About Finland

Finland, officially the Republic of Finland, is a sovereign state in Northern Europe. The country has land borders with Sweden to the northwest, Norway to the north, and Russia to the east. Estonia is south of the country across the Gulf of Finland. Finland is a Nordic country situated in the geographical region of Fennoscandia, which also includes Scandinavia. Finland's population is 5.5 million (2014), and the majority of the population is concentrated in the southern region. 88.7% of the population is Finnish and speaks Finnish, a Uralic language unrelated to the Scandinavian languages; the second major group are the Finland-Swedes (5.3%). It is the eighth largest country in Europe and the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. Finland is a parliamentary republic with a central government based in the capital Helsinki, local governments in 311 municipalities, and an autonomous region, the Åland Islands. Over 1.4 million people live in the Greater Helsinki metropolitan area, which produces a third of the country's GDP.

Finland was inhabited when the last ice age ended, approximately 9000 BCE. The first settlers left behind artifacts that present characteristics shared with those found in Estonia, Russia, and Norway. The earliest people were hunter-gatherers, using stone tools. The first pottery appeared in 5200 BCE, when the Comb Ceramic culture was introduced. The arrival of the Corded Ware culture in southern coastal Finland between 3000 and 2500 BCE may have coincided with the start of agriculture. The Bronze Age and Iron Age were characterized by extensive contacts with other cultures in the Fennoscandian and Baltic regions.

From the late 13th century, Finland gradually became an integral part of Sweden, a legacy reflected in the prevalence of the Swedish language and its official status. In 1809 Finland was incorporated into the Russian Empire as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. In 1906, Finland became the second nation in the world to give the right to vote to all adult citizens and the first in the world to give all adult citizens the right to run for public office. Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, Finland declared itself independent.

Capital Helsinki
Largest city Helsinki
Official language and national language Finnish (88.67%)
Swedish (5.29%)
Sami (0.04%)
Area 338,424 km2 (130,666 sq mi)
Total Water (%) 10
Population 5.503 million
Currency Euro (€) (EUR)
Time zone EET (UTC+2) / EEST (UTC+3)
Country Code +358

The Do’s and Don’ts of Traveling to Finland

For centuries, “Sisu” has been used to describe the Finnish spirit. And one could say all that courage and determination has really paid off. Today, Finland is home to some of the world’s best health care, literacy rates and education services. Finnish women were the first in the world to have full voting rights. And the capital Helsinki repeatedly receives honors as one of the most livable cities in the world.

It’s not a bad place to visit either. To help you get the most from your trip, here are five dos and four don’ts for exploring mainland Europe’s northernmost capital.

DO’s

• Compliment Finns, even though they don’t take compliments well and don’t necessarily know how to reply.

• Take a risk and pass McDonald’s, Subway, and Pizza Hut. The Finnish cuisine is well worth trying.

• Leave Helsinki, the capital, and discover the countryside. There are many beautiful places between Helsinki and Lapland. Not all the bus drivers speak English-so what? It’s an adventure. (A visit to Rovaniemi and the Arctic Circle to see Santa Claus, not a must.)

• Offer to buy a drink if you’ve made a new friend in a bar. But keep in mind, Finns can hold their drinks well, and you may not be able to keep up the pace of drinking.

• Make an effort and say, “Excuse me,” if you want to pass someone. But don’t expect a reaction. The right way to do it is to just push your way around.

• Use a fork and a knife when eating. No food is finger food in Finland if the silverware is available.

• Keep in mind that two things are expensive: alcohol and gas. And yet, both are consumed in high volumes.

• Refrain from discussing architect Alvar Aalto or composer Jean Sibelius; instead,talk about contemporary talent, like singer Karita Mattila or conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. Know a few athletes’ names, and you’ve made friends for life.

• Learn a few words in Finnish, even though it’s hard. It’s an ego-booster for a Finn to hear a foreigner speak his language.

• Remember that Finnish women are independent and believe in equality. And especially that young women drink equally to men.

DON’T

• Wonder out loud why Sweden has more world-famous products, artists, and athletes than Finland, or why the western neighbor always beats Finland in ice hockey. Too much to handle for the touchy Finns.

