Just landed in Finland and wondering how best to fit in? You’re in luck, because leading circulation daily Helsingin Sanomat has compiled a handy primer to help you adapt to life in the north. The paper interviewed just over 1,000 Finns for their opinions on what newcomers need to know and do for a fighting chance at being accepted into Finnish society.
Migrants who aren’t big on sports can breathe a sigh of relief, because apparently Finns will forgive you for getting your skis criss-crossed and not following ice hockey. Newcomers are not expected to be experts on Finnish cuisine either, so no need to worry about making Karelian pies to impress your Finnish in-laws or co-workers.
What Finns do expect of foreigners though, is respect for the rule of law and basic courtesies such as a handshake during introductions -- regardless of gender. Unisex swimming halls – something that may not be common in some countries – are a sign of gender equality in Finland and a practice that is fiercely defended by the respondents in the HS survey.
Another area where foreigners can score points includes using the sauna in the nude. Other customs on which Finns placed less emphasis were avoiding the use of headscarves for public officials such as teachers and police, knowing the Finnish national anthem by heart and refraining from cooking spicy or highly aromatic foods in apartment blocks.
Migrants on different sides of the issue
HS tested its findings by running them by Rita Kostama, who was the 2016 Refugee Woman of the Year and is now a city councillor representing the National Coalition Party. According to Kostama, newcomers to Finland should definitely respect the law, but she felt that shaking hands and unisex swimming facilities are not strictly speaking, examples of following the law.
Kostama pointed out that in her native Rwanda, people greet each other with a hug. She added that a handshake is a similar example of a cultural tradition. "Finns should also be flexible in areas that don’t cause any real harm or problems for anyone," she added.
Iraqi Tanja Awari moved to Finland in 1999. She told HS that people should start with a clean slate in a new country. She advocates accepting all of the rules and customs of a new country – Finland is Finland and Iraq is Iraq. "I believe we should not bring all of our original culture here. Finland has a good system and good laws. I don’t like the idea of bringing everything that I’ve done in my own country here."
People would do well to remember that immigrants are a much more diverse group than Finns, noted Annika Forsander of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. "Because of this diversity it is difficult to draw conclusions about immigrants’ values," she continued.
She also pointed out that so far there have been no studies conducted on migrant’s perceptions of gender equality in Finland. Playing devil’s advocate, she noted that not all Finnish customs are even considered western – for example many Americans might be as wary of a nude sauna as a Syrian would be.
Trump's long shadow over Europe
Tabloid daily Ilta-Sanomat is not the only domestic paper tracking events on the global stage. Like others, its Friday edition offers coverage of what it calls "the Trump show" — US President Donald Trump’s second foray into Europe. This time around, Trump kicked off his visit in Poland, a country that shares his fierce anti-immigration sentiments.
In typical Trump fashion, he thanked the Poles for purchasing US Patriot missile defence systems and addressed a matter close to their hearts as well as those of other NATO members. After withholding reassurances that the US would honour Article 5 – the mutual defence clause – of the NATO treaty on a previous European jaunt, Trump came through this time and delivered the much-anticipated commitment to mutual defence in the event a member is attacked.
According to the paper’s print edition, that assurance means that although a non-NATO member, Finland too can rest easy. Mika Aaltola, programme director with the Finnish Institute for International Affairs, FIIA, told IS that Trump’s vocal support for Article 5 serves to repair transatlantic relations, which had been damaged when he previously railed against other NATO members for what he saw as not paying their way and riding on US coattails. Aaltola added that Thursday’s assurances also serve to calm concerns about the build-up of military activity in the Baltic area.
"NATO is an influential element in the Baltic area and Finland is a NATO partner. In Finland as well, this eliminates doubts that the US might be distancing itself from the treaty," Aaltola noted.
Agonising over summer weather
Offering typical domestic summer fare, IS’ paper edition unpacks historical data to confirm our common anecdotal findings regarding the current summer. The verdict is that this summer is one of the poorest in terms of what Finns call "heat wave weather". In the local jargon, conditions count as approaching a heat wave when the maximum temperature crosses 25 degrees Celsius. It’s not difficult to do the math and conclude that this summer hasn’t provided many such days so far.
IS writes that the longest such period came back in 2014, when temperatures in Helsinki at least crossed the magical threshold for 26 consecutive days. But the summer of 2002 boasted the highest number of heat-filled days – even if they were not consecutive – with 65 days of plus-25-degree-temperatures. On the other end of the spectrum, summer 1962 put on a sad display with just three hot days; 1987 didn’t fare much better, with just 10.
While the current summer has left many people disappointed, it’s not been all bad – at least there have been 11 hot days – and there’s still time for things to turn around, right? Except that the data keepers at the Finnish Meteorological Institute are advising us all not to hold our breaths. The reason being that rain-and-chill-filled low pressure zones have constantly been moving in over the country. On top of that, the agency says that conditions in Finland are simply too variable to be able to predict anything with certainty.