When Finns introduce themselves to people they have not met before, they often shake hands. When Finns meet friends or people they know, they simply just say “Hello”. Younger people sometimes greet each other with a hug.
When introducing themselves, Finns give their first name before their surname. It’s not common to introduce yourself with your academic or other titles unless you are meeting people in an official academic or professional occasion. Normally you just state your name.
Married couples can adopt the surname of either spouse, keep their own surnames or use a double-barrelled name.
Most Finns are punctual both at work and in their social life. When you are off to meet somebody you might want to arrive five minutes early rather than five minutes late. A mobile phone comes in handy if you are delayed and it’s polite to let your contact know that you will arrive late.
Active Finnish Silence
Is Finnish silence a myth or reality? You have probably noticed that Finns do not talk as much as people in your culture. Yes, Finnish silence does have negative sides when Finns are too silent for negative reasons. In many cultures people talk quickly to show that they are actively listening. In Finland positive active silence is our way to listen, think and show respect when someone else is talking. Finns are willing to wait for their turn to talk, especially if the other person is also willing to wait while others talk. This active silence is probably hidden from you.
Finns often prefer to use active silence before making a point. This is common when discussing something important, but it is not very common when friends want to joke with each other. Active silence is also full of non-verbal communication that other Finns understand when they are communicating without words. Sometimes our silence sends the strongest message of respect, interest, social togetherness, etc.
Waiting for your turn when queuing is an unwritten rule in Finland. Finns can be strict about queuing and you should never try to cut the line. However, you should be aware that “queuing” does not solely refer to standing in line. It generally refers to almost any situation where there are people waiting for their turn to do something. Most importantly it means waiting for one’s turn and showing respect for those who came before you. Queuing systems with numbered note-sized pieces of paper are quite common.
There are no payphones in Finland, but practically everyone has a mobile phone. It is considered impolite to use a mobile phone in situations where it could be disturbing to others, e.g. in lecture halls, meetings, concerts, theatres and church or libraries. On the other hand, people often use their mobile phones in public transportation.
Gender and Sexual Equality
There is a high degree of equality between the two genders in Finland. Finland was the second nation in the world to adopt universal suffrage in 1906 and the first nation in the world to elect women into parliament in 1907.
Today most women work outside the home and many women hold advanced positions in all the spheres of politics and working life. The Finnish society and legislation is based on equality and, for example, parental leave, social benefits and family structure highlight its importance.
Finland is one of the countries in Europe that recognises same sex civil unions and cohabiting status.
Finland has freedom of religion and about 77 % belong to the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. However, many Finns are quite secular and religious beliefs are considered to be a very private matter.
Food and drink
Nowadays the Finnish cuisine is a mixture of European, Scandinavian and Russian influences. Traditional Finnish food is most commonly eaten on holidays, but there are still some dishes that are eaten throughout the year.
Lunch is normally served from 11.00 to 14.00, and dinner around 17.00 to 19.00. Restaurants serve dinner until late at night, but the kitchen usually closes about half an hour before the official closing time. Student cafeterias serve only lunch. Coffee is extremely popular; the average Finn drinks as much as five cups of coffee a day.
Be sure to sample ‘everyday’ foods such as Finnish rye bread and Karelian pasty (Karjalanpiirakka/Karelsk pirog: an oval- shaped, flat rye flour pastry with a creamy rice filling). Especially in Lapland many dishes consist of reindeer meat, and in eastern Finland the traditional kalakukko (fish served inside a bread crust) is a speciality.
Water, milk and juice are common drinks when eating at home. In more festive dinner occasions, beer and wine are also served along with the non-alcoholic drinks. Finnish tap water is drinkable and has been proven to be purer than many brands of bottled water.
Beer and cider can be bought in regular grocery stores. Other alcoholic beverages can be bought only from special off-licence stores called Alko. Consumption of alcohol per person per year is at a European average. Finnish alcohol consumption and habits may vary by social group and region. Moderate use of alcohol is promoted by legislation; the blood-alcohol-ratio limit for operating vehicles in Finland is considerably low, penalties are severe and the police can test drivers at any time. Additionally, drug laws are very strict: use, possession or dealing of drugs is prohibited.
Tipping is not compulsory in Finland and service is included in restaurant bills. Tips are sometimes given when eating in restaurants, but it is not very common when e.g. buying a drink or paying your taxi driver. People usually tip only when the food or service is excellent. You will not be considered rude if you do not tip.
According to Finnish law, smoking is forbidden in all public places, even in bars and restaurants. Normally Finnish people do not smoke inside. This includes both homes and public buildings. Smokers usually go outside, even in winter. When visiting a Finnish home, smokers should always ask where it is allowed to smoke.
University of Turku recently became a smoke-free campus. Basically this means that smoking is only allowed in certain determined areas that are not close to university buildings or ventilation. As a rule of thumb: if you find an ashtray, you are in a smoking area.
>> Welcome to the smoke-free campus!
Summer cottages or summer houses are a Finnish institution. The cottage is like a second home situated by the sea or a lake, among the trees, in the countryside or perhaps on a small island. Cottages often lack modern conveniences, but they offer a real break from the stress of the working week and provide a great contrast to city life. There are over half a million summer cottages in the countryside where Finns relax, go fishing, have a sauna bath or simply spend some quality time with friends and family.
Sauna (sauna/bastu) is an important part of Finnish society. There are over 1.7 million saunas in Finland and almost every house has one. Additionally, saunas are especially popular at summer cottages. However, the importance of the sauna differs from one region to another.
Ancient traditions throughout the whole country say that you should have a sauna sweat bath at least once a week, as that was the way people washed themselves before having modern bathrooms. Although nowadays people have modern bathing facilities, it is not rare to hear people talking about their weekly sweat bath in the sauna. Traditionally, there are separate turns for women and men, but not within the family. A sweat bath in a sauna is a relaxing and refreshing experience and afterwards you can dip in the sea or a lake or roll in the snow during winter.
To learn more about the Finnish sauna, health aspects, history and recommended bathing procedures, visit the web site of the Finnish Sauna Society and most importantly, try it yourself!
When visiting somebody’s home, people take their outdoor shoes off at the entrance – it is customary to walk indoors in your socks only. Often Finns have been acquainted with someone for quite some time before inviting them to their home for a coffee. Guests are not required to bring any gifts for the host, but bringing a bottle of wine, coffee or flowers is considered to be a nice gesture.
You might have noticed people walking with ski poles without wearing any skies and without there being any snow on the ground. This sport has more than half a million active participants in Finland. People use shorter, specially designed poles for nordic walking instead of regular ski poles. The efficiency of the exercise increases with a minimum of 20% when walking with poles compared to walking without them.