Local traditions and culture in Helsinki

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Most Viewed Local Customs in Helsinki

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    Alcohol

    by IreneMcKay Written Jul 9, 2014

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    My husband always says two old photos sum up Finland for him. In this first one he is leaving an Alko shop with a big grin on his face having just bought some beer.

    I'm not sure how it is now, but in the eighties you could only buy alcohol from Alko shops for home consumption unless you bought weak alcohol from supermarkets. Every year the Alko shops would go on strike for a while leaving many of us desperate for a drink.

    A Happy Man leaving the Alko Shop.
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    The Three Smiths Statue

    by IreneMcKay Written Jul 7, 2014

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    The Three Smiths Statue is a sculpture showing three blacksmiths hammering onto an anvil. It stands at the intersection of Aleksanterinkatu and Mannerheimintie. It was created by sculptor, Felix Nylund and was unveiled in 1932. It is a popular meeting spot.

    The Three Smiths.
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    Mannerheim Statue

    by IreneMcKay Written Jul 7, 2014

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    There is a statue of General Mannerheim on the road that is named after him.

    Mannerheim was a Finnish military leader and statesman. He was born on the 4th of June 1867.

    He fought against the Bolsheviks in the Finnish Civil War helping to bring about Finnish independence. He was commander-in-chief of Finland's defence forces during World War II and later became the sixth president of Finland from 1944 to 1946. He died in 1951. He is regarded as the father of modern Finland.

    Mannerheim Statue
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    Memorial Plaques

    by gordonilla Written Feb 22, 2014

    Just like many other cities, Helsinki has a great many memorial plaques. It does seem that there is no real control over them, many look the same and many look different.

    I suspect that they may be installed by official bodies and some are placed in the position by friends and family.

    Memorial Memorial Memorial Memorial Memorial

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    Road/renovation/building works

    by annase Updated Jan 9, 2014

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    Just like in every other city, road works are a familiar sight in Helsinki every year. They usually take place in summer for the simple fact that it might not be possible to do them during the winter months when the temperatures drop below freezing and the ground is stiff as a rock. Also the façades of several buildings in the city are being renovated over the summer months, so plastic cover in front of many buildings are a common part of the street scene.

    In addition, there are new building projects being scheduled all over the town, which could restrict traffic or access in some parts of town. One of such projects is a total overhaul of the train station in Pasila (the second busiest station in Finland). All that will remain of the current station building is the ground level and platforms. Everything else will be pulled down. It appears that the new station building will be up to ten stories high and host a new conference centre and offices. The overhaul starts in summer 2015. Passengers will be affected in 2017 when the work will move onto the actual station building.

    During the construction, a new entrance will be created on the western wall of the station, connecting it with a new shopping centre to be built in the area. With building work set to begin in 2017. Besides the shopping centre and the conference centre, also a hotel, a parking complex and accommodation for 500 new residents will be built next to the station. This is likely to affect the traffic and the attractiveness of the area for the years to come.

    A familiar sight?
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    Summer Solstice (Juhannus)

    by annase Updated Jan 9, 2014

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    Before 1316, the summer solstice was called 'Ukon juhla', after an old Finnish god 'Ukko'. In Karelia, people had several bonfires side by side, the biggest of which was called 'Ukko-kokko' (the 'bonfire of Ukko'). At present, the midsummer holiday is known as 'Juhannus', and is the year's most notable occasion for many to get drunk (not that any excuse is needed any other time really!).

    In the Finnish midsummer celebration tradition, bonfires are burnt at lakesides. However, in the coastal areas, which are traditionally the stronghold of the Swedish speaking Finns, you might come across the Swedish maypole tradition instead of bonfires. You won't find these in the rest of the country though, and people will probably raise their eyebrows, if you ask where is the maypole then.

    Midsummer day is also the day of the Finnish flag. The flag is hoisted at 6pm on Midsummer eve and flown all night until 9pm the following evening.

    Helsinki is often deserted around Juhannus. Hardly anything goes on in the city, apart from the city centre, where you will some restaurants serving food etc. If you're looking for a party, there isn't one. Everyone's at the countryside, mostly at summer cottages by a lake somewhere far away.

    However, if you want to see a bonfire, head to the Seurasaari island.

