Even if the times have changed quite a bit during the last decade, Finns are not very used to people knowing things about their home country. The facts people know about Finland can usually be counted on one hand, or perhaps even on two fingers; Nokia and Lapland. There are also the key concepts like chubby old Santa, big nosed Moomies, steaming hot Saunas, thousand lakes, glistening snow, and miraculous northern lights that might be familiar to some. This is all a good start; however, it is simply the top of the iceberg.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT FINLAND
Let us start from the basics and try to find Finland on the world map.
Yes, situated pretty close to Russia and relatively far from Vietnam, Finland is one of the Nordic countries and, thus, a part of Northern Europe. The capital, also being the biggest city of the country, Helsinki, with roughly half a million people, lies on the southern coastline. The landscape of Finland is dominated by forests and lakes, but there is geographical variety from the unique archipelago of the southern and western coastlines to the rolling mountains and clear-water rivers of Lapland
Finland and the Finnish way of life have been influenced by the country’s location between East and West. For five centuries Finland was a part of Sweden, then for a hundred years of Russia. Traces of both of these eras can still be seen. Finland declared itself independent in 1917 and managed to keep this independence throughout World War II. Since the war, Finland has pursued a policy of military non-alliance, and this created the basis for the present welfare state. Finland is a democracy in the normal western sense of the word, a parliamentary republic with a multiparty political system. The social structure is typically Nordic resembling particularly that of Sweden.
The most important recent change in Finland’s position in Europe took place at the beginning of 1995, when Finland joined the European Union.
One should not forget that Finland is one of the most high-tech countries in the world: the number of cell-phones and broadband internet connections compared to population size is among the highest.
Finland’s special richness lies in bilingualism: both Finnish and Swedish are official languages. Finnish is spoken by 90.7 % of the population, whereas 5.4 % have Swedish as their mother tongue. Around 1 700 people in Lapland speak Saami. Since Finnish is the mother tongue of only about five million people in the whole world it goes without saying that skills in foreign languages are needed. Therefore, most Finns speak English, and many have skills in German, French or some other European language.
Thanks to the vicinity of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream, Finland’s climate is temperate. Summer in Finland is warm, bright and exhilarating. Most importantly, the air is fresh, clean, and pure and invigorating at all times of the year. Due to the low humidity, the climate of Finland is actually not as cold as temperature readings might seem to indicate.
The average midday temperature in Helsinki in February is -3 ºC (26.6 ºF).
Then there are the people. There is an old joke that highlights one of the main characteristics of the Finns, and which people tend to take to when describing Finnish people. “How can you tell the difference between a Finnish introvert and a Finnish extrovert? –When he’s talking to you a Finnish introvert looks at his feet. A Finnish extrovert looks at yours!”
When describing Finnish people it’s likely that words like shy, sullen and even unsocial spring to ones mind. If you want to generalize little more, you could also claim that Finns are a bunch of drunken, sweat suit -wearing people who only get excited when ice-hockey world championship is on.
Due to Finland’s long and harsh winter, it may first seem that all our cheerfulness and friendliness have disappeared along the sunny summer days. True – having fun is a lot easier when the thermometer is showing +25 degrees, but it is also possible to find that fun-loving Finn in winter. You just have to look a little deeper. Those who have been lucky enough to get to know a Finn have probably found out that Finnish people are everything else but silent and rude. Once you have succeeded in breaking the ice and getting to know them, Finns are said to make life-long friends.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT FINLAND
- Official name: Republic of Finland
- Capital: Helsinki (population 580 000)
- Area: 338 145km²
- Population: 5.4 million
- Official languages: Finnish (90.6%), Swedish (5.4%)
- Government: Parliamentary Democracy
- President: Sauli Niinistö
- Currency: Euro (EUR, €)
- Local time: + 2 hrs GMT
- Religion: 85.6% Lutherans and about 1% Orthodox