If I can give you one advice for your stay in Finland it would be; Try to become friends with Finnish people. That’s how you will really get to know the culture, the customs and how amazing people in Finland are. Luckily for me, my student tutor is amazing. She invited me to bars and parties with her and her friends, and lately, to a friend’s cottage where they were going to spend a few days.
So from the 17th to the 20th of February, I was able to live Finnish culture at its fullest. The cottage was situated on an Island in the archipelago and we had to take a Ferry to go there. We were eating all the time, and the biggest meals were always traditional Finnish meals, because they wanted me to try as many as they could while I was there.
We relaxed by watching movies and tv shows most of the day. The last day we watched a Swedish tv show and the subtitles were in Finnish, so I had to pay a lot of attention to what was going on. It was great though because I really had to put my head to it and I had my friends really helping me out, answering my questions and telling me what some of the words meant.
We also played board games, drank and chatted. At some point it even changed into a Finnish class where they were telling me about the Finnish culture and language. I was like a child pointing at everything I see and asking ‘’How do you say THAT in Finnish?’’ I was scared that it would bother them after a while but it didn’t seem like it. They looked more flattered that I was interested in their culture and learning from them.
During the day, they would start warming up the sauna and the Jacuzzi and later in the evening we would spend all our time in there. Going from the Sauna, to the snow and to the Jacuzzi. We had to wear a cap in the Jacuzzi since it was outside and it was quite cold. Sometimes it was hard to breathe because of the steam coming out from it.
In the sauna, they kept pouring water on the stones so it reached really high temperatures, the highest they reached while I was inside was 120 degrees (needless to say I didn’t stay a long time.) When it gets really hot, you can barely breathe because the humidity in the air it feels like it burns your lungs. I know it sounds harsh, but after the Sauna you feel amazing, your skin is soft and you feel fresh. They also wiped me with ‘’Vihta’’ which is a bouquet of birch leaves. It’s actually a really soft feeling and it feels great. The Sauna was probably one of the best things I’ve experienced in my life. I really had to put everything I value and the culture I learned aside in order to fully live it and be comfortable, but it was worth it. I came out a new person.
Finally, before coming to Finland you might hear the stereotypes that Finns are shy, cold or depressing. I can understand how that could be your impression when you first arrive here, since people don’t greet. But don’t let that stop you and don’t close yourself to them or you would be missing out. You will realize that once you have been introduced to a Finn and that he feels comfortable with you, he will be quite different than what you might have expected.
Text and photo: Marie-Pier Bérubé