Nomadish

Nomadish

30 January 2015

How is Finland and what are the Finns like?



As being a Finn I consider to know the subject more or less and as being much away from Finland, I can also have a distant look to my country, Finland. I will write about some facts, about Finns, about things that can give you a hint how Finland and Finns are. As I know quite well many nations, you can find of course generalized things about each nations with its serious and humorous sides.

I do meet a lot of people who are interested to go one day with their camper to North and they ask me many questions about Finland. How is the weather? Is it expensive? Can you do wild camping? Is it safe? What is the best way to drive there? Do we speak English (Obviously French people would ask if we speak French)? Are there many mosquitos? And many more questions…

Unfortunately those who have already been in north, they rarely have visited Finland. I hear they have been to Norway and Sweden and the only experience about Finland has mainly been the Santa Claus village in Rovaniemi. I could also see this clearly when I was driving through Sweden in August 2014, there were so much more foreign campers than in Finland on the road to see. Finland is way more than just the Santa!

My honest opinion is that Norway is clearly the most beautiful Nordic country, but then again something you cannot compare to Finland. You must see Finland yourself (skip the Sweden, and see Finland instead, hahahah!).

Let´s start with the weather, isn’t it the way we often start the chit chat conversation with strangers?

Weather, well it can be all kind of, since Finland has all the great four seasons.  In summer it can get very warm, many summers we have longer periods with more than +25 c (summer 2014 38 days consecutively more than +25 c) and clear blue sky and winters you can have longer periods with the opposite, - 30 c. Most warm measured temperature is +37.2 c (in 2010) and the most cold measured temperature -51.5 c (in 1999) which gives a difference of 88.7 Celsius! In winter you can walk over the frozen sea, even drive with a car over it and not forgetting the beauty of the northern lights, an experience to see!

Inari, Lapland at midnight

Inari also after midnight when the sun came through the clouds

The question I hear often is – Do you really have six months dark and six months light?  The answer is no, it is not that “black and white” and there is a difference if you are in Helsinki (South of Finland) or in Utsjoki (North of Finland). For example in Utsjoki,  the period of total darkness when then sun is not rising over the horizon takes 51 days and in Helsinki the total darkness does not exist. During the shortest day in Helsinki we have daylight for six hours. Then again in the north the sunset is not coming during the summer in 74 days and in south the longest day would last about 19 hours. 

The mosquitos? Yes we have them, but I think people make way too big issue about it!!! Some years we have them more, some less and many times they are very local. I’ve been travelling in summer many times with the camper around Finland and some places you meet them too much that you don’t want to stay on the place you parked, but more often you will come across just in a few mosquitos if any. I’ve had more problems in some places for example in France or Greece where the mosquitos are driving me crazy! 

Saana, the holy mountain for Sami people in Finland

You will meet plenty of reindeers if you go to Lapland


I am not writing about the Finnish history, for that you have Wikipedia, but I like to tell something about the Sami people since I do find them fascinating! First of all they are indigenous and tribal people of the northern countries, protected by European Union and they have much different old traditions. They used to be the northern nomads but of course the life now is very different with the technology. Traditionally they made their living with reindeer herding (still much done), fishing and sheep herding. They have their own Sami Parliament, own flag and own languages. History has not always been beautiful for them, they have faced plenty of discrimination and religious pressure (like the American Indians). Shamanism and natural healing is something which belongs to Sami culture, they have their own gods, for example God for the thunder, old symbolism, drumming culture, own traditional clothes and of course the Joik – music. So if you head to north, maybe you got interested to learn more about the Sami people! In Inari you can visit Siida –the national museum of the Sami. The Sami Museum stores the spiritual and material culture of the Finnish Sami in its collections and presents it to the public through its exhibitions and publications.

Porvoo, one of the picturesque cities in Finland

Porvoo

Porvoo

Geographically Finland is not the country of mountains, but we do have nearly 200.000 lakes and almost 80% of the land is forest. So you really can´t miss the chance to meet the nature. It is not the country where you can visit all over picturesque cities and villages (there are those too), but if you like nature, fishing, trekking, camping, rowing with a boat, sauna, total silent and peace, this all you will meet in Finland. We have 39 national parks, if you are interested of them you can find more information in HERE . Of course in cities you will find plenty of cultural life and action. 

