Welcoming Guide

Finnish way of life

Finns generally have a relaxed attitude towards manners and dressing, and a visitor is unlikely to offend them by accident. Common sense is quite enough in most situations, but there are a couple of things one should keep in mind.

Finns are a famously taciturn people who have little time for small talk or social niceties, so don't expect to hear phrases like "thank you" or "you're welcome" too often. The Finnish language lacks a specific word for "please", so Finns sometimes forget to use it when speaking English, even when they don't mean to be rude. Also lacking in Finnish is the distinction between "he" and "she", which may lead to confusing errors. Loud speaking and loud laughing is not normal in Finland and may irritate some Finns. Occasional silence is considered a part of the conversation, not a sign of hostility or irritation.

All that said, Finns are generally helpful and polite, and glad to help confused tourists if asked. The lack of niceties has more to do with the fact that in Finnish culture honesty is highly regarded, and one should only open her/his mouth if she/he really means what she/he are about to say. A visitor is unlikely to receive many compliments from Finns, but conversely, they can be fairly sure that the compliments they do receive are genuine.

Another highly regarded virtue in Finland is punctuality. A visitor should apologize even for being late for a few minutes. Being late for longer usually requires a short explanation. 15 minutes is usually considered the threshold between being "acceptably" late and very late. Some will leave arranged meeting points after 15 minutes or 30 minutes (maximum). Being late for a business meeting, even by 1-2 minutes, is considered bad form.

The standard greeting is a handshake. Hugs and kisses, even on the cheek, are only exchanged between family members and close friends.

If you are invited to a Finnish home it is recommended to remove your shoes. For much of the year shoes will carry a lot of snow or mud, and therefore it is customary to remove them, even during the summer. During the wet season you can ask to put your shoes somewhere to dry during your stay. Bringing gifts such as pastry, wine, or flowers to the host is appreciated, but not required.

A particular Finnish trait is the habit of drinking milk or sour milk with meals— even adults do this. The Finns are also crazy about coffee, which is odd, when you come to think about it: the coffee beans themselves grow quite a way away. You will rapidly get used to the fact that when Finns get together for a chat, coffee is invariably part of the scene. But note that the coffee in Finland is usually not as strong as in Central and Southern Europe.

'Sisu' is a concept used to describe a certain feature that is considered by Finns to be typically Finnish. Sisu is what makes a Finn grit his teeth against all odds; continue fighting against an overwhelming enemy; clear the forest with his bare hands; go on to win a race even after falling over. Sisu is ”what it takes”: guts, determination. As a nation, we love quizzes and competitions of all kinds, and it may be this characteristic that underlies our craze for sports.

But, after all, please keep in mind that people are not all alike and these are generalisations. Your own experiences with Finns might give you a totally different opinion. You will find supplementary information about Finns and Finnish culture on the Internet at:
This is Finland 
Study in Finland
The Official Travel guide of Finland
Finland - Wikitravel
(links used as a source of information for above)

Sauna is an essential part of the Finnish culture. There are five million inhabitants and one and a half million saunas in Finland. For Finnish people sauna is a place for relaxing with friends and family, a place for physical and spiritual relaxation. Finns think of saunas not so much as a luxury, but as a necessity, and after trying a few saunas you will probably agree.

Practically every Finnish house has a sauna of its own. There are also public saunas available at such places as swimming pools and student dormitories (please ask the Elli housing office for the sauna schedule in your building). Please note that it is not customary for men and women to go to the sauna together, unless they are members of the same family or particularly close friends. Also, public saunas are separated by gender (men together, women together). You are not allowed to wear clothing or swimming clothes in sauna because it is considered to be unhygienic.

Many Finns have saunas at their summer cottages by the literally tens of thousands of lakes in Finland, and a sauna is not complete without a refreshing swim, usually when you leave the sauna for a break. In the winter, sauna veterans will even make a hole in the ice and take a dip in the icy water (approx. +3º to +5º Celsius) or roll around in the snow. You can also try the vasta (or vihta as they say in Western Finland), a thick wisp, or bunch, of birch twigs. Dip it into warm water and then gently beat yourself all over with it – it feels better than it sounds!

Those of you who have not experienced a Nordic winter before may have a lot of questions in mind. To help you come to terms with the winter season, it might help you to not think of it as a long, monotonous period of darkness, cold and snow, but as a sequence of several distinct phases, each of which has an atmosphere of its own. By accepting it as it comes, you will find the winter in Joensuu a richly rewarding experience.

At the first sign of winter, the streets occasionally get filled with slush, but eventually everything gets covered up with real snow. The months from December to February are a time of stillness. The sun always rises above the horizon in this part of Finland, but the light hours are not many during midwinter, and sometimes the weight of the dark hours seems to rest heavily on everyone’s shoulders. As for the temperature, a typical midwinter reading in Joensuu would be something between -5° and -15°C, but sometimes it gets colder, even down to -30°C. Fortunately, Finnish houses (including student flats) are equipped with triple-glass windows and central heating, so you will have no reason to worry. However, in cold weather, when you go out, it is always wise to be wary of frostbite – this is best done by appropriate clothing (woollen cap, mittens, warm shoes, etc.). But do not let this discourage you from going out, since very cold days have an atmosphere of their own which you should not miss!

After the winter solstice in December, the amount of light steadily - although slowly – increases again. However, you need to wait until the end of March until the day once more outlasts the night (spring equinox). The day becomes longer and longer and although it still might snow a little occasionally, the snow gradually melts away. Spring is slowly but surely on the way again and soon it is the time of the light nights of the Nordic summer.


A few words in Finnish

Yes kyllä
No ei
thank you kiitos
hello, hi hei, moi terve
how do you do päivää
good morning hyvää huomenta
good evening hyvää iltaa
good night hyvää yötä
goodbye näkemiin, hei hei
How are you? Mitä kuuluu?
Sorry, excuse me anteeksi
My name is Nimeni on 
I don´t understand En ymmärrä
How much? Kuinka paljon?
Could you help me? Voisitteko auttaa minua?
Where is/are? Missä on?
road, street tie, katu
one, two, three, four yksi, kaksi, kolme, neljä
five, six, seven viisi, kuusi, seitsemän
eight, nine, ten kahdeksan, yhdeksän, kymmenen
Cheers! Kippis!


More Finnish on the Internet

UUNO Portal
Suomea, ole hyvä!
Ymmärrä Suomea!