For Finns it’s normal that almost every family owns a cottage on a lake. The cabin can be ether modern with all the luxuries or extremely primitive with no electricity or running water. Or something between those. What combines all these cottages is that they are all places for relaxation and peace of mind.
The relaxation can mean many things. In summer it is things like swimming, playing games, walking in forest, rowing, barbecue or fishing but also yard working such as chopping wood, raking leaves, cleaning, doing maintenance work. In winter the favorites are skiing, skating, toboccan sliding, snowscootering, but also plowing snow. Everyone from children to old people spend time outside regardless of the temperature that can sometimes be as low as -25 °C and even lower in northern Finland.
Oh, and it’s not a cabin at all if there is no sauna. Period. Sauna is often used every evening while staying at the cottage. Finns usually go to sauna naked with close friends or family, although in most cases grown-ups take turns by gender. It is usually a sign of true friendship that you share a sauna together, where you can’t have anything to hide or any things with you that would make you somehow unequal with the other person that shares the space. Especially in summer if the löyly* is starting to feel too hot, we run and jump naked to the lake. Some people like to swim at winter too and a hole is drilled to the ice for it.
* Löyly does not only mean the water that is yet to be thrown to the sauna stove, but also the air temperature, moisture, intensity, spirit and even the whole character of the sauna experience. When a sauna is excellent, you can say something like “you get a good löyly there”.
Finland – the land of thousand lakes, lush green nature and shy people who are hard to get to know and go to sauna a lot. As a Finn, I’ve heard this a gazillion times and as all of those notions are true, there is more to us Finns than meets the eye.
As there are so many forests and lakes, it is natural (pun intended) that our culture has become so closely entwined with it – in the past as provider of food and shelter and today as a sanctuary where people can rest and forget the hectic outside world. The feeling you get from watching the sun set behind a lake, seeing the Northern Lights dance upon a frosty winter sky or just gazing at the stars in dark autumn night is just indescribable and it has had a profound effect in us.
There are even studies about how walking in a forest will lower your blood pressure in 20 minutes and I believe that we Finns have known this all along, nature gives us peace of mind and we just want to enjoy it. That background added with the traditional Finnish logic of if you don’t have anything meaningful to say, it is better to be quiet and say nothing at all. That can easily show differently on the outside and is at least partly the reason why Finns are so unfamiliar with small talk.
I remember reading an article about which European citizens travel the most and was really surprised to find Finns in the top 3. The article explained that Finns don’t travel abroad that much but the reason that put them in top places of list was, of course, summer cottages. And there was a staggering number of 502 900 of them in 2016. So that’s where we are, not talking and going to saunas most of the time.
My theory is that the nature has shaped us into who we are and how we see the world and personally, I couldn’t be happier.
There are many great foods in Finland. Most of the people are totally in love rye bread, which is not just healthy for you but is a Finnish super food too. Other delicious foods are for example smoked salmon with potatoes with a side of fresh salad from your own garden. One of the most famous treats are Fazer’s chocolates which are popular abroad as well.
Cottage life by the lake
Finland is know for its many lakes and about 10% of Finland’s surface area is covered with water. Therefore, lakes are a huge part of our nature. The other thing thta is really common in Finland are the summer cottages. Almost every Finn loves to go to the country side in the summer time and some cottages can be used in the winter time as well. Spending time at the cottages has become a tradition and a trend. The cottage boom began when people moved after their jobs to the cities, but they didn’t want to spend all of their freetime in the city. Finns are nature lovin’ people and what could be better way to explore the nature than enjoy the day in the lake house.
The country is know for other things too besides food and nature, it is known for modern yet classic design pieces. You may have heard of Artek, Iittala and Woodnotes. They have at least one thing in common, which is quality. Finns value quality and good desing, which in fact is combined in these brands. They are all unique and known for their designs, people recognize them easily and they are classic symbols to the Finnish design. The designed furnitures tend to be minimalistic and they remain classic throughout the years and for this reason they can be combined easily with other furnitures and different styles.
A lot of stereotypes are related to the Finnish culture and people living in it. Finns love sauna, salmiakki, getting drunk, lakes, personal space etc. We would have a lot to offer to foreigners and other countries as well but we are so modest in marketing ourselves. There are pure nature and music that are not as appreciated amongst us as it should be. When I’ve travelled abroad I’ve come to notice that people know a lot of Finnish bands, but they do not know they come from Finland. Tourism is a part that could be vastly improved, if skills existed, or the will. As we love our personal space, it could be we do not want to promote ourselves and want to stay on our own. Although the younger generation has been able to see the world as a smaller place, it has changed perception.
For me one of the most loved Finnish things is sauna, as to many others as well. Abroad it is one thing that I miss, to go to sauna whenever I want in my own home. This comes as a huge surprise to people coming from other countries, to tell them that there’s practically sauna in every house. Nudity related to this liked activity is a weird one too. Where we love our privacy, in sauna we can go naked and sit next to each other, whether with strangers, friends or family or whoever is with us.
Sauna is best when connected to a lake environment. A cottage by water and most preferably including sauna just next to the coast, creates a perfect atmosphere. Finns are obsessed with weather conditions in general, but for me in this kind of moment, it really does not matter what kind of weather is occurring.
A sad part of Finnish, if we can say culture, is the problems caused by alcohol and prejudices. For some alcohol takes the violent person out of you, for some no amount is enough, so it causes various difficulties. Prejudices are not only restricted to immigrants and refugees but also to people who are different or in a leading role (whether in politics or business). Envy is one of the sins that’s amongst us in a strong way.
Finland holds some special qualities and if only we could get rid off the downsides, I’d suggest everyone to join the country. Unfortunately this is not, nor will ever be the case. I’d love to show foreigners the magic of Finland, not the everyday life.
In this text I want to tell some things that mean “Finnishness” to me.
1) Summer and summer cottages
I absolutely love summer in Finland. Going to festivals, having picnic outside, jogging in forest, having breakfast on the terrace, coming home during the light night, eating strawberries at the market etc.
Summer is (too) short in Finland but people really enjoy it. During the summer it’s very light. The more north you go the lighter it is.
Many people have their own summer cottage. My family’s summer cottage is in Northern Finland. It takes many hours to drive there but it’s worth it. There is for example “smoke sauna”. And after going to sauna you can swim in the lake.
There are some delicious typical Finnish foods and goodies. I love chocolate called “Fazer’s blue chocolate”. Blueberry pie is also very Finnish thing. Many people go to the forest during summer and pick up blueberries and to make a blueberry pie. Then is also bread cheese, whipped lingonberry porridge, salmon soup, cabbage rolls, gingerbread cookies, rice pies, cinnamon buns, meat balls, rye bread…
Nature in Finland is really beautiful. I love to go to forest for a run or walk. And it’s said that Finland is the most forested country in Europe. 70 % of the land is covered with threes.
There are also many lakes in Finland. Some people say that Finland is “the land of thousand lakes”. Because there are lots of lakes there is also fish.
Nature is important for many Finnish people. We go there to relax and enjoy the silence.