5 Cultural Differences Between Finland and France

Europe might be a relatively small continent compared to Asia or South America, but it sure has a variety of different cultures. As today we are experiencing globalization and the effects of a western culture all over the world, we might sometimes forget to consider the little differences in habits, politeness and general culture while traveling. In fact, as a Finn studying French philology, I have been able to spot some amusing contrasts while I have been spending my time in France. Although I am only talking from my own personal and my French friends’ point of view, I am still hoping to be possibly helping you to adapt to the local culture while you are visiting France.


1. Apéro/ Aperitif

Whereas in Finland, having an aperitif might mean drinking a small shot of whiskey to gain some appetite before heading to the table, the French love to gather together with their friends to drink a little (or big) glass (or more) of wine before the dinner. Also, it is important to not to forget to enjoy your drinks with some small salty snacks, for example olives, salted peanuts, little sausages, chips or other gateaux apéritifs. The pre-drinks can end up during a few hours and include a lot of cheering and interesting discussions.

2. The shoe politics

When I first arrived to France, I kept confusing people by taking my shoes off when entering to a friend’s house. In fact, according to my experience it is very usual and polite in the Northern countries to take your shoes off when you enter to a private habitat. Whereas in France, the moment you leave your own place and go see people, you know you won’t be taking them off before getting back to your place. The reason for this, I believe, is that in France the floors in general don’t happen to be covered with mats and especially during winter it is too cold to hang out wearing just socks. As a matter of fact, the French always wear their own slippers while they are home.



3. The bread (and wiping your plate)

As we all know, the French love their baguette and get it fresh from the bakery every day. In fact, it is one of the most important parts of their diet. That being said, don’t forget to buy a small mountain of bread if you decide to cook dinner and invite your French friends over, otherwise they might be shocked.

Another tip to show you are enjoying your dinner is to wipe your plate carefully at the end. According to my trustable French source, it might even be considered impolite if you forget to do that, as wiping the plate is thought to be a sign of enjoying the food. 


4. The sweet breakfast

One more thing that might shock the travelers is the difference between the Northern and Southern Europe’s breakfast culture. First of all, in Finland we are very used to have our breakfast salty and we are taught to consider it as the most important meal of the day. This means that it has a considerable amount of our daily energy intake. You can find for example sandwiches, boiled eggs, oatmeal, yogurt or cereal on the Finnish breakfast table.

On the contrary, the French love their breakfast sweet and light, as some of them completely skip it. An ordinary breakfast would be for example, cake, croissant, toast with Nutella, bun or chocolate bread. Just be careful for not to eat too much to have space for lunch! One thing in common with these two cultures is that coffee seems to be the drink that keeps us all going.


5. La bise

Last but not least I will give you a small summary of the French practise of greeting each other with kisses on the cheeks. This practice is known for a certain complicity of rules that depend completely on which part of France you are visiting. For example, the number of kisses varies from 1-4, the action of greeting can start from left or right side of the face or the other way around, and women kiss both men and other women, but usually men don’t give kisses to each other, except for when sometimes they do.

No matter what, I suggest you to not to worry, as the French are as confused as you whenever they happen to travel inside the country. A general habit in the Northern France (also in Paris), is to greet with two kisses starting from the left cheek. However, I advise you to always read the other person’s body language and not to rush. Also, a right way to kiss is just to touch your friend’s cheek with your cheek and kiss the air. That being said, your lips should not touch the cheek!