Risks in Finland
Crime/violence: LowMost violence is alcohol-related and/or domestic – walking in the street is usually safe even in the nightAuthorities/corruption: LowThe police are generally courteous and speak some English, offering bribes will get you into serious trouble.Transportation: Low to ModerateIcy roads and sidewalks in the winter, mooses and other animals occasionally crossing the roadsHealth: LowTick and mosquito bitesNature: Low to ModerateBlizzards in the winter, getting lost when hiking in the forests
Signs to watch out for
vaara, vaarallinen danger, dangerous sortumisvaara risk of avalanche/landslide/mudslide hirvivaara risk of moose/elks on the road hengenvaara life threatening danger tulipalo fire kielletty prohibited pääsy kielletty or privat no entry hätäuloskäynti or hätäpoistumistie emergency exit lääkäri doctor poliisi police sairaala hospital apua! help!
You're unlikely to have stomach troubles in Finland, since tap water is always drinkable and generally quite tasty as well, and hygiene standards in restaurants are strict. If you have any sort of allergies, many restaurants often display in the menu the most common ingredients that people typically are allergic to. Examples: L = Lactose free, VL = Low Lactose, G = Gluten free, if you are unsure just ask the waitress or restaurant staff.
There are few serious health risks in Finland. Your primary enemy especially in wintertime will be the cold, particularly if trekking in Lapland. Finland is a sparsely populated country and, if heading out into the wilderness, it is imperative that you register your travel plans with somebody who can inform rescue services if you fail to return. Always keep your mobile phone with you if you run into trouble. Dress warmly in layers and bring along a good pair of sunglasses to prevent snow blindness, especially in the spring and if you plan to spend whole days outdoors. Always keep a map, a compass and preferably a GPS with you while trekking in the wilderness. Take extra precautions in Lapland, where it can be several days' hike to the nearest house or road. Weather can change rapidly, and even though the sun is shining now, you can have a medium sized blizzard on your hands no joke! an hour or two later.
If out on the lakes and sea, remember that wind and water will cool you faster than cold air, and keeping dry means keeping warm. A person that falls into cold water close to zero °C can die in a few minutes. Safety in small boats: Don't drink alcohol, wear a life vest at all times, if your boat capsizes - keep clothes on to stay warm, cling to the boat if possible swim only if shore is a few hundred meters away, never try to swim in cold water below 20°C.
Finland hosts a number of irritating insects, but if you are planning to stay in the centres of major cities, you are unlikely to encounter them. A serious nuisance in summer are mosquitoes hyttynen, hordes of which inhabit Finland particularly Lapland in summer, especially after rains. While they carry no malaria or other nasty diseases, many species of Finnish mosquitoes make a distinctive and highly irritating whining sound while tracking their prey, and their bites are very itchy. As usual, mosquitoes are most active around dawn and sunset — which, in the land of the Midnight Sun, may mean most of the night in summer. There are many different types of mosquito repellants available which can be bought from almost any shop. Another summer nuisance are gadflies paarma, whose bites can leave a mark lasting for days, even for month. A more recent introduction to Finnish summers are deer keds hirvikärpänen, that can be particularly nasty if they manage to shed their wings and burrow into hair although they rarely bite as humans are not their intended targets, and mainly exist in deep forests. Use repellent, ensure your tent has good mosquito netting and consider prophylaxis with cetirizine brand names include Zyrtec, Heinix, Cetirizin Ratiopharm, an anti-allergen that if taken in advance! will neutralize your reaction to any bites. Topical anti-allergens in the form of gels and creams are also available as over-the-counter medication. A flea comb can be useful for removing deer keds.As in other European countries, mites can become a major annoyance, if walking bare-footed. As a remedy, Permethrin creme is available from pharmacies without prescription.
In southern Finland, especially Åland, the Lappeenranta-Parikkala-Imatra-axis and areas near Turku's coast, there are ticks punkki which appear on summertime and can transmit Lyme's disease borreliosis and viral encephalitis through a bite. Although these incidents are relatively rare and not all ticks carry the disease, it's advisable to wear dark trousers rather than shorts if you plan to walk through dense and/or tall grass areas the usual habitat for ticks. You can buy special tick tweezers from the pharmacy punkkipihdit which can be used to remove a tick safely if you happen to get bitten. You should remove the tick from your skin as quickly as possible and preferably with the tick tweezers to reduce the risks of getting an infection. If the tick bite starts to form red rings on the skin around it or if you experience other symptoms relating to the bite, you should visit a doctor as soon as possible.
