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ETHNONYMS: Karelians or Karjalaiset, Suomalaiset, Tavastians or Hämäläiset


Identification. Finns constitute the majority of the citizens of the Republic of Finland, which has a Swedish-speaking minority as well as Saami (Lapp) and Gypsy minorities.

Location. Finland is located approximately between 60° and 70° N and 20° and 32° E and is bordered on the east by Russia, on the south by the Gulf of Finland and Estonia, on the west by the Gulf of Bothnia and Sweden, and on the north and northwest by Norway. Four physiographic-biotic regions divide the country. An archipelagic belt embraces the southwestern coastal waters and the Aland Islands. A narrow coastal plain of low relief and clay soils, historically the area of densest rural settlement and mixed farming production, extends between the Russian and Swedish borders. A large interior plateau contains dense forests, thousands of lakes and peat bogs, and rocky infertile soils associated with a glacially modified landscape containing numerous drumlins and eskers. This interior lake and forest district lies north and east of the coastal plain toward the Russian border. Beyond the Arctic Circle, forests give way to barren fells, extensive bogs, some rugged mountains approaching 1,300 meters, and the large rivers of Lapland. Continental weather systems produce harsh cold winters lasting up to seven months in the interior eastern and northern districts. Annual fluctuation in daylight is great, and long summer days permit farming far to the north. The climate in southern and western Finland is moderated by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Drift Current, where more than half of the 60-70 centimeters of annual precipitation falls as rain. Maximum summer temperatures may be as high as 35° C with a mean July reading of 13-17° C. Minimum winter temperatures fall below 30° C with mean February readings of 3° to -14° C.

Demography. In 1987 the population of Finland was about 4,937,000, 95 percent of whom were ethnically and linguistically Finnish. High mortality from wars and famine dampened Finland' s population growth between the sixteenth and late nineteenth centuries. Over the past century falling birthrates and heavy emigration have perpetuated a very low population growth. Dramatic internal migration accompanied Finland's economic transformation between the 1950s and mid-1970s, when agriculture and the forestry industry were rapidly mechanized. At that time many young people left the rural areas of eastern and northeastern Finland to work in the urban industrialized south. While 75 percent of the Finnish population lived in rural areas just prior to World War II, by the early 1980s 60 percent of Finns were urban dwellers. Other substantial Finnish populations live in Russia, the United States, Canada, and Sweden, and smaller numbers have settled in Australia, South Africa, and Latin America.

linguistic Affiliation. Finnish belongs to the family of farflung Finno-Ugric languages in northeastern Europe, Russia, and western Siberia, including Saami (Lapp) and Hungarian. The languages most closely related to Finnish are Estonian, Votish, Livonian, Vepsian, and the closely allied Karelian dialects of the Balto-Finnic Branch. Although Finnish was established as a written language as early as the sixteenth century, its official status in Finland did not become equivalent to Swedish until after the Language Ordinance of 1863. Finnish is a euphonious language with a wealth of vowels and diphthongs, and its vocabulary has many Germanic and Slavic loanwords.

