Finland is situated in northern Europe and Finland’s neighbouring countries are Sweden, Norway and Russia, which have land borders with Finland, and Estonia across the Gulf of Finland. Forests cover three quarters of the country’s surface area of 338,000 sq. km. Other outstanding features of Finland’s scenery are some 190,000 lakes and approximately as many islands. The principal archipelago and the self-governing province of the Åland Islands lie off the south-west coast while the main Lake District, centred on Lake Saimaa, is in the east.
Finland’s population is 5.3 million and the capital of Finland is Helsinki. Other big towns are Tampere and Turku in southern Finland, and Oulu in the north.
The head of Finland is the President of the Republic who is elected for a period of six years. Parliament has 200 members who are elected every four years. Sauli Niinistö is the current president of the Republic of Finland. Finland’s Independence year is 1917 and it has been a member of European Union from 1995.
Finland and the Finnish national consciousness have been moulded by the country’s geographical status between the East and the West. From the 12th century, Finland was part of the kingdom of Sweden. In 1809, after Sweden lost the war against Russia, Finland was ceded to Russia and became an autonomous Grand Duchy within Imperial Russia, its Grand Duke being the Tsar himself.
During the 19th century Finnish national consciousness grew stronger. In 1906, Finland succeeded in establishing a new constitution based on equal and universal suffrage, Finnish women being the first in Europe to be given the right to vote.
After the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, Finland declared itself independent. During World War II, Finland managed to retain its independence in the Winter War and Continuation War against Russia. After the war, Finland pursued a policy of neutrality and military non-alliance. In 2000 Helsinki was denominated as the Capital of European Culture.
Weather and clothing
One notable effect of Finland’s northerly position on the globe is that the four seasons of the year are clearly distinct from one another. The climate is marked by cold winters and warm summers. The highest daytime temperature in southern Finland during the summer occasionally rises to almost 30 degrees. During the winter months, particularly in January and February, the temperatures of minus 20 Celsius are not uncommon.
In the far north, beyond the Arctic Circle, the sun does not set for about 75 days, producing the white nights of summer. In the same region, during the winter period, the sun remains below the horizon for 51 days, creating the polar night known in Finnish as kaamos.
During the winter, warm clothing is an absolute necessity. While outside temperatures can be well below freezing during the winter, the buildings are very well heated with central heating. The weather in Finland has a strong effect on the way people behave. In the winter, people tend to work or study with great intensity. In the summer, the very same people become very open and social, spending time soaking up the sun and relaxing, and having fun.
Language, currency and religion
Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, the latter spoken as a mother tongue by about 6 % of the people. The official status of Swedish has historical roots in the period when Finland was a part of the Swedish realm, a period that lasted from the early 13th century until 1809.
Another indigenous language is Sami, spoken within the small community of Sami people in Lapland. English has become the most popular foreign language and is widely spoken.
The Finnish currency is the Euro (EUR). Bank notes are in denominations of EUR 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500. The coins are 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents and EUR 1 and 2.
There has been complete freedom of worship in Finland since 1923. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the country’s biggest denomination while a fraction of Finns belong to the Finnish Orthodox Church. Both denominations are designated as state religions. Other religions are also represented but they constitute a very small minority. As the number of immigrants in Finland is growing, Finns are nowadays more conscious of other religions as well.
How are Finns like?
There are many stereotypes about Finnish people: for instance, Finns are said to be shy, reversed and introvert. Usually Finns are straightforward; they say what they mean and they mean what they say. Besides, once you manage to break the ice with a Finn, you usually get a friend for a lifetime. Finns appreciate punctuality: 10 o’clock means 10 o’clock. In case of being late, please, inform about it.
Finns have a very strong sense of national identity, which can be partly explained by Finland’s historical position between Russia and Sweden. The national identity is especially displayed in sports events. Finns are also proud of their high-level technical expertise, a good example of which is company Konecranes. A trait which is typical for Finns is so-called sisu (stamina, perseverance). Sisu is what makes a Finn grit his teeth against all odds; giving up is no option, no matter what the circumstances are!
Meeting a Finn
When you meet a Finn for the first time, it is polite to greet him/her by shaking hands. Afterwards it is enough to nod your head. Among friends, hugging is getting more and more popular. In general, Finns are quite informal in their social relationships; first names are used and people dress informally.
In formal occasions and with elderly people it is, however, polite to use Mr/Mrs/Ms or academic titles. When a Finn is talking, he/she doesn’t like to be interrupted. It is polite to listen to the finish and start talking in a lag of second or two.
The Finns don’t use small talk in the same way as many other people do. If you are invited to somebody’s home, you had better go. even if you visit for the first time, you are not expected to bring along any present.
Eating and drinking habits
Finnish cuisine has western European, Scandinavian and Russian elements. Table manners are European. Breakfast can be quite substantial. Lunch is usually eaten between 11.00 and 13.00, a typical lunch break at work lasting less than an hour. The once common long business lunches have shrunk to 90 minutes or two hours.
Evening meals at home are eaten around 17.00-18.00. In most restaurants, dinners are served from 18.00 onwards.
It’s time for a cup of coffee. Finns drink coffee anywhere and everywhere. More coffee per person is drunk in Finland than anywhere else in the world. Alcohol consumption varies somewhat, according to socio-economic differences and, to some extent, by region. The influence of central European or Mediterranean drinking habits is primarily visible among urban middle class young adults and slightly older Finns with tertiary education.
The non-smoking policy is strict in Finland. This means that smoking is prohibited in public facilities. The possession, production, selling and use of narcotics are punishable acts in Finland.
Sauna - pure health
When living in Finland you cannot avoid getting an invitation to go to a sauna. Sauna in Finland has an ancient history, and is regarded with almost a holy reverence. Today, the sauna is an essential part of life in Finland. Almost every Finnish house has a sauna of its own. For many Finns the sauna is one of the most important places at home and the one most closely associated with their wellbeing. Sauna is a place for both physical and spiritual relaxation. It is not a luxury but a necessity and after trying a few saunas you will probably agree. People usually go to the sauna once or twice a week. Please, remember that it is unusual for men and women to go to the sauna together, unless they are members of the same family.
Learning to bathe in the sauna comes as naturally as learning to speak. However, sauna manners are taught for Finnish children from very early age. It is recommended to keep quiet and prevent from shouting or badmouthing. In sauna everyone has the same status no matter whether you are a director or ex-convict.Tips for beginners
Feel the nature
Finland has a beautiful nature which consists of lakes, forests and archipelagos. We have four seasons which is a richness in Finland. Depending on the season one can do different things such as swimming in the lake, hiking, skiing, canoeing and ice-fishing.
Outdoor life and communing with nature are close to Finns’ hearts. No wonder, many Finns spend their free time at their lakeside summer cottages. Moreover, Finns can enjoy the so-called Everyman’s rights. This means that you can move around the forests and countryside without a special permission of the landowner. This also includes the right to pick berries, flowers and mushrooms.
What to expect?
Living in a new country can bring on many challenges that may be difficult to overcome. The Finnish language is very different from other languages in Europe, making it indeed a very "foreign" language to you. Homesickness can be something to contend with and learning the ways of Finnish culture may require some patience. However, educating yourself about Finland and the culture will help you to adjust to your new surroundings more quickly. Learn to recognise the differences and have respect for them. When you are entitled to keep a sense of your own culture, it is important to respect that of your host country.Welcome to Finland!