 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 features are there in Finnish culture?
In no particular order and with various degrees of usefulness, I’ve compiled my observations into this list of 50 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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Table of Contents
Facts on Finland – How to Interact with Finnish people
#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 a casual situation:
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, “Moi!” and continue her way.
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 The use of “How are you” in Finland. The quickly said sentence, “Hey, how are you!” is a typical opening phrase in many parts of the world, for example, in the US.
Say the phrase 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. Money things are private in Finland.
You don’t ask a person about their salary in Finland. I wouldn’t ask how much forest someone owns either.
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.
Psst… When in Finland, try not to ask too detailed questions about the amount of reindeer, forest or salary.
#4 Call the tax office. Funnily enough, the annual income information is always public in Finland.
If you desperately want to know somebody’s salary, you just need to call the Finnish tax office and ask. Finnish logic!
#5 Finnish conversational flow. The communication style in Finland allows many pauses in a conversation. It’s nothing personal. You can read more about Finnish small talk here.
#6 Personal space in Finland. Finns naturally keep their distance to other people, especially when it comes to people they don’t personally know. From a Finnish perspective, I’d say it makes me feel I’m being polite and not disturbing the other person.
For example, when on a bus, Finns only sit next to another person when all possible window places are taken, and you have to start filling up the aisle seats.
#7 Not much talking. In Finland, if somebody is your acquaintance, it’s enough (and polite, too) to say hello and continue your way.
I feel that this is one of the biggest differences between Finland and many other countries. In Finland, there are rarely acquaintance level relationships. We are truly friends, or then, we are almost strangers.
#8 The note. This is especially true in apartment buildings. 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 might find a snappy note.
Facts on Finland – Eating habits and Food Culture in Finland
#9 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.
#10 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.
#11 Eat everything on your plate. You should always aim to eat all the food on your plate.
Leaving food uneaten is terrible as from the Finnish point of view, you’re not thinking of the environment, and you’re also hurting the feelings of the person who made the food.
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 bowl is playfully called ‘the cruise ship’ (risteilijä, in Finnish).
#12 Milk with a meal. Water and milk are the most popular drinks with meals. You may also see Finnish kvass, home-made light beer type of a beverage made of rye.
Don’t be surprised if there isn’t wine in sight, especially during lunchtime. Tea and coffee are drunk after the meal.
#13 The savory Finnish breakfast. Finns rarely eat anything sweet over breakfast. Jam isn’t a popular bread topping.
Most likely, you’ll see that Finns put butter, cheese, cold cuts, and veggies on top of their open sandwich. Porridge with berries is a very Finnish breakfast too.
Read more about Finnish breakfast here.
#14 The Christmas ham. Xmas traditions are unique to every country. In Finland, the most classic Christmas food is ham.
The perfect ham is cooked for hours in the oven and finally served with mustard, peas, and dried plums. Ham eating will continue throughout Christmas, and everybody will be completely fed up with the taste. Until next Christmas, of course!
#15 Thursday lunch favorite. If you’re staying in Finland for a longer period, you might notice that many lunch places offer pea soup and pancake every Thursday. What’s this all about?
There a couple of theories, but apparently, the pea soup tradition is from Catholic times. Friday was saved for fasting, but people needed to work hard on that day too.
Pea soup, rich in protein, was a satisfying meal before Friday. The habit stayed. The pancake became a popular dessert in the 20th century.
#16 Got an allergy? No problem. Finland is one of the most comfortable places in the world to be with allergies, as they are so common here. For example, on the night train, some sleeper cabins are reserved for allergic passengers.
Finns are extremely careful when it comes to allergens. Food is prepared with care, taking into account any dietary restrictions you might have.
Facts on Finland – Typical Home in Finland
#17 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.
#18 Making a bed. In bed, we use a pillowcase type of a duvet cover. If you have no idea what I try to say by that, I mean that 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.
#19 Dishwashing differences. Finns don’t have a dishwashing sponge. We have a dishwashing brush.
#20 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 to the sink. Genius!
#21 Finns love to recycle. Most homes are separating at least regular trash, biodegradable, cans, and bottles. Now it’s very popular to collect plastic waste separately.
#22 The weird small shower head. In the toilet, there’s often a tiny showerhead by the sink. That’s for the intimate wash.
#23 Sitting on the 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.
#24 The Moomin mug. Many countries have a world-famous fairytale character. Danes have Little Mermaid, Swedes have Pippi Longstocking, Belgians have Tintin, and we Finns have Moomins.
The Moomins are pastel-colored hippo-like creatures living in a valley with a bunch of other peculiar individuals. If you’re in a Finnish home, it’s pretty much guaranteed that they have Moomin mugs.
#25 Finns love tiny lifehacks (niksi, in Finnish). The idea is to save money or time, preferably both.
For example, you cut a hole to the lid of the butter box through which you can slide a butter knife in. The butter and the knife are thus very handy united, and you save time in the morning when you’re making your sandwich.
#26 Finnish indoors are super warm. Finnish homes are very warm, thanks to excellent insulation. Triple glazed windows and underfloor heating are standard. Also, the water pipes don’t freeze because of carefully done insulation.
Some people have their houses ridiculously warm so that they can walk bare feet indoors all year long (Mum, I know you are reading this. Turn the temperature colder).
#27 Moving flats. When you move around in Finland, you leave the kitchen, cabinets, shelving systems, and floor for the next person. You also leave many of the appliances: the fridge, oven, stove, and dishwasher.