History and Cultural Relations

Human habitation in Finland dates to the early postglacial period in the late eighth century B.C, long before Finno-Ugric migrations into the area from the east. Earlier evidence indicated that the ancestors of the Finns migrated into southwestern Finland from Estonia as recently as the first century AD. During the early Roman Iron Age. Recent research, Including paleoecological evidence of agricultural grain pollens dating to the second millennium b.c., suggests a much earlier proto-Finnish presence. By the beginning of the Bronze Age, around 1200 b.c., these proto-Finnish or Finnic tribes were geographically divided. Those in southwestern Finland were heavily influenced by Scandinavian cultures, while those in the interior and eastern districts had ties with peoples of the Volga region. A series of crusades by the expanding Swedish Kingdom between the 1150s and 1293 was the vehicle for spreading the Roman Catholic church into Finland. By the time of the Lutheran Reformation in the early sixteenth Century, the Swedish crown had strong control of colonial Finland, and a modified estate system forced Finnish peasants to participate in the wars of their Swedish lords. The destruction of Finnish settlements and crops, as well as large population losses, resulted from conflicts between the Swedish and Russian empires. By the mid-eighteenth century strong Finnish separatist movements were growing. Russia finally conquered Finland during the Napoleonic Wars of 1808-1809, annexing it as an autonomous grand duchy. The nineteenth Century was a period of coalescence of Finnish national consciousness in scientific thought, politics, art, and Literature, as exemplified by Elias Lönnrot's 1835 compilation of Finnish and Karelian rune songs in the famous Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala. This movement served as a counterpoint to a growing Russification of Finnish institutions, and Finland declared its independence immediately after the Russian Revolution of 1917. However, like Russia the new Finnish state was immediately embroiled in a civil war, the result of growing class tension between property owners (the counter-revolutionary "White" forces) and landless farm, forest, and factory workers (the "Red" forces) who wanted a socialist state. The scars from that strife had not entirely healed when Finland was united by its conflicts with the Soviet Union during World War II. Finland surrendered several eastern Territories amounting to 10 percent of its area, and 420,000 Karelian Finns in those ceded areas chose to migrate across the newly formed national boundaries to Finland, requiring a massive resettlement and rural land-reform program. After World War II the Finnish parliamentary state actively pursued an official policy of neutrality combined with expanded trade and cultural contacts with the Soviet Union, a political adaptation known as the Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line.

Swedish is the second official language of Finland and is spoken by about 6 percent of the population. Living primarily in the southwestern part of the country, Swedish colonists and Swedish-speaking Finns had for centuries been the source of a ruling elite. Swedish was the language of Commerce, the courts, and education, and Finnish was regarded as a peasant language until the nationalist movement of the nineteenth century advanced Finnish as an official, written, and cultural language of the majority. Political tensions arising from this ethnolinguistic division have largely faded as the Swedish-speaking minority declines in size and assimilates through frequent marriage with Finnish speakers. By contrast, Finland's 4,400 Saami or Lapps have largely avoided assimilation into the cultural mainstream, having been displaced from the southern part of the country by northward colonizing Finns over the past 2,000 years. Separateness is now reinforced as much by the economic marginality and limited educational opportunities in Finnish Lapland as by cultural-linguistic enclavement. Gypsies have lived in Finland since the sixteenth century and, perhaps, have endured the greatest prejudice of any minority. They number between 5,000 and 6,000, and in recent decades Government measures have attempted to improve their economic situation and mitigate overt discrimination.


With the rise of permanent agricultural settlements in the fertile plains of western and southern Finland in the Middle Ages, communal ownership and management practices were employed so that an entire hamlet, including fifteen to twenty closely spaced farms, assumed joint ownership of fields, Forests, and pastures. Land reforms in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries broke down the communal villages, but the newly created individual farmsteads retained a modified courtyard arrangement with dwelling units, sauna or bathhouse, grain and food storage buildings, livestock barns, and hay sheds enclosing an inner yard. Wooden domestic architecture displayed a high level of woodworking skill and embellishment, with two-storied houses marking prosperous farms. However, in the eastern and interior areas of Finland agricultural settlement occurred at a later date, and it was characterized by a more flexible system of landownership and farmstead organization. The persistence of "burn-beating" cultivation (poltta kaskea, kaskiviljelys ), a form of pioneer extensive farming of the conifer forests, involved mobile Populations and a dispersed pattern of settlement. Remote individual farms or extended dual-family holdings were won from the forest, often along favored glacial esker ridges or "home hills" (harju, vaara ). While these historical patterns of settlement affect the present rural landscape, six of every ten Finns now live in urban areas. The largest cities are greater Helsinki, with 950,000 people in the 1980s, and Tampere and Turku, each with a population of 250,000. The majority of Finnish residential dwellings of all types have been constructed since World War II, many of them consisting of apartment-house complexes in the large cities. Social and emotional adjustment to this urban landscape has been problematic for many recently uprooted migrants from the countryside.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Livestock raising was a major element in the Finnish peasant economy, but always in combination with activities such as fishing, hunting, tar production, and peddling. Wood as a commercial product did not become part of the farming economy until liberalized marketing policies, improved sawmilling techniques, and foreign demand for wood products converged in the late nineteenth century. The precariousness of crop cultivation in Finland, coupled with the emergence of new International markets for butter during the Russian colonial period (1808-1917), intensified production based on dairy cattle. Gradually, cultivated grasses replaced grains and wild hay as a source of cattle pasturage and fodder, and after the turn of the century farmers began establishing cooperative dairies (osuusmeijerit ). The general shift toward commercial agriculture coincided with the decline of the old burn-beating system. Nonetheless, many farm families in northern and eastern Finland maintained an essentially subsistence orientation into the 1950s. Increased mechanization and specialization in farm production (dairy cattle, hogs, or grains) since the 1960s has occurred as the Finnish labor force has moved into manufacturing and service industries. Less than 11 percent of the labor force is now involved in agriculture and forestry. However, the rural economy is still based on modestsized family-owned farms where marketing of timber from privately owned forest tracts is an important means of financing agricultural operations. Milk is prominent in the diet as a beverage and as the basic ingredient in a variety of curdled, soured, or cultured milk products; in broths used for soups, stews, and puddings; and in regional specialty dishes such as "cheese bread" (juustoleipa ). There are notable differences between western and eastern Finland in bread making and in the manner of souring milk.

