Finnish women make marriage proposals on February 29th

Romantic relationships amongst Finns are something we already looked at from different perspectives. For instance, we talked about the Winter Relationships – boyfriends or girlfriends that last only for the coldest months of the year -, and we’ve told you about the “Carrying the wife race” competition. Following this line, we want to introduce you to another – quite cool in my opinion – Finnish custom: On February 29th, Finnish women are the ones to propose marriage (and can ask for retributions if the proposals aren’t accepted).

A classy marriage proposal.
A nice, frozen way to propose marriage. Source (CC: by-sa).

Finnish women propose marriage on February 29th

Carlos, a reader and commenter of the blog that currently resides in Helsinki, told me by e-mail that last week he overhead some Finns talking about this custom. In the leap years, on the atypical 29th of February, it is a tradition for the in-love Finnish women to kneel in front of their partners and speak the magic words: Would you marry me?

As I never heard anything about this tradition, I started researching and it is indeed something rooted in the culture and not a joke. In this Wikipedia article about marriage proposals, there is a note about Finland. The article recommends for Finnish women to propose on this day. The tradition dictates that, if the man rejects the proposal, he has to buy the brave lady enough fabric so she can make a skirt out of it, as retribution.

Marriage proposals in other countries and more curiosities about this custom

Besides Finland, only the UK and Ireland are practitioners of this custom. The most notorious example of marriage proposal on this day was the one that Queen Victoria of England made to Prince Albert, which of course was accepted. The main difference compared to the Finnish tradition is that, in case of refusal, nothing has to be bought for the woman.

Did you know about this tradition? It would be interesting to know if it has happened to someone you know… and their response. In case of a cold “no”, was there a retribution in fabric to be paid?

As a final note, on February 29th of 1940, besides the customary marriage proposals, the date marked the beginning of the peace talks of the winter war.

Update: yesterday I spoke with several Finns and they all know stories of Finnish women proposing marriage on February 29th. They know of stories were a brave woman called the radio to do the whole ordeal live (he accepted) and more normal proposals (some accepted, some refused too… which were then indeed paid in fabric instead).

Definitely a cute tradition.

Did you know about this Finnish custom? How do you imagine such a marriage proposal to play out?



The “Restaurant day” in Finland – Ravintolapäivä

Silvio Berlusconi became persona non grata for the Finnish people for saying that, after the United Kingdom, Finland was the place with the worst food in Europe. Finns showed their pride and their sisu and wanted to prove that you can eat very well in this Nordic Country. In this spirit, the Finnish-born Restaurant Day was created. All the photos in this post belong to the Official Flickr account of the Restaurant Day.

Finnish lady participating in the Restaurant Day
A beginner of the Restaurant Day, waiting for clients. Source: Restaurant Day – Timo Santala.

What is the Restaurant Day

The Ravintolapäivä (Official Website) as it is said in the Finnish Language, is a creation of Olli Sirén, in which anyone can – for a day – set up a food stand, a little café, or a bar.

The place? Anywhere. House entrances, offices, a spot in a park, a rooftop… The type of food? Whatever you know best: it’s the choice of the eventual chef, which is you. The decoration or presentation? Can also be anything, whatever you want to bring to the table, and thus creativity can up your food sales.

Initially the Restaurant Day was born in Helsinki, and the idea was to repeat the event every three months.

In successive editions, the idea spread to other Finnish (and foreign) cities and it became international. A couple of years later it is already established as an international event, with cuisines ranging from Spanish to Indian.

Restaurant Day: Winter Endition
This family also decided to take part. In this case in the Winter Edition. Source: Restaurant Day – Timo Santala.

The celebration, up to today

Up to this point there have been 19 editions of the Restaurant Day. The first one was in May 2011, when 40 pop-up restaurants opened for that day. The second edition had that number multiplied by 5 and the number of cities was 30 in 4 different countries. The numbers of the third Restaurant Day were even more impressive: 300 restaurants and 40 locations.

The Restaurant Day was the “Cultural Achievement Prize” of 2011, granted by Helsinki’s Office of Culture.

There is no need to ask for a license to take part in the Restaurant Day. As one eater puts it, “it is food without bureaucracy, in the name of civil disobedience.” The only thing they can’t do, nonetheless, is to sell alcohol without a license. Something like that happened during our Erasmus in the house for student parties, “Skarpi”, in Joensuu: it was closed down after someone had the idea to buy beer at the supermarket and to sell it without a license during university parties (it should have been given away for free, of course).

Serving food as fast as they can, since there is a huge queue
A couple of youngsters serve food in front of a populated queue, while the wait is made more pleasant by a piano player. Where? Obviously in the Kallio Neighborhood. Source: Restaurant Day – Tuomas Sarparanta

The next edition will be on the 21st of February 2016 (see participant cities), and if you’d like to expand this event to your city or town – whether in Finland, Spain, the UK or Poland – you can sign up for it on this page.