The only poisonous insects in Finland are wasps ampiainen, bees mehiläinen and bumblebees kimalainen. Their stings can be painful, but are not dangerous, unless you receive several stings or if you are allergic to it.
There's only one type of poisonous snake in Finland, the European adder kyy or kyykäärme, which has a distinct zig-zag type of figure on its back, although some of them are almost completely black.They are mostly found near lake sides and sometimes in the streets like Kristianinkatu and Kamppi.The snake occurs across Finland all the way from the south to up north in Lapland. Although their bites are extremely rarely fatal except for small children and allergic persons, one should be careful in the summertime especially when walking in the forests or on open fields at the countryside. Walk so that you make the ground vibrate and snakes will go away, they attack people only when somebody frightens them. If you are bitten by a snake, always get medical assistance. If you are planning to travel in the nature on summertime, it's advisable to buy a kyypakkaus "Adder pack", a medicine set which contains a couple of hydrocortisone pills. It can be bought from any Finnish pharmacy. It is used to reduce the reactions after an adder bite, however it's still advisable to see a doctor even after you've taken the hydrocortisone pills. The kyypakkaus can also be used to relieve the pain, swelling and other allergic reactions caused by bee stings. If you see an ant nest, ants have quite likely taken care of all snakes nearby.
As for other dangerous wildlife, there's not much more than a few extremely rare encounters with brown bears karhu and wolves susi in the wilderness. Both of these animals are listed as endangered species. Contrary to popular belief abroad, there are no polar bears in Finland, let alone polar bears walking on the city streets. The brown bear, which occurs across Finland, has been spotted on a few very exceptional occasions even in the edges of the largest Finnish cities, but normally bears try to avoid humans whenever possible. The brown bear hibernates during the winter. In the least densely populated areas near the Russian border, there has been some rare incidents of wolf attacks - mainly lone, hungry wolves attacking domestic animals and pets. During the past 100 years there has been one recorded case of a human killed by a large predator. In general, there's no need to worry about dangerous encounters with wild beasts in Finland, other than traffic accidents.
In winter, lakes and the sea are frozen. Walking, skating or even driving a car on the ice is commonly seen, but fatal accidents aren't unheard of either, so ask and heed local advice. If the ice fails, it is difficult to get back out of the water, as the ice will be slippery. Small ice picks are sold as safety equipment a pair of steel needles with bright plastic grips, connected with a safety line.
Given the size of the Finnish population, a surprisingly high number of people drown in the lakes every year in summer. As pointed out by an annual public awareness campaign partly Finnish black humor, partly the truth, the stereotypical accident involves an intoxicated fisherman who capsizes his boat while standing up to pee.
Internet cafes are sparse on the ground in this country where everybody logs on at home and in the office, but nearly every public library in the country has free Internet access, although you will often have to register for a time slot in advance or queue. Wifi hotspots are also increasingly common. Elisa offers prepaid internet access.
See also: Finnish phrasebook
Finland is officially bilingual in Finnish spoken by 90% of the population and Swedish spoken by 5,6 of the population, and both languages are compulsory in all schools, but in practice most of the population is monolingual in Finnish. Finnish is spoken everywhere in the country except Åland islands and Finnish is the main language of Finland. Finnish is not related to the Scandinavian languages Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese, Russian, or English. In fact, it is not even an Indo-European language, instead belonging in the Uralic group of languages which includes Hungarian and Estonian, making it hard for speakers of most other European languages to learn. Reading signboards can also be difficult as Finnish has relatively few loan words from common European languages, and as a result it is very hard to guess what words in Finnish mean.
Swedish is the mother tongue for 5.6% of Finns. There are no big towns with a Swedish majority, and the Swedish-speaking communities are mainly smaller rural communities along the Southwest coast. Many towns and road signs on the coast use alternate Finnish and Swedish names, so road signs can be confusing, however bilingual signs anywhere else outside bilingual areas never appear. The small autonomous province of Åland and the municipalities of Närpes, Korsnäs and Larsmo are exclusively Swedish-speaking, and people there typically speak little or no Finnish at all, so English is a better bet. Swedish is a mandatory subject in Finnish-speaking schools and Finnish in Swedish-speaking schools, so everyone is supposed to speak and understand it; in reality, though, only 41% of the Finnish-speaking population are conversant in it, and of these people live in coastal areas and especially in predominantly or significantly Swedish-speaking areas. Even this varies: for example, in Helsinki and Turku most people can speak Swedish enough to deal with important conversations you engage in as a tourist and often somewhat beyond, but living would be impossible without knowledge of Finnish, whereas towns like Vaasa and Porvoo have significant Swedish-speaking minorities and are more genuinely bilingual i.e. it would be possible to live there with Swedish only. Most larger hotels and restaurants in areas where Swedish is widely spoken do have Swedish-proficient staff.