Industrial Arts. Handicraft and artisan traditions were well developed, and some have survived the conversion to industrial manufacturing. Men specialized in making furniture, harnesses, and wooden vessels or "bushels" (vakka ) and in various kinds of metalwork. The sheath knife (puukko ) was a versatile men's tool, and it continues to symbolize maleness in recreational hunting and fishing contexts. Women specialized in textiles and lace making. The woven woolen wall rug (ryijy ) has become a particularly popular art form in Finnish homes, emblematic of a family's patrimony.

Trade. By the Middle Ages local markets and fairs were important in the Finnish economy, the latter often held in the vicinity of churches and associated with saints' days or other aspects of the religious calendar. Furs and naval stores comprised a large share of the export trade at that time, much of it destined for the cities of the Hanseatic League. German and Swedish merchants were prominent in Finland's early Baltic port cities. After the mid-nineteenth century Finland's foreign trade shifted toward Saint Petersburg and Russian markets with lumber, paper, and agricultural products becoming the chief exports. Since World War II, forest products have remained crucial to Finland's export economy, but these are now complemented by sophisticated metal, electronics, engineering, and chemical products. In recent years Finland's trade with countries in the European Community has expanded and is reinforced by its membership in the European Free Trade Association.

Division of Labor. The rural economy positions women as the primary cattle tenders and men as field and forest workers. On the one hand, being a good emäntä (or farm wife) involves a deft balance of cow care, child care, food processing, meal preparations, arduous cleaning chores in both cowshed and house, and ritual displays of hospitality for visiting Neighbors, friends, and relatives. Men, on the other hand, are symbolically and practically associated with the outdoor domain, preparing and maintaining pastures and hayfields, cutting wood, coordinating labor with other farms, and operating and maintaining machinery. However, a decline in availability of work crews of kin and friends and a concomitant increase in mechanization have contributed to some convergence in male and female work roles. A complicating factor is that young Finnish women have left the countryside in greater numbers than men in recent years. Existing farms have aging personnel and few assisting family members, and some farmers are forced into bachelorhood.

Land Tenure. Historically in western Finland it was customary for a farm to be passed on to the eldest son, or possibly to the eldest daughter's husband. In eastern Finland a pattern of dividing land among all adult male family members prevailed. Such regional patterns have largely faded, and intergenerational transfers of land have become highly variable throughout Finland. Despite a bias toward patrilineal transmission, farms can be inherited by sons or daughters, oldest or youngest offspring, or they can be divided or jointly held by multiple heirs. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century a landless proletariat comprised half of Finland's rural population. A major agrarian reform was the Crofters' Law of 1918, serving to create holdings for landless rural poor and unfavorably situated tenant farmers. The latter reform also served to redistribute land to ex-servicemen and Karelian refugees in the wake of World War II.


Kin Groups and Descent. Finnish kinship is basically bilateral, thus creating overlapping personal kindreds (sukulaiset ) derived from one's father's and mother's relatives.

