While not a lot of people put Finland on their bucket list, the country is well worth visiting. Finland has a rich history with many important historical cities, but its main charm comes from its gorgeous landscape, filled with beautiful lakes which are frequently attended by locals who often go on fishing trips. Many of these lakes are surrounded by old-fashioned cottages, which are used as summer houses by the locals. Moreover, there are more than 35 national parks in Finland, and all of them are worth visiting as each shows a slightly different side of Finland’s natural beauty. Most of the parks have handy observational spots, which will give you a stunning view of the land around you. Apart from nature and history, Finland is filled with many wonders of architecture, ranging from medieval structures to modern designs. Finally, you can’t forget about the bizarre Finnish cuisine! If you want to get accustomed with Finland and discover some of its hidden gems, let us help you with this Top 10 Secrets About Finland Culture and Traditions guide, which shows some of the lesser-known facts about this European country.
When preparing for your journey to Finland, you should probably know about some unusual customs of Finland. If you don’t learn them, you might be perceived as rude or confusing. First of all, Finns are not vocal about welcomes. The most frequent way of greeting someone is to shake his hand or gently nod your head towards them. In most informal situations, speaking your greetings would be considered weird and out of place. Moreover, you may want to refrain from kissing locals on the cheek, which is a custom in some European countries. If you kiss a Fin on the cheek to greet him, you might create an uncomfortable social situation by accident, as the locals are not used to this.
While money and salary are not taboo topics in most European countries, as, for example, Brits love to talk about their earnings, it is unfortunately considered as rude in Finland. Conversations in which the topic of money starts to surface usually end up badly, as Finns are most often not comfortable with such discussions. The same goes for questions about their properties, so remember not to ask locals how much they’ve paid for their homes. If you really want to find what somebody’s income is, for some reason, you can always call the tax office, as the income information is public in Finland. Also, don’t worry if Finns do not open themselves to you from the get-go – you will need to gain their trust first!
Food is a huge part of Finland culture and traditions, and there are tons of tiny quirks and facts to Finnish cuisine. For example, don’t expect Finns to put your food on the plate for you – dishes are very often put separately on the table for everyone to make up their own portion sizes. You also do not have to wait for the host to begin or ask for seconds, as the moment the dinner starts, everybody focuses on eating. If the host likes you, he may ask you if you want more food. Don't feel obliged to say yes, as he surely will not feel offended if you decline. However, make sure to finish everything on your plate, as wasting food is a terrible offence in Finland, as you're not only disrespecting the host but also not caring about the environment.
Whenever you enter a restaurant or are invited for dinner at somebody's house, you may notice that milk is one of the main drinks served in Finland, along with water. Finns love milk, which they drink for breakfast, which surprisingly isn’t sweet. Breakfasts in Finland actually mostly consist of sandwiches with butter, cheese, and vegetables. A good host will always ask you if you’re not lactose intolerant and refusing milk is not offensive. Kvass is another popular drink, which you might be familiar with if you ever went to Russia. Kvass is made out of rye and is usually homemade. It slightly resembles beer in taste, but usually has no actual alcohol in it.
Finland culture and traditions have some pretty strict home customs and rules, so you better remember them unless you wish to piss off your host. First of all, shoes are banned inside – unless it's a big party with lots of people. Even then, locals usually bring two pairs of shoes to such parties, and they changed to the unused pair when inside. Don't be surprised when you see no washing sponge when you enter somebody's kitchen – Finns prefer to use long brushes. If you get invited to a sauna, make sure you read about the proper etiquette as Finns treat it very seriously! For example, always wear a towel and wash yourself before, as well as after the sauna. Finally, you probably don't need to bring a sweater when visiting somebody during winter – most Finnish homes are kept very warm inside.
While it is generally acceptable to smoke in public in most countries in Europe, in Finland it is heavily frowned upon. Nobody likes having cigarette smoke in their eyes, even with the blowing wind cleaning the air. Furthermore, remember never to smoke inside, as Finns find that outrageous. If you want to smoke, you can either go outside if you’re on private property or go on a balcony at a restaurant. Most restaurants and bars in Finland do not have designated smoking areas, so the best way to go around smoking when on your visit is to take a break – Finns, as well as your lungs, will appreciate that.
When visiting Finland, especially the northern regions such as Lapland, you might get to experience the phenomena of polar day and polar night. During the summer months, don’t be surprised if the sun doesn’t set even late into the night. Because of the polar day, day and night cycle gets more and more extended the further north you go. In some places, you may experience weeks of darkness or constant light, depending on the season. While most Finns are used to this, a lot of first-time tourists do not come prepared and struggle with sleeping. To avoid insomnia, make sure to pack a sleeping mask with you.
More than 70% of Finland’s landscape is taken by forests, of which there are thousands in the country. The only thing that exceeds the number of trees in Finland is the amount of water, as Finland features over a hundred and fifty thousand lakes! Because of this, Finland is often called the Land of a Thousand Lakes. If you know your way around wild flora, feel free to collect mushrooms, berries, and anything else nature has to offer. It is common practice in Finland to gather food when on a trip to the forest, but make sure you have the knowledge to do so, or else you might pick something poisonous. There are even guided tours of forests on which the guide will tell you what to look for and what is safe to eat!
Just like many other things in Finland, foreigners often find Finnish cuisine to be quite bizarre. Finns often combine traditional, country dishes with fine-dining, which you will usually only find in top restaurants elsewhere. The most popular ingredients are fish and pork, but beef and game are also frequently eaten. Depending on the region, you may see more or less meat, with some regions even being almost entirely vegetarian. Rice pies are an example of a common Finnish dish. They are made out of a rye-crust exterior, filled with rice porridge and smeared in egg butter. Another unusual dish is the fish pie, which comes from Savonia, which is also made out of rye and filled with fish, pork, and bacon.
If you happen to stay in Helsinki and want to try Finnish cuisine, we recommend trying Finlandia Caviar, which is one of the best authentic restaurants which offer traditional Finnish dishes.
While Moomins are popular among some European countries, especially in Central Europe and Scandinavia, they are virtually unheard of elsewhere. Moomins are tiny creatures slightly resembling hippopotamuses who walk upright. The characters come from a series of Finnish books but have been widely popularized by a cartoon under the same name. Since the 1940s, Finnish children watch Moomins throughout their entire childhoods, and you can very often find mugs and other memorabilia with Moomins on them. There is even a whole Moomin Museum, situated in Tampere, which we highly recommend seeing.