  

the fact that we have only 800 km highway- roads in Finland and national roads more than 8000 km (other kinda roads 60 000 km) tells that it is really not high populated with its 5.5 million habitants (+1 Santa Claus). 


 
All the goodies that forests offers are something what many of us likes to collect such as many kind of mushrooms and berries. We have this thing called “every men´s right” which means that you do not need permission when walking in somebody´s land in the forest, but of course you need to be respectful. You can collect berries and mushrooms, but fishing or hunting needs permission. The rights are the same for Finns and foreigners. 


 
 


Summer houses and Saunas are things which belong in almost every Finns life. We love to have our little or less little cottages nearby water and spend our holidays in the country side. The house is often simple, maybe “homemade” and many times you don’t have even electricity or running water to the house and the toilet would be an eco-toilet outside. But one sure thing is that they all have a sauna. THE SAUNA. Also campsites are always providing a sauna! It is so deep in our culture that already as a child on you will have your weekly sauna with your family. Even in cities we use saunas. If you don’t have one in your apartment, most certain you would have one in your building. For foreigners another crazy thing might be that we like to whip with birch brunches ourselves in sauna, so relaxing :).


I camped with my dog by the sea to see the Seurasaari bonfire

 
Midnight summer and other holidays often makes cities empty. Sometimes I’ve been wondering what those tourists might think who arrives in Finland the same day when we have midnight summer. The cities are so quiet, very little traffic and not too many people around and this is because most people would go to country side and have the traditional “juhannus” = midnight summer party/festival. You spend it with your friends and family or you might go to the music festival etc. I kind of like the old traditions it is holding still with its folk magic. Mainly the magic is about giving good luck to your future marriage and knowing your future. For example in the old days, maidens would use special charms and bend over a well, naked, in order to see their future husband’s reflection.  An unmarried woman collects seven different flowers and places them under her pillow to meet in her dream her future husband. 

One thing is sure that definitely belongs to “juhannus” is “kokko”= midsummer bonfire!

Odd world championships records and competitions is something we like in Finland and Finns have been inventing many extremely weird ones and some of them has become worldwide known and you have participants all over the world. Did you ever think to take a part in a mosquito swatting championships?  You may also try; wife carrying world championship, air guitar world championship, ant-nest sitting competition, ice swimming events, Finnish sauna world championship, swamp soccer world championship, berry picking world championship, mobile phone throwing world championship or rubber boot throwing. Stiff and serious Finns aren’t that stiff and serious after all if you look at the all silly competitions they compete in! 
 

Alcohol and drinking it, well this is something that Finns are not too shy for.  The pure alcohol consumed by habitant is not higher than most other countries in Europe, but Finns like to drink more at the time, not just a glass a day (better to save all those glasses for the weekend and drink it at once).  Alcohol is highly taxed so Finns who lives in south, often buys their alcohol from Estonia. But this is nothing strange, the Norwegians buy it from Sweden/Finland, Swedes buy it from Denmark, Danish buy it from Germany, French from Spain and so on, seems that it always gets cheaper the more south you go.  Only in Scandinavian countries you can find huge selections of quality beers in shops and in our alcohol monopoly shops (ALKO), but wine you cannot find in the supermarkets due the monopoly system. All alcohol over 4.7% is sold only in ALKO. So you can stop looking for your red wine in the supermarket, you will not find it, go in Alko instead where they have wines all over the world. If you go to the bar and want to have a double whisky, it is just not possible. They would serve you only one at the time and this sounds very funny even to us as Finns. You can buy as many as you want, but just one at the time. This law was made to “protect” us to not use too much alcohol by our big brothers in the healthcare system.

 
Cruising boats are popular (Finns buy their cheaper booze here too), most of the Finns have experienced party times in cruising ships between Helsinki – Stockholm or Helsinki – Estonia. It is just not party, there is everything to everyone. Special themes are made for families, sometimes you find gay-cruises, cruises for singles, musical theme (such as ABBA), Mediterranean weeks and many more. It can also be a little romantic cruise with your partner spiced with luxury. 

We love milk too and ice cream it is not just the booze. You can catch a Finn even in a high dining place with its glass of milk, instead of red wine, so much we love it. A cold glass of milk with your meal is something we all grow with and the consummation is high. Finns are also in the top5 world list of consuming ice creams! 

