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.



Men in the sauna: Miesten Vuoro

Not so long ago I watched a Finnish movie/documentary called Miesten Vuoro, produced in the year 2010. In it, different groups of men in the sauna talk about episodes of their own lives. Inside the sauna, naked, they share personal stories.

These groups of men in the sauna were from different parts of Finland. They were of different ages and had different occupations. But all those stories had a common denominator: that Finnish men can open up and talk about what they feel in an place as intimate and Finnish as the sauna.

Men in the sauna: Miesten Vuoro
A moment of the documentary. This, and all the other pics of the post belong to Oktober Oy, the production company of the film, and are shared via the POV docs flickr account.

The Finnish cinema

If you are not from Finland but have seen a Finnish movie, it will probably have been either a Renny Harlin film – the most international Finnish director, who has made blockbuster movies such as Die Hard 2 – or a film by Aki Kaurismäki, the director that has captured “the Finnish way” of a lot of different feelings, and is considered an art film director.

There are other kinds of interesting movies coming out of Finland, such as the horror film “Sauna” (where this quiet place becomes the setting of an unsettling movie). Another horror feature, called “Dark Floors“, features the band members of the monster band “Lordi“, who won Eurovision 2006, which makes this Finnish flick pretty unique. But perhaps “Jadesoturi” (Jade Warrior) is the most one-of-a-kind movie that made it out of Finland: It blends Finnish cinema with motifs out of the Kalevala – the Finnish national epic – and the Chinese epic, with its heavily stylized martial arts-focused type of doing movies. It was a co-production between two countries.

Miesten Vuoro: men in the sauna

Today we talk about a very intimate Finnish documentary. The ingredients are few and simple: men in the sauna, opening up emotionally to one another.

Men in the sauna: without clothes and thick armors.
This movie is called Miesten Vuoro in Finnish language, which translates to something like “men interactions”. Its title in English is “Steam of Life“.

The idea that the Sauna is a special place for Finnish people – where they used to be born, where they used to die, and where they can be themselves – is a powerful one.

The film tells us exactly that. Once the clothes are off and the water is being poured over the hot stones, the men in the sauna can be themselves, without a thick armor protecting their feelings. Finnish people – the ones that spent a sizable amount of time living in Finland – are sometimes reserved, and it can be hard to establish relationships with them. But in this case, once the men in the sauna are naked, they reveal themselves emotionally as well.

The stories, most of them very sad, are told by their protagonists: there are no actors. The stories they tell are of life, death, loneliness and togetherness. About the men: some of them are military, others blue-collar workers, there are some joulupukkis (the Finnish word for Father Christmas) and also vagabonds. Either in the fields, in little villages, or in bigger or smaller cities, they all go to the sauna and they open up.

Men in the sauna, naked.

The film also shows us many different saunas, some of them quite picturesque, such as a sauna built inside a phone booth (as you can see in the trailer below), or built into the trailer of a wagon. All these different saunas, as all these different naked men pouring out their feelings, show us a wide range of emotions, people and locations unique to Finland.

This, below, is the favorite part of all the people I have spoken to about Miesten Vuoro. In this segment, the protagonist adopts an orphan that… well, it is better for you to see it for yourself.

I did like this movie, because of its themes and production values. It is very Finnish. Have you seen it? What did you think of it if so? But if not, what Finnish movie or documentary can you recommend to us?



House slippers in Finland: the Reino

We know that Finns remove their shoes and footwear when they enter a house. Like this, they avoid bringing snow into the house that will eventually turn into dirty water puddles. This mere practical thing turned into a habit with time, and now they feel more comfortable without street footwear when they are indoors. But that doesn’t mean that they go barefoot or with socks, necessarily: They also use house slippers or home shoes.

Taking off the shoes when entering a house is polite
All shoes remain by the door.

The cold floors and the house slippers

One of the Finnish customs is to remove one’s shoes when entering a house. But anyone who has done that during a time of the year that wasn’t summer in Finland knows that your feet can get cold very fast.

In order to avoid that, you can do plenty of different things: fill your house with rags or carpet, or wear thick socks – for instance made out of wool – over your normal socks. You can also have a different pair of footwear for indoors (that’s my preferred solution: Because in Spain there is no tradition of taking the shoes off, I just wore different ones when I was home and the snow could melt by the door, over some paper towels). Or you can wear house slippers.

There is also a “business version”, which is wearing leather sandals over the socks. This can be seen widely in Finland. For instance, when I was going to the uni in my Erasmus year, plenty of teachers took off the street footwear and put on the leather sandals. Sandals over socks: a pretty big “no-go” in Spain that in the North of Europe is accepted as formal.

Leather sandals with white socks
Formalwear? May God have mercy on our souls. Source (CC: by-sa)

Jokes aside, “who cares what people think, who cares what people say”. Being cold in Winter is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone. And with a winter that can reach -32 degrees Celsius (my personal record), it is something not to be taken lightly.

The Finnish hipster alternative to house slippers

Reino is the brand that is on top of this interesting market – who knew – of Finnish house slippers. It is the modern, hipster choice in Finland.

The Reino slippers have been produced since 1932 in Tampere, keeping their original style since then. The house slippers brand has since then resisted wars, economic depression, crisis and globalization, up to today.

At some point in their history, they even took their entire production to third-world countries to reduce costs. But one given day the management decided to sell the company due to low sales and the workers bought it. They restored the machines and started the production again in Finland.

