Travelling Finns

Finns are a travelling bunch. We tend to think nothing of going on a boat to Estonia and Sweden, it’s becoming an annual tradition for quite a few people. And because of our long, cold winters, we occasionally feel an overwhelming need to see the sun and migrate to south.

In fact, statistically speaking, we have more trips abroad than we have people in the country.  According to Statistics Finland, we had more than 7 800 000 trips abroad in 2012. That’s just leisure travel, excluding business trips. That’s 143% of our population. Even if you only include overnight trips abroad, it’s still 107%.

Compare this to the UK. With a population of about 63 182 000 people, they had 49 582 000 trips abroad last year (excluding business travel). That’s 78% of their population.

So safe to say, most Finns travel. I mean, my travel can at max account for 1%. 😉

This got me thinking, could there be a correlation between travel and language skills data? Something I need to look into…

In the meanwhile, greetings from London!

View over London skyline from Whitechapel

View over London skyline from Whitechapel


Finnish cities

Finland is famous for its nature, all those lakes and trees and all. It is a rather clever diversion tactic we employ as a nation to draw attention away from the fact that our architecture is a bit on the shorter side.

We have many wonderful architects, buildings and even entire parts of cities. Ullanlinna in Helsinki for example is very charming.

Helsinki has its nicer parts if you know where to look

Helsinki has its nicer parts if you know where to look

Majority of our cities are, however, something a bit less spectacular.

There are no high-rises. The tallest building to live in has 26 floors. The tall buildings are scattered around Helsinki and stick out very visibly. Whenever I go to a city with high-rises, I can’t help the words “We’re not in Kansas anymore” creeping up on me.

A lot of our old, historical buildings didn’t survive the war or the 70s. Or fires.

What’s left are compact, functional buildings without too many windows.

My hometown is a classic example. Googling Lohja gave me lots of beautiful shots of our wonderful lake but nobody had bothered to capture the heart and soul of our darling commune, the centre. Thankfully I used to be a journalist and am all about keeping things real so here’s a glimpse of Lohja.

On the top you can see our lovely main square, covered in snow and below some dwellings of my fellow Lohjaians.

On the top you can see our lovely main square, covered in snow and below some dwellings of my fellow Lohjaians.

So whenever you see a Finn taking pictures of buildings, understand where we’re coming from. We promise to be cool when you take photos of every snow-covered tree or icy lake.

How to take a compliment like a Finn?

There’s already a trick question in the title. Even though we give praise when it’s due, we find it hard to be on the receiving end.

If someone did well at work, the chances are the they’ll mumble something along the lines of “oh, it was nothing.”

Compliment someone’s attire and you’ll either get “this old thing?”-themed answer or a rundown on how little it cost.

Someone looks great and you say so? They’ll blush and mumble thanks.

I dare you, try it and see for yourself.

Because if they wouldn’t downplay the compliment, they’d be in danger of being perceived arrogant. It’s an intricate balance.

Finnish children’s songs

One of my friends from Germany is pregnant and we discussed that it would be wonderful if the baby were to grow up with its international aunts and uncles. So we decided all to record songs from our countries for the baby.

I decided to record Matkalaulu, a song about travelling and making friends with new people. While my very talented friend Riikka is the one doing the actual singing, I’m the one blurting out the occasional greetings in other languages.

We burst out laughing in the end but kept it that way because we felt it added an element of joy to the song. And if you’re wondering what Riikka says at the very end, it’s “almost”.

Below are the lyrics, I’ve cut some corners and translated piimä as milk even though it actually means cultured buttermilk…

I travel around the world with only bread and milk in my bag,
if I’m a bit lucky I might even gain a new friend
So I arrive in the middle of France, with only bread and milk in my bag,
I don’t, however, need to be alone as I’ve now gained a new friend
When I say Päivää, they say Bonjour
So I arrive in the middle of Japan … *repeat*
When I say Päivää, they say Konnichiwa
So I arrive in the middle of Russia …
When I say Päivää, they say Trastui [simplified writing for kids, correct is Zdravstvuj]
So I arrive in the middle of England …
When I say Päivää, they say How do you do
 So I arrive in the middle of Finland …
When I say Päivää, they say Päivää

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Finnish weddings

I attended a lovely wedding last week – my best friend got married. It was also only the second Finnish wedding I’ve ever attended.