• Make the mistake of asking if Finland once was a Communist country, like Estonia, Poland, or Hungary. End of conversation, right then and there.

• Hesitate to talk to the person next to you in a bus or a train. The almost-hostile look is deceiving, and in most cases you’ll get a response, which could be the start of a real conversation. Finns follow the news, both domestic and international, and have strong opinions about the events. No such attitude as “whatever.”

• Think you’re seeing things if you have a feeling that almost everyone is wearing small rectangle-shaped eyeglasses. They are.

• Keep your shoes on if you are invited to someone’s home. First thing after entering a house or an apartment: shoes off. Also, don’t even think about leaving before kahvi and pulla (coffee and bun) have been served.

• Visit without calling first. The door may not open without a prior notice, especially on weekends.

• Make empty promises. If you say to a Finn, “Let’s do lunch,” he or she truly believes you have set up a lunch meeting and expects to hear from you.

• Tip. People are not used to tips and don’t always know how to react.

• Be surprised if you see Finns order and pay things with their cell phones. They are not just for talking anymore.

• Be confused if you see people walking with poles even if there is no snow on the ground. It’s called Nordic Walking, and it’s a very popular activity among all ages.

Demographics

The population of Finland is currently about 5,500,000. Finland has an average population density of 18 inhabitants per square kilometer. This is the third-lowest population density of any European country, behind those of Norway and Iceland, and the lowest population density in the EU. Finland's population has always been concentrated in the southern parts of the country, a phenomenon that became even more pronounced during 20th-century urbanization. The largest cities in Finland are those of the Greater Helsinki metropolitan area—Helsinki, Espoo, and Vantaa. Other cities with population over 100,000 are Tampere, Turku, Oulu, Jyväskylä, Kuopio, and Lahti.

As of 2014, there were 322,700 people with a foreign background living in Finland (5.9% of the population), most of whom are from Russia, Estonia, Somalia, Iraq and Yugoslavia. The children of foreigners are not automatically given Finnish citizenship, as Finnish nationality law practices and maintain jus sanguine policy where only children born to at least one Finnish parent are granted citizenship. If they are born in Finland and cannot get citizenship of any other country, they become citizens. Additionally, certain persons of Finnish descent who reside in countries that were once part of Soviet Union, retain the right of return, a right to establish permanent residency in the country, which would eventually entitle them to qualify for citizenship.

Largest cities or towns

1. Helsinki 2. Espoo
3. Tampere 4. Vantaa
5. Oulu 6. Turku
7. Jyväskylä 8. Lahti
9. Kuopio 10. Kouvola

Languages

Finnish and Swedish are the official languages of Finland. Finnish predominates nationwide while Swedish is spoken in some coastal areas in the west and south and in the autonomous region of Åland. The Sami language is an official language in northern Lapland. Finnish Romani and Finnish Sign Language are also recognized in the constitution. The Nordic languages and Karelian are also specially treated in some contexts.

The native language of 89% of the population is Finnish, which is part of the Finnic subgroup of the Uralic languages. The language is one of only four official EU languages not of Indo-European origin. Finnish is closely related to Karelian and Estonian and more remotely to the Sami languages and Hungarian.

Swedish is the native language of 5% of the population (Swedish-speaking Finns).

To the north, in Lapland, are the Sami people, numbering around 7,000 and recognized as an indigenous people. About a quarter of them speak a Sami language as their mother tongue. The Sami languages that are spoken in Finland are Northern Sami, Inari Sami, and Skolt Sami. Finnish Romani is spoken by some 5,000–6,000 people. There are two sign languages: Finnish Sign Language, spoken natively by 4,000–5,000 people, and Finland-Swedish Sign Language, spoken natively by about 150 people. Tatar language is spoken by a Finnish Tatar minority of about 800 people who moved to Finland mainly during the Russian rule from the 1870s until the 1920s.

The rights of minority groups (in particular Sami, Swedish speakers, and Romani people) are protected by the constitution.

Immigrant languages include Russian (1.1%), Estonian (0.6%), Somali, English, and Arabic.[citation needed] The largest groups of population of foreign languages in 2012 were Russian, Estonian, and Somali.