Nowadays this brand is back as a hipster, iconic way to dress your feet for the home. I am pretty sure that its grandpa-look, sitting on the sofa with a robe, smoking pipe and newspaper had a lot to do with its success.

You can find these house shoes in many shops specially in Helsinki but also throughout Finland. You will recognize them, they look like this:

House shoes. Brand: Reino from Finlandia
Being at home doesn’t meant not being elegant. Not anymore. Source (CC: by)

This is their Online Shop, if you want to join and wear some house shoes that seem to say “homey, but elegant”. Also worn in a totally ironic way.

They are so popular in the country that even the beer brand Olvi made a special edition of its beer with the classic pattern of the Reino shoes. The name: “Olvi Reino”. You can see it here: en este enlace. Classic. Long-lasting.

What do you wear on your feet in Finland, when you are home? Did you know the Reino house shoes brand?



When do seasons begin and end in Finland?

Last Juhannus (the midsummer in Finland, where bonfires are lit and people enjoy a long weekend in a cottage near the water, drinking spirits and eating grilled goods such as makkara – Finnish sausages) signaled – as every year – the weekend before the official beginning of summer on June 21st. But is it really summer in Finland already? Not if we look at the meteorology: It was cold and rainy, like in many parts of central and northern Europe.

The question, therefore, is clear: when do seasons begin and end in Finland?

A quick overview of the seasons in Finland, and when they begin and end

The Finnish summer

Summer in Finland

The Summer in Finland is special because of the amount of Music Festivals that happen in the country, the midnight sun (or the white nights), the highest temperatures of the year, the affluence of the Finnish beaches at the seas or lakes, the ability to spend time outdoors, or the crazy events and competitions of the Finnish summer such as the wife-carrying race…

… but it has also lots of mosquitoes (Finnish mosquitoes are huge and fierce), ticks, some over-drinking, a lot of rain and low temperatures compared to “summery-summer” places like the south of Europe. Also, the summer season isn’t very long. We can’t have it all. This year, actually, holds the record for the coldest June in Finland ever.

And what do we consider summer in Finland? That the average temperature of each day is above 10 degrees Celsius.

With this criteria, summer in Finland lasts from mid-May to mid-September in the south of the country. In Lapland, the summer starts one month later and ends one month earlier, while in the rest of the country it varies between those dates.

If we talk about the highest temperatures ever recorded in Finland, our beloved city of Joensuu holds the record: 37° C. In Finland, “heat wave” is the name that they assign to days where there are more than 25 degrees Celsius. These “heat waves” last between 10 and 15 days in the south of the country and between 5 and 10 days in the north.

The autumn in Finland

Autumn in Finland: the ruska
The colors. Oh, the nice colors.

Autumn has a word that represents it in Finland: the ruska. All the different bushes and trees change their color, each one at its own pace, from green to different tones of yellow, brown and red. The only bad part? It is a very rainy time in Finland, and the rain only stops when the snow comes. Finland is usually very cloudy, but when the clouds leave and reveal the autumn skies, it is a perfect moment to see the Northern lights since there are more hours of nighttime than in summer.

What do we consider autumn in Finland? It is the moment when the average temperature drops below 10° C. We know that winter is quite near when the average temperature is below 5 degrees, something that happens more or less during the last week of September in Lapland and the last week of October or first week of November on the south-west coast of Finland.

Winter: a blanket of snow over Finland

On Big in Finland, the posts about winter and snow are very well loved.

And is not by chance: I chose Finland because it was, in Europe, the furthest thing from Spain in terms of climate, and where I could have tuition in English. And I think the readers of the blog think the same.

Winter in Finland
Harsh. Beautiful.

The most characteristic thing of the Finnish winter is the length in hours of darkness. In the far north they have the Polar Night: the Kaamos, and I know that there are over 40 words for different stages of snow in Finland. Besides that, of course, you can do lots of skiing, ice hockey, take a dip on a frozen lake after a sauna, drift with your car over the snow like a Finnish rally driver… and let’s not forget the Christmas time in Finland.

This season, winter, is the longest and toughest in Finland. We can say that Winter has officially arrived when the average temperature is below 0 degrees Celsius. Winter usually starts in mid-October in Lapland, and during November in the rest of the country. In the south-west of Finland – i.e. the Aaland islands – winter lasts 100 days. In Lapland it lasts more than 200 days.

The lowest temperatures reached during winter in Finland are between -45° C and -50° C in Lapland, -35° C and -45° C in the rest of the country, and -25° C and -35° C in the archipelago and on the south-west coast. Check it out in this set of photos of Finland in Winter.

The Spring

Spring is the season that everyone living in Finland, but especially the non-Finns, await most eagerly. The darkness is over, the cold is becoming more moderate, and slowly the snow melts away. But is still cold and rainy.

Summer in Finland
Some Spring days are as lovely as this one.

As it happens with the autumn in Finland, the spring season starts when the average temperature per day is between 0 and 10 degrees Celsius.

This usually happens around the beginning of April in the Åland islands, mid-April in the rest of the country and in the beginning of May in Lapland. Thus, spring sets in one month earlier in the South of the country than in the North.

The length of this season is between 45 and 65 days. We have some cool photos of Finland in spring here.

Some closing thoughts

As a final recommendations, take a look check out our posts about what to wear in Finland in winter, so you can be spot-on when you visit the country.

The source of the content of this blog post was a great source of online information: the website of the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

What’s your favorite season to be in Finland? Are you surprised by the length of some seasons in Finland, or had you already guessed it?




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