As a Finn, I thought it’s a fun idea to share some advice in English what not to do in Finland in order to not to get Finns pissed. Alright, they probably wouldn’t show the anger to you anyway but they would mumble angrily by themselves afterwards about it. Anyhow, for the sake of Suomi100 alias Finland turning 100 years 6.12.2017 it’s time to share some advice.
This is maybe the most obvious one. Finnish people don’t like small talk because it makes the situation just more awkward. If you want to talk about the weather, make valid points about it. If you don’t have anything to say, it’s alright as well just to appreciate the silence. In regards of “How are you?” you’re actually going to get an answer how that person is doing and what’s going on in his life. It’s not just a small talk “good, and you?” -kind of conversation. So yeah, we don’t small talk, especially not in elevator. Sometimes saying “Hi” to a stranger in Finland might leave that person thinking for months what the h*ll did you mean by that.
Opening sauna door all the time
If you will travel to Finland, you obviously need to try Finnish sauna. Yes, it’s hot in sauna and yes the idea is to pour more water to get even more heat. Then if someone opens the door just when the water is poured, the heat will escape. So nicely open the door, come in/out and close the door. Don’t do as some people in public saunas: opening the door, taking a long glance whether there’s a nice place to sit in and then deciding. Sounds like a small and meaningless thing but at least I get bothered in public saunas if people do so. To give you an idea how important and sacred saunas are for Finns, you can find an event here where people have built saunas in most random places and they compete which is the best one. This is one of my favourite events in Finland and my 12-hour sauna and swimming record was made there. Moreover, it’s also alright to have many saunas at home: electric one for everyday usage and wooden/smoke sauna for weekends/special days.
Throw trash to nature
Because we live in forest, we love nature. We are born and raised in it and we appreciate it. If there’s a tree, Finns would say the species of tree instead of “tree”. In some countries it is normal to dump your old stuff to abandoned areas, but please don’t do that in Finland, not even for small trash like the plastic bag you had around your rye bread when having a hiking trip in Lapland. You may think it will decompose there, but for plastic it takes ~20 years to decompose. Plastic bottle takes then 450 years. So if you were able to carry it there, you can carry it back to the closest trash bin.
Don’t say meatballs are Swedish
Yes, Finland has a lot cultural heritage in common with Sweden, but some things have started to be like our own as well. And one of these foods are traditional meatballs, smashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. If Finland is really unknown for you, please don’t ask whether our mother tongue is Swedish. Yes, it’s compulsory for us to study in elementary school and it’s second official language, but actually not many people talk it fluently outside from southern or western coast. Our native language is Finnish and no, it’s not from the same language group as Swedish. Or any other language except Estonian and Hungarian having some distant similarities. (You can read more about uralic languages here.)
Finland in November
Instead of just listing prohibitions, I thought it’s good to give one great advice as well: Don’t come to Finland in November. It seriously isn’t pretty. Sun barely rises, it’s cold but not yet beautifully white country. It’s gray and depressing, it’s basically like highway to hell. People are pretty much depressed because they don’t see the sunlight and summer holiday is a distant memory. There’s still a lot of time to be efficient before Christmas but it’s hard to keep up with the rhythm when you feel like napping all the time and coffee doesn’t have any effect anymore. Personally, I have survived November just because my birthday is at 28th day of this darkness.
Don’t say you’ve seen Finland after visiting Helsinki
As a Bachelor of Hospitality Management and Master’s student of Tourism Research, I’ve been always wondering why do we want to build our country brand only based on Helsinki and Lapland. I have mainly lived in Southern Ostrobothnia and in Tampere which I find completely different than Lapland or Helsinki. The land of thousand likes is there in the middle of Finland and there are many stunning places to visit around Southern Ostrobothnia, for example. Surely Lapland is an awesome experience for me as well and I love visiting Helsinki, but those surely aren’t the only things and places to see Finland has to offer. Ideally, when visiting Finland you’d know a Finn or have a car, because many places are quite difficult to access by public transport. We have only one government-owned train company called VR and it’s not efficient to have train going to all the places when there are just a few passengers. Bus can be an option, but to be honest public transport might be quite expensive in Finland. Luckily in Helsinki (and some other “cities” like Tampere and Oulu) it works smoothly, nicely and in reasonable prices.
Don’t walk like a tourist
In many touristic places, visitors obviously have easy-going attitude because they’re on holidays. Therefore, they occupy the whole street and Finns need to awkwardly try to think whether they want to open their mouth saying excuse me to pass, should they stay behind remaining annoyed or should they cough loudly. This probably sounds ridiculous but in Finland people appreciate personal space in streets as well. If you see there’s a bike coming from another direction and you’re walking next to your friend, you’ll give way 20 meters in advance. This is something I learned abroad when this for me obvious thing wasn’t there.
Alright, let’s get facts right. There has been some debate about the home country of Santa Claus. Some people might foolishly doubt whether Santa Claus is from Sweden or even from America. Nope, he’s from Korvatunturi and you can visit him in Joulupukin Pajakylä, in Rovaniemi. In addition, you can see the whole narrative about Santa Claus annually in Rovaniemi’s Theathre when they perform Joulutarina. (Unfortunately this beautiful performance is in Finnish.)
Don’t be afraid
Sometimes Finns may seem rudy and difficult to approach. Anyhow, Finns are willing to help if you just ask them. Even if the person looks like they are worshiping Satan, their favorite hobby is probably just to listen to heavy music, browse funny memes and pet dogs. Although the habitus might sometimes look hard to approach, Finns are overall kind and they wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Taking sarcasm literally
This may not be the opinion of the nation of Finland, but I find that many Finns are quite sarcastic. Our humor might be sometimes as dark as our November and we love cartoonists like Hugleikur Dagsson. That’s what keeps as going in these latitudes: it’s alright to sometimes joke about darker things like depression, death or complain about stuff that isn’t there. So it’s important not to take our dark blabbering too seriously. In addition, in the Eastern side of Finland, you never know when the person is being serious and when sarcastic. Trust me, it’s not only difficult for foreigners but also for me because I’m from Western Finland.
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