No life without coffee either this is also our national thing. Did you know we drink the most coffee in the world per habitant? If not, well now you know it’s not Italians or the south Americans. We drink our coffee more mild, but we drink many cups per day! Instead of asking friends for the meal, we often ask, please come for a coffee or should we go to have a coffee somewhere? We like to have our “kahvi ja pulla”= coffee and bud. 


Food in Finland is surely more expensive than in central Europe, but it is not a reason to think that you cannot afford to have your camper holiday in Finland and that you should drag all the food with you. Finland is also the only northern country with a Euro, very handy! There are excellent supermarkets with huge selections and this is again one thing you would not see in many other European countries. Now days you can just find almost everything there, from all exotic kitchens to haute cuisine. Shops are also open daily, including Sundays.  I really miss good Finnish supermarkets when I am on the road!

Lahti ski jump
Sport and motorsport has a high interest! There are sports that Finns are the kings and queens and the ones they should never take a part of! For example in rally, formula 1, motocross, ice hockey and other winter sports Finns have often won the world champion chip, but football is example something we don’t even get qualified to the games. I’ve been wondering since Finns are often very good in motorsport, but how an earth it can be possible that they are so lousy drivers in the traffic? Many of them if you would drop them in the bigger European cities or highways, they could not survive long! 

Technology is in very high level and I do notice this for example in internet connections abroad. In Finland basically everyone has internet connection with them all the time. I guess cheapest unlimited internet in your mobile would be something like 3 euro a month and other unlimited internet in your laptop less than 10 euro a month. You can buy a prepaid sim-card as a foreigner (I use this option these days too since I’m rarely there) for the internet or for the calls. You can find them for example in kiosks easily. Also public free Wi-Fi places are often to find. Many countries could aim on this! Fees for mobile calls are very reasonable and I’m not sure if a kid without a mobile phone at the age of six even exists! 

Finnish people are used to pay almost everything with bank/credit cards, it works everywhere and there are no minimum limits, easy!

Social, health and education system is rather good and one thing I would give a special note is the maternity leave and each mother will receive a maternity package. The tradition dates back to 1938 and was originally only for the poor families but in the 40s it was first time given to all expectant women and still is. The package includes plenty of different kind of baby clothes, towels, nail scissors, hairbrush, toothbrush, bath thermometer and many other things. Funniest thing is that the box itself actually can be used as a first bed for the baby! So many of us has started our first nights by sleeping in the box:). 

In education system Finland was ranked many years as the leader but has now dropped in the 5th place, but I guess they do it still pretty well. 

In the healthcare system Finland is number 31 worldwide. This is an issue I think that most Finns would think that they do it better than that, but no. Finns can be surprised that most European Union countries do it better! 

Since we just talked about the social system I will jump to another issue, social life. Finns are definitely not very social or smiley people comparing to the west or south Europeans (east Europeans I consider more reserved too), they just have no skills for it. All my returns to Finland have always been difficult in this matter, even just after a one week holiday. Finns are not the ones who gives a happy hello to you, often they would be surprise if you greet them. I remember one time when I was in one Greek island some years ago with the camper, the season was almost finished and I pumped in to a tavern where were only one other table in use. As I noticed that they were Finns, I said my happy hello and they were so stunned and looked at me – Excuse me we don’t know you! Grrrr, me either, I just wanted to greet them!

Often when you talk with a Finn, they don’t look at you in your eyes, they prefer for some reason look their feet instead or elsewhere. Mostly whatever other country I walk for example in villages, the kids would greet me first or at least they would reply if I greet them, but do not expect this from the Finnish kids. I think it is a mix of a lack of education, culture and shyness, since Finns are definitely not mean people. Once you get a know one, you might get a lifetime friend with a heart full of gold. It is not that Finns want to be impolite, this is just how they are, but I agree that sometimes I get this feeling to give them a kick on their butt that they would be more or at least easier open! One thing I have noticed that during the last few years, customer service level has increased a lot. You can find friendly workers in shops and bars, ready to serve you or asking if they can help you somehow (without being pushy). This has been for me such a nice positive change! 

It is clear that Finnish women are way more talkative than Finnish men. We have this way of saying that “suomalainen mies ei puhu, mutta pussaa = “Finnish men don’t talk, but they will kiss”, meaning that they are not easily capable of talking, but they anyway would have a heart of gold and care. Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean that a stranger Finnish man would just come and kiss you :).