On the other hand, you take with you the heavy laundry machine, microwave and maybe most surprisingly, all lamps!
Tips about Finnish People and the Finnish Language
#28 Almost fragrance-free nation. Many Finns are sensitive to perfumes. Wear fragrance lightly.
#29 Dating rules. Finns date only one person at a time.
In fact, in Finland, dating (seurustella, in Finnish) means that you are in a relationship. Even the lighter version (tapailla, in Finnish) means that you’re focused on a certain someone. If you are going on dates, from a Finnish point of view, you’re single.
#30 Being naked is not always sexual. For a Finn, there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, sexual about being naked in the sauna.
#31 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.
Then, there’s the tiny thing called weather. Between October and April, it is somewhat or seriously freezing. Your priority is to stay warm. Here you can find my detailed clothing tips for winter Finland.
#32 Santa is Finnish. We are crazy serious about the fact that Santa Claus lives in Finland, not at the North Pole.
#33 Evenings are leisure time. In Finland, everybody’s favorite working time is from Monday to Friday from 8 am to 4 pm. Except, of course, us working in Helsinki. Our preferred working time is from 9 am to 4 pm.
Everybody works efficiently during those eight hours so that they can leave the office guilt-free.
#34 Finns are very punctual. If you have a meeting with a Finn, be there on the dot.
#35 A gift for a Finn? If you don’t know the Finn that well, coffee-related gifts are always a safe choice. Bring local coffee flavors, biscuits, or sweets. Read more about Finnish gifting habits here.
#36 Throwing water on the sauna stove. A Finn is in horror if he walks into a sauna and finds no water to throw on the stove.
The essence of the sauna experience is to be able to adjust the amount of steam and hotness while listening to the sizzling sound of water drying on the stove.
#37 Celebrating birthdays in Finland. Birthdays are a huge thing when you are a kid in Finland. Nowadays, most kids have two parties; one for friends and one for family members and relatives.
As an adult, we tend to celebrate only the 40, 50, 60, 70… and even then, it is optional. In most cases, the style of adult birthday parties is relaxed. As a guest, you show up with a card and a simple gift.
#38 Drinking your own drinks at a party. ‘Bring your own drink’ is another Finnish concept.
Alcohol is expensive in Finland, so it’s quite popular to throw a party in such a way that guests bring their own booze. If this is the style of the party, it’s always told on the invitation.
Lastly, this is crucial information if you’ll study in Finland: sometimes the words OPM are used to signal this. OPM (“Oma Pullo Mukaan,” in Finnish), aka “Bring Your Own Bottle.”
#39 Interested in Finnish? When it comes to a non-Finn speaking Finnish, it sounds cute. Don’t worry about that at all!
Most students learning Finnish say that the hardest part of Finnish is knowing the correct ending of a word.
But you know what? When Finnish toddlers are learning Finnish, they don’t know the endings and stems of the words either. Yet they are confidently talking Finnish and get understood. Here you can enroll in my free Finnish class for beginners.
Facts on Finland – Finnish Society and Finnish Lifestyle
#40 The baby box. In Finland, expectant mothers receive a maternity package (äitiyspakkaus, in Finnish) as a gift from the government. The tradition is over 80 years old.
This box has a lot of needed things for the baby’s first year, e.g., quality in- and outdoor clothes, bedding things, and baby products. The box itself doubles as a crib.
#41 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 entirely non-smoking.
#42 Forage away! In Finland, we have a concept called ‘Everyman’s rights’ (jokamiehen oikeudet, in Finnish). This rule 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.
#43 Speeding can be expensive. In Finland, a traffic ticket will be according to your yearly salary.
#44 Free money from bottles. Cans and bottles are always, always, taken back to the store and recycled there. We get a little bit of money when we return them.
#45 Inexpensive hobbies available. Since the beginning of the 20th century, almost every town in Finland has offered inexpensive adult education activities (in Finnish: kansalaisopisto or työväenopisto).
These centers offer a wide range of language, art, sports, cooking, crafts, and IT. I think it is one of the coolest innovations of leisure time and learning, giving all people possibilities to educate themselves in a variety of ways.
#46 Summer nights are very bright. That is due to a phenomenon called Midnight Sun or Polar Day.
The sun doesn’t set at all in Lapland during the summer months. The northern you go, the longer and brighter the nights are.
Most Finns can sleep in the bright without any problems. I highly recommend taking a sleep mask with you.
#47 Finland is super safe. In many places, Finns just leave their coats and bags at an unsupervised coat rack (for example, in a Finnish library or university) and expect to find their stuff there several hours later.
#48 The darkness. During the winter months, the amount of sunlight is minimal in Finland. The darkness doesn’t affect life much. In their spare time, Finns love to go outdoors even in winter too.
#49 The biggest annual holidays are Christmas in December and Midsummer in late June. For most Finns, it’s important to spend these holidays with family and friends. Almost all stores, museums and restaurants close their doors.
#50 Sisu. In Finland, there’s one overarching concept that I would say all Finns agree and are proud of. It is called “sisu”.
Sisu means courage, grit, determination and bravery in the face of obstacles and challenges.
It’s sometimes translated into “Finnish spirit”. Having sisu allows a person to keep going when others would consider a task impossible or give up.
Wow, that was the list!
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:
Warm wishes from Finland,
After Finnish Culture Compass, you’ll…
...feel connected with the Finnish culture (even if you aren’t in Finland)
...be confident with the Finnish communication style (even when it’s filled with silence)
...be prepared to meet and get to know Finns