Monday, August 4, 2014

Finnish Food, Culture, and...Saunas?!?!

Finland is such an amazing country with such a rich culture, and I realized the other day that no one has done any blogs specifically about Finnish culture. Culture is an integral part of Finland (and every other country), so I wanted to write a little bit about what makes Finland unique.

First and foremost, Finland is full of saunas. Saunas, saunas, saunas. There are about 2 saunas in the country for every 5 people in Finland (approximately one per household), so as you can see, there are ALOT of saunas. (And they are nude saunas). Most houses in Finland own a sauna, and it is an activity that you partake in with your family, friends, guests. Even some of the apartments in the complex we are staying in have saunas. Often it is single gender rotations, so that women go in the sauna for a few minutes (5-10) and then the men have their turn.

While in the sauna, someone is frequently pouring water over the hot stones to increase the moisture in the air. Normally, someone will go into the sauna about once a week at a minimum because it is relaxing and seen as a necessity. There are even different types of saunas, different levels of comfort, and mothers use to give birth in saunas before health care and nurseries.

There is even a whole Wikipedia page about Finnish saunas:

There is no other country in the world that has such a deep connection to saunas and have it so intertwined in the culture of the country.

I have been in sauna twice, once with Drexel kids, and once at a barbecue with my advisor (with her son showing me how to set up the sauna). It was a really refreshing experience, and it is also common to enjoy a beer in the sauna. Everyone in the house has their own "placemat" with their name on it to put down on the benches in the sauna. it really was quite a sight.
Picture from Wikipedia:

Salmiakki and Ice Cream

Another food that is very popular in Finland is salmiakki, also known as salty licorice. It is really hard to describe the taste exactly of salmiakki, except with the comparison to rubber tires. Its extremely salty, and is often called an acquired taste, because no on outside of the Nordic area (and Northern Germany) likes it. Even other Europeans don't like it because, well, it tastes like rubber tires! 

Its essentially ammonium chloride and looks like licorice, but a darker black. The Finns can't get enough of salmiakki, and flavor a lot of vodkas and ice creams with salmiakki. 

This brings me to my next idea: ice cream stands are wildly popular in Finland. The two major companies are Pingvinii (owned by Nestle) and Ingman, which is owned by Unilever.  (Unilever owns/ makes TONS of products such as Ben and Jerry's, Dove, Lipton, Klondike, etc.)

There are ice cream stands probably every kilometer or so, and there must be at least a dozen in the city center. All of the beaches have ice cream stands, and there were at least four stands in the small zoo in Helsinki. The ice cream is quite good, too. It is very creamy, and there are significantly more flavors than in the USA. Flavors such as blueberry, peach, strawberry, white chocolate, nougat, and tar (yes, tar–they use some sort of tar syrup).  


Finns have made coffee an integral part of their culture, and will happily pour coffee into the coffee maker themselves, instead of buying coffee. There are coffee shops, but entire university departments will come together and drink coffee. For instance, the Environmental Engineering department, where I intern, has set coffee breaks at 9 AM and 2 PM, where professors and deans alike will drink coffee, schmooze, and relax for at least a half hour. The professors provide coffee for others – the rule is that you can partake in these coffee breaks if you bring in a bag of coffee every once in awhile. I participated in some of these coffee breaks too, and of course, brought coffee in for everybody. 

At many offices, there are free coffee machines for clients to take as much as they please (and we do!) 

After spending many weeks in Finland, I still cannot understand weather here. It can basically rain at any time, even when it is sunny and no clouds, and it hailed ice balls when it was 55 degrees fahrenheit in the Lapland area, Northern Finland. It also snowed in mid June, like the second day we got to Oulu. 

At the beginning of our time in Oulu, it would be 24 hours of constant daylight. They even coined it as the 'midnight sun' because it really is as bright at midnight as noon. As time has progressed, we have been able to see immense changes in the amount of daylight, and it is actually getting dark in the evenings! 

On the Summer Solstice, everything is closed, and the holiday is called Midsummer. Conversely, in the winter, it is pitch black almost all the time, and there is often only a few hours of daylight. 

To cope with the heavy snowfall and constant darkness, they have set up the university to be entirely connected. No one has to go outdoors to go to other buildings, and corridors connect the entire university. It is hard to fathom not every having to go outside during college, but they manage it quite well and the building is brilliantly designed.

Overall, we really like Finnish culture, but it took some getting used to. We are going to miss it very much, and we leave in just over a week!

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