Before I first visited Finland, I had no idea about this beautiful country in the north. During 5 visits within the last 2 years I got to know and like the land of a thousand lakes. After I announced recently that I will soon move there I realized it was not just me who had a wrong image of Finland in many points. People kept asking me why I decided to move to Scandinavia or if it’s not terrible to live in a country without summer and with completely dark winters. That’s why I would like to dedicate this article to the 5 most commonly made mistakes about Finland and clarify them forever…
Finland is NOT part of Scandinavia
The first mistake many people make is counting Finland to Scandinavia which is – in the eyes of many Finnish people – a terrible faux pas!
Geographically, the term Scandinavia is usually referred to the Scandinavian Peninsula which includes Norway, Sweden, and the main part of Northern Finland. This often leads to the misunderstanding that Finland is also part of Scandinavia but politically, culturally, genetically, and linguistically this is not true!
Politically, Finland is independent from Russia since 1917 and in contrast to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark it is not a monarchy. Finns are very patriotic people and very proud of their independence. Traditions are also very important in Finland and distinguish them from the Scandinavians with their sauna culture above all. Genetically, Finns originate from Siberia and the Uralic mountains. Finnish is a member of the finno-ugric languages which also includes Estonian, Hungarian, and a few minority languages spoken around the Baltic Sea. It is entirely unrelated to Scandinavian languages which belong to the North Germanic or indo-germanic family.
Finnish is NOT similar to Russian
Hearing the Finnish language for the first time to many middle Europeans it will most likely immediately sound like Russian but except for some loanwords there is no similarity between the two languages whatsoever. Even though Russian uses the Cyrillic script it belongs to the indo-germanic language family and resembles German for example far more than Finnish.
Finnish is an agglutinative language with 15 different cases, a complex phonology, without grammatical gender, and consonants are only sparely used – a very challenging and very ambitious task to learn Finnish. In fact, it is considered as one of the most difficult languages in the world!
Finland does NOT only consist of lakes and forest
Finland is called the land of a thousand lakes and I recently read that there actually are more than 180000 (!) of them, which makes more lakes in relation to the country’s size than in any other country. Considering that there are only about 5 million people, Finland has one lake per 28 people, and Finnish people love their lakes! The thousands of lakes contain a million of little islands and are surrounded by huge forests which invite to outdoor activities. But Finland has far more to offer than lakes and forests: beautiful and lively cities with a special flair due to the mixture of spectacular architecture, beautiful churches, and many park areas which make the cities look very green in summer time. Finns also love their war heroes and put statues of them to all their parks giving them a very special atmosphere. When walking through Finnish cities the love of the Finns for coffee as well as for alcoholic beverages can easily be seen: little coffee houses and bars and pubs take turns along the streets. Since most Finnish cities are located near the water many of them also have nice, sandy beaches which invite for swimming during summer time. And yes, there is summer in Finland!
Finland DOES have a summer season
In contrast to what many people believe there is indeed a summer time in Finland. In Helsinki for example, summer begins in June and ends in August. Days are long and bright with sunlight for around 19 hours and it never really gets dark – sunset is just followed by a period of twilight. That’s why Finland is not only called the land of a thousand lakes but also the land of the midnight sun. For good reason since the sun does not drop below the horizon at all in June and July in the very North. Here, one endless summer day lasts for up to 2 months. Temperatures are average between 20°C and 25°C in the South but can as well climb up to and above 30 degrees which invites people on trips to the lakes and the sea. Finns love their summer cottages where they spend their holidays swimming, fishing, and cooking dinner on the grill.
Finnish winters are NOT only dark and grey
It’s true, Finnish winters are cold and dark and grey but they have much more to offer than that! There are many winter activities that can be done in the cold: skiing, ice skating, swimming in a frozen lake in combination with sauna, ice fishing, .. just to name a few. I have to admit, I never was in Finland during December/January but I’m looking forward to experiencing a real winter this year. I have been there in March and I was more than positively surprised! During my 5-day stay it was sunny every day letting me enjoy the masses of snow which I was not used to at all. A stroll towards the harbor in Helsinki left me breathless: the Baltic Sea was frozen and covered with snow. Where in the summer time ships bring tourists to the nearby islands people were walking or cross-country skiing on the water now. It was amazing!
In the North of Finland, above the Arctic Circle, the sun does not rise at all for more than one month. I can’t wait to see the famous Northern Lights circulating there during these polar nights. Finland supposedly is one of the best places on earth to spot them – they appear in more than 200 nights per year in Finnish Lapland.
Have you ever been to Finland? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below!