Kinship Terminology. Kin terms conform to the Eskimo system in Ego's generation. In the first ascending generation, terminology is lineal for females and bifurcate-collateral for males.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Endogamous tendencies characterized marriage in Finnish rural society, with mates frequently chosen from the same village, parish, or rural commune. This tendency was most pronounced in the eastern districts among large Karelian joint families and those of the same background and status. Night courting and bundling rituals achieved a high degree of elaboration among the youth of southwestern Finland. Originally, bilocal marriages began with engagement and leave-taking (läksiäiset ) ceremonies at the bride's home and ended with wedding rites (häät ) held at the groom's home. Under church influence these were replaced by unilocal weddings staged at the bride's home. In recent years community and regional endogamy has declined. In the strict sense marriage rates have also declined, as cohabitation has become more common in urban areas. However, the latter pattern preserves some of the "trial marriage" aspects of Earlier times when weddings were performed to finalize a Marriage after a woman had conceived a child.

Domestic Unit. Historically, joint families were common in the eastern Karelian area where a founding couple, their adult male children, and the latter's in-marrying wives formed multiple-family farm households that were among the largest (20-50 persons) in Scandinavia. Elsewhere in Finland it has been common for only one child to remain on the parents' farmstead, and smaller stem and nuclear families have prevailed. Overall, family size has become smaller under the Impact of urbanization, dropping from an average of 3.6 persons in 1950 to 2.7 by 1975.

Inheritance. A common historical pattern was for a son to take over a farm and care for his parents in their old age. As suggested previously (see under "Land Tenure"), the custom of patrilineal transmission is changing, perhaps as differential migration to cities alters the sex ratios of rural areas. In many cases, relinquishing coheirs (usually siblings who move away) must be compensated for their shares in a farm by the remaining heir, and often this is done with timber income from a farm's forest tracts.

Socialization. Gritty perseverance (sisu ), personal autonomy and independence, and respect for the autonomy of Others are central themes in Finnish child training and the Finnish personality.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Prior to the nineteenth century Finnish society was divided into peasants (talonpojat ), burghers, clergy, and nobility. Subsequent economic change fostered the wane of the clergy and nobility and an expansion of entrepreneurial and working classes. In recent decades considerable social mobility and an egalitarian ethos have emerged with increasing economic prosperity, progressive Social welfare, an open educational system, and consensus Politics. While Finns themselves may not always recognize clear economic class divisions, they are likely to be conscious of status attached to educational and honorific titles and to political-party affiliations. From an external view, the Currently unfolding class system includes: farmers; working class (nonrural manual laborers) ; petite bourgeoisie (shopowners, small entrepreneurs) ; lower middle class (lower-income Service sector); upper middle class (higher-income white-collar professionals); and upper class (corporate owners and managers).

Political Organization. The administrative district or commune (maalaiskunta ) is a locale embodying a sense of community and self-identification for its residents. It often coincides with the historically deeper church parish, and it is a local unit of self-government that generally collects taxes, regulates economic affairs, and maintains public order. Every four years a communal council is elected to manage local affairs. Much of a council's work is implemented by a communal board comprised of members appointed to reflect the council's political-party composition. With as many as a dozen political parties in Finland, kunta government is sometimes represented by opposing coalitions of socialist and nonsocialist party interests.

Sodai Control. The institution of a village-governing alderman was part of the authoritarian moral environment in the dense rural settlements of southern and western Finland. Village fight groups and fights (kylätappelut ) were ritualized conflicts, sometimes associated with weddings, which integrated communities via rivalry relationships. In the sparsely settled eastern interior, social life was more individualistic and social control less formal. In contemporary Finnish Society, independent courts and centrally organized police forces maintain public order.

Conflict. Finland's historical position as a frontier of colonization, military incursion, and subordination to external contesting empires is part of the Finnish collective conscience. Strategic victories by Finnish troops against invading Soviet forces during the "Winter War" of 1939-1940 are symbolically integral to the lore and identity of many Finns. By contrast, the "reign of terror" following Finland's civil war of 1917-1918 profoundly polarized the Finnish middle classes and working classes, with the latter remaining especially alienated and embittered.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefe. Traditional Finnish conceptions of the supernatural had much in common with those of other Balto-Finnic peoples. The creation of the world was associated with the culture hero Väinämöinen, and the cosmos was layered into an underworld of the dead, a middle world of the living, and a sky-heaven supported by a giant pillar. Supernatural beings or deities included a god of the sky (Umarmen), a raingiving god (Ukko), who was converted to a supreme or universal god under Christian influence, and other spirits of nature such as Tapio, a forest guardian of game. Many old features of Finnish-Karelian religion were preserved within the Russian Orthodox faith, which currently includes about 56,000 members in Finland. However, Lutheranism, which contributed to an erosion of native Finnish religion, embraces 90 percent of the population. Revivalist movements, like Laestadianism, have flourished within the context of the Lutheran church.