Finns are thinking too much what the other people think of them, instead of having a good self-esteem. This makes me think about one joke which would not be too far from the truth. Briefly it went something like this: A German, French and a Finn come across with an elephant somewhere in Africa, the German is thinking: “If I would shoot the elephant and sell his teeth, how much money I would get?” The French is saying “How wonderful animal indeed, absolutely fantastic”.  The first thing what the Finn thinks is that what is the Elephant thinking of him! 

In brief a typical Finn would be shy and honest and you will not get easy in troubles with them. They respect theirs and your privacy but are helpful people if you find yourself in any trouble (most probably you need to ask for the help). You might think that Finns are rather serious, but in reality they can have an excellent hidden humor behind their serious look.

Like in the most countries in the world, the contacts can be easier made in villages rather than the bigger cities. I come myself from Helsinki and I find that the biggest hospitality you will find in eastern and northern part of Finland. They give more time for others and maybe they enjoy more for the life itself.

Is it true that most suicides are made in Finland? This is something that many people are still thinking and the answer is no. It is true that the number is high, we are placed at being the 21 th. (Belgium 18th, France 26th, United States 30th and Sweden 35th).

Glass art by Gina Salaris

Silent People, Suomussalmi, art in the nature

Culture, music, art yes we do have all these things. You may be surprised when I will tell you that Finland is a country who loves tango! Yes, the stiff Finns can be hot as the fire with their tango. Every year we have tango festivals where a tango king and queen are chosen. 

Then again the opposite of the tango we are big metal and hard rock music fans. For example Lady Gaga is not the first person having her concert in Helsinki, but Metallica, AC/DC, Slayer etc. have had plenty of concerts in Finland. We like tattoos, red and black hairs, piercings, from this I can also often recognize a Finn abroad. You knew that Finland is often the last in Eurovision song contest? But not that one time when this hard rock monster group, Lord, won the whole show in 2006.
I think most known Finnish bands are Nightwish, Apocalyptica, The Rasmus and HIM, but still they are not big stars worldwide (sorry if I am forgetting some, I just write them from my head…) 

Many known classical music composers we do not have, the most known one is Jean Sibelius, painters are more known between the Finns, but some writers has become loved in other countries and translated in many languages. Arto Paasilinna is one of them, his books has been translated in 46 different languages. Not forgetting Mika Waltari and Tove Jansson with her Moomin world.

 
Some of the most known Finnish brands you might know by name are Nokia, Fiskars, Angry Birds, Linux and Suunto.

Finnish language is something you don’t need to learn a word, in theory we are bilingual (Finnish and Swedish) but most Finns can speak English. I used the word in theory we are bilingual but I am sure you can meet more people who speaks English rather than Swedish (including myself). Other thing is of course that you will please a Finn a lot by knowing some words, they would have a high respect on this that you have made an effort. You don’t need to know words like: epäjärjestelmällistyttämättömyydelläänsäkäänköhän (yes, this is just one word).

Is it allowed to do wild camping? I wouldn’t know ANY country where it is allowed (do you?), but in many countries it is tolerated (I do basically ONLY wild camping in every country, including Finland). I would say that it is very safe to do wild camping, just use your common sense where you will stay, respect the nature and nature loves you back <3.

 
How to get to Finland and maybe come a Finnholic? By plane London is 3 h away, New York 8 h, Beijing 8 h and if you plan to come with your camper, you have many options, depending on your curiosity what you like to see and the time you have. There are daily direct ferries from Germany, Sweden and Estonia. If you are planning to go already in the north of Sweden and Norway, you will have plenty of different accesses to come in Finland. See my updates here directly from Germany and Sweden by ferries. Here you can read at the end of the article information about Finnlines Ferries, Germany - Finland and here from the road and ferries via Denmark - Sweden - Finland.



There are no road tolls in Finland, snow tires are required from December to February, headlights must be used at all times (this headlight thing I find odd myself, but it’s been like that for years).