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    Ice and snow in advertising.

    by IreneMcKay Written Jul 14, 2013

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    Well it's not really a local custom, I know, but we were amused by a promotion for a soft drink. Cans of the drink, frozen solid into huge blocks of ice were dumped on the square near the bus station along with piles of snow and people were provided with hard hats and chisels and invited to try and get them out.

    How thirsty are you? Helsinki in summer!!! It was warm honest. Don't you dare throw that!

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    Language

    by Luckell Updated May 13, 2013

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    Many people tend to judge the Finnish language as a very difficult language. It can be true (if you want to speak fluently) but I can tell you there are languages in this world that are more difficult. In Finland, the schools are the best in the world and also the language skills are very high. In Europe, Finland was the only country where the language skills had became better, a year ago, when in all the other countries the language skills had gone down. If you are in Helsinki almost everybody can speak and understand English (except the oldest people maybe). So if you can't speak Finnish, then speak English, it's also good for the Finns. Other big languages are Swedish and Russian, but there are of course a lot more, depending on what kind of people.
    If you want to learn a few words in Finnish then here you have:

    Hello = Hei/Terve/Moi/Moro/Hyvää Päivää
    Bye = Moikka/Hei hei/ Moi moi/ Näkemiin (more kind way to say bye - like auf wiedersehen in german)
    Good morning = Huomenta (Hyvää huomenta)
    Good evening = Iltaa (Hyvää iltaa)
    Good night = Hyvää yötä
    How are you? = Mitä kuuluu?/Miten menee?/Kuinka voit?
    Do you speak English? = Puhutko Englantia?
    Sorry/Excuse me = Sori/Anteeksi
    Thank you = Kiitos
    You are welcome = Ole hyvä
    Yes = Kyllä/Niin/Joo
    No = Ei
    Help! = Apua!
    Look out! = Varo!
    Where is the toilet? = Missä vessa on?
    It's an emergency! = Nyt on hätätilanne!
    I need a doctor = Tarvitsen lääkäri
    How much for a ticket? = Paljonko lippu maksaa?

    ... And so on.

    Do not be afraid of the letter ä. It's used pretty much but it's not that difficult to pronounce. Ask someone. In the Swedish language they also use the letter å, not in Finnish. But yes, the Finnish language also has ö (as well as Swedish). It's not either so difficult. I think you can get understood if you pronounce them as a and o, but try to learn the real sound. I hope this can help you a little bit. You can search on internet for more phrases. Don't be afraid to speak Finnish, and don't think it's impossible to learn, it is not. Good luck and enjoy your stay in Finland! Don't be afraid to speak with Finns, though they are shy sometimes. They are very friendly and warmhearted inside!

    The Finnish Flag
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    Ice swimming

    by annase Updated May 6, 2013

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    Swimming in a frozen lake or sea is regularly practised by approximately 120,000 brave individuals in this country. They say that a refreshing dip in the icy water will leave you feeling totally revitalised, some even claim it helps build resistance to the common flu. Swimmers cut a large opening through the ice and either take a quick plunge or swim for a few minutes at a time.

    This peculiar 'sport' has recently seen a renewed interest, and it would seem that it is regaining a foothold in the Finnish traditions. The die-hard fans do not necessarily associate swimming in the icy water with the sauna, although most appreciate a hot sauna after the relatively cool swim.

    It is actually safer to go swimming not from the sauna heat but from the relative coolness of the heated changing room. The difference between the sauna and the water can be 80-100 degrees Celsius, while from the changing room it is only some 20 degrees.

    A few practical tips
    If you have not tried it before, find a few friends willing to help, so that someone is able to you help if anything happens. Do not go into the water directly from the sauna heat. Let your body get accustomed to the cold air outside before taking a plunge. Wear something on your feet when walking to the water. Rubber slippers or wool socks are handy and you can swim with them on.

    Please be aware thar if you are unsure of your physical condition, consult a physician in advance about the risks associated with ice swimming.