Religious Practitioners. Prior to Christian and medieval Scandinavian influence, Finnish religion was embedded in shamanism with practitioners mediating between the present world and the altered consciousness of the upper and nether realms of the universe. Traces of this tradition, perhaps, survive in the divinatory practices of the seer or tietäjä. Evangelical Lutheran clergy, elected by local parish members, are the prominent religious specialists in contemporary society.

Ceremonies. Bear ceremonialism was part of the Finns' ancient hunting traditions. Ritual slaying, feasting, and Returning the skull and bones of a bear to the earth were fundamental to sending the animal's soul back to its original home and, thereby, facilitating its reincarnation. Ceremonies to promote farming and livestock became associated with holidays and the cult of the saints in the Christian calendar. Lutheran church life-cycle rites surrounding baptism, confirmation, marriage, and death remain significant for most Finns.

Arts. Finnish culture is known for its rune song (folk poetry) traditions, which were synthesized in the epic Kalevala, a powerful symbol of national identity and source of artistic inspiration. In recent decades, innovative functionalist movements have distinguished Finnish architecture and the design of furniture, ceramics, glass, and textiles.

Medicine. As a symbol of cleansing and purity, the sauna was a focus of therapeutic and curing activity as well as ritualized social bathing. It was common to give birth in saunas prior to the availability of hospitals in this century, and cupping and bloodletting were performed there. Generally, the sauna is still seen as a remedy for pain and sickness.

Death and Afterlife. Living and dead kin formed a close unity in traditional Finnish and Karelian belief, and death was viewed largely as transfer to a new residence. The complex rituals accompanying death were orchestrated by women who arranged the wake, washed and shrouded the body, and sometimes sang laments to send the deceased, along with food and implements, to the place of the family ancestors. Memorial feasts were held six weeks and one year after death. Those who passed on to the realm of the dead (a place known as Manala or Tuonela) remained a profound moral force among living descendants. Days set aside for commemorating the dead were eventually adapted to a Christian calendar under Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox influence.


Engman, Max, and David Kirby, eds. (1989). Finland: People, Nation, State. London: Hurst & Co.

Jarvenpa, Robert (1988). "Agrarian Ecology, Sexual Organization of Labor, and Decision Making in Northeastern Finland." In The Social Implications of Agrarian Change in Northern and Eastern Finland, edited by Tim Ingold, 76-90. Helsinki: Finnish Anthropological Society.

Lander, Patricia Slade (1976). In the Shadow of the Factory: Social Change in a Finnish Community. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman.

Pentikäinen, Juha Y. (1989). Kalevala Mythology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Sarmela, Matti (1969). Reciprocity Systems of the Rural Society in the Finnish-Karelian Culture Area. FF Communications, no. 207. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.

Siikala, Anna-Leens (1987). "Finnic Religions." In The Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Mircea Eliade. Vol. 5, 323-330. New York: Macmillan.

Solsten, Eric, and Sandra W. Meditz, eds. (1990). Finland: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress.

Talve, Ilmar (1980). Suomen Kansankulttuuri (Finnish folk culture). Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.

Vuorela, Toivo (1964). The Finno-Ugric Peoples. Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series, no. 39. Bloomington: Indiana University Publications.


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POPULATION: 5 million

LANGUAGE: Finnish; Swedish

RELIGION: Christianity: Lutheran Church; Orthodox Church; small groups of Jehovah's Witnesses, Adventists, Catholics, Mormons, Baptists; Judaism


As an independent nation, Finland is less than one hundred years old. The Finns, however, have been around for since the eighth century. Known for their independence and ability to stand up to adversity, the Finns were among the few neighbors of the former Soviet Union who were not overpowered by it politically and militarily. In 1995, after years of debate, Finland joined the European Community (EC).


