Ask most people about Finland and they’ll probably conjure up an image of a cold, relatively reserved country obsessed with saunas.
This assessment may not be wrong, exactly, but it doesn’t capture the full complexity of the country. A trip to the capital region of Helsinki, or Finland in general, may surprise you. Most of all, because there are plenty of interesting facts you probably don’t know about Finland. Starting with….its name.
Finland is Not Called Finland in Finnish Culture
Like a handful of other countries, Finland bears the strange distinction of having not a single international audience call them by their name. Greece – Ellada – and Germany – Deutschland – also come to mind. So what is this northern country called? Suomi.
What Does Suomi Mean?
Some Finns will tell you that Suomi is a corruption of the Finnish word suo plus maa (swamp and land, respectively). Linguists see this as one possible explanation but are still unsure of the exact origin of the country name. You might think that’s an odd choice of name for a country known for its pristine winter beauty. However, it’s more on point than you’d imagine.
Most of southern Finland looks like a giant archipelago. During the last Ice Age, retreating glaciers carved out grooves all over the land, creating endless islands and lakes. Minnesota may be the land of a thousand lakes, but Finland has 187,888, one of the least-known facts about Finland.
Most people probably think of Greece or the Philippines when imagining island-strewn countries. However, Finland clocks in the top three contenders worldwide, with 185,000 islands. So, an arguably incredibly pretty swamp…but technically a swamp nonetheless.
The Land in Finland is Rising
This may be one of the weirdest facts about Finland. While the rest of the world builds bunkers to avoid rising sea levels, the Finns deal with land uplift. Rising land is the millennia-long rebound of the Finnish ground after the last glacial retreat.
Laws for New Land
This has led to an interesting side effect of requiring legislation for when new land appears. The law states that any new land that rises out of the water belongs to the owner of that marine area.
Perhaps it’s time you considered investing in some Finnish water. As mentioned before, there are almost two hundred thousand lakes, so finding some shouldn’t be an issue.
Finns Drink the Most Coffee in the World
Finns consume more coffee in the world annually than any other country. The total intake for the average Finn comes up to around 700 cups per person. Given the significant population of children who likely don’t drink coffee, this means adult Finns enjoy a lot more than that.
Why did coffee become so popular in a land where a coffee plant would never be able to choke out even a single, lonely, frost-covered sprout? Well, the long, dark winters are probably to blame.
Coffee goes a long way towards helping warm up the frozen hands and insides of local Finns. In addition, with just a few hours of daylight in the winter (and almost no daylight in the north), the Circadian rhythms of locals start to resemble a flatline.
Chugging coffee helps keep people in Finland warm, awake, and out of hibernation. Useful Finland facts: this also means that in Helsinki, you can find a smattering of amazing coffee shops.
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The Country is Chock Full of Start-Ups
For a cold, desolate country without the ability to coax much sustenance out of the semi-frozen ground, Finland has done quite well for itself.
The population of Finland is around 5.5 million people. The capital region of Helsinki has about 1.5 million people. In addition to being one of the most educated, they are also incredibly entrepreneurial.
Given multiple cliches about democratic socialist countries being unable to encourage business, this may be one of the most surprising facts about Finland.
What Companies Are Finnish?
European food delivery giant Wolt is run out of Finland, as is everyone’s favorite 2000s phone company, Nokia.
Gamers will also recognize Finnish companies like Rovio Entertainment, a logo familiar to anyone who has played Angry Birds.
Among the countries of the European Union, Finland ranks among the top five for business. Helsinki and its metropolitan area at large have the honor of being ranked the second most appealing city in the world for startups(according to Statistics Finland).
Using the euro currency likely helps attract a lot of other Europeans to Finland as well.
Finland Has An Independence Day
Unlike some other Scandinavian countries, Finland became independent much more recently than most. I arrived in Helsinki on the day before the National Day of Independence on December 6.
In 1917, the Finns took advantage of the confusion sewn in the Russian Empire by the Bolshevik Revolution to declare independence from Russia. They transitioned from the Grand Duchy of Finland to Suomi.
If you happen to be in Helsinki around this time, not only will you get to experience the beautiful snowy streets and Christmas market, but you will also be around for some amazing celebrations.
The entire population gets the day off for the National Day of Independence. You are also almost guaranteed a raucous night out the night before if you have any Finnish friends.
Finland is Part of the Nordic Countries, But Not Scandinavia
In your head, you may have Sweden, Norway, and Finland grouped together. Geographically they are, as they create what we think of as northern Europe. But Finnish culture, Finnish language, and even Finnish genetics are wholly separate from their Swedish and Norwegian neighbors.
Scandinavia encompasses only Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Finland and Iceland are added on to form the Nordic countries. Besides certain cultural markers, they share a shockingly low average temperature per year and the ability to see the Northern Lights in winter.
Finland’s population is also genetically somewhat separate from any other Nordic country. The other European country they are most closely related to is Estonia, which also shares similarities in language. That being said, people in Finland are still genetically distinct from pretty much all their neighbors. In fact, people from Estonia, Latvia, and Russia are all more closely related to each other than to Finns.