Few other tips when you eventually will meet a Finn… If you get invited in his home, don´t forget to take your shoes off (includes also the Finnish campers you might come across). Do not give empty promises, If you promise something it is better to stand behind your words; like if you are thinking of inviting your new friend over, be sure to do it, since a Finn expect that he will soon come over. We also never give a visit without a call first. If you are a smoker, please smoke outside, even in flats, nobody I know would smoke inside their house. We are very casual, you don’t need to be dressed up. But after all this, I am sure you will have great time while drinking the coffee we like so much :)!


But please, be free to do all these; talking about the sport and knowing some name of our sport stars, you will save his day, give compliments even Finns do not often know how to take them= If you say what a nice shirt you have, he will probably answer, oohh, this is just an old thing and forgets to thank you for your nice words. Do talk about Finland and the world, once you get a conversation started, you might end up having an interesting chat after all the shyness! 

You know you have been too long in Finland, when you...

Say thank you after your meal
Think that silence has come fun
After giving presentations, you stop asking "Are there any questions?" (Since Finns never ask one!)
Cannot miss your weekly sauna in any occasion, it is fun too
Are thinking of having a tattoo and liking big time the metal music
Accept alcohol as a food group
Know that "one" beer means "let's get pissed”
Don’t get shocked anymore that women drinks alcohol equally as men
Don’t greet your neighbor anymore
You’ve become lactose intolerant (Do you know even know what it means?)

So…..I welcome you to come to my country, Finland, see you there! Well I just might not be there, I might be in YOUR country :)


14 comments:

  1. Very good story! I am another Finn not living in Finland and this all is so true!

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    1. Salut Albin Karmann, Thanks for reading it, hahah, I think Its the longest article I´ve ever made, so thanks that you arrived until the end and left a comment :). I guess it is so that those Finns who lives abroad or are just much away, get´s a good distant look to Finland, with its good and bad sides, things we miss and things we really don´t miss. Enjoy your weekend!

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  2. 100% totta mitä kirjoitit suomalaisista.Suomalaisuuteen sisältyy niin paljon.Loistavan yhteenvedon olet kirjoittanut.Rupesi ihan naurattaa,kun kirjoitit niin osuvasti.Hyvä Suomi hyvä me!

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    1. Hyvä että nauratti suomenruottalaista :)

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  3. I'm bilingual finn.It was very true story of finns.In bilingual way it's very easyer to understand english if you speak swedish.People,I hope you have a chance to visit our beautuful country sometimes.
    Your onkel christer

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    1. Hello Christer, yes, I think also English is easier for the Swedish people, as well German, Dutch etc. We are bilingual in Finland, but I would be interested to know, how many actually speaks better English than Swedish. My gut feeling would say that especially the younger generation goes for English rather than learning good Swedish. Most of the Swedes I meet abroad anyway assumes that I must speak Swedish, since I am Finn. Unfortunaly your sister :) didn´t speak Swedish for us, would have been a a gift to have another strong language, but then again, I have learned four other languages instead that I can survive with.

      One help for tourists is that many things are indicated for example on the streets with two languages. When they need to go to the center, they would follow sign "Centrum" instead the Finnish word "Keskusta". So it is very useful :)

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    2. I dont really know how many percent speak english in finland,but 99,4% of teenaged read english at school.
      If you hear teenaged talk together they use lot of english word in they daily conversation.
      Me again.

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    3. High number indeed, thank you, I just love statistics :). I did know from before that the northern countries and Dutch do speak it the best after the native ones. I think I studied English only 5 years at school, but the new generation must do it more and this is only good knews!

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  4. Très bonne synthèse et analyse de cette nation .... félicitation ... en espérant que cet article motive les gens a venir visiter ce fabuleux pays.

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    1. Merci pour le commantaire M@C, les camping-cars sont bienvenue :)

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  5. Replies
    1. Well, time to time I feel some home sickness too, but it is mostly quickly over :)

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  6. Hei. I'm Rhealyn from the Philippines. I enjoyed reading your article and I'm interested in reading about your country in Finland, about Finnish people and specially to know more about a Finnish men's character. I want to ask about this, if a Finnish man says the word I miss you what does it mean? It does mean that he really miss me even though we are not having any relationship? Every time I heard it from him it means a lot to me and I can't deny that I'm happy hearing it from him and it makes my day complete.

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    1. Hei Rhealyn, happy to hear for your interest :). Maybe a male reader could help you in your question considering Finnish men.

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Thank you for leaving a comment, they are always welcome in English, Finnish, Dutch or French, others I need google translate :)