Finnish Culture & Cross-culture
- Jump Down to:
- Finns and Finnish Culture
- Joulupukki: A Very Scary Christmas!
- Postcards from Finland: Foreigners' Perspectives
- thisisFINLAND: The Culture, the People
- Finterest: Cultural Events & Activities
- Finnjoy: Finnish Culture, Language, Food, Events
- Infopankki - Information Bank
- Museums in Finland
- Public Libraries in Finland
- Books from Finland
- Caisa: International Cultural Centre Helsinki
The Kalevala: at the root of Finland
It is said "to know the heart of Finns, you must read The Kalevala". First published in 1835, The Kalevala is Finland's national epic and draws from a rich oral tradition of folklore and mythology. Physician and philologist Elias Lönnrot travelled the Finnish-Russian borderlands recording the ballads and charms sung by the rural people. From these he assembled a fantastical tale of spells, love, war and revenge - a mythic history of the ancient Finns which fired the imaginations and national consciousness of the Finnish people, and became a foundation of Finnish cultural identity.
The tale is steeped in magic both dreamlike and dramatic. The Kalevala's heroes - who spend much time in the pursuit of wives and its attendant obstacles - include the wise shaman Väinämöinen, the skilful smith Ilmarinen and the reckless womanizer Lemminkäinen. Louhi, the Mistress of the North, and Marjatta, the young virgin of Kalevala, also feature importantly. Stories of the protagonists' interactions with each other, and the spiritual and natural worlds, unfold over fifty 'songs'.
The Kalevala established Finnish as a literary language and inspired a flourishing of Finnish art and music. It also played a crucial role in the Finns' struggle for independence, providing a heroic history and a focus for national pride.
The Kalevala is not 'an easy read'. A good introduction is the Wikipedia synopsis
Then - as you will be fascinated by how Finns ended up as they are! - the complete Kalevala is available in English at the following sites, free to read, share, and re-publish:
Other formats, including Kindle: www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5186
Finns are Direct
The best way to gain a contemporary understanding of Finland's culture and its people is to live here and interact with them. First impressions can be misleading. People from some cultures find Finns harsh, or even rude, because Finns are not focused on verbal niceties like, for example, Americans and the British. Once you've been here a while, however, the no-nonsense Finnish culture may be one of the reasons you choose to stay.
My experience: An alien in Finland
I'm from Australia; I like the direct Finnish approach and it was not too shocking for me when I first arrived because there are many similarities to my own culture. After almost 20 years in Finland though, I still sometimes feel 'slapped in the face' by the Finnish style. If you ever feel the same, try to remember it's unlikely the person you are talking to intends to be rude to you or offend you. If a Finn is being rude to you, you'll know about it!
I'm not in Finland for the weather; I'm here for the people - the culture
- Finns are usually honest and responsible, without requiring an omnipresent police force. Finns don't vandalise or steal the infrastructure, so everything's in good shape. Finns are safe drivers - and even though by law they could, most Finns won't get behind the wheel after even one alcoholic drink. Street crime is rare; there is no heightened anxiety when you leave your home. If you do business with Finns, they fulfil their side of the deal, quietly and efficiently. Corruption is low. The examples are endless: Finns are good people!
- Finns are smart. All over the world people marvel at the Finnish education system, but 'the system' shouldn't get all the credit; the culture has a lot to do with it. Finns embrace education. I don't recall ever meeting a Finn who thought ignorance was 'cool' or that reading was like a punishment to be avoided. Many Finns study all their lives, purely in the quest for knowledge, and the Constitution of Finland guarantees lifelong access to education.
- Gender equality without antagonism. Sexual equality just naturally "is". I have lived in many countries and Finland is the only place I've been where there isn't some sense of that "men versus women" mentality. If you mention this to a Finn they seem genuinely perplexed - most are simply not aware it's an issue. This in stark contrast to my old home country Australia, where the sex war shenanigans are ongoing...
- Freedom! Finland has what I consider true freedom. If you don't commit crimes or go out of your way to annoy people, you will largely be left to your own devices without comment or interference. Your business is your business.
- Direct. That famous Finnish directness again... it's not always pretty but at least you know where you stand!
