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I am working on a Slow Finnish website


I have been giving Finnish lessons here in Discussion for quite some time now. A few months ago, I started working on a website based on the lessons and the feedback I have been given. The website should be in publishable condition before March. I will continue to give lessons on Duolingo, which in many ways will now serve as my Incubator.

So if my deadline is in March why am I posting now? I want your help. The site will have a section called Fact & Fiction, which will include short essays on Finnish culture both in English and Finnish. I have so far written about juhannus celebrations, the sauna obsession, the tendency of Finns to not wear shoes indoors, the summer cottage tradition and a general introduction to Finnish eating habits. I have also included my own version of a folk tale. I would like you to tell me what sort of things you would be interested in reading. As I wrote above, I am also including English versions of these essays, so you can read these essays even if you are not interested in learning Finnish but are interested in foreign cultures in general.

Just to give you an idea what I am planning to do, here is my essay on the Finnish sauna obsession:

'Sauna' is the only Finnish word that has found its way into the English vocabulary. And since we are absolutely obsessed with 'saunominen' ('the act of being in a sauna'), it is not that surprising. There are over 2 million saunas in Finland - an impressive figure considering that there are only less than 5.5 million inhabitants in this country of ours. Most of the saunas are in people's homes and summer cottages (I will write about 'mökki'/cottage later). Nowadays, most saunas have an electric 'kiuas' (sauna stove), although there still are traditional wood-heated ones. The most enthusiastic sauna aficionados opt for a 'savusauna', which does not have a chimney ('savu' means 'smoke').

Most Finns go to a sauna at least once a week - usually on Saturday. The ideal temperature in a sauna is between 80 and 100 centigrade. I have heard that in many saunas outside Finland, it is forbidden to throw water on 'kiuas'. In Finland, 'löyly' - the dampness that rises from the 'kiuas' after water has been thrown onto it - is considered an essential part of the sauna experience. In the summer, we collect birch twigs into a bundle called 'vasta' or 'vihta' depending on whether one is from eastern or western Finland. The 'vasta' is soaked in water and then used to beat oneself to invigorate the skin and blood circulation. The most die-hard sauna fans fill their freezers with 'vasta' during the Midsummer to be able use them in the winter. According to tradition, one is supposed to gather seven twigs from seven birches broken from the tree with one's left hand. People often also jump into a lake to cool down or lower themselves into a hole in the ice or even roll about in the snow before running back into their saunas.

There are also public and semi-public saunas. Most of the semi-public saunas are reserved for the inhabitants of buildings with flats so small that there is no room for saunas. There are saunas at swimming pools, sports clubs and pretty much anywhere where a group of people form some kind of small society. Many business deals have been made in a sauna. Political plans, on the other hand, are hatched in the sauna of the House of Parliament.

Though most Finns do not go to sauna every day, they do not really consider themselves completely clean unless they have been to a sauna. After I have been to play badminton, I go to a sauna before showering. Taking a shower just is not enough. Public swimming pools are another example of this. First, you take a shower. Then, you go to a sauna. Then, you take ANOTHER shower. After all this you are finally considered clean enough to dive into the pool. Nothing causes as much silent (naturally!) disapproval as a woman skipping the sauna part in an attempt to protect her hair and make-up (that superficial, empty-headed bimba, grrrrr).

Feeling clean after sauna also has a spiritual aspect to it. The Finns find 'saunominen' to be a soothing experience cleaning both the body and the mind. Sauna is also a place where families and friends bond. A long time ago, babies were delivered in the sauna and the dead were prepared there for their final journey. We may now have hospitals and funeral parlours, but the sauna has not lost its importance in the Finnish culture. What is the first thing that a Finn does when s/he arrives home from abroad? Well, heats up the sauna, of course.

Thank you for making Duolingo a great place! :)

October 30, 2016



Oh, and as a note to all non-Finns: Don't forget that one does not wear a swimsuit to a sauna!

In doing that, one would just drag all the bacteria and swimming pool chemicals that are left on the material (because they stick around there longer than on your meticulously showered body) into the sauna where the bacteria would thrive and the chemicals would be vaporized and apparently turn harmful. I know nothing about chemistry or medicine, but this is the official truth and therefore swimsuits are banned in public saunas.

If you feel shy about sitting next to random nude people (in public saunas of the same gender, with friends mixed), you can bring a towel to wrap around you in the sauna. Not that anyone's looking at you anyway -- nudity in a sauna is different from nudity elsewhere. And the light is pretty dim in there. The towel will get sweaty and damp of course, so do bring another one for drying off afterwards.