Russian is understood near the Russian border, for example Lappeenranta, Imatra and Joensuu, which are areas frequented by Russian tourists. Tourist destinations which are popular among Russians in Eastern and Northern Finland have some Russian-speaking staff.
In bigger towns, with the exception of the elderly, many people you would meet as a tourist speak passable English, and even in the countryside younger people will nearly always know enough to communicate. In fact, outside of the Swedish-speaking communities, English is usually far better understood than Swedish. Conversely, within the Swedish-speaking communities, English is often better understood than Finnish. 73 % of the population in Finland can speak English. Don't hesitate to ask for help: Finns can be shy, but will help out in need. Besides English and Swedish, some Finns can speak German 18 % or French 3 %, other secondary languages Spanish, Russian being rare.
Foreign TV series and movies are nearly always subtitled. Only children's fare gets dubbed into Finnish.
The grammar of Finnish language has relatively few exceptions but quite many rules where some rules might be considered cleverly disguised exceptions. There are about 17 different cases for "getting some coffee and getting the coffee, going into a pub, being in a pub or in a state of drunkenness, getting out of the pub, being on the roof, getting onto the roof, getting off the roof, using something as a roof" and so on that are encoded into the word endings. In written text, the plethora of cases makes it a challenging exercise to even look up a single word from the dictionary. The conjugation of verbs is unfortunately somewhat more complex.
Fishing Finnish styleIt was a beautiful summer day, and Virtanen and Lahtinen were in a little rowboat in the middle of a lake, fishing. Two hours passed, both men sitting quietly, and then Lahtinen said "Nice weather today." Virtanen grunted and stared intently at his fishing rod.Two more hours passed. Lahtinen said, "Gee, the fish aren't biting today." Virtanen shot back: "That's because you talk too much."Drinking Finnish styleVirtanen and Lahtinen decided to go drinking at their lakeside cottage. For a couple hours, both men sat silently and emptied their bottles. After a few more hours, Lahtinen decided to break the ice: "Isn't it nice to have some quality time?" Virtanen glared at Lahtinen and answered: "Are we here to drink or talk?"
Finns generally have a relaxed attitude towards manners and dressing up, and a visitor is unlikely to offend them by accident. Common sense is quite enough in most situations, but there are a couple of things that one should keep in mind:
Finns are a famously taciturn people who have little time for small talk or social niceties, so don't expect to hear phrases like "thank you" or "you're welcome" too often. The Finnish language lacks a specific word for "please" so Finns sometimes forget to use it when speaking English, even when they don't mean to be rude. Also lacking in Finnish is the distinction between "he" and "she", which may lead to confusing errors.
Occasional silence is considered a part of the conversation, not a sign of hostility or irritation. Being loud in crowded places like public transport or a restaurant is considered rude. If you ever ended up to argue with someone, the social norm is to stay calm during an argument. Arguing loudly with a stranger is considered very rude. Personal space is important, and standing very near someone can make Finns feel uncomfortable.
All that said, Finns are generally helpful and polite, and glad to help confused tourists if asked. The lack of niceties has more to do with the fact that in Finnish culture, honesty is highly regarded and that one should open one's mouth only to mean what one is about to say. Do not say "maybe later" when there is no later time to be expected. A visitor is unlikely to receive many compliments from Finns, but can be fairly sure that the compliments received are genuine. Especially younger Finns speak usually excellent English due to the policy of subtitling foreign language movies and TV series instead of dubbing them.
Another highly regarded virtue in Finland is punctuality. A visitor should apologize even for being a few minutes late. Being late for longer usually requires a short explanation. 10 min is usually considered the threshold between being "acceptably" late and very late. Some will leave arranged meeting points after 15 min. With the advent of mobile phones, sending a text message even if you are only a few minutes late is nowadays a norm. Being late for a business meeting, even by 1 or 2 min, is considered rude.
The standard greeting is a handshake. Hugs are only exchanged between family members and close friends in some situations, kisses, even on the cheek, practically never.
