5 Surprising Things for a Newcomer to Finland

There are almost always things that astound people when they visit a country for the first time in their lives, especially if they are having a notably different culture from the visited place. For me, that was the case when I lived in Helsinki as an exchange student. Let’s have a look at a personal list of things that astounded me at the first glance in Finland. 

1. Personal Space: orderly lines 

Whether it is waiting for a vehicle or in a supermarket, it was definitely quite new for me to see how much space people leave for each other in the queues. Especially lines at the bus stops were quite a surprise for me. I enjoyed it a lot though. When compared to the bus lines with no ends in big cities of Turkey, it was a new and nice experience to see that one could get on the bus just calmly.

2. Salmiakki, Lakritsi a.k.a Salted Liquorice, Liquorice

Finland is home to the very distinct, as-dark-as-a-November-day “sweet” called salmiakki which is salty liquorice. Don’t be taken aback by the “salty” sweet, there is also the sweet version (liquorice) of it, which is called lakritsi in Finnish. You can play a very classical joke on your family members/friends who are not familiar with this distinct taste, just like I did with a package of salmiakki: saying that it’s such a sweet delicacy you brought all the way back from Finland. And the reactions are just priceless. (Yes, I am grinning while writing this very nice flashback.)

3. Darkness in Finland and the Importance of Sunlight

I can’t count how many times I was told to take vitamin D. I never took vitamin D before, it wasn’t vital, it was Turkey and where I lived was like the capital city of sun. I never thought darkness really did affect one’s life this much: from sleep to productivity, from SAD (seasonal affective disorder which is believed to affect people living in the Northern hemisphere more) to happiness. There was even a word for it in Finnish: kaamos, which means polar night but refers to the dark days during winter where the Sun just “flashes”, I would say. Now, living in Estonia for a longer period, I experienced this at first hand. I am taking my vitamin D and like most of the people residing in this geography, I’m very much looking forward to the arrival of snow and sunlight. And now I understand why my Finnish friends wanted to live in warmer places.

4. Christmas Market

It was an amazing experience for me to be in Helsinki during the festive times of the year and to witness the colourful world of Christmas market for the first time in my life. The merry-go-round, various delicacies, gigantic Christmas tree, lights –just what we were longing for, finally.

5. Glögi: Mulled wine

Speaking of festive times, one cannot talk about it without mentioning the pearl of Christmas: mulled wine or glögi in Finnish. It was definitely delightful to try this warm and tasty drink. It can be seasoned with cinnamon and you can find almond and raisin sweetened with orange juice in your cup.

This was my short list of surprising things I experienced in Finland. Surely the list goes on, but I wanted to give you my top 5 and maybe you would like to go and discover the rest on your own! Since we’re just stepping into the festive times, don’t forget to drop by a Christmas market, do yourself a favour, and enjoy some glögi!