I'm not saying Finland is perfect, but I'd challenge anyone who purported that Finns, or Finnish culture, are "bad". The worst opinion you could reach is "It's not my style." Fair enough, but if you don't share the values I've described and you choose to remain in Finland, please don't corrupt this rare and honourable culture for everybody else.
See more at thisisFinland: A guide to Finnish customs and manners
In Finland Santa is known as Joulupukki, which translates literally as 'Christmas Goat'. Our modern notion of a jolly Santa Claus bringing merriment to one and all is a far cry from Finland's early Joulupukki, who is frankly terrifying! In appearance Joulupukki is similar to Krampus, the half-goat half-demon found in several countries including Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic and Hungary. Joulupukki's origin is probably rooted in Finnish paganism, which also shares similarities with the pre-Christian religious practices of neighbouring cultures, such as Germanic, Norse and Baltic paganism.
Click to see large images and read a little more.
Sites and blogs about Finland abound these days; some have substance and some are fluff. The sites listed here are by foreigners resident in Finland. The writers are not always directly addressing cultural issues, but their immersion in Finland and Finnish culture, and their experiences and perspectives, provide genuine insights into the 'cross-cultural experience'.
If you'd like to recommend a site for this section, please let me know.
Jeff Elliott is an American who became pretty Finnish. He stopped his 9 to 5 job, moved to a small country village, built a house, and started a business with an axe and a chainsaw! Jeff is married to a Finn and has kids. His site has been running for over 10 years; it's a warm and personal look at Finland, with some parts focusing on Finnish culture.
Jeff has recently published the book FINLAND: Insider Tips from the Land of the Midnight Sun. It's available for free in PDF format to download and share.
Finland Insider: www.finlandinsider.com
Finland Guidebook: FINLAND: Insider Tips from the Land of the Midnight Sun Archive
Taught by Finland
Tim Walker is an American teaching at a public school in Helsinki. Married to a Finn, with kids, he and his family moved to Finland from Boston in 2013. Tim blogs about education and parenting in Finland, Finnish culture and his experiences as an American within it. His writing is eloquent, erudite and entertaining.
Taught by Finland: www.taughtbyfinland.com
Some particularly relevant posts:
Work-Life Balance in Finland: Americans on a Different Planet
3 American Habits I Lost When I Moved to Finland
Produced by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and published by the Finland Promotion Board,
"thisisFINLAND forms an attractive window on Finland for everyone interested in our country, its culture and its people. We cover anything related to Finland and Finnish society."
These are only some of the sections at thisisFINLAND:
- Life & Society: Environment, Education, Society, Politics, History, Sports, Language, Travel stories
- Business & Innovation: News & facts, Business & economy, Innovation & technology, Resources
- Arts & Culture: Design, Architecture, Music, Film, Literature, Visual arts, Performing arts, Cuisine
- Facts & Stats: Finland in facts, Symbols, Geography
- See more at thisisFINLAND
Finterest helps you find Finland-wide cultural events and activities from its Culture section. It includes churches, castles, museums, rock paintings, cultural environment, world heritage and lighthouses. As listings appear, zoom in on the map of Finland for further details in the location of your choice. Finterest is also a gateway to the websites for your chosen pursuit, and includes the additional sections Kids, Festivals, Sports, Outdoors, and Nature.
Visit www.finterest.fi in 16 languages!
The Finnjoy blog help you enjoy all things Finnish, and understand Finn-things you find puzzling! Still in its infancy, Finnjoy's blog has a growing archive of interesting articles about Finnish culture, language, food, events and more. Finnjoy also offers Finnish language courses designed to get you using Finnish 'in action', quickly and effectively.
Similar to Expat Finland in some respects, Info Bank details important information for immigrants on the functioning of society, and opportunities in Finland. Infopankki provides advice and links to numerous authorities and organizations in Finland. Infopankki is available in 12 languages and is regularly updated. The site has recently been redesigned and is now divided into 4 main sections, each with numerous subsections:
- Moving to Finland
- Living in Finland
- Information about Finland
- Local information
- Visit Infopankki www.infopankki.fi
If you'd like to acquire a little culture, what better way to do it than visiting lots of museums?! Finnish culture galore!