Finland is one of the countries that make up Scandinavia, the region that includes Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Iceland and Finland are the world's two northern-most nations. About a quarter of Finland lies above the Arctic Circle; this area is covered with snow half the year while experiencing brief summers when the sun shines for up to twenty-four hours a day (giving it the nickname "the land of the midnight sun").

Finland has flat terrain, is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico, and has more lakes than any other country. Most of its terrain is covered by spruce, pine, and birch forests. With 5 million people, Finland is one of the world's least densely populated countries. There is a Swedish-speaking minority of about 250,000 people, as well as smaller populations of Lapps (or Sami) and Gypsies.


About 93 percent of Finns speak Finnish, while approximately 6 percent speak Swedish. Finnish is not related to any of the major European languages, although it resembles Estonian. Finnish is characterized by the use of many vowels and few consonants. It doesn't have separate words for articles, prepositions, or pronouns, which are indicated by altered word endings. It is a completely phonetic language, which means that there are no silent letters and no variations in the pronunciation of letters, as are frequent in English and many other languages.

English Finnish
Monday Maanantai
Tuesday Tiistai
Wednesday Keskiviikko
Thursday Torstai
Friday Perjantai
Saturday Lauantai
Sunday Sunnuntai
English Finnish
one yksi
two kaksi
three kolme
four neljä
five viisi
six kuusi
seven seitsemän
eight kahdeksan
nine yhdeksän
ten kymmenen


Finnish folktales tend not to feature royalty, fairies, or talking animals. Many are about simple people who confront challenging problems.

Finns have a series of epic poems that define the national character and history. These poem were sung when groups of people were together as a way of maintaining the culture. In the mid-1800s, Elias Lönnrot (180284), a physician, transcribed them for the first time. His book, the Kalevala (kah-LEV-eh-lah), is considered the national book of the Finns.


About 90 percent of the Finnish population belongs to the state-supported Lutheran Church, although only 2 percent regularly attend services. An estimated 1 percent of Finns belong to the Finnish Orthodox and Russian Orthodox Church, and smaller numbers adhere to a variety of faiths including Jehovah's Witness, Adventist, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Baptist, and Jewish. There is also a civil register of individuals not affiliated with any church.


While having a reputation for maintaining a reserved demeanor in public, Finns are very fond of celebrations, many of which involve heavy drinking. Itsenäisyyspäivä (it-sen-AY-see-SPY-veh), Independence Day, is celebrated on December 6, with torchlit parades and fireworks. Joulu (YO-loo), Christmas, is the most important holiday of the year for Finns. Festivities begin at noon on December 24 with the ringing of church bells. At sunset families place candles at the graves of their loved ones. The Christmas Eve sauna is followed by a festive meal. Celebrations last through Christmas until December 26. Vappu (VA-poo) on May 1 combines a celebration of spring and the recognition of the Socialist labor day. The holiday is marked by parades and speeches. Juhannus (YOO-hahn-us) or Midsummer is celebrated in late June with bonfires throughout the country. Other holidays include New Year's Day and Loppianen (lah-pee-lie-nen), the End of Christmas, celebrated on January 6 (Epiphany).


Finnish children celebrate both a birthday and a name day, a day chosen by the parents for an annual celebration. Christian Finns celebrate confirmation at about age fourteen. When graduating from secondary school, Finns celebrate penkinpainajaiset (peh-kin-PIE-nah-yay-set), the last day of school. The graduating students dress in outrageous costumes and drive through town tossing candy to children. It is usually celebrated on the third Thursday in February. Marriages are fairly traditional events. Following a death, it is customary to give away the deceased's clothes as soon as possible. The third Saturday in June is set aside as Graveyard Cleaning Day.


A well-known word used to describe the Finnish character is sisu, which connotes a spirit of perseverance and resilience. Finns are also known for their caution, reserve, and silence. A Finnish joke illustrates this emotional reserve: "A Finnish man loved his wife so deeplythat he almost told her."

