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My experience of Finnishness


Winter – A very special season with its good and bad effects

Finland is a country of a thousand lakes but also a land of ice and snow. Our winter can last for 6 months and be very dark. I think Finnish people love the fact that we have so many different seasons but the darkness during the winter time is still very hard, especially mentally. Luckily snow brings a lot of light to the darkness and especially in February and March the weather can be so beautiful when the sun shines and it’s all light and white. The hard part is in December and January. I also think that it has something to do with the famous silent and shy Finnish people: if it’s cold and dark outside, people tend to be more tired and stay at home instead of going out. Just like the famous Finnish author Tove Jansson’s Moomin-characters actually sleep all over the winter…



Shy but honest?

The Finnish Nightmares -cartoons are very famous and funny for a reason: they are so true! Finnish people in general want a lot of “own space”.  They usually don’t even say “hi” to strangers in the hallway. I think they don’t want to be rude but it’s just a matter of being shy and as long as we don’t have that small-talk culture, we don’t know what to say. It can also be hard with the closest friends or family to tell about our real feelings. Personally I’d love that culture to change a bit in the fact that it would be easier to tell each other about what’s bothering us or how we feel. The famous Finnish “sisu”, which means strength and not giving up, is a great thing so that Finns really want to cope with their lives and make their dreams come true. But I wish that Finnish people could also tell a little earlier, if they need help with something, instead of keeping their problems as secrets inside.

Some foreign friends of mine told me that it’s a little more difficult to get to talk with Finns but once you do, it’s a chance to make up a good, reliable friendship. In general Finland is also told to be a very safe country.


Wow, here comes the sun!

After a long, long winter the summer is like a dream! The sun is up also during the night and people enjoy that in many different ways: there are a lot of festivals and outdoor restaurants. In that picture in the middle, there’s a sauna that is floating on the water like a boat. Sauna is an important thing all over year – it’s a place to relax and actually talk about everything.

Summer, sauna, summer cottage…

Many Finns have a summer cottage somewhere in the middle of the nature with a lake nearby. There they usually also have a sauna, en electric or wooden, so that they can stay in the sauna for hours and swim in-between. Like I mentioned earlier about the own space that Finns want to have, the summer cottage is a place to be away from all the stress and noise and be in touch with the nature. There it’s a good time also to make some barbecue and pick up berries in the forest…


My experiences of Finnishness


Finland is a safe country to live. In many studies Finland has been voted one of the best welfare states. Many foreigners admire the Finnish education system and health care system. Every Finn should appreciate these systems. I think these systems are big reasons for why Finland is considered as a good country to live.

Finnish summer

Lakes, summercottage, nightless night, Midsummer, nature, festivals.. The best time of the year is summer! One of the most relaxing moments is to sit at the pier of the summer cottage, admiring the silent lake and beautiful nature. Missing those moments already. Additionally Finnish nature is so beautiful.






Many Finns love sauna. Sauna is the hot room where people are naked. foreigners wonder that Finnish habit. In addition there are many musicfestivals in Finland. It´s wonderful to enjoy good music in the  summer evening.


Winter in Finland

It´s a lot of snow in winter, at least in Lapland. Many Finns like to ski and ice-skate in winter. Children ski and ice-skate already in the elementaryschool. Finnish people begin to wait for Christmas on november. People spend time with their loved ones on Christmas.





Finnish language

Finnish language is different and difficult to learn. I appreciate immigrants who have learned to speak Finnish language.

What does being Finnish mean to me?

Based on my life experience I would consider myself a rather international person. I went to an international IB high school, I spent a year as an au pair in the United States, and now I’m spending my second summer at a Girl Scouts camp in New Hampshire in the US. Last year I was a general counselor and this year I am the business manager so I can count it towards the placement for my degree. Through my travels and international experiences, I have made friends from nearly all the continents and gained amazing experiences I would not have gotten back home in Finland.

However, during each of my international experience I have most of all learned how Finnish I am and how I am rooted in Finland. For me being a Finn is something that is hard to explain. It is something wholesome, that truly affects all aspects of life. It is the way I interact with people, it is how I react to events in my life, it is my hobbies in Finland and what I miss when I am not there.

