Now when it comes to Finnish drinks, a very useful word to remember is viina. It means any kind of strong alcohol.

Whereas most countries are all fancy pantsy saying they have vodka culture etc, we just say we drink viina. People would look at you funny if you’d speak about our (unofficial) national drink, Koskenkorva, as a vodka.

Like I’ve mentioned before, the alcohol is rather expensive in bars which is why every self-respecting Finn gets absolutely hammered at home before heading to a bar. Every bar night is preluded by a pre-party, etkot. Party used here in the loose sense of the word – at first it’s likely to be only a handful of people drinking together but after a few drinks there might be some conversation and somebody might think of putting some music on.

So viina is something you drink at home. In bars you drink cider or beer. Cider being typically considered a women’s drink whilst beer is for men. A nice compromise between the two is lonkero, a gin-based long drink.

Ciders are sweeter and wider in variety than for example in the UK. Beers are mainly lagers. There’s one world-acclaimed Finnish beer that I’ve even had people ask me to bring to them: Sinebrychoff Porter but nobody in Finland knows about it or drinks it. They just stick to the cheapest ones.

A different kind of mouthwash

One drink that’s loved both in Finland and abroad is Koskenkorva minttu, mint vodka. I bring one with me whenever I go to a new place because almost everyone loves it. I say almost everyone because Americans for some reason tend to think it tastes too much like mouthwash.

The rest can’t, however, get enough. They hate me the next day though for bringing it; apparently it tastes too good and you can’t tell it’s 35% which makes for a one hell of a hangover.

In any case, drink responsibly. Finns might not but you should.


Drinking culture

Ever been in a situation where you’re the only representative of your country, possibly among people who have never before met anyone from there? Well that happens to me a lot. Most often than not, this situation ends up with a drink in my hand and somebody saying: “Come on Mia, represent Finland!”

But how does one represent the Finnish drinking culture?

The drinking culture in Finland is a bizarre one. Mainly because we would not want to associate the world culture with it. It’s not a civilized thing.

Firstly, you need to be aware of three things:

1. It gets really cold and dark in Finland during winters. It can cause depression. Even if it’s not clinically diagnosed, most people simply aren’t as happy during winter as they are during summer.

2. Alcohol is really rather expensive in Finland. A can of beer is likely to be something along the lines of 2e in the shops and a pint will be closer to 5e in bars. Not any specialty beer, just the regular kind.

3. Only beers and ciders are sold in the shops. For anything above 4.7% you need to go to Alko, the Finnish government-owned and supervised shops with limited opening times. Also to buy anything above 20% you need to be over 20, for the rest the age limit is 18.

So when Finns drink, we tend to drink a lot. It is, in a way, a binge-drinking culture but unlike in the UK where this then means that people go out to the streets and clubs. In Finland this happens mainly in the confines of the house – most likely because of points 1 and 2.

We even have a word for drinking by yourself at your house in your underwear with no intention of going out: kalsarikännit.

It also takes a lot of effort to get drunk in Finland – meaning you need to go to Alko and pay a lot of money for it – so people tend to want to make the most of it.

And no self-respecting Finn would go to a club without first drinking at home. There’s always a pre-party to maximise the alcohol intake in order to lessen the impact on your wallet.

Would you call that a drinking culture?

Stay tuned for part two where I explain what we actually drink.