English is studied by most pupils as a compulsory subject from the third or fifth grade (at 9 or 11 years of age respectively) in the comprehensive school (in some schools other languages can be chosen instead). German, French, and Russian can be studied as second foreign languages from the eighth grade (at 14 years of age; some schools may offer other options)

Religion

• Catholic

• Islamic

• Jewish

• Lutheran

• Orthodox

Culture

Written Finnish could be said to have existed since Mikael Agricola translated the New Testament into Finnish during the Protestant Reformation, but few notable works of literature were written until the nineteenth century and the beginning of a Finnish national Romantic Movement. This prompted Elias Lönnrot to collect Finnish and Karelian folk poetry and arrange and publish them as the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. The era saw a rise of poets and novelists who wrote in Finnish, notably Aleksis Kivi and Eino Leino. Many writers of the national awakening wrote in Swedish, such as the national poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg and Zachris Topelius.

After Finland became independent, there was a rise of modernist writers, most famously the Finnish-speaking Mika Waltari and Swedish-speaking Edith Södergran. Frans Eemil Sillanpää was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1939. The Second World War prompted a return to more national interests in comparison to a more international line of thought, characterized by Väinö Linna. Besides Kalevala and Waltari, the Swedish-speaking Tove Jansson is the most translated Finnish writer. Popular modern writers include Arto Paasilinna, Ilkka Remes, Kari Hotakainen, Sofi Oksanen, and Jari Tervo, while the best novel is annually awarded the prestigious Finlandia Prize.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela, The Defense of the Sampo, 1896, Turku Art Museum.

Visual arts, design, and architecture
See also: Architecture of Finland and Art in Finland
The visual arts in Finland started to form their individual characteristics in the 19th century, when Romantic nationalism was rising in autonomic Finland. The best known of Finnish painters, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, started painting in a naturalist style, but moved to national romanticism. Finland's best-known sculptor of the twentieth century was Wäinö Aaltonen, remembered for his monumental busts and sculptures. Finns have made major contributions to handicrafts and industrial design: among the internationally renowned figures are Timo Sarpaneva, Tapio Wirkkala and Ilmari Tapiovaara. Finnish architecture is famous around the world, and has contributed significantly to several styles internationally, such as Jugendstil (or Art Nouveau), Nordic Classicism and Functionalism. Among the top twentieth-century Finnish architects to gain international recognition are Eliel Saarinen and his son Eero Saarinen. Architect Alvar Aalto is regarded as among the most important twentieth-century designers in the world; he helped bring functionalist architecture to Finland, but soon was a pioneer in its development towards an organic style. Aalto is also famous for his work in furniture, lamps, textiles and glassware, which were usually incorporated into his buildings.

Music
The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), a significant figure in the history of classical music.

Main articles: Music of Finland, Finnish rock, and Sami music

Classical
Much of Finland's classical music is influenced by traditional Karelian melodies and lyrics, as comprised in the Kalevala. Karelian culture is perceived as the purest expression of the Finnic myths and beliefs, less influenced by Germanic influence than the Nordic folk dance music that largely replaced the kalevaic tradition. Finnish folk music has undergone a roots revival in recent decades, and has become a part of popular music. The people of northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway, the Sami, are known primarily for highly spiritual songs called joik. The same word sometimes refers to lavlu or vuelie songs, though this is technically incorrect.

The first Finnish opera was written by the German-born composer Fredrik Pacius in 1852. Pacius also wrote the music to the poem Maamme/Vårt land (Our Country), Finland's national anthem. In the 1890s Finnish nationalism based on the Kalevala spread, and Jean Sibelius became famous for his vocal symphony Kullervo. He soon received a grant to study runo singers in Karelia and continued his rise as the first prominent Finnish musician. In 1899 he composed Finlandia, which played its important role in Finland gaining independence. He remains one of Finland's most popular national figures and is a symbol of the nation.