Often it is said that Finnish people do not know how to talk small talk. I do find false, though I am much better at deep meaningful relationships than casual conversations with random people. When I am abroad I sometimes find it hard to just have a quick conversation with someone because I am too interested in actually hearing what they would have to say. To me, that is very Finnish, and I appreciate our meaningful relationships with other people.

More practical Finnish things that I always find myself valuing while traveling, are definitely our sauna and coffee cultures. Finnish sauna culture is rather self-explanatory for a Finnish person. I count myself to be from a family that really enjoys saunas, summer cottages and winter swimming, so it is hard to spend a whole summer in place where you can’t find a proper sauna.

Finnish coffee culture is also very one of a kind. Somewhat similar culture might be found in the other Nordic countries, but that is probably the extent of it. Even though Americans love their coffee, they drink it on the run in take-away cups they get from drive-ins. In Finland relaxing over a cup of coffee is so rooted in the culture we even have mandatory coffee breaks in the work time law. Making a pot of coffee for any guests is expected and not questioned at all. That does not happen in America, or in other countries where I have been a house guest to a local, even when the hosts have been the most welcoming people.


TOP three things about finnishness; why I love Finland.

Usually people thinks that Finland are cold place to live and we are not so social people as people of the other cultures.  However, Finland and Finns are far more than what these people think. So now I’ll tell you three reasons why you should fall in love with Finland.

1) Finnish nature

The Finnish nature is so beautiful. We have a lot of lakes and forests. The richness of Finland’s natural beauty is four different seasons. Seasons brings different colors to Finnish nature, for example, in winter the natural color is white.

Finland’s nature offers many different opportunities for sports. For example, I love jogging and cycling  on various terrains. When I walk in the woods I can listen to the sounds of nature and forget about the sorrows and relax in that moment. Doesn’t it look so pretty?

2) Cottage Life

We Finns love to visit the cottage, especially during summer time. We usually have our own cottage or we can rent them for certain times. Cottages are often located near to the lake or sea and usually we go there by motorboats or by car. In the cottage we spend quality time with family or friends and the most important thing is to relax. I personally think that the best things in cottage life is to relax and enjoying other people’s company, especially with loved ones, and of course swimming in the lake or sea. When we are in the cottage, we also love eating, playing and go to the sauna. I’ll tell you later more about the sauna. Addin to the cabin, I love to watch the sunset.

3) Sauna

Sauna is the most finnish traditional thing. Most Finnish love to go sauna. If you have never heard of what is the sauna, I’ll tell you about it. It is basically a room which is heated very warm, by throwing water to hot stones that are in the sauna stove. Sauna is usually connected to cottage life, so it’s important to have a sauna in our cottages. We usually go straight to swim from sauna. After swimming, you can go back to the sauna in to warm up again.  Adding to the sauna, many people has a sauna in their everyday home. When I go to the sauna, I just love the feeling that I get from it and relax on the benches.



Reasons to fall for Finland; finnishness through my eyes.

What comes to your mind when you think about Finland. Maybe cold weather, darkness or people who want their own space? Finland and finnishness is so much more and next I am going to tell you five reasons that can also make you fall for Finland.

1) Finnish nature and lakes

The nature here in Finland is gorgeous. Finland is one of the countries that has the most forests. Almost 72% of finlands surface area is forests. One year consists of four seasons and the way the finnish nature looks, changes with them. So you can live in a big city and still there is so much beautiful nature near you.  You can also go to some of Finland’s national parks to enjoy the nature. Finland is also called “the country of thousands of lakes”, because of our about 187 888 lakes. I cannot choose a season when Finland’s nature would be the most beautiful, because the way they look during each season is so different and every season has its strong sides. Here is some pictures of finnish nature in each season. Can you pick your favourite one? 😉

2) Cottage life

We finnish people love love love to go and spend time to our own or rented cottages during all year but especially in the summer time. We usually go there during our holidays to relax and spend time with our family and friends. I personally think that there is nothing more relaxing and enjoyable than to spend days and even weeks in our summer cottage eating, playing, just totally hanging out and enjoying the company of my loved ones. It is really important sometimes to just be and not worry about life. 🙂

