Finland is a beautiful and storied country, and the Finnish are justifiably proud of their rich heritage. While reserved in nature, Finns are warm, welcoming and accepting of foreigners, especially those who take an interest in Finnish culture and history. Finland is a relatively easy place to navigate and live, particularly for those already familiar with a European lifestyle, but there are some things to keep in mind that will help you adjust as smoothly as possible.
Greetings are short and sweet.
Finns – men and women — greet each other with a brief, firm handshake, accompanied by direct eye contact and possibly a nod. In the US, one might also touch the person they are shaking hands with on the shoulder as a sign of camaraderie and respect, but this is not done in Finnish culture.
Don’t expect much in the way of small talk.
To the Finnish, words have serious weight and significance, and they don’t like to waste them on small talk. This is part of their overall reserved nature. This doesn’t mean they are uncaring or unkind, or they do not enjoy a good conversation. Quite the contrary; if a Finnish person asks you how you are, they expect a real answer, to which they will readily and thoughtfully listen. In addition, Finns are well-educated and well-versed in politics, philosophy and history and will happily discuss these topics in depth.
Unvarnished honesty is par for the course
Finns are very frank. Because they don’t waste words, they tend not to try to couch their opinions in a polite way. While they mean no harm and have no intention of being rude, their bluntness can take some getting used to for the uninitiated.
Personal space is highly regarded.
It’s considered polite to stand at least an arm’s length away from anyone you’re speaking to. Any closer and you will be in danger of invading their personal space, which is a big no-no in Finland.
Get used to a leisurely pace.
Finnish people never hurry anywhere. This is not because they are laid-back or indifferent to schedules. On the contrary, they are very punctual, and tend to live by the clock. They just have a measured, steady and deliberate way of approaching everything in life, and carefully manage their time so that they do not have to hurry.
Expect reliable, courteous and prompt service everywhere.
The Finnish are very responsible, conscientious, hard-working people, and their word is as good as gold. Everything runs fairly smoothly and on schedule, including public transportation.
You are best off learning Finnish.
English is used to some degree in Finland, but learning Finnish is the best way to navigate the country and secure a job.
Learn to enjoy the sauna.
The sauna is part of daily life in Finland. There are roughly 2.5 million saunas in the country – roughly one for every two people. The sauna is used in every season, for every possible reason, from celebrating holidays, to enjoying quality family time, to warming up on a frigid winter day. Trips to the sauna are clothing-free (men and women are separated), which can be a bit intimidating for some foreigners. However, in Finland being invited to a sauna is a sign of warmth and hospitality on the part of the host, and the only real excuse for not joining in is a serious medical condition.
Homes are smaller, but high quality
If you are moving to Finland from the United States, you’ll have to get used to the idea of smaller living spaces, so you may only want to ship your essentials and purchase everything else in Finland. That being said, homes in Finland are very well built to strict standards, and they are well-heated in every season.
Seasons are very dramatic.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment for foreigners moving to Finland is the seasonal changes. Winter in northern Finland can last a full six months, and Finns are accustomed to abundant snow and ice that lasts for months on end. In winter in Helsinki, the sun rises between 9 and 10 AM and sets between 3 and 4 PM. In summer, the sun doesn’t set in Helsinki until well past 10 PM. In summer, Finns head for their rustic summer abodes for long vacations, and spends most of their time outdoors enjoying the weather.
Einat Mazafi is the owner of NY International Shipping, an International Shipping and moving company based in New York. She is also a specialist in providing the best relocation solutions to clients worldwide.