Regarding Finnish words in English, there are of course those incredibly widespread words kantele and rapakivi as well... :-p


I'm not learning Finnish, but I'm definitely interested in reading more about Finnish culture. I recently watched Michael Moore's documentary Where to Invade Next (which I recommend to everyone, it's great), in which he explores many European countries - plus Tunisia - to show all the things that he would like to see in America, and he dedicated 10 minutes to Finland's education system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZbGlDMF7HQ

Great job, Finland, hats off.


An essay on the educational system - a great idea! Thank you! :)


A few topics you could write about as well:

  • Finnish fascination with Ice Hockey (this is coming from someone who's country is obsessed with football though, I'm sure Canadians and Swedes will find this less unusual :p)

  • Something about the biggest Finnish cities with some basic information (Helsinki, Turku, Tampere, Lahti, Oulu, etc. .)

  • The nature! (and the climate, wildlife, different regions, etc.)

  • Regional differences between the spoken Finnish (this is something I remember from some of my basic Finnish lessons though, for example "Lahessa" rather than "Lahdessa" in Lahti, and "minä" turning into "mie" in the eastern regions.)

That is all I can come up with at the moment anyways, I hope it will be useful :)


This is great stuff! Thank you! :)


That's so kind of you. I always wished duolingo had a finnish tree, as Finland is probably the best country in the world. Your website sounds like it could be even more comprehensive than language trees on duo. I'm looking forward to its release in March!


Finns tend to wear shoes indoors? Is this another regional thing?


Oops! Thank you. I will fix it. :)


Well, I realize that was a typo in the original post, but we do love our slippers. :-) And older, more polite people will take their special "indoor dress shoes" along in a little shoe bag when they go to a party, so as to still be properly dressed in their nice outfit complete with shoes, without dragging in dirt from the outside or ruining the hosts' floors.


This is really interesting! I had no idea about any of it, starting from the etymology of "sauna" and ending on the importance of sauna to Finns. Thanks for writing this! Great essay! :)


Thanks, looking forward to the website!

By the way,

there are only less than 5.5 million inhabitants

I read a few days ago that the number has actually exceeded 5.5 recently.


Yup -- just last month or so. I used to walk past the counter regularly, but I missed the day it actually happened!


Good to know. Thank you, my friends. Do you have any suggestions about what to write? I am currently working on a piece about the "motherhood package" (äitiyspakkaus). :)


Hmm... I'll have to have a think about this.

Maybe overviews of Finnish music / literature / films, with some examples and recommendations but maybe more your views on which topics tend to be popular in these?

(I remember listening to an academic presentation many years ago about how the top 10 or 15 songs Finnish people listed were all in a minor key, except for Yesterday (by the Beatles) and Viidestoista yö (by Juice Leskinen), which are hardly particularly jolly either, despite both being in a major key...)

Or maybe one about the Finnish connection to nature, unless that is covered in your mökki one already, what with the (globally) rather unusual concept of jokamiehenoikeudet?


Jokamiehenoikeudet is a great idea. As for literature, I think I will start with Tiitiäisen satupuu. I already know a good translation of Kattila and perunat. I am just not sure where to ask for a permission to use it. The Kalevala and Tuntematon sotilas are also good topics. Music and films are a bit more difficult because my tastes are so eclectic. :)


I was going to suggest food but you've already mentioned it.

Maybe the most interesting things are not whole topics but little details that you usually don't even realize. I enjoyed our eläinsanasto discussions for that. If I find the time, I'll go through my logs and see if there are any good topics mentioned there, but not today.


I think I will write more about traditional Finnish treats. The essay I have written so far is a very general introduction. It does not even mention kalakukko! Or Aura cheese! :)


You must have an essay on the great Finnish trait of sisu. Your determination to continue your Slow Finnish lessons, in the face of Duolingo's inexpliclable exclusion of a Finnish tree, being a great example!


Oh, yes. "The Will That Takes You through Gray Stone". Thank you! :)


That's great. I'm looking forward to read more about Finnish culture :)

You know, the sauna is one of the things that fill me with dread. When the temperature hits more than 35 degrees and there is no draft I simply faint. It seems I'll be dead after a week in Finland or considered very, very dirty ;)


Lycka till och Onnea! :)


Thanks for writing this Mari! It is extremely interesting. I would love to read more of your articles.


One interesting fact about Finland is that apparently they will give citizenship to people who can prove they have Finnish blood. My father was half Swedish, half Finnish so escaping to Finland has always been an option in the back of my mind. ;)


I would be interested in learning about Finnish history, and about Finland's relationship to the other Nordic countries, currently and also in the past!


Thank you! I will certainly include things about our relationship with Sweden. I will try to find things about other Nordic countries as well. :)

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