5 Things to Know Before Your Trip to Finland

Why You Should Have a Travel Bucket List, 5 Things to Know Before Your Trip to Finland

As a Westerner traveling to another Western country, I sometimes can get slightly lulled by a sense of familiarity. On the very surface, things appear to be similar to my home in the United States. It is easy for me to figure out transportation, use the grocery stores, and even the bathrooms, for example. In this way, when I visit Finland,  it is much easier than when I travel to non-Western countries. And truthfully, Finland is very tourist-friendly. However, it is also its own unique country, and with that come a few things that would be useful to know before visiting Finland yourself!

5 Things to Know Before Your Trip to Finland

1. Finns seem solemn, but they are far from cold

A popular stereotype of the Finns is that they are stern and quiet. Someone once even joked to me about my Finnish studies, “Wow, it must be hard to learn since Finns never talk!” I wouldn’t go that far, but it is true that, relatively speaking, Finns are not terribly effusive, especially with people they don’t know very well. When I’m in Finland, I feel more than ever like a bouncy, gregarious, talkative American. In fact, the first few times I visited Finland, I had to remind myself that just because people don’t appear to be as excited as I am, doesn’t mean they hate me!

Far from it in fact—even though Finns seem outwardly reserved, they’re no less kind than people anywhere else. In fact, some of the most caring people I know are Finnish. So don’t be discouraged if people seem standoffish—that’s just how it is. And do note, this aloofness dissipates when Finns drink, which is not infrequently.

2. Finns love to know what people think of their country

I’m not sure if I have ever come across a nationality that is as curious about how people find their country as Finns are. No kidding, almost all of the comments I personally received about my article about Finnish phrases were from Finns!

In order to be a nice visitor, you’d do well to observe as you go and formulate answers to the question, “how do you find Finland?” as you’re traveling beyond, “oh, it’s nice.” People are genuinely curious, and not only would it be less awkward to have a more substantial answer prepared when you’re asked on the spot, but this is a great way to engage the quiet Finns in conversation!

5 Things to Know Before Your Trip to Finland

3. Swedish is an official language of Finland

Yes, Sweden is Finland’s neighbor and Finland was under Swedish rule for centuries. However, not only does Finland have its own distinct culture, but Finnish is not at all similar to Swedish or the other Scandinavian languages, Danish and Norwegian. Knowing Swedish would still be a plus in Finland though, because Swedish is recognized as an official language. A sizeable minority, particularly in the Western part of the country closer to Sweden, speaks Swedish as their mother tongue. Because of Swedish’s official status, signs will be in two languages, Finnish and Swedish.

This can actually be helpful if you speak a Germanic language, as you may be able to guess at some of the Swedish. Things can get a little confusing, though, when it comes to names. Finnish cities have both Finnish and Swedish names. Some, such as Helsinki/Helsingfors are similar. But Pori/Björneborg? Oulu/Uleåborg? Entirely different names for the same place! Don’t freak out if you’re on a train and see a sign with a name that is not what you expected, or if it seems like there are two cities in the place of one.

4. Finns don’t eat peels

Visit Finland: 5 Things to Know Before Your Trip
Too many preservatives? Photo by Leah Missik

One day, my friend Elina offered me an apple. I gladly took it, rinsed it off, and started chomping. Elina, however, took a peeler, removed the skin from the apple, and then proceeded to eat it whole. I burst out laughing. Turns out Elina thought I was the odd one, though. Generally Finns don’t eat peels because of the chemicals that may be on them. The same goes for things like potato skins.

We had a great laugh when I told Elina that there is a dish called potato skins in the U.S. and this difference was a topic of conversation for quite awhile among our group. So, you’ve been warned: if you start chowing down on an unpeeled piece of fruit, Finns might look at you slightly askew. That said, my friends told me they’re a bit more lax about Finnish produce, since it has fewer preservatives on it.

5. Nakedness is not something to be shy about

The sauna is a Finnish national institution. Growing up, most Finns have saunas in their homes and the family will go together in groups separated by gender. Thing is, in the sauna, you’re naked, even when you go with other people, which is usual. In fact, bathing suits are somewhat of a taboo—not to mention less physically comfortable in the heat! Coming from a more body-shy society, public nakedness, especially in front of strangers, can take getting used to. However, I would strongly encourage you to mentally prepare yourself, swallow any embarrassment, bring a towel if you really must, and try the sauna out. Otherwise you’d be missing a huge part of Finnish culture and, if you’re crazy like me, you might even become a bit obsessed with it!

After awhile, you’ll forget about the whole awkward naked thing. In fact, it’s quite freeing and, in my opinion, promotes body acceptance. If you grow up seeing bodies all types and ages in person, rather than only airbrushed photos of the so-called ideal, you may feel less pressure to conform your body to a narrow standard. I didn’t have my first sauna experience until I was in my late teens, but even so, I honestly find it to be liberating and self-affirming.

Armed with this knowledge of Finnish tradition and peculiarities, you should be well prepared for your adventure! Embrace Finland for what it is, try new things, converse with others, and see what happens. You might just fall in love with this sleek yet quirky place like I did.

