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Finnish Culture & Cross-culture

Finns and Finnish Culture

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:
PDF: www.jrbooksonline.com
Other formats, including Kindle: www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5186

What are Finns like? 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 because of the people and their 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; most Finns won't get behind the wheel after even one alcoholic drink, even though by law they could. Street crime is rare; there's 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. People worldwide 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 and awareness. I don't recall ever meeting a Finn who thought ignorance was 'cool' or that reading was like a punishment. Many Finns study all their lives, purely in pursuit of knowledge, and the Constitution of Finland guarantees lifelong access to education. In addition, most Finns are aware of and sensibly conversant upon a broad range of issues both local and global.
  • Gender equality without antagonism. Sexual equality just naturally "is". I've lived in many countries and Finland's the only one where the "men versus women" mentality hardly exists. If you mention this to Finns most seem genuinely perplexed that it's such a major issue in other countries. This in stark contrast to my old home Australia, where the sex war shenanigans are ongoing, pervasive and disruptive.
  • Freedom! Finland has what I consider true freedom. If you don't commit crimes or go out of your way to annoy people, you'll largely be left to your own devices without comment or interference; your business is your business. Finnish freedom is also exemplified in Everyman's right (jokamiehenoikeus); the legal concept giving everybody access to land for outdoor pursuits, regardless of land ownership.
  • Direct. That famous Finnish directness again... it's not always pretty but at least you know where you stand!

I'm not saying Finland's 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.

Get more insights on Finnish culture in the following section, and at thisisFinland: A guide to Finnish customs and manners

Postcards from the Inside: Personal Perspectives

Sites and blogs about Finland abound; some have substance and some are fluff. The sites listed here are helpful perspectives from residents in Finland, both foreigners and Finns. The writers are not always directly addressing cultural issues, but their immersion in Finland and experience of Finnish culture provide genuine insight into the 'cross-cultural experience'.

If you'd like to recommend a site for this section, please let me know.

Finnish culture, language, food and events. The Finnjoy blog helps you enjoy all things Finnish, and understand Finn-things you find puzzling! Finnjoy's blog has an interesting collection of articles about all things Finnish. Finnjoy also offers Finnish language courses designed to get you using Finnish 'in action', quickly and effectively.
Blog: www.finnjoy.fi/blog/
Language and culture courses: www.finnjoy.fi

Her Finland
A very nicely presented site by Varpu, a self-described "blonde, travel-loving Finnish engineer and cinnamon bun expert" whose mission is to help you experience Finland like a local. Along with practical travel tips, trip plans and destination guides, restaurant and café guides, and recipes for Finnish classics like salmon soup and cinnamon rolls, Her Finland has all sorts of cultural tips for living in the land of Finns, including all-important dating tips!
www.herfinland.com  Facebook

thisisFINLAND: Things You Should & Shouldn't Know

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: Cultural Events & Activities

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 20 languages!

Information Bank (InfoFinland)

Similar to Expat Finland in some respects, Info Bank details important information for immigrants on the functioning of society, and opportunities in Finland. InfoFinland provides advice and links to numerous authorities and organizations in Finland. InfoFinland is available in 12 languages. The site has 4 main sections:

  • Moving to Finland
  • Living in Finland
  • Information about Finland
  • Local information
  • Visit InfoFinland www.infofinland.fi

Visit the Museums!

If you'd like to acquire a little culture, what better way to do it than visiting Finland's museums? Finnish culture galore!

There are over 1,000 museums in Finland, including museums of Art, Cultural History, Natural History, and almost 20 national Specialised museums. Although over a third of Finnish museums are run professionally, the Finns' love of culture and history is clearly seen in the number of locally run museums and galleries in every town and city.

Museums Finland will get you started!
Museums Finland: Museums & Galleries

Finnish Public Libraries

Quick Facts:
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 or other items per year on average.

A decent selection of foreign language books is available, and some libraries have 'swap shelves' where visitors can exchange their own books for others. Electronic media and an increasing range of 'things' can also be borrowed; some libraries for example offer power tools, appliances such as sewing machines, musical instruments, and one even has a rowboat! 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, scanners, printers, et cetera, with multilingual software
  • Use of 3D printers
  • VR and gaming facilities
  • 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, such as vinyl albums, video cassettes, and even audio cassettes
  • Look up your local library to check the facilities it has available

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 Card
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 driver’s 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!

Piano Lessons in Finland

Piano Lessons with Barry
Barry Bermingham's piano lessons aim to change lives! The Piano Lessons with Barry studio 10 minutes from Helsinki centre mainly serves kids and adults in the expat community, but lessons are available for everyone from beginners upwards, ages 5 and up (including adults), or from 4 in the new Piano Playschool. As well as benefiting from the latest teaching methods and technology, students gain access to a thriving musical community which transforms individual piano lessons into life-long journeys of musical fulfilment - whilst learning fast and having fun​!
The teaching style is personalised to each student, and emphasises discovering a passion for piano and music through a premium learning experience in a top-class studio. Collaboration is available for all courses; those who'd like to participate can work with other students and musicians on, for example, learning duets, writing songs, and accompanying dance.
You can easily book a free first lesson, and a scholarship fund is available for those who need it. Student testimonials at site, and reviews at Google and Facebook.
Located next to Herttoniemi metro station.
Web: www.pianowithbarry.com
Facebook: PianoLessonsHelsinki
Phone: 040 4849710
Address: Hiihtomäentie 18, 00810 Helsinki

Books from Finland

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

Visit www.booksfromfinland.fi

Caisa: Finnish International Cultural Centre, Helsinki

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

Joulupukki: A Very Scary Christmas!

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.

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