The Finnish Language is Related to…Hungarian?
Many people in Sweden and Norway can more or less understand each other, as those particular Scandinavian languages are similar. The Finnish language, however, is from an entirely different mother tongue. Unfortunately, it’s also much more difficult for an English-language speaker to grasp.
The language Finnish is most closely related to in Europe appears to be Hungarian. Why? Great questions. Both linguistic groups appear to be descendants of Central Asian invasions in Europe. One hit a European country towards the middle of the continent, while the other hit the (far, far) north.
However, Finland has two official languages, which are Finnish and Swedish. Thanks to the country’s past, when it belonged to the Kingdom of Sweden, there are still people of Swedish descent in the country, as well as a fair amount of Finns who speak the language.
Therefore, the Finnish government recognizes both as official languages and will use both in any writing in government buildings.
Finland Is The Happiest Country in the World
This may be one of the most well-known and interesting Finland facts. Many Finns will likely roll their eyes at the announcement of this fact. However, according to multiple sources, studies, and rankings…it’s true.
Why is Finland the happiest country in the world? Well, there are a lot of reasons I will expand on in my next post.
But considering facts about Finland like the country’s great education system, life expectancy, good compensation, equitable and low-crime society, as well as a culturally close relationship with nature, being one of the happiest countries in the world makes sense.
If you visit Helsinki in the winter, you might not be greeted with a lot of warm smiles. But true happiness is more than that. At the end of the day, Finns generally seem to be quite content with their lives, likely because they live within a system that enables them to thrive.
The Finns Are Even More Obsessed With Saunas Than You Think
Almost every apartment in Helsinki has a sauna. When farmers in Finland lived with their families on small, isolated islands, they made sure to build a sauna in addition to the other farm structures. This sauna obsession seems to separate Finland from the other Nordic countries.
The same Finns who may be quite reserved when interacting with people on the street will easily open up and start chatting while everyone sits around naked sweating in a sauna.
In the capital city of Helsinki, there is an incredibly famous Finnish sauna next to the seaside Ferris wheel, where even in the dead of winter, you will see Finnish people strolling out of the sauna in just a bathing suit to head back to the building.
In fact, in the entire country of Finland, there are more saunas than cars. Perhaps this has something to do with the relatively good tram and metro transportation system in Helsinki.
But I’d like to think it’s just because people in Finland need saunas more than they need to go anywhere. In a country where the average temperature in the winter hovers between zero and -20 Celsius, I can’t blame anyone for wanting to sweat it out.
The Sad Story Behind Rovaniemi, Capital of Finnish Lapland
Rovaniemi has become a fun destination for tourists, as Finland advertises its Santa Claus village to those who leave Helsinki to venture up to Lapland. When you visit the village, you can cross the Arctic Circle, which cuts right through it.
But did you know why Finland claims to be the home of Santa Claus in the first place? Well, no one is exactly sure what motivated the opening of the current amusement park in 1985, but it may have been inspired by the town’s reindeer-head-shaped street design.
The Tragic WWII Fate of Rovaniemi
The reason why Rovaniemi had to be rebuilt in the first place is quite tragic.
In 1944, after the Germans had occupied northern Finland, the tide of the war shifted and the Nazis were expelled from the country. In response, the Germans left an immense wave of destruction behind them, burning 90% of Rovaniemi to the ground during their retreat.
Finland is Home to a Lot of World-Famous Designers
Several world-famous designers have emerged from Finland, which is perhaps why there is a Design Museum in the center of Helsinki. One of the most well-known architects is Eero Saarinen, who designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the TWA Terminal (now hotel) in New York City.
Alvar Aalto’s Dream Design
When called on to rebuild Rovaniemi after the destruction of WWII, another famous architect, Alvar Aalto, wanted to create a truly beautiful and sustainable place. So way back in the 1940s, when these things were seldom thought of, he asked for impact assessments to see what the best design would be to serve the residents and the indigenous Sámi people, while also respecting the surrounding landscape and environment.
The reindeer head street design won the day, and Rovaniemi has now become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Finland. In addition to visiting the village, you can also see the Northern Lights, and enjoy plenty of outdoor winter activities, from hiking to sledding.
The Government Gives Parents a Baby Box
Of the many Finland facts that may explain why the Finnish population is generally happy and healthy, the existence of a baby box program since the 1930s may also contribute.
The box included a lot of essentials for babies like bodysuits, bathing products, nappies, bedding, a mattress, and of course, outdoor gear. Because Finnish children better be ready to camp out in the woods from day one.
It led to a tradition of Finnish babies sleeping in the box as their first bed.
You may be tempted to side-eye this practice. However, it occurred in conjunction with Finland having one of the lowest infant mortality rates of any country, so they were doing something right. And that brings us to the end of our list for now, though there are many more interesting facts about Finland you should discover for yourself by visiting!
Did you know these facts about Finland? If you noticed something I missed, comment below!