The Finnish Museums Association has an excellent search facility at their site, which allows you to Search Museums Finland-wide by name, location, subject, type of museum or... by facilities. Yes - by facilities! So if you like you, can only visit museums with cafés or restaurants. There is also an Exhibition Calendar which allows you to search exhibitions and events Finland-wide. Rather pleasant, all this culture...
www.museoliitto.fi > In English > Search Museums or Exhibition Calendar En, Sw, Fi
Finland is known for its comprehensive library network, high user and lending rates, and effective use of technology and information networks. The guiding principle is to offer free access for everyone, irrespective of their place of residence and financial standing. No fee is charged for either borrowing or the use of library collections at the library. About 80% of Finns are regular library users, visiting a library 10 times a year on average. They take out 18 books, discs or magazines a year on average.
A decent selection of foreign language books is available. Some library branches have "swap" shelves, where visitors can exchange their own used books, including foreign language books, for others. Magazines, DVDs and CDs can also be borrowed, usually for a renewable two-week period. Once the borrower has a library card, library items can be borrowed from any branch. Access to the Internet is available at all libraries free of charge.
See also Books in English
Services & Facilities
Finnish libraries not just about borrowing. The larger libraries offer a veritable cornucopia of free services, including
- Use of computers, with scanners, printers, et cetera attached, with multilingual software
- Use of music studios, with instruments and stages
- Exhibition rooms
- Spaces to work, talk on your mobile or have a video conference
- Facilities for digitisation of your old media - vinyl albums, audio cassettes, and video cassettes. If you are converting video cassettes, take blank DVDs. For other types of conversions take a memory stick. It's probably best to ask your local library what you will need when you reserve a time.
Look up your local library to see the available facilities
Find Your Local Library
A comprehensive directory of all Finland's public libraries, with details of their web pages and catalogues, can be found at www.libraries.fi along with a large amount of additional services.
How to obtain a Library
You can obtain a library card and borrowing rights from any library by presenting a photo-ID such as an I.D. card from EU countries, passport, Finnish drivers licence, Finnish SII card with photo or Finnish residence permit.
Visit www.libraries.fi En, Fi, Sw
Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries: HelMet
The HelMet network consists of the city libraries of Helsinki, Espoo, Kauniainen, and Vantaa. HelMet offers many useful services, including the ability to surf the web library and request materials to be delivered to a library near you free of charge.
Visit www.helmet.fi En, Fi, Ru, Sw
Matti Pohto, an Unsung Hero:
In 2017 National broadcaster Yle produced a touching video about Matti Pohto (1817–1857). A poor drifter, Matti collected some 5000 books and helped the beleagured Finnish library system after the Finnish national book collection was destroyed in the Great Fire of Turku in 1827. Sadly Matti met with a violent end.
Video: Yle Areena Thanks to Teemu Laaksonen at Yle!
Books from Finland is a journal of writing from and about Finland. Published by the Finnish Literature Society in association with the Finnish Literature Exchange, and with financial assistance from the Finnish Ministry of Education, Books from Finland is an independent literary journal designed for those with an interest in Finnish literature: publishers, translators, writers, media professionals, teachers, librarians, students – and anyone interested in Finland and its culture.
The range of articles reflects the scope of Finnish literary life:
- contemporary writers and their work: profiles, interviews
- poetry, prose, drama, essays: new translations by native English speakers
- classic authors: features, reappraisals
- reviews: both fiction and non-fiction – literature history, politics, folklore, design, architecture, photography, fine arts, music
- comment, debate, news
Caisa is the International Cultural Centre in Kaisaniemi, Helsinki. It supports multicultural development of the city by promoting the interaction of people from different countries, and providing information about various cultures and Finnish society. Founded in 1995, about half of Caisa's visitors and partners are immigrants, and half are Finns. Caisa welcomes all visitors interested in multicultural and/or immigration issues.
Caisa organises and holds concerts, food festivals, exhibitions, seminars, courses, clubs and its own singing competition The Ourvision Singing Contest. Caisa also makes its rooms available for educational and entertainment purposes, and works closely with different societies and organisations working for cultural causes.
Visit www.caisa.fi Phone (09) 310 37500