 

Visit Helsinki: 8 Things You'll Want to Do, 5 Things to Know Before Your Trip to Finland

 5 Things to Know Before Your Trip to Finland

About Leah Missik

Leah MissikLeah is a wanderer, an insatiable ponderer, and of a curious sort. When she is not working in the sustainable development field or traveling, you’ll likely find her with her nose in a book, dancing around at a concert, or writing her blog, Went Looking.

15 thoughts on “5 Things to Know Before Your Trip to Finland

  1. Thomas Caetano
    March 20, 2017
    Reply

    Nice article but I would like to salient that English is a Germanic language.

  2. Tiitu
    February 7, 2015
    Reply

    As a Finn, I know that living in different parts of the country can be totally different. Many blogs about Finland I’ve read, are about finnish things/life in Helsinki. Yeah, sure thre are many similitaries with basic life in North and South but….

    The culture and people are totally different for example in East and West. Helsinki is one of our biggest city, multiculture and full of events, clubs, etc. activities. In smaller towns, there are not so much activities arrenged by the city, no big shopping centers etc., and the people are different too. Usually nature is closer, you don’t need to travel tens of kilometers to find a place to skii, hike or just walk in a peacefully nature.

    And the people…I find people in south to be rude, self-centered, busy, and they are keen on looks, trends and so on. Of course not all are like these, but in general they aren’t so friendly to an outsider, regardless that the outsider is a Finn. They’re used to tourists and are friendly and helpful to them, though. In eastern Finland people are much more social, happy, talk and laugh much more. They meet and accept each other as they are, look “inside” you, not just your appearance and clothes. Western people are also totally different and so are people in north and Lapland.

    So, if you’re interested to see what Finland and Finns are like, I encourage you to travel different parts of the country. I’ve lived in 11 towns/cities across the land, life in everyone of them has been totally different experience.

    • Leah
      February 7, 2015
      Reply

      Hi Tiitu, thanks for your comment. You’re right – there is a lot of variety in Finland depending on which part of the country you’re in. This article is based on my travels spanning over eight years to all different parts of Finland, ranging from Helsinki to a small town that no longer exists because it was incorporated by the neighboring town. I actually spent almost no time in Helsinki during my first two times in Finland and instead lived with a friend in what was then Nurmo and visited others where they lived around the country.

      I honestly like Helsinki and I don’t find people there to be rude though I do agree that there is more focus on trends, etc. I think this is a common thing across the world though, or at least it is in other places I’ve been or where I’m from: those who aren’t from the big cities often think that they’re not personable, more shallow, and the like. There is an element of truth to this but I don’t think it is always the complete story.

      That said, I also encourage people to visit as much of Finland as they can. I have had incredible experiences all over the country and I want to go back for more!

  3. Kaisa
    January 12, 2015
    Reply

    Grear observations, but as a Finn, the part about fruit peels didn’t sound completely right. Some people eat them, some don’t, usually because of the chemicals as you mentioned. For example, I usually eat apples with peels, but I wash them really well before eating. However, pretty much everyone eats Finnish apples with peels because they don’t have any chemicals on them.

    About us Finns being reserved and even cold, thank you for correcting that. It sometimes bothers me that we are claimed to be introverts who are difficult to talk to. Even if it’s not in our nature to strike up a conversation with a total stranger at a random bus stop, we do talk to them if there’s some reason for it. And socializing at a party or some other event is a completely different thing.

    • Leah
      January 13, 2015
      Reply

      Hey Kaisa,

      Thanks for your comment! Yeah, I know some Finns who actually do eat peels–like I said, my friends tend to be more lax about Finnish produce and aren’t as worried about chemicals on it–but one of my friends told me she just doesn’t peel her apples because she is lazy! Haha. Generally, though, just seeing that peeling is a thing was so surprising to me as an American–I had never seen this before!

      I’m glad you agree about my comment about Finns not being cold. You’re totally right. Just because someone isn’t very chatty doesn’t mean they are not a nice person! And anyway, that means when someone talks to you in a non-social setting, it’s probably for a good and genuine reason. 🙂

  4. January 7, 2015
    Reply

    Great tips! Finland is definitely a place I would like to visit one day 🙂

    • Leah
      January 13, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks! I hope you can make it there.

  5. Kevin
    January 5, 2015
    Reply

    I fell in love with Finland long ago. Visited Helsinki in March 2012. Want to go back. Once my wife’s army contract is up at the beginning of 2017, we will be moving there for her to study and for me to work perhaps and maybe study, too. Ultimately I would love to become a Finnish citizen and live out my life there. Life in the disunited states of america has become too fascist for me, or for most sane and sentient creatures. Sane and sentient…opposite of the sociopaths the brain-damaged voters elected to the legislature two months ago.

    • Leah
      January 13, 2015
      Reply

      Good luck for your wife’s studies and life in Finland! I would love to live there, as well.

  6. January 5, 2015
    Reply

    Thanks for the tips – I am going to Helsinki for the first time later this month. Definitely going to swallow my bashfulness and try the Finnish saunas!

    • Leah
      January 13, 2015
      Reply

      Do try the sauna–it’s a pretty strange experience for a first-timer, but I came to love it really quickly. Remember to hydrate though since you’ll sweat a lot. 🙂 Enjoy Helsinki! I wish I was going, too!

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