Dear Finland - 12 things we don’t understand about you

A list of frustrations International students have with Finland and its culture

Dear Finland,

We want to begin by saying there are many things we love about you. The scenery, the snow, the free education, the list goes on. Of course, if we did not love you we would not be here. Yet our relationship has been far from easy. So we do have a few things we need to get off our chest.

12 - Being obsessively competitive with Sweden

It is rare to find a deeply emotive topic for Finns. However, you do not need to stay for long to find that ice-hockey is definitely one of them.

This could be easily summarised in a conversation I had with a Finnish friend about the 2010 Winter Olympics. I asked her where Finland had placed and whether they got any medals. She shrugged and mumbled that she could not remember. But, with a sudden grin, she said – “We still beat Sweden at the ice-hockey though.” I said to her I had no idea Finland were so competitive. She shook her head vigorously.

“Finnish people don’t care about winning; all they care about is Sweden losing.”

11 - Shops not accepting the 1 and 2 cents

Seriously. It’s the exact same currency. It’s money. Just take it.

10 - All grit and no salt

Let’s be honest – You are probably just of sick of this as we are. This is just a small appeal to the local authorities.

It’s not so much of an issue now, but a couple of weeks ago it was a mild problem. The pavements were icy. People were falling over. Local authorities were spreading grit. Which is great… for about half a day.

After that you end up with whole shoes full of tiny rocks and the rest of it just melts into the ice overnight; leaving it helplessly suspended under your feet. Do you have a shortage of salt in this country? Where is the salt to melt the ice? Why are you not mixing it with the gravel?

If you are struggling to find enough salt for this task, we heartily recommend you stop using it in salmiakki and start putting it on the pavement.

9 – Coat hooks are everywhere...

Hanging your coats up the moment you are indoors really is an incredibly civilised idea. Nonetheless, we are simply not used to hanging up our coats every single time we enter a public building.

To those of you wondering where all the international students are: Next time you are in a lecture or at lunch, I want to you look carefully around the room. The international students should be easy to spot as they are the only ones with coats on the back of their chairs.

8 - Please find a word for ‘please’

‘Ole hyvä’ and ‘kiitos’ might be a polite alternative, but it is definitely no replacement for the magic word. Change this... Please.

7 - Do not cross the street unless it is a green man

In the country I come from, citizens follow the rules of the pedestrian crossing in the same way pirates abide by the pirate code – They are more what you call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules. Jaywalking is simply a part of London life. If the car is going slow enough not to kill you, just step out and the vehicle will stop… eventually.

Here in Finland, I was told a story of a person who crossed at a red light right in front of a police car. The officer got out and gave her a fine there and then. It’s good to know this country is committed to fighting only the most serious of criminal activities.

6 - Drinking milk with every meal

Here’s another tip for spotting us in public – The International students will very rarely have a glass of milk with their meal. The ones who do are probably Dutch.

I’m not going to deny that it is probably a healthy habit (unless you are lactose intolerant of course). However, in the majority of countries, people stop drinking milk when they finish pre-school. Which is why we find it a bit strange that some fully grown adults drink it every day.

From a more personal perspective, whenever I buy tea, I have to go to the other side of the cafeteria to get milk with it. It makes me sad Finns seem to drink milk with everything except their tea…

5 - Weird food

We know you have the ability to make superb food. In fact, Karl Fazer is a popular guy. International students listed Fazer alone as their second most favourite thing about Finland. Still, it is time for a whole lot of honesty.

The first time I saw a cloudberry, I thought it was a raspberry that died. Lingonberries need nothing but sugar before they are remotely edible. And no matter how many times you insist we eat it, how much you coat it in chocolate, make it alcoholic or hide it in a mixed bag of sweets – Salmiakki will always taste like sweaty armpits.

4 - Drinking culture

Now that we got that off our chest, let’s let our hair down a bit.

The drinking culture was listed as both the fourth best and fourth worst thing about Finnish culture by international students... Take of that what you will. I’m sure this one speaks for itself.

3 – No swimwear in sauna

My first experience of a proper Finnish sauna was on a weekend at a holiday camp. I was told the sauna there was especially good, so on the Saturday evening I decided to go with the women there.

I was not given advanced warning.

When I arrived, I was mortified to find I was the only one wearing a swimming costume. Not knowing where to look, I spent all my time with my head back, admiring the ceiling. Despite the fact I was the only one fully clothed, I was certainly the most uncomfortable person in the room!

2 - Difficulty meeting Finnish people

Let’s be fair here – I have heard the same thing from Finns that claim they have no idea where the international students are. It’s clear we have no dialogue and thus we keep missing each other. Which is possibly why we are having this discussion.

1 - The language

Drum roll for the number 1 spot. Here it is - The Finnish language was unanimously voted, by every single person who responded, as the most frustrating thing about Finland. Congratulations!

Granted, you don’t make us speak it very often. The fact you are so willing to speak English to us was the highest rated reason international students love studying here. So we thank you for that.

However, we clearly do struggle with the language. One Finnish word can have so many different meanings. The phrase “Kuusi palaa” can mean anything from ‘six pieces’ to ‘the spruce returns’ all the way up to ‘the moon is on fire.’

Not to mention the amount of words which honestly look exactly the same.  Never mind the wind and fire tongue twister - “Tuli tuli, tuli tuuli, tuuli tuuli, tuli sammui." (Came fire, came wind, wind blew, fire got out). I once got ‘kakku’ (cake) mixed up with ‘kakka’ (poo) when I explained what I was making for dessert. Needless to say, I will never have the chance to practice my Finnish around those people again.

The endings, the exceptions; gosh, not even having a word for ‘please’ leaves us frustrated.

So, dear Finland, we do love you. Nonetheless, I’m sure you agree that these things needed to be said. No doubt you have your issues with us as well. Like the fact we butcher your language and have your tax money is used on our education. However, you seem to be more preoccupied with beating Sweden in the hockey than you are with us. Thus we feel completely safe from any retaliation.

All jokes aside, we still love you.

Sincerely yours,

The International Community

Written by Rosamund O’Donnell

Photos by Lauri Hannus


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