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What are Finns like?

4 minute read

Finnish people are warm, open and sincere, even though they might tell you otherwise

If you’ve ever met a Finn, chances are they’ve mentioned the reserved nature of their countrymen. Be not afraid – we’re not taciturn brutes. Finns are talkative and hospitable, but the myth of the withdrawn Finn is still alive and well within Finland. And Finns, with their self-deprecating wit, will be the first to let foreigners in on it. An example of a Finnish joke: “An introverted Finn looks at his shoes when talking to you; an extroverted Finn looks at your shoes.”

In some ways, Finns are a pretty peculiar people, and we secretly enjoy conveying that image of ourselves, even if it isn’t always true. A Finn will tell tall tales with a straight face, giggle internally and go on until the stories become too much for anyone to believe. Joking with someone (or even at someone’s cost!) is the Finnish way of saying “I like you. It’s fair to say that Finns are friendly and sociable, but they have a funny way of showing it.

Small talk in Finland

Finns aren’t big on small talk, and quiet moments in conversations are not considered awkward. Silence merely means the person doesn’t have something essential to say, as Finns feel there’s no reason to fill gaps in conversation with idle chatter. On the other hand, Finns are genuine – we mean what we say. “Let’s have a beer sometime,” actually means the speaker will be contacting the other person for a drink, and they will be expecting the latter to accept.

Coffee is a Finnish favorite – Finns often meet over a cup of ‘kahvi.’ Whether you’re at work or at a friend’s home, you’ll probably hear, “Let’s have a cup of coffee,” at some point in the conversation.
Credits: Julia Kivelä

The Finnish sense of humour

Finns are masters of self-deprecating humour and regularly rip on themselves for being shy and introverted. “It’s a playful awareness. Unlike stereotypes in many other countries where people are hesitant to make jokes about them, most Finns seem very aware of their image and don’t take it too seriously, says New Yorker Chris Wlach, who’s been to Finland twice.

“I heard from my Finnish teacher and friends that there was this idea of Finnish people being reserved, which was funny, because it wasn’t at all my experience,” he says.

Modesty is a common trait

Finns are modest people. Even if the auroras are lighting the sky behind them, they’ll still wonder why anyone would want to visit Finland. “There is nothing to see here,is a common refrain, but it isn’t at all true.

Credits: Emilia Hoisko Photography

Scoring an invitation to a Finnish home

If you’re invited to a Finnish home, you know you’ll be meeting Finns at their most genuine. You won’t be expected to dress up, act stiffly or act overly polite – casual is the idea. Expect endless food and drinks, and the more at ease you are, the more the hosts will enjoy your company. This is how lifelong friendships are often formed.

The most commonly used Finnish word for ‘cheers’ is ‘kippis.’
Credits: : Emilia Hoisko
A Finnish dinner table often includes fish, such as salmon, as well as fresh vegetables, Finnish rye bread, and potatoes.
Credits:: Emilia Hoisko

Sauna in Finnish culture

Credits: Emilia Hoisko Photography

There’s nothing more Finnish than sauna; it’s a way of life thats passed down from generation to generation. Besides cleansing you both physically and spiritually, the sauna used to be seen as a gateway in and out of this world: in the old days, women would give birth in saunas, and upon a person’s death, the body would be given a final wash there. Finns are not the type of people who take to the streets to protest things, but restricting their right to sauna would certainly cause a burst of outrage of unprecedented proportions. And yes, we normally do it nude.

Finns often go to the sauna in the nude, but it’s also perfectly fine to wear a towel. A ‘vasta’ (or ‘vihta’) is a bundle of fresh birch twigs that you gently strike yourself with for smoother skin.
Credits: Emilia Hoisko

The four seasons in Finland

Finnish summers are short, at only about three months, but they’re celebrated with all the more zest because of it. There’s an astounding number of events from large-scale music festivals to local markets and fairs – and the white nights make sure revellers never run out of steam.

At some point of the summer, escaping to the countryside is a must for every Finn. Ideally, we stay at cottages by the water, and time there is mostly spent doing nothing except for barbecueing, taking an occasional dip in the lake and generally just hanging about. With round-the-clock sunlight, cottage life is the best way to recharge your batteries and forget about everyday worries like schedules and appointments. Simply being is a weirdly wonderful and much sought-after feeling.

Similarly, spring is an amazing time in Finland, especially in Lapland, the northernmost province, where Finns flock for ski breaks from February to May. The springtime sun and ideal outdoor conditions are perfect for combining fun and exercise, and resorts everywhere are crowded with smiling, easy-going people. Its been said that Finns were born with skis strapped to their feet, and they can certainly party with them on, too.

Credits: : Mikko Huotari
Lapland’s long, snow-filled spring attracts Finns and visitors alike to ski until May – or sometimes even June!
Credits:: Juha Laine

Finns and nature

In Finland, nature is never far away, and Finns definitely have a close connection with it. Getting away from civilization is greatly valued and walking in the woods is a simple, yet terrific way to collect and parse one’s thoughts.

Finland is a country of extremes – for example, cold and dark winters alternate with warm and light-filled summers. For some reason, Finns feel the need to physically manifest that by swimming in icy waters then bathing in steaming saunas. Come to think of it, the rather challenging conditions must have played a part in making Finns wanting to test their limits so vigorously. The reason why is probably unclear even to most Finns; it’s just something we’re born with, for better or for worse.

Ice swimming can feel daunting to those who’ve never done it before. But after you surface, many say you’ll feel more alive than ever.
Credits: Juho Kuva