What to do (and not to do) in Finland

Finns are relaxed and helpful but they expect much from you as a person as well:

Finish peoples are relaxed and calm in their outlook towards life and living. This is reflected in the casual way in which they treat such things as manners and dress for instance. “Just use common sense” is a general rule-of-thumb that actually works quite well – remembering always that the common sense of your country of origin might differ slightly from its Finnish counterpart.

However, as you commence finding your way through world of the Finns, there are some do’s and don’ts that you must be aware of.

The cultural ethos and the language:

You must know that Finns are taciturn and somewhat recalcitrant as a people. Such phrase as “Thank you”, “You are welcome” are not too often heard but that is not because they are trying to be deliberately rude to you. Indeed, the Finnish language does not have a specific word for “please” either so you must be aware of the cultural foundations and the ethos of the community that generates verbal niceties and the way in which the Finnish people’s language works is a reflection of that culture. It does not mean at all that they are not helpful, polite and kind. Far from it. Just do not expect their language to reflect it at all times. They are not into platitudes and automatic responses. This you must remember. The reason for this is that they value honesty above everything else and if you have nothing genuinely honest to say, the best advice the SSC can give you is to say “Don’t open your mouth. Don’t say a word”. If they say something good about you, then you should know that that is not only a rare occurrence but a very genuine compliment.

Being punctual:

Remember, and this point cannot be overstressed especially to Asian Students – Punctuality. This is regarded as one of the most prized virtues by Finns and sits close to Honesty in their “value and virtues” list. You must apologize even if you are late by just a few minutes. If you are late by even a minute or two for a business meeting that is considered very bad form. If you are not there at a pre-planned meet 15 minutes after your scheduled time, be prepared to find the other person gone. This is not only considered a lack of respect for the other person but that person will lose all respect for you. SSC’s advice to you on lateness? “Don’t do it”. End of story.


The coffee culture:

At any discussion or meet, you will find the coffee flowing like wine *smiles*. It is something that the Finnish peoples adore. This is similar to say the “tea culture” in Sri Lanka. Also, the Finns like milk with their meals and this is a bit different from South Asian countries where our drink of choice at a meal is water. Don’t be put out.  Just espouse this small fact as part of your life in Finland and you’d be just fine.

Take off your shoes!

Like in many South Asian Finns always leave their shoes outsidecountries, people remove their shoes before they go into a home. In Finland this is actually a necessity due to snow, wetness etc. Chances are you will arrive with wet and/or muddy footwear so be mindful that you should not walk into a Finnish home in anything but your socks. This is true even in summer.




The sauna:

Finnish sauna

People in warmer regions might consider this a non-essential add-on to their lives but in Finland, it is woven into the very fabric of their lives. With 5 million people, Finland boasts a half million saunas with almost every home in the country actually having a sauna of its own. It’s a place to meet friends, chat, even perhaps have a small meeting or three. The men and women visit a sauna separately and public saunas are gender-separated. Also, and this might be an issue for South Asians – no clothes allowed within a sauna. None at all. Just a towel. This is because clothes are considered unhygienic inside one.

Bundle up:

The winters in Finland are long but they are not by any means monotonous. You will soon realize that there are phases to that period of time. Starting with slush at the start, the streets soon get covered in snow. Daytime (light) is shorter during winter and sometimes the darkness can really get to a person. All dwelling spaces are heated so you don’t really need to worry too much unless you go out. Remember that frostbite can be a very real threat and so, please do take care to bundle up when you are out – even for what you might think is a short period of time.