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TRAVEL AWARE – STAYING SAFE AND HEALTHY ABROAD (foreign office travel advice)
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Finland's finest customs

From its great literary history to its sumptuously warm saunas, Finland is growing in popularity as a holiday destination, and with good reason. If you're visiting Lapland, it makes sense to have some knowledge of Finland under your belt, and with our quick crash course, you'll be travel-savvy in no time.

Loving the language

Finnish comprehension of English is excellent, in fact, English tends to be used as the default business language. That said, during your stay you'll likely notice a couple of intriguing elements about Finland's linguistic ways.

Firstly, Finnish people believe in meaningful conversation. So although the people are friendly, they are unlikely to make polite small talk as they believe all words carry weight. Secondly, because of their devout love of language, you're likely to get into some superb conversations about great Finnish writers both past and present.

Celebrating the sauna

For most of us, a trip to the sauna is a rare treat, but for the Finnish, it's a regular part of life. A common Finnish expression translates as 'First build your sauna, then build your house', making it apparent that saunas play a large role in the country's make-up.

Don't be alarmed if you're handed a bundle of birch tree branches in the sauna, locally known as a vasta or a vihta. Locals use them to swat at their bodies, and you should, too – the combination of the branches' impact on your skin and the hot air of the sauna awakens your pores and stimulates blood flow.

The heat and intensity of the sauna varies depending on where and with whom you're enjoying it. Generally, you're free to excuse yourself at any point, unless you've had a few with your Finnish friends. In this case, asking to leave the sauna first is called 'jaahy', meaning penalty, and you might be asked to take part in a forfeit like jumping into a cold lake or running into a snowdrift. More likely, you'll all leave the sauna revitalised to cool off over a chat and a beer.

Soaking up the summer

With Finland so close to the Arctic Circle – and Lapland actually within it – the height of summer means daylight hours are so long, night-time effectively doesn't happen. Because of this northern location, for a few weeks around the very height of summer, some of the smaller Finnish communities essentially close down while the local people head to the country to make the most of the warmer weather and seemingly never-ending days.

Bonfires play a large part in Finnish summers, and locals happily gather friends and family around a roaring flame to swap stories and talk about life's big questions. Summer homes are also popular, with around a quarter of the country's five million people owning a summer residence, usually in the form of a rustic cabin. Getting back to nature is important to the Finnish, and the country's sublime woodland, national parks and hundreds of lakes make it easy to transition from city life to country living during the warmer months.

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