3) Traditional foods

Well, what can I say.  I love food and we finnish people love food. Some of our traditional foods are for example Karelian hot pot, finnish fish or pork pasty, rye bread and karelian pasty with spread made of butter and hard boiled eggs. (the last one is my all time favourite) We have some traditional foods in some citys which are also worth of trying out. Just don`t let look of some of our traditional foods to scare you off. Finland is also known about it`s delicious Fazer chocolate and salty liquorice. The second one is a sweet, which to our surprise, foreign people don`t usually like.

4) Sauna

Do I even have to explain this? I think this is the most finnish thing there can be. Most Finnish people are crazy about sauna. But if there are some readers, who for some reason have not heard from sauna, it is basically a room which is heated very warm, by throwing water to hot stones that are in the sauna stove. Sauna is usually connected to cottage life (where the majority of people has a sauna) BUT many people also has a sauna in their everyday home. I just love the feeling you get when you go to the sauna and relax on the benches. And it will get even better if you have maybe a lake, or some watery area, near the sauna where you can go and dip yourself straight from sauna. And then get back in to warm up again.


I know that some of us finns are quite grumpy and we need our own space, but we still are lovely people. You just have to get to know us. I usually wonder that why foreign people say we are unfriendly and shy, because I don’t think that is the case at all. Of course every culture is different and if you come from one where people are almost “oversocial”, it can take a while to understand why we are who we are. But what I love the most about finnish people is that they are helpful, trustworthy and emphatic people. We are also very loyal to the people we love. When you get to know us, you really can see that.

Let’s talk!

What is an effective way to combine people to form a culture? It is a language. In our case unique, rare and a strange-sounding language. Finnish has only more or less 5 million speakers in Finland and minorities in Sweden, Norway, Russia, Estonia and even in the USA, Canada and Brazil according to Wikipedia (Wikipedia. 2017. Finnish language).

A friend of mine once met a man online. He claimed to speak French, English, Italian, Spanish and Finnish. Finnish seemed very odd to this combination. As they were writing to each other in Finnish I was sure that he was using Google translator and just messing around with my friend. It turned out his father was Italian and her mother was Finnish. The family’s children had lived their whole life in France. When I asked him what have been the benefits of speaking almost fluent Finnish he replied ”Not really anything. It has been only useful as a secret language with my siblings. And to communicate with Finnish relatives in Turku”. [He spoke with a strong Turku-dialect with a French intonation which was very amusing to us at



picture1. Oh, how much seeing this picture gives me simple joy. Yksinkertaisuus.  (source: Very Finnish Problems. 2017.)


History matters

Languages evolve constantly. New words are invented with modern needs. Other words are getting out of fashion and forgotten. Finnish is a young language comparing to any bigger country and their linguistic heritage. We have our ”100-year independency birthday” coming up this year which amazes people from old countries like Spain, China or Iran. We are a young nation. The first document of a pre-Finnish language, Finnic is a birch bark letter no. 292 from the beginning of 13th century (Endangered languages. 2017). Whereas the earliest examples of Chinese language are divionary inscriptions on oracle bones from around 1250 BCE and Chinese culture is one of the oldest in the world (Wikipedia. 2017). Their country and culture can be traced back thousands of years.

You can only imagine which culture has more history included in their heritage and words describing their historical culture. Does Finnish have different names for its historical eras while Chinese people name different eras according to their rulers? Well, sometimes in the spoken language we may speak about “the times when Kekkonen was the president”, but nothing like long eras like the Chinese have. Short history could be considered as a factor built in our national identity. We don’t have as many national tales of legendary deeds or heroes to pass on to our generations. We have Kalevala, but it isn’t considered as a children’s bedtime story nowadays. Before Elias Lönnrot wrote down this Finnish mythology in the 19th century it was being passed on to generations orally. It has contributed to our storytelling habits and written language, since there was barely any Finnish literature 150 years ago. Usually tales have been considered as an important way to pass on morals to community and children. Therefore each culture has their own kind of stories and heroes which affect the national identity.