    If you don't want to try swimming outdoors in the winter, you could always go and try the tiny cold water pool (temperature between +8 and +13C) at the indoor swimming pools at Mäkelänrinne (Mäkelänrinteen Uintikeskus, Mäkelänkatu 49, 00550 Helsinki Tel. (09) 3484 8800)

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    Liqourice ice cream

    by Airpunk Written Apr 30, 2013

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    Liqourice is pretty popular in the Nordic countries, Northern Germany and the Netherlands. However, Finland was the first country where I have seen liqourice as a popular ice cream flavour. It comes in different types (liqourice taste only in the stripes or in the whole of the cream), different colours and is available from different brands with slightly different tastes. And there is the difference between salmiakki and lakritsi (roughly salty and sweet liqourice). The darker the colour, the more intense the licqourice taste usually is. If you like the taste of liqourice, it's worth trying the different types of liqourice ice cream. And if you haven't tried it before, an ice cream is a good introduction to the nordic world of liqourice.

    Liqourice ice cream Liqourice ice cream Liqourice ice cream

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    Finnish beer

    by HORSCHECK Updated Apr 12, 2013

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    Finland is not too popular for its beer. The most well known brand is probably Lapin Kulta which is brewed in Lapland and therefore also known as Lapland's Gold.

    One of the oldest breweries in the nordic countries is Sinebrychoff which was established in 1819. Nowadays Sinebrychoff is owned by Carlsberg and their best selling beer is Koff.

    Olvi is the third largest brewery in Finland and it is the only brewery which still remains in Finnish hands.

    A tasty Olvi beer
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    Midsummer pole

    by HORSCHECK Updated Apr 12, 2013

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    The erection of a midsummer pole on midsummer eve (24th of June) is an old Finnish tradition dating back to the late 19th century. The pole is usually raised and decorated by volunteers.

    The decoration consists of juniper, several wild flowers and a rose on top. The midsummer pole of Helsinki is situated right in the middle of the Esplanade Park.

    Midsummer pole in Helsinki Traditional dancing by the midsummer pole
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    Don't bother learning Finnish

    by ZeekLTK Updated May 22, 2012

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    The Finnish language is extremely difficult to learn. Unless you are Hungarian or Estonian, the language is not similar to any that you currently speak and the words are very long and difficult to say.

    Plus, the vast majority of people you come across (in Helsinki at least) will speak English. Most likely they will also speak either Swedish or Russian as well, so you have a lot of options.

    Because so many people speak English, they won't waste their time trying to talk to you in Finnish if you are not already fluent. Even if you try to say something in Finnish, they will reply in English because they can detect that you are not a native speaker.

    So, while it might be important in most countries to try to talk to locals in their own language, that's not the case in Finland. Just remember to say "kiitos" (thank you) after you talk to someone and that is usually enough of a good gesture. Luckily, a few of their other basic words are similar enough that you can say them in English and they will be understood in Finnish - "hei" (hey; hi) and "sori" (sorry) are pretty much the same in both languages.

    *A quick story about replying in English - some girl held the door open for me to get on an elevator. All I said was "kiitos" and she immediately asked, in English, "where are you from?". All it took was one word to tell I didn't speak Finnish, even though that word was a Finnish word. lol

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    World Design Capital 2012

    by ZeekLTK Updated May 10, 2012

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    Helsinki has been designated as the "World Design Capital" for 2012.

    According to the World Design Capital website, Helsinki was chosen because:

    "In Helsinki, design is the enabler of building an open city, the booster of its social, economic and cultural development. This concept of Embedded Design ties design to innovation from its very beginning. Design oversees the realisation of the inhabitants’ needs and, in the final stages, ensures that the solution is desirable. This is how inventions, technologies and systems are developed into innovations suitable for everyday use.

    Helsinki Design is also part of world design – it is created together with the international design community and the people of the world. Helsinki Design includes well-known global brands, such as Nokia, Kone and Marimekko, popular events, like the annual Helsinki Design Week, first class education and research institutions, such as University of Art and Design Helsinki, and strong traditions, for example architects and designers Eliel Saarinen and Alvar Aalto."

    Supposedly there will be a lot of exhibits put on throughout the year, and throughout the city, to highlight "design". I didn't really notice any while I was in town though (aside from all of the banners proclaiming Helsinki as the "World Design Capital").

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    Poets of the Fall

    by ZeekLTK Written May 2, 2012

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    Poets of the Fall are a great rock band from Finland. They generally have at least one tour throughout the country each year, sometimes more, and Helsinki is always included in such tours. So if you can, try to make sure you're in town during one of their concerts. They put on a great show and have amazing songs. All of their songs are in English too.

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Helsinki Local Customs

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