According to a Finnish proverb, "silence is a person's best friend, for it remains behind after the rest has gone." When Finns do speak, their speech is usually quiet; loud conversation in public will tend to draw stares. Finns also value their privacy. During the sauna, which is a national obsession, the closest of friends and even family members generally remain quiet. There is, in fact, a famous joke about two Finns, the best of friends, taking a sauna. The first Finn, after opening a bottle of viina, the national alcohol, asks the second how he is. An hour later, during which neither Finn has spoken, the second replies: "Are we here to babble or to take a sauna?"

The Finns have the world's highest rate of coffee consumption per person. Coffee drinking in Finland constitutes a ritual that has been compared to the tea ceremony of Japan. Coffee may mark a time of day (afternoon coffee, evening coffee), a place (sauna coffee), or a special occasion (nameday coffee, engagement coffee, funeral coffee). At its simplest, coffee is accompanied by a sweet bread called pulla ; more elaborate coffees may include a salty dish as well as a pulla ring or buns, cookies, and cakes.

The serving table is often adorned with fresh flowers.

English Finnish Pronunciation
hello hei hAY
thank you kiitos KEE-tows
goodbye nakemiin NAH-ke-meen
excuse me anteeksi an-TEEK-see
my name is minun
nimeni on
ni-MEN-ee ahn


There are three basic types of dwellings in Finland: kerrostalot (kair-ROSE-tah-lott) or apartment complexes, omakotitalot (ohmack-OAT-ee-tah-lott) or single-family homes, and rivitalo (ree-VEE-tah-low) or row-houses. The typical Finnish apartment is only two or three rooms and a kitchen. In many single-family homes, a shower and sauna take the place of a bathtub. Most Finns own (or rent or borrow) a summer cottage in the picturesque countryside.

Finland provides the entire population with health insurance. The sauna has traditionally been associated with medical care; women commonly gave birth in saunas before hospital birth delivery became the norm.


In 1906, Finland became the first nation to give women the vote in national elections. As of the late 1990s, almost 40 percent of its legislators are women, and women represent over 60 percent of the students taking university examinations. However, the average earnings of women are still only 75 percent as high as those of men.

Traditional marriages are still the norm. By the late 1990s, it was common in cities for unmarried couples to live together, but these arrangements are still often thought of as "trial marriages." Finns get married in a traditional Christian wedding ceremony, followed by a party hosted by the bride's parents, either at their home or a rented hall. When the bride and groom cut their wedding cake, Finns have the custom of predicting that whoever has the upper-most grip on the knife will be the "boss" of the marriage. Traditionally, Finnish children lived at home until they married. This has changed as the country has become more affluent, and young adult Finns now move into their own apartments to pursue careers. The family still gathers together on Sunday for a meal and sauna.


Finns of both sexes sport modern Western-style clothes, including men's suits for work or formal occasions and jeans for casual wear. The traditional national costume has many regional variations but basically consists of a long, full, gathered skirt (often solid black with a red border), white blouse, vest, and cap for women, and a full-sleeved white shirt with stand-up collar, colorful waistcoat, and trousers for men. Such outfits are rarely worn, however, except in association with festivals or for the amusement of tourists.


The growing season in Finland is short. When fresh vegetables and fruit are available, they are served in abundance. Many families have vegetable gardens and grow apple trees, gooseberries and black currents.


Over Pancake with Strawberry Sauce


For the strawberry sauce:
  • 1 pint strawberries
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • For the pancakes
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups milk 4
  • large eggs 4
  • Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup flour


Make sauce
  1. Rinse, drain, and halve (or quarter) the berries and layer them in a stainless steel saucepan with sugar. Let stand for an hour or two so the juices of the berries begin to seep.
  2. Using very low heat, bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes without stirring.
  3. Allow to cool and serve over pancakes.
Make pancakes
  1. Preheat oven to 400°f.
  2. Put the butter in a 9x12 baking pan and place the pan in the oven until the butter is melted.
  3. Remove pan and swirl until covered with butter.
  4. In a bowl, beat the eggs.
  5. Add milk, sugar, and salt and then mix in the flour.
  6. Pour the mixture into the buttered pan and bake for forty minutes, or until browned and puffed on top.

The pancake will sink as it cools. Cut into squares and serve topped with strawberry sauce.