Today, Finland has a very lively classical music scene and many of Finland's important composers are still alive, such as Magnus Lindberg, Kaija Saariaho, Kalevi Aho, and Aulis Sallinen. The composers are accompanied by a large number of great conductors such as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Osmo Vänskä, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, and Leif Segerstam. Some of the internationally acclaimed Finnish classical musicians are Karita Mattila, Soile Isokoski, Pekka Kuusisto, Olli Mustonen, and Linda Lampenius.

Festivals

Although there are only a few notable Finland holidays and celebrations, they are worth experiencing, especially the ones close to the Christmas season. Celebrations typically have historical, religious and seasonal themes (such as the Midsummer Festival). While most Finnish holidays are intimate affairs with close family, there are many interesting events that tourists can take part in throughout the year.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
Just like everywhere else in the world, Finns celebrate the start of the year with great merriment. As if the Northern Lights weren’t beautiful enough, there are also fantastic firework displays across the country on New Year’s Eve.

Easter
Easter dates may vary, but traditional celebrations during the lent season remain the same. A time for reflection and self-control, the long holiday also gives ample opportunity for skiing.

Walpurgis Night
Otherwise known as Vappu or May Day, this event coincides with the Spring Festival. Closely related to Beltane, a Celtic Festival, it resembles most May Day celebrations throughout Europe involving the crowning of statues around town and colorful carnivals. People party on the streets, have picnics and wear decorative clothing.

Midsummer Festival
Also called Juhannus, the Midsummer Festival is typically held on the Saturday that falls between June 20 and 26. It celebrates the summer solstice, with most city dwellers heading to their summer cottage in the Lakeland, where plenty of drinking and bonfires take place.

Independence Day
Independence Day in Finland is held annually on December 6, commemorating the country’s liberation from Russia. During this time, the President hosts a VIP ball for diplomats, merited athletes and artists, televised for all to see.

Christmas
Christmas is the biggest holiday in Finland, especially in Lapland, where Santa’s Village is located. Everything closes for three days (from December 24 through 26), when everyone feasts on Christmas treats, attends religious ceremonies and exchanges gifts. Many locals also hit the sauna before sunset.

Climate

The main factor influencing Finland's climate is the country's geographical position between the 60th and 70th northern parallels in the Eurasian continent's coastal zone. In the Köppen climate classification, the whole of Finland lies in the boreal zone, characterized by warm summers and freezing winters. Within the country, the temperateness varies considerably between the southern coastal regions and the extreme north, showing characteristics of both a maritime and a continental climate. Finland is near enough to the Atlantic Ocean to be continuously warmed by the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream combines with the moderating effects of the Baltic Sea and numerous inland lakes to explain the unusually warm climate compared with other regions that share the same latitude, such as Alaska, Siberia, and southern Greenland.

Winters in southern Finland (when mean daily temperature remains below 0 °C or 32 °F) are usually about 100 days long, and in the inland the snow typically covers the land from about late November to April, and on the coastal areas such as Helsinki, snow often covers the land from late December to late March. Even in the south, the harshest winter nights can see the temperatures fall to −30 °C (−22 °F) although on coastal areas like Helsinki, temperatures below −30 °C (−22 °F) are very rare. Climatic summers (when mean daily temperature remains above 10 °C or 50 °F) in southern Finland last from about late May to mid-September, and in the inland, the warmest days of July can reach over 35 °C (95 °F). Although most of Finland lies on the taiga belt, the southernmost coastal regions are sometimes classified as hemiboreal.

In northern Finland, particularly in Lapland, the winters are long and cold, while the summers are relatively warm but short. The most severe winter days in Lapland can see the temperature fall down to −45 °C (−49 °F). The winter of the north lasts for about 200 days with permanent snow cover from about mid-October to early May. Summers in the north are quite short, only two to three months, but can still see maximum daily temperatures above 25 °C (77 °F) during heat waves. No part of Finland has Arctic tundra, but Alpine tundra can be found at the fells Lapland.

The Finnish climate is suitable for cereal farming only in the southernmost regions, while the northern regions are suitable for animal husbandry. A quarter of Finland's territory lies within the Arctic Circle and the midnight sun can be experienced for more days the farther north one travels. At Finland's northernmost point, the sun does not set for 73 consecutive days during summer, and does not rise at all for 51 days during winter.

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