If you live in a city where the Restaurant Day has happened: Did you see it or take part in it? How was the mood and the food you tasted? If you did take part and send us some pics, we’ll be pleased to publish them on the blog.



The story behind Santa Claus’ bankruptcy in Rovaniemi

If you like Finland, you probably already know that the Santa Claus in Rovaniemi, the one that takes his photo with you (or vice versa) and talks to you a bit (he’s polyglot), went bankrupt for not paying his taxes. If this were any other blog, we’d be happy re-giving you the news and that’s it. But since you’re on Big in Finland, we believe we can add to it with our experience and perspective on the topic.

First things first, the news, an then you have my comment on it. If you didn’t read the story yet, I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.

Santa Claus and the kids
“This Christmas I want a better taxation system”, he seems to say. Source (CC: by)

Santa Claus in Rovaniemi

The Santa Claus of one of the Rovaniemi attractions owed the Finnish government around 200.000 € in due taxes.

The Santa Park business, the place where our beloved character goes to work (punches in) every day that isn’t the 24th of December, makes its money through the souvenir shops and being able to take your photo with Santa. He is the king of the Finnish Christmas.

But then, how come he didn’t pay his taxes?

Finns and money (and taxes)

Not too long ago, we released a post about the standard of Finnish Morality. In this post we discovered that one of the main things that Finns condemn the most is cheating on your taxes.

Furthermore, your financial data isn’t secure in Finland, as every year the list of how much each person on the country earned is made public and sold to magazines. You can even search the database for the name of the person you are interested in.

10 euro bills
A money bouqet. Source (CC: by-sa)

This is seen by some as transparency down to the last citizen. Others see it as an infringement of the EU directive on data protection. Some others feel that it leads to a state of “neighbor against neighbor”, where envy and other less-than-pure-feelings make Finns do the government’s dirty work, reporting one another based on suspicion. And they all have their fair share of truth.

That’s why, when the most internationally known Finn gets caught without paying taxes, some reactions were pretty clear: “He’s earned it, put him in jail”.

The rise and fall of Santa Claus in Rovaniemi: the bankruptcy

Dianordia Oy is the company that manages the Santa Park, the Rovaniemi attraction where Santa Claus works.

Pretty much every year, I visit the ITB Berlin, the world’s biggest tourism fair, and I always pass by the Finnish stands. Some years ago I met someone who was partially in charge of the marketing of this Santa Claus attraction, and when he was describing it to me he called it “a money-making machine“.

And it is true: the tourists are already there and Rovaniemi is a small town where, in the end, there are only a small number of things to do: check out the Kaamos: the polar night, go and see some reindeers in the area … and see Santa Claus. Going all the way to Rovaniemi, Lapland, to the Santa Park, and not taking a picture with him and the kids is unforgivable. When else are you going to take that photo? And all for – if I recall correctly – 40 € a pop.

Santa Park - Santa Claus little village
This is where Santa Claus works in Rovaniemi.Source (CC: by)

This is why, when I saw that he was bankrupt, I was surprised. A money-making machine bankrupted? Then I saw the second surprising part: it was due to the most unforgivable thing a Finn can do – evading taxes. You can read the full story here. The most interesting part, for me, was this one:

“Last year, the Santa Claus office in Rovaniemi made almost 2 million Euro, with 20 employees.”

And in this other article they say that the number of visitors per year is is 300.000. It is hard to wrap your head around why they owe so much money to the tax office.

As the president of the Rovaniemi Tourism and Marketing Ltd (translation of the original name of the company, which is a Finnish “Oy”. I first actually thought that it was an United Kingdom-registered corporation, a place with a more “relaxed” tax system, specially for “Limited responsibility companies”) puts it: it is sad news for the tourism of the area.

But another company rescued Santa Claus

Finally, at the last minute, another company called Lapland Safaris – which does “tours” in the area with reindeers, huskys, etc. – bought the majority of the Dianordia Oy shares and thus Santa Claus and the Santa Park will remain open throughout the whole year.

I guess they quickly understood that, without the birdcall of the most international Santa of the city (there are others, but not as well known abroad), there would be a huge drop in tourism – something that was already happening with the drop of Russian tourists.

Therefore, and for not losing the people that were going to see Santa Claus in Rovaniemi – people that Lapland Safaris could also sell their own products to – Santa Claus was bought. After all, buying a company that has an income of 2 million Euro per year (we should see the costs as well, but with 20 people working there I am not sure how high they would be) doesn’t seem like a bad choice.

Christmas came early for the Santa Claus in Rovaniemi.

A photo with Santa Claus in Rovaniemi
A photo that comes in very handy to this blogpost. Source (CC: by)

Have you ever visited Santa Claus in Rovaniemi? After being aware of this story, does it change your perception of the Christmas tourism in Lapland?



The standard of Finnish morality

What a grandiose headline that is. But it’s worth checking out what is allowed in a society and what is not, and since Finnish society has its own particular history and setting, it’s a good topic to delve deeper into. Here we go: into the Finnish morality.