Adapted from Previdi, Taimi. The Best of Finnish Cooking. Madison, Wis.: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 1995.

The Finns eat three meals a day: breakfast (aamiainen), hot lunch (lounas), and dinner (päivällinen), eaten at around 5:00 or 6:00 pm. As in other parts of Scandinavia, the "cold table" plays a central role in the Finnish diet. The typical buffet of fish, meat, cheeses, and fresh vegetables eaten with bread and butter is called voileipäpöytä by the Finns. Hot dishes include kalakukko, a pie made with small fish and pork; Karelian rye pastries stuffed with potatoes or rice; and reindeer stew. A popular delicacy is viili, similar to yogurt. A common breakfast consists of cereal, hot porridge, and cold cuts. The oven pancake is a favorite dessert for many occasions, especially at Juhannus, or Midsummer. A recipe accompanies this enty.


Formal schooling starts at the age of seven. All students complete a basic nine-year program, which is compulsory and free. The school year lasts from mid-August to the end of May, with a long Christmas break and a one-week skiing holiday in the spring. Students learn at least two other languages, usually English, Russian, French, or German. At around age sixteen, students may opt for either vocational school (to learn a trade or technical skill), or secondary school (to prepare for college). Finland has thirteen universities and twelve colleges. Tuition fees are small and the government provides assistance to all students.


Painters of the early 1800s, known as the Golden Era, painted romantic works glorifying the great Finnish forests. In classical music, composer Jean Sibelius (18651957) is considered to be Finland's greatest composer. His most famous work, Finlandia, is highly nationalistic and was banned by the Russians when they occupied Finland. Finland's most famous architect is Alvar Aalto (18981976), a great builder of churches, private homes and museums. F. E. Sillanpää (18881964) received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1939, the only Finn to win the award.

A popular Finnish folk instrument is the kantele, a harp-like string instrument usually made of birch.


The work week in Finland is thirty-nine hours. Trade unions wield considerable power in the country. Fifty-eight percent of the country works in the services industry. In the late 1990s, Finland's high unemployment did not affect some sectors of the economy, especially the high technology fields of computing and cellular communications.


The primary national sport is skiing, which was invented by the Finns. (Finnish skis have been found dating back 3,700 years.) There are more than 200 ski jumps in Finland, and at least one can be found in most towns and villages. Finnish children are introduced to winter sports at a young age. School classes break for outdoor recess every forty-five minutes. Lätkä (LAHT-ka, hockey) is a favorite winter sport. In summer, pesis (PEHS-sis, Finnish baseball) is popular both for playing and watching.

Paavo Nurmi (18971973), known as "The Flying Finn," was a famous runner and national hero who won nine Olympic gold medals between 1920 and 1928.


The universal leisure-time activity in Finland is relaxing in the sauna. The Finns invented the saunaa structure, usually wooden, that is heated by hot rocks. There are 1.2 millionalmost one per house-holdin Finland.


The study of folk art is a popular major in universities, and the Folklore Archives of the Finnish Literature Society is the largest such collection in the world. A traditional craft that is flourishing today is the hand-woven ryijy (RYE-yah) rug made from wool, which dates back to the fourteenth century. Originally used as lap rugs for warmth on boats or sleighs, ryijy rugs eventually evolved into decorative hangings. Men made furniture, harnesses, and the puukko (POO-koh, sheath knife) used for hunting and fishing. Marimekko fabrics pioneered by Armi Ratia (191279) are popular in countries around the world.


Alcoholism is a pervasive problem in Finland, as it is in the neighboring countries of Norway, Sweden, and Russia. As of the late 1990s, Finland had a problem of high unemployment, with the rate hovering around 20 percent, the highest in western Europe.


Hintz, M. Finland. Chicago: Children's Press, 1983.

Irwin, John. The Finns and the Lapps. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1973.

Lander, Patricia Slade, and Claudette Charbonneau. The Land and People of Finland. New York: Lippincott, 1990.

Previdi, Taimi. The Best of Finnish Cooking. Madison, Wis.: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 1995.

Solsten, Eric, and Sandra W. Meditz, eds. Finland: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.


Embassy of Finland, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

Helsinki, Finland. [Online] Available, 1997.

Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide, Finland. [Online] Available, 1998.

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