A little about the hidden ways how language works to pass on cultural mindset


Back in high school my French teacher used to tell us how one’s mind works with the language one speaks. For example in Finnish we say I miss you ”Ikävä sinua” or ”Ikävöin sinua”. This could be translated more like ”I am yearning for you”. But when a French person says ”Tu me manque”  they are actually saying you are missing from me.  Languages have words that really don’t have a translation or the same kind of use. An example of this is a simple ”please”. Spaniards say ”por favor” which could be translated more ”to do a favour”. Asking for something without saying please can be considered rude in English and in Spanish. But us Finns, we don’t really say please. For us kind voice, eye contact  and a thank you is enough to be polite. We have the translation to please as ”ole hyvä” which would be literally translated ”be good”, but it is used more to say you’re welcome. Or as Spaniards would say it’s nothing as ”de nada”.

Every language has their unique words that can’t be translated with one word. This is typical for every language in the world. Finnish has many words for different kinds of snow whereas the language of Eskimos has even more. They are words that can’t be translated into English with one word, because English doesn’t have the same words for snow. This is simply because so many different words for snow haven’t been as significant in the native English speakers daily lives.

Note that the language you speak as your mother tongue is usually the language you think in. Which leads to the fact that your mother tongue affects your personality, morals and customs. It can be a much more powerful tool to unite people together.  Scientists have discovered that people who are bicultural and speak two languages may unconsciously change their personality when they switch languages.  I bet many bicultural people can relate to this.

So, to really know Finnish or any other culture it is useful to be aware of how our language affects our mindset, culture and daily lives. And then simply enjoy sauna.


This text was written with passion. Comment or share to carry out discussion about the topic.


Yksinkertainen kiitos,

Lilja Harala

Physiotherapy student




Endangered languages. 2017. seen 13.4.

Wikipedia. 2017. Finnish Language. seen 13.4.2017

Wikipedia. 2017. Chinese language. seen 13.4.2017


Very Finnish Problems. 2017.

What people know about Finland?

Usually Aurora Borealis, Finnish sauna, Land of a Thousand Lakes, wild nature, real Santa Claus, sisu and Finnish design.

I think it’s funny that there are many Finns who have never seen the real Santa Claus or Aurora Borealis. This is because many people from the southern parts of Finland doesn’t go to the Northern Finland on holidays. The more common choice for them is to go to the Canary Islands. Despite the previous, Finns are always proud to tell and boast about the little magic lights on the northern skies and they are seriously arguing that the Real Santa Claus comes from Finland. Seldom they do boast about having clean water, beautiful lakes or magical forests which they are more familiar than with Santa or the Northern lights.

Nature is in some way an integral part of being a Finn. Of course the relationship between a Finn and the nature varies from Finn to Finn. Traditionally nature has played a major role in the Finnish society and in Finnish the way of life. In modern Finland, the relationship with nature has been loosening especially amongst those who live in cities.

In Finland there are many people who love the silence of the nature. People tend to escape from cities to the countryside to have their own space, time and fresh air. There are many people who have their own summer cottage. Sauna is a must-have in summer cottages. People can purify their body and mind in sauna. If they are lucky, the summer cottage is situated near a lake, the Baltic sea or a river. In summer holiday they sort of move to their summer cottages and enjoy the life without stress and just enjoy the midnight sunsets, fishing and swimming. Cities are often quiet during the Midsummer, because Finns are enjoying the countryside – in Midsummer the silence, however, is found from the cities.

Finns do appreciate their own personal space. Good illustration of this is Finns waiting for a bus in a bus stop. It is not rare to see a situations pictured below. Finns won’t get too close to other Finns if there is room for maintaining one’s personal space – even if it requires standing in the rain.

The preference of personal space can also be seen in coffee rooms and in celebrations. Finns tend to hold a coffee cup always with them, because then people can’t hug you and they need to stand clear to avoid spilling the coffee. Maybe that is why Finns do drink the most coffee per person in the world.

