Being Finnish

Finnish manners and customs are European with some national traits. In general, attitudes in Finland are liberal and the codes of behaviour relaxed, so it’s unlikely that you could do any fatal damage to your relationship with a Finn by accidentally breaking some unspoken rule or standard of behavior. However, to introduce you to Finnish nature and character, we have put together some general information. These are generalisations, of course, but true to a large extent.

Greeting

When meeting for the first time, both men and women usually shake hands, look each other in the eye and introduce themselves by their name. After that, "Moi", "Hei", or "Terve" is used as a greeting.

Personal space

The concept of personal space is considered important. The physical distance most Finns like to maintain may give the impression of being reserved, but in a society that values individuality, it is also a way to show respect.

Friendship

The idea that Finns are a silent and introverted nation is mostly an outdated one and particularly not true with the younger generations. Finns are very friendly and happy to lend assistance if you need help or information. You only have to ask!

Still, foreigners sometimes say that it can be difficult to meet and make friends with Finnish people, and to some extent this may be true. Finns are not very quick to invite people they’ve just met into their homes or ask them out for the evening. So don’t be afraid to take the initiative, usually people will be absolutely delighted! Friendships may develop slower than in some countries, but it’s worth the wait; once a friendship develops it’s usually a genuine and lasting one.

Being honest

Finns generally mean what they say and like to tell things as they are. For instance, many Finns are not used to answering, "How are you?" with a simple "Great!" If they don’t feel great, they will probably say so. And if a Finn says "We must have lunch together sometime" you can usually expect to actually be invited.

Also, it’s not uncommon to find your lost wallet in the lost and found with all the bills intact.

Equality

In Finland equal treatment of different social, gender, minority, etc. groups is well promoted and accepted. Students and CEO’s can share the same bus ride every morning, women are active in working life and politics and people dress quite freely according to their own taste, not according to their position, for example.

Hierarchies

The Finns are not big fans of hierarchies. This applies to both work and university context and everyone is expected to be treated with the same respect. Nevertheless, if your professor insists you call them by their title, please do.

Being on time

Both at work and in their social life Finns are pretty punctual. Even between friends it’s considered rude to be late.

No smoking!

Finland has one of the strictest smoking legislations in the world. You are not allowed to smoke inside a building, restaurant etc. except in specially designated places. There are now even some outside places where smoking is restricted, so please take note of any notices in the area.

Tipping

Tipping is generally not expected in Finland, so no one will mind not getting a tip. On the other hand, nobody will object to being tipped either! In restaurants prices include a service charge, but you can round up a bill or leave a few extra coins on the table if you've gotten exceptionally good service. Hotel bills also include a service charge. Taxi drivers, barbers and hairdressers do not expect tips either.

Sauna

You will find saunas everywhere; in hotels, gyms, in private homes, on board ships, holiday villages, and at country cottages. Public swimming pools also have saunas: it is the custom to wash before entering the pool. Finns may go to sauna with or without a towel. It is not recommended to use a swimsuit in the sauna for hygiene reasons. Public saunas are segregated by sex. More information is available on the Finnish Sauna Society’s website.

Alcohol

You can only buy wines and spirits at Alko, the State Alcohol Company. Medium-strength beer and low-alcohol wine is also sold in supermarkets and other shops from 9 am until 9 pm.

Bilingual country

If you don’t know yet, Finland is a bilingual country, Finnish and Swedish being the two official languages. Finnish-speakers make up the majority but there is a 6% Swedish-speaking minority. Most Swedish-speaking towns and cities are found along the west and south coasts and throughout the Turku archipelago.

Popular hobbies

Many Finns are sporty and enjoy sports and outdoor activities throughout the year. Each season brings its own opportunities for playing and watching things such as ice hockey, football, floorball, skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, Nordic walking, hiking, swimming, jogging, cycling etc.