But it allowed me to make some observations on how our traditions differ from others.

The wedding season

Since we have horrible wet and sleet-riddled autumns and cold, snowy winters, most of the weddings take place in the summer. So that leaves us with June, July and August. The whole country is getting married in the few Saturdays that are in those three months.

As the sun doesn’t really go down in June and we only get a few hours of darkness in July and August, it also brings its own flair to the occasion.


A Finnish wedding is a time when we break from tradition. People show emotions, do lots of public speaking and even talk to strangers.

There are, however, some peculiarities involved. While the wedding ceremony itself is a fairly universal church thing, the reception that follows after takes on a more Finnish twang.

There are two kinds of locations where to have the ceremony – a mansion or a people’s house (työväentalo). No castles or hotels for us. We keep it real and preferably close to the woods.

I was talking with the bride’s dad at the reception on how it’s becoming acceptable for men to show emotions at weddings. This was in reference to the beautiful speeches both him and the groom made – not a dry eye in the room. Traditionally it’s for the women to cry and for the men to remain silent and grumpy.

Fun and games

When the teary-eyed bit is over, it’s time for fun and games.

A Finnish wedding will almost always have some sort of games for everyone to play. They can be fun and social or ridiculous and a bit embarrassing. The bride will get robbed, meaning a group of men from the party will take her somewhere and the groom will have to complete a series of tasks to prove that he is worthy to get her back.

There are a whole bunch of others, like blindfolding the groom, lining up a group of women from the party and one man and have the groom guess which leg belongs to his bride.

All of it is rather exhilarating for hermits like us.

There is obviously always some drinking involved but people tend to behave rather well at weddings. This will depend on the couple and what kind of a bar they have (no open bars in Finland because of the high prices) but people at least behave themselves until the dinner is over.

After the dinner is served, there is a high likelihood of the wedding reception moving to a party locale – something like a nearby barn converted to a dance floor.

And what happens in a barn, stays in the barn.

Finland – the branded version

Finland has done a mighty fine job recently in pulling positive press. Mostly it’s related to the story about the maternity boxes BBC Magazine made.

That got huge press, I just stumbled on a press clipping from Canada. So we decided to make the most of it and sent one to Kate – I for one fully expect the royal baby to sleep in a cardboard box.

In all these articles Finland is painted as a happy land where people roam free, happy and equal. And of course, to a certain extent we have a lot to be thankful for.

But that doesn’t mean we’re not a nation of isolated hermits who mainly grunt. We are. That is just not the image we like to send out. Team Finland for the win and all.

Summa summarum, if you want a short run-down on all things awesome about the Nordic countries, Buzzfeed had a nice summary to offer.

I completely agree with #4.

Suck it up and keep going

Finns are a straightforward nation. We mean what we say, we do the work assigned without hassle.

We’re not keen on admitting to our weaknesses, the general rule is to suck it up and keep going.

I, however, came out recently with my fear of flying. An affliction I only recently developed after a few landings didn’t go as planned. A most inconvenient thing considering I fly at least twice a month.

I did the Finnish thing for a few months and tried to suck it up. Didn’t work.

So I decided to seek help so I could just get over it. I went to see a psychologist. Mature and responsible, but it didn’t quite have the desired effect.

After discussing the issue, the psychologist deemed that we need to change my negative thought patterns into positive ones. Fair enough. But then we got to the “tools” which is I should employ and the pragmatic Finn in me cringed.

I should think of my fear of flying as something I’ve packed in my suitcase and just vision unpacking it before I board the flight.

We also discussed the possibility of me visioning the worst case scenario and I’d just distance myself from it. We came to the conclusion that me picturing a plane crash might, however, not be the best way to go about it.

In conclusion I should just think positive and imagine any negative thoughts as clouds that will just float away in the sky.


“And just out of frame is the thought that I’ll have another aborted landing and this time they can’t fix the technical fault. Just look at it floating away…”

By the end of the session I felt a lot more sane. I’m not that far gone that I’d succumb to thinking about clouds and boogeymen I’ve packed with me…

So keep sucking it up and dealing with it and all will be well. Sedatives also help.