On the Spanish version of the blog, we often compare Finland and Spain. Sometimes Finland wins, and sometimes Spain wins. That is because no place is better than the other, just different, and that is what we love about Finland: its differences. If you want to check out a cool post we did with quantitative data instead you can go, for instance, to this one: all about the average Finnish man and woman.

Finnish people in Helsinki
A lot of Finnish people in Helsinki. Source (CC: by-sa)

The study about Finnish morality

The data on this post comes from asking Finnish people directly, instead of measuring something and getting hard data. And what was the topic the study wanted to bring light to? What behaviors are morally acceptable (or unacceptable) to Finns. Asking questions about this is what the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat did here.

The general tone of the questions was this:

What’s the most immoral act that a person can do, if we leave aside rape and homicide? Would it be cheating on the taxes? Cheating on your loved one? Violence? According to Finns, the most blameworthy thing a Finn can do is calling in sick without being really ill, and 85% of people agree on it.

1.000 Finns were asked to rate different topics in order of moral importance. The idea was born a couple of years back, in a time when the first Greek crisis was a topic of debate, as well as same-sex marriage and verbal abuse.

The questions dealt with what was good or bad, how people should behave, how people should be treated and which values should guide Finland as a society. The topics of the questions varied from “how bad is it to steal office supplies” to “death penalty”.

What Finns consider the worst

The most widely condemned thing was to call in sick without being really sick.

Sleeping at home
Staying home sleeping in without being ill is truly not well regarded in Finland. Source (CC: by-sa)

In the same way, bribing policemen, smoking weed, cheating on a loved one (check this one out, Erasmus students in Finland) and cheating on the taxman were the other topics that were widely declared morally despicable.

Most Finns also opposed verbal abuse, insults (not Finnish Swearwords, though), riding the public transport without paying (in Finland you take your public rides with an “honor system”) and breeding animals with lucrative intent in an industrial scale.

As you can see, the topic of trust and relying on others to behave well is very important for the Finnish people, as they believe that this is what keeps society together. The Helsinki Sanomat’s article says (but doesn’t link to) a study that states that countries in which people place greater trust in each other are richer than the rest. That, or people in countries where people are richer can afford to trust others.

A tram in Helsinki
It is not well regarded morally to ride, for instance, this tram in Helsinki without paying. Source (CC: by-nd)

But do Finns do as they preach?

The article says that generally they do.

The article also asked these 1.000 people to signal how many of these questionable acts they did commit, and they didn’t indicate a double standard.

Furthermore, Finns seem to behave better than others expect of them. For instance, 29% said that it’d be acceptable to ride the public transport without a ticket, but only 25% admitted doing so. As well, 25% said that it was acceptable to cheat on a loved one under some circumstances, but 22% reported doing it (on average, of course; 34% of over 60-year-olds said they did it).

Getting back to the most vile thing someone can do, calling in sick but not being sick (cultural thing: “hangover” is krapula in Finnish language): only 6% admitted to doing so.

And of course “admitting” is the key word: We don’t know if they told the truth to a stranger that comes asking some private questions.

Street in Helsinki
Finns walking down a street in Helsinki. Source (CC: by-sa)

Are all Finns the same or are there differences?

They aren’t the same, but almost.

Although answers tend to be homogenous in most of the country, some differences were found on answers to topics like “stealing office supplies”, “buying sex services”, “illicit employment” and “death penalty”. The answers to questions about those topics differed regarding the municipality in which they were asked, and about 50% approved or disapproved it morally.

In the same way, answers were similar between different social classes.

Specifically, if we look at answers per gender we can see more discrepancies. The standard of morality differed between men – who tend to be more accepting of one-night-stands, cheating on a spouse and buying sex services – and women – who thought divorce and same-sex marriage were more acceptable.

Older Finn
There are also differences between younger and older Finns, such as this gentleman. Source (CC: by-sa)

If we look at age differences in this study, they are bigger than the gender ones. People younger than 25 were more tolerant towards cheating a bit on the taxes, or missing work. Older Finns opposed more fiercely to breeding and growing animals in reduced spaces (maybe older Finns were more in touch with nature than the younger generation).

The answers in difference age brackets also brought interesting cues. Finns below the age of 25 were less tolerant towards one-night-stands, infidelity, divorce and drinking ’till dropping than people in the next age bracket. The younger generation had the most positive vision of homosexuality, and the most negative one about military conscription.

Military service is not popular among young Finns
Military service: Not appreciated amongst younger Finns. Source (CC: by-sa)

The worst part of the questions about morality

What’s the worst, in my opinion? That they consider the death penalty fairly acceptable, are not opposed to pulling a kids’ hair when they misbehave and were tolerating the use of the derogatory term for black people (nekkeri, equivalent to English nigger) when talking about and to these people.

What do you think about this study? Did it confirm what you knew about Finns? Let us know your opinion in the comments below.



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