Mette Gröhn


What comes from Finland?

Many people don’t know much about Finland when you go abroad. First thing what people know is of course the nature and Lapland. And what I love about our nature, is that it’s near. You can usually just walk outside and you will find a forrest or a park just in few minutes. You don’t have to drive half an hour just to see a tree.


Second thing that people often know is that we love sauna and then there is the weird black stuff we love to eat, salmiakki.

moominBut people don’t always know there is many other things that comes from Finland. First: Moomins. Almost every child has seen them, but not many knows where they come from. Correct answer: Finland.



We finnish people usually love sports and especially winter sports like icehockey and skiing. So of course we have many famous athletes too, like Lasse Viren, Leo-Pekka Tähti, Kimi Räikkönen, Enni Rukajärvi, Antti Ruuskanen, Tero Pitkämäki and of course Teemu Selänne and every other icehockey player. suomi
And when this amazing athletes competite, we cheer for them and when they win, we celebrate big time. Like now, when Iivo Niskanen won the 15km cross country skiing, they actually change the one of the biggest news paper’s name in eastern Finland  for one day to be “the Iivon Sanomat” (Iivo’s news), just to celebrate him.

Many famous brands also comes from Finland and people use them everyday, they just don’t know that they are actually finnish. For example: Nokia, Marimekko, Minna Parikka, Iittala, Fiskars.

And of course the two most important: Santa Claus and Darude, they also come from Finland!


Finland is a beautiful country, four seasons, sauna and people. Even though Finnish people might seem like those who want to be left alone, when you get to know us, we cannot stop talking or laughing.


Sauna is probably the most Finnish thing there is. There is approximately 4 million saunas in Finland and population is only 5,4 million. It might sound crazy for foreign people that finns get naked, get into this “room” where is gloomy and they throw water on a sauna stove to make the room even hotter. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you run from the sauna and jump into a lake. Sauna for me means relaxing and spending time with your friends and family. Sauna is in a major role in Mid Summer with lake, friends and good food. We don’t stop swimming from the sauna during winter, thats called ice swimming.

Cottage sauna




Finland is known as the country of thousands lakes. That is probably why nature is in a huge role of Finnish culture. We do sports in outdoors, we spend summers in the cottages in the middle of the nature for example. The nature is beautiful because of the four seasons. When comparing winter, spring, summer and fall everything looks different. That is the true beauty. For me, nature is the place where you can be alone and relax, or have fun and spend time with your friends.

Four seasons


Finnish are known as the people who do not talk much and need their space. It is very common that Finnish people try to avoid awkward situations where you need to talk to a stranger. This picture captures the feeling, when you do not have your own space and you need to talk to a stranger.

Public transport

But when you finally get to know someone and became friends, people are more open and even talk. But not if I don’t know who you are.

The only exception is Ice Hockey world championship. When Finland won,everyone celebrated together and there was no awkwardness talking to a stranger because Finland was the Champion in ice hockey.



When I have a chance to show the best things in Finland, I´ll definitely show sauna, frozen lake (avanto) and winterswimming. I think that’s the best way to discover Finns.


Sauna and the frozen lake

When I was a young girl I barely swam in the lake in July. I thought the water was too cold. I couldn’t understand how people could swim in the lake during winter. It’s freezing! But be careful: once you try it, you want to do it again and again. After swimming you´ll go to the sauna and sit there with others. There you can relax and throw your worries away. That is how my winterswimming story began.

It’s very difficult to explain the feeling when you go to the hole in the ice. (As they say in my favorite winter swimming place, in Kaupinoja) First it’s freezing and then it tingels and when you get out from the lake it feels warm. Maybe you still think that finns are carzy and maybe you are right but it makes us Finnish.


Sisu is the most common way to explain finnishness. It is our national character and because of that Finnish people has survived many things. Our forefathers has needed sisu to defend Finland in wars and now we have it in the blood. That’s why Finnish people are capable of anything.


Monument of Sisu

In the end,  I’m proud to be Finnish. I’m proud of every single thing that makes us Finnish. Finnishness is something which you should get to know better.