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8 useful facts of Finnish culture you should know

by Hanna
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Sunset in Helsinki, Finland

Finnish culture is peculiar and very much different from many other cultures. Finns are the survivors who live on the frozen piece of land in Northern Europe. Finns love simplicity and straightforwardness, and if we go back to the cultural definitions, Finnish culture is individualistic and with low power distance. The Finnish culture is also very low context which means that when one says something, it means precisely that, and you don’t have to guess for other meanings for what has been said.

Here are the eight cultural facts you should read before going to Finland!

1. Take off your shoes before going inside a house

It is important to know that Finns never walk with their shoes on inside the house. The shoes are left in the hallway before coming in, and it’s expected that the guests do the same. The exception to this is very formal festivities when you can also have your party shoes on inside. Otherwise, having the shoes inside is considered rude, so remember this rule!

2. Appreciate the silence

In Finland, silence is something natural. We have always lived near nature, and we enjoy the silence. It is also applied to our culture; we only speak when we have something to say. Silence is part of our everyday moments, so don’t be offended if a Finn stays silent when being with you. First, you may find it a bit awkward, but you will get used to it over time!

Silence and lakeside views are a combination essential to the Finnish culture
Silence and lakeside views are a combination essential to the Finnish culture

3. Social distancing in the Finnish culture

During the corona times, there was a joke in Finland that with the new rules of 2 or 1,5 meters of social distancing, we actually had to shorten the social distancing from 3 meters. In the Finnish culture, we like to keep our distance from other people. Standing too close to another person is very intimidating for us. A good rule of thumb is that if you talk to another person or happen to be in the same elevator, keep an arm’s length of distance.

Greetings are also modest compared to many other countries. In the Finnish culture, we only hug our closest friends, and we never kiss anyone on the cheeks. A handshake may be used if you meet someone for the first time, but you usually wave your hand a bit to say hi before introducing yourself. Also, a commonly used way of greeting someone is to slightly nod your head to tell the other person that they have been noticed.

4. Forget the small talk

Go straight to the point and quit the nonsense! That’s how the Finnish mind works. If you ask a Finn “how are you”, they will give you an honest answer about how they are, and they expect you to do the same. In the Finnish culture, we ask the others how they are when we actually want to know it. It’s not just for chit-chat, and you don’t say it to every other person. It’s really nice because you know that if someone asks you how you are, they are honestly interested in you!

5. Queuing is serious business

Finns absolutely love queuing, and it is considered serious business! Never try to go in front of the line if there is a queue. Finns will get very easily furious with this. It is important to make a clear line with at least an arm’s length of space between the people. Don’t stand too close to the other person and wait for your turn patiently. 😉

The White Church in Helsinki Finland
The Helsinki Cathedral

6. Bus stop and inside the bus guidelines

Even bus stops have unwritten rules in the Finnish culture! You may laugh now, but our social distancing is also part of our bus stop behavior. Stay at least two meters away from the other person when waiting for the bus at the bus stop. Even when it’s raining, the Finns prefer staying at least two meters apart, even though it would mean they have to stay under the rain rather than be close to others under the bus stop’s cover. It is a rule that most people follow, especially when the weather is good!

There’s another unwritten rule inside the bus and how you should behave there. Finns always take the seats first from the seats where nobody is sitting next to, and then when the empty pairs of seats are full, they start to sit next to someone. We also NEVER talk to the person we are sitting next to. It’s considered intimidating to talk to a complete stranger, and we want to let the other person travel in peace. Inside the bus, the rule is even more important than the rule at the bus stop, haha!

7. Sauna culture

Sauna is the holy place for the Finns and an essential part of the Finnish culture! We invented sauna, and almost every house and block of flats has one. Shortly put, the code of conduct for sauna is that you go there naked after showering, and you may need to take a little towel underneath you (depends on if it’s a private or a public sauna).

Talking in the sauna is considered alright though usually, Finns love to stay silent and enjoy the moment. In private sauna events, it is common to take some beer either inside the sauna or when you are outside to cool down. In private events, a mixed sauna (women and men together) is also very common! In public saunas’ it depends. In swimming halls, they are separate, but they may be mixed in some other places.

A part of Finnish sauna culture is also vihta or vasta (depends on the area which word you use). Vihta or vasta means branches of birch tied together. It’s used during the summer and especially during the Midsummer celebration. The idea is that you either hit yourself or others with it. Now you might think, “what the ***?!”. First of all, it doesn’t hurt since the leaves are soaked in the water to make them softer. Second, it helps with your blood circulation. Lastly, you get a really lovely smell in the sauna when using vihta or vasta!

Finnish saunavihta/saunavasta
Finnish saunavihta / saunavasta

8. Parties – take your own drinks with you

It’s important for you to know that if a local invites you to a party, you are almost always asked to bring your own drinks. Alcoholic drinks are costly in Finland, and that’s why it is common to ask guests to bring their own drinks. What this means at the party is that you drink the drinks you brought and nobody else’s except if they offer you. It is not common to have the drinks as shared drinks, but everyone brings and drinks what they feel like drinking. It’s considered very rude to go and drink somebody else’s drinks despite if they were all kept in the same fridge!

I hope you found these tips helpful! We have a bunch of weird rules, but we are friendly people to get to know! You can be sure that we are honest and have high morale for doing the right thing!

Leave a comment and tell me what you think of these rules! And if you have any questions, I can try to answer them!

Read also my article “Helsinki Travel Planner: Top 10 local favourites“!

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