Part 1: Culture and the Finnish Way of Life
Finland Relocation Services, TIRA Member, Finland
Welcome to the first part of The Real Truth: Expat’s Survival Guide to Finland! Throughout this series we will touch up on five different areas regarding life in Finland. We will guide you through the do’s and don’ts of your daily life in your new home! We may also point out some of the great characteristics and benefits of Finland, because let’s face it, your reason for moving to Finland goes beyond the job!
In this section, we will talk about the peculiarities and tips on Finnish culture. You may have heard a few things about the awkwardly silent, world’s happiest people, and some of it may be true. Let’s go ahead and explore some points you should know about the habitants of the land of the midnight sun and winter darkness.
Myth buster! Finland does not strictly belong to Scandinavia, though it was once a part of the Swedish Kingdom. Collectively, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland should be referred to as the Nordics. Although we share many cultural similarities with our Scandinavian neighbors, there are some small differences. Overall customs and manners are strongly European, and attitudes are very liberal. You do not need to worry about committing social blunders or etiquette mistakes in Finland.
Finns value interactions, commitment more than abiding by social norms. Finns take every word quite literally, which is understandable, as they are not generally seen as extroverted and talkative people. This means that verbal agreements and promises are binding, and this is expected from you as well. Conversations are serial and interrupting someone is very rude. You will rarely come across small talk in Finland. As a matter of fact, the outcome for conducting small talk in Finland might be opposite to what you hoped for. The reason being that Finns speak only when there is a need for it. Random conversation just for the sake of it is greeted with awkwardness. Because of the amount of consideration Finns use before speaking, the result is less, more meaningful words.
Foreigners often point out the unusual silence prevailing in public transportation. For Finns, this is not weird at all. On the contrary, silence is appreciated and considered a natural part of communication. Obnoxious, loud behavior is frowned upon. Despite the gawkiness related to conversations with strangers, Finns are usually more than happy to help a lost tourist if asked. Once acquainted with a Finn, you will find that conversations become easier and topics discussed are not limited by traditional taboos.
Religion does not place a significant role in the lives of most Finns. Surely, we have some amazing architecture with religious buildings like the Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki Cathedral or Johannes Church, but above historical structures, religion is not strongly visible in the streetscape of Finland. Although above 80% of Finns belong to the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, overall the population has very secular views. Because the matter is treated rather passively in public, tolerance for different religions is not as high as it could be. Despite this, there is no reason why you would not be able to practice your own religion in Finland. Because Finns do not express their own religion in public, they prefer you to follow suit.
Known to be the land of thousands of lakes and forests, the Finnish nature represents the culture at its best. The first thing you will notice is the clean, crisp outdoor air stepping of the plane. Purity and the nature go hand in hand. The breathtaking archipelago, lakes, mountains and tundra are all essential parts of the Finnish nature. Covering most of the square kilometers of the nation, the nature is an indispensable element to the life of every Finn.
Summer cottages are extremely important parts of the Finnish summer. If you are invited to one, or would like to rent or purchase one, read the following carefully. It is very common that the summer homes do not come with extensive luxuries. The whole point of a summer cottage is to detach from your daily routine to enjoy the stunning nature and company of those around you. Be warned, many of the cabins do not come with TVs, running water or flushing toilets. The idea of luxury for most Finns does not entail fancy swimming pools, spas and all-inclusive hotels. On the contrary, luxury for Finns is being able to enjoy the nature, space and quietness.
Finland may be a small country in the far, far North, but you cannot discredit the people for a lack of creativity. Worldwide we are known for Finnish design, mobile gaming companies, and companies like Fiskars, Suunto and Nokia. Finnish design is minimalistic, tends to have elements of nature to it, and always embraces the values of the country.
Outside of the art scene, the Finns get creative in sports as well. World championships of Wife-Carrying are held annually in Sonkajärvi. That’s right, you guessed it! Wife-carrying, or ‘eukonkanto’ in Finnish, is exactly what it sounds like. The men carry their wives around an obstacle course, and the winner is that who manages to do so in the least amount of time! We also have contests for rubber boot and cellphone throwing… And remember, ice hockey is a sacred sport. During world championships or Olympics, be prepared to see fans, games and other puck-related activities everywhere.
Speaking of sacred things, the sauna is the Finnish equivalent to a church or a chapel. With approximately two million saunas in the Nordic nation, you will most likely find one in any home you visit! Going to the sauna is a daily ritual for many Finns, but not just for cleansing purposes. The sauna serves as a place for relaxation, meditation and numerous health benefits! It makes us very, very happy. You can truly say you are friends with a Finn once you have shared some stories in the 90-degree Finnish sauna. During the winter time you combine it with snow or ice swimming for full health benefits. If you’re lucky, you will get to smack your back with a bundle of fresh birch twigs (what?!). And yes, the rumors are true, we do it nude. That is why men and women do not bathe together, expect within the family. Fear not, you may wear a towel or a bathing suit to be more comfortable. Don’t forget to stay hydrate during and after your sauna experience!
Stay tuned for the next section on the quirks and tales of the Finnish People.
If relocating to Finland is relevant to you or you would like to learn more about the FRS cultural training, contact us.
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Finland Relocation Services is a thoroughbred professional in international mobility. As the Finnish representative of TIRA (The International Relocation Association) and a full member of EuRA (European Relocation Association) we are continuously cooperating with the other members of our networks.
It is through these strategic partnerships that large international corporations recognize FRS as the leading relocation services company in Finland and today we are proud to operate as the local representative of the world’s leading international relocation management companies.
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TIRA is an aligned network of quality mobility service providers. The network provides access to leading mobility experts from around the world that provide local solutions to global challenges. Network members exchange best practices and share this value with the industry through benchmarking exercises.