After nearly ten months of living in Finland I’ve observed, experienced and reflected on this wonderful culture. As well as noticing how Finns talk about the weather just as much as Brits do, I’ve enjoyed discovering the delights of this beautiful country and recognised some attributes our British culture could possibly learn from. [Please know my intentions are not to stereotype but simply reflect on what I’ve witnessed from the places I’ve been to and the people I’ve met.]
1. Love your birthday suit – From the age of dot, Finns are using saunas with their families in the buff and loving it. Having experienced the joys of same-sex public saunas with Finnish friends, I’ve noticed how no comments of comparison, judgement or self-criticism are shared. It’s sad how surprised I’ve been to see women genuinely comfortable in their own skin. It’s been a personal journey for me to visit swimming pools, saunas and changing rooms in the gym and be comfortable baring all in the presence of other women. Body image is a huge issue amongst young people in Britain. Over-edited photos and social media are usually blamed. But having spent time in Finnish culture, I’ve started to question whether body confidence is actually influenced by attitudes at home more than we think.
2. Coffee coffee coffee – Finland consumes more coffee per person than anywhere else in the world. Although they drink lots of it, the quality is not (usually) compromised. Dark roast or light roast, almond or oat milk, filter, espresso or aeropress, there is choice a plenty. Cafe culture is booming in Helsinki so one of my favourite past times whilst living here has been to settle down in one of the many hipster coffee spots and enjoy the nation’s favourite drink.
3. Time keeping gurus – You are rare to find any Finn to turn up late. Time keeping is a social norm here so when you agree to meeting at two o’clock, ten past two just won’t cut it. Relying on public transport, which is normally on time too, has meant I’ve been forced to always think ahead and be prepared – a contrast to back at home when I could easily jump in the car and not worry about the bus timetable. I’ve found that in typical British culture, being five or ten minutes late is usual which makes me wonder…perhaps the underlying reason for lateness in Britain is due to busyness from over-packed schedules and a lack of awareness about other people’s priorities.
4. Appreciating nature – If you’ve seen any of my updates, you’ll understand when I say that Finland is a truly beautiful part of the world. From snowy forests and frozen lakes, to sandy beaches and red squirrels, the nature here is inspiring. I love how Finns seem to appreciate and prioritise time spent in untouched places. There is an unspoken respect for nature. You often hear the question ‘are you a country or city person?’ in Britain but I’ve got the impression that in Finland, there is a resounding agreement of the benefits spending time outdoors brings.
5. Gluten-free joy – This appreciation may only resonate with fellow Coeliacs but regardless of which cafe or restaurant you walk into in Helsinki, you are guaranteed that a gluten-free option will be available. I’ve enjoyed not having to be the awkward person requesting to visit a particular cafe because I know it’s one of the few places that provide gluten-free options. Finns take food allergies seriously and understand that not everyone who is gluten or dairy free is just being fussy or following the latest food fad. British food establishments, please take a leaf out of the Finnish book (or menu in this case)!
6. Quality not quantity – The Nordic and Scandinavian area of Europe is renowned for it’s design. Apartments and cafes in Helsinki often choose a minimalist interior design, proving that less is more. Many of my Finnish friend’s choose to invest in high quality items instead of filling their homes with unnecessary clutter. It’s made me want to be ruthless with my own ever-accumulating ‘stuff’.
7. Honesty is the best policy – I’ve found that Finnish people are very conscientious. People look out for each other so if you drop something in the street, strangers will go out of their way to let you know. I’ve also felt comfortable leaving my belongings in cafes to go to the restroom. It was only when I visited London last week and was warned to keep my purse secure that I realised how I’ve totally taken for granted the safe nature of Helsinki.
8. No time like the summer – because the winter is so dark and long here, Finns take full advantage of the summer months. Ice cream kiosks pop up everywhere, obsolete cycle lanes are filled with turning wheels and when the sun is out, you’ll find the green parks packed with people sporting swimwear and soaking up the rays. Adding to that, there are also dozens of islands to visit via boat and roof terraces to enjoy a glass of wine. I appreciate how many of my Finnish friends prioritise spending time with family during summer and stay by one of the many lakes in Finland to enjoy grilling food and relaxing in the sauna with relatives.
9. Peaceful. Quiet. Bliss. – If you ever meet a typical Finn, you’ll find it hard to do small talk. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the causal chats I can have in Tescos and on the streets in my village back home, but there is something very intentional about the Finns way of communicating and their appreciation of silence. Silent moments in social situations aren’t branded as awkward but pleasant pauses before meaningful and intentional chat begins again. Whilst living in Finland I’ve learnt to seek out peace and quiet in my day to realign my thoughts and take time out of the bustle of busy life.
10. Cross-Country Skiing – Finns hold a high regard for fitness, health and well-being. With temperatures reaching minus twenty degrees in winter, it takes a brave soul to go out jogging. Nevertheless, Finns have learnt to embrace the harsh weather conditions and take up cross-country skiing. Having never skied before it was a totally new experience for me, but I absolutely loved it. Years ago Finns would have used their skis to travel from A to B quickly but now they enjoy it recreationally. I would suggest cross-country skiing for Britain but I’m not sure it would be as successful…
11. Small furry friends – Around every street corner in Helsinki you’ll find a small dog with their fashionably dressed owner. The people of Finland seem to love these affectionate creatures and many offices welcome them into their buildings. I’d even say that the puppy parade I attended back in October was one of my highlights in Finland. Although I still feel a little sad when my smile is often not returned by the owner, it’s heart warming to see so many cute dogs in one city.