If you are invited to a Finnish home, the only bad mistake visitors can make is not to remove their shoes. For much of the year, shoes will carry a lot of snow or mud. Therefore, it is customary to remove them, even during the summer. During the wet season you can ask to put your shoes somewhere to dry during your stay. Very formal occasions at private homes, such as baptisms often conducted at home in Finland or somebody's 50th birthday party, are exceptions to these rules. In the wintertime, this sometimes means that the guests bring separate clean shoes and put them on while leaving outdoor shoes to the hall. Bringing gifts such as pastry, wine, or flowers to the host is appreciated, but not required.
In Finland, there is little in the way of a dress code. The general attire is casual and even in business meetings the attire is somewhat more relaxed than in some other countries. Topless sunbathing is accepted but not very common on beaches in the summer, while going au naturel is common in lakeside saunas and dedicated nudist beaches.
Even though it is unlikely that you'll seriously insult anybody, certain topics of discussion can sometimes be slightly sensitive. Despite its proximity to Russia, Finns generally don't prefer being called Eastern Europeans, but rather Nordics or North Europeans. Although once a part of the Russian Empire, Finland fought against the Soviet Union in WWII and has remained unaligned since the Cold War, and referring to Finland as belonging to the Russian sphere of influence most likely won't be appreciated. A majority of Finnish men still serve for some time in the Finnish armed forces, and expressing strong views on the military or on wartime history can sometimes stir up emotions. Also war veterans are highly respected in Finnish society.
Although jokes concerning Finland's rather high levels of depression, suicide and alcoholism may be common amongst both Finns and foreigners alike, it's nevertheless good to remember that these are serious social problems that affect many people and excessive humorous remarks may not always be received well.
As you'd expect from Nokia's home country, mobile phones are ubiquitous in Finland. GSM, WCDMA3G and LTE 4G networks blanket all of the country, although it's still possible to find wilderness areas with poor signal, typically in Lapland and the outer archipelago. The largest operators are Sonera (http://www.sonera.fi/) and Elisa (http://www.elisa.fi), a Vodafone partner, but travellers who want a local number may wish to opt for DNA's (http://www.dna.fi/) Prepaid package, which can cost as little as €6. Vectone Mobile (http://www.vectonemobile.fi) offers prepaid sim-cards for €10 which include €10 credit. Unlike other operators, Vectone Mobile also offers low international call rates. Ask at any convenience store/R-Kioski for a list of prices and special offers.
Public telephones are close to extinction in Finland, although a few can still be found at airports, major train/bus stations and the like. It's best to bring along a phone or buy one - a simple GSM model can cost less than €40.
in case of emergency
112 is the national phone number for all emergency services, including police, and it does not require an area code, regardless of what kind of phone you're using. The number works on any mobile phone, whether it is keylocked or not, and with or without a SIM card. If a cellphone challenges you with a PIN code, you can simply type in 112 as a PIN code - most phones will give a choice to call the number. This is not possible with all phones!
For inquiries about poisons or toxins from mushrooms, plants, medicine or other chemicals call the national Toxin Information Office at 09 471 977.
Finland enjoys a comparatively low crime rate and is, generally, a very safe place to travel. Use common sense at night, particularly on Friday and Saturday when the youth of Finland hit the streets to get drunk and in some unfortunate cases look for trouble. The easiest way to get beaten is to pay a visit at a grill kiosk after bars and pubs have closed and start arguing with drunken people. It is, anyway statistically more likely that your home country is less safe than Finland, so heed whatever warnings you would do in your own country and you will have no worries. If you yourself run in with the law, remember that Finland is one of the world's least corrupt countries and you will not be able to buy yourself out of trouble. Finnish police never requires a cash payment of fines which it gives. Do not ever give money to person who presents him/herself as a police officer. An obvious way to stay out of most kinds of trouble is to stay sober and act businesslike, when dealing with police, security or the like.
Racism is a generally of minor concern, especially in the cosmopolitan major cities, but there have been a few rare but highly publicized incidents of black, romani & Arab people getting beaten up, attacks against immigrants and group fights with native Finns & immigrants. Sometimes there might be group fights where immigrants do their part as well, but that's very uncommon. The average visitor, though, is highly unlikely to encounter any problems.
Pickpockets are rare, but not unheard of, especially in the busy tourist months in the summer and almost always done by foreigners. Most Finns carry their wallets in their pockets or purses and feel quite safe while doing it. Parents often leave their sleeping babies in a baby carriage on the street while visiting a shop, and in the countryside cars and house doors are often left unlocked. On the other hand, you have to be careful if you buy or rent a bicycle. Bicycle thieves are everywhere, never leave your bike unlocked even for a minute.