Finland stands unique among its Nordic neighbors. Finland has only been an independent country since 1918, before that it belonged to Russia or Sweden. The Finnish language (a.k.a. Suomi) is an non Indo-European language belonging to the Uralic family, along with Estonian and Hungarian. However, Swedish is also an official language in Finland as Sweden’s King Gustavus Vasa founded Helsinki in the 17th century. It was one of the last regions of Europe to be Christianized, in the 12th century, and it was the first in Europe to grant women the right to vote.
Finland is the home of World Championships and World Records! There are exactly 187,888 lakes and 179,88 islands within the territory of Finland. (Both are world records). There is the annual Wife Carrying World Championship, an extreme obstacle course event, with couples from all over the world participating, as well as annual world championships for mosquito hunting, mobile phone throwing, swamp football, rubber boot throwing and the Air Guitar World Championship. Finnish athletes have won more Summer Olympic medals per capita than any other nation, and drivers from Finland have won more World Rally championships (14 titles) than any other country. Finland has the most number of heavy metal bands per capita in the world. While Sweden and Norway have only 27 heavy metal bands per 100,000 inhabitants, Finland boasts double as much, 54 bands per 100,000. Finland has also won the most world champion titles in Synchronized Figure Skating. Helsinki is home of northern most metro station, motorway and vineyard in the world.
In the land of world championships, and titles, and records, Finland remains a very egalitarian and open society. One is free to roam through almost anywhere in the country to camp, pick berries or catch fish; they mostly don’t have the restriction of ‘trespassing’. The Finnish government offers expectant mothers a maternity starter kit or a cash grant. 95% opt for the kit which includes a cardboard box that doubles as a crib. It has helped Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates in the world. Yet, for all of its champions and record holders, Finland has an annual Day for Failure every October 13th. Started in 2010, the ceremony celebrates bad news and ill-fortune as a way of learning for the future. In Finland, speeding tickets are calculated on a percentage of a person’s income which causes some Finnish millionaires to face fines of over $100,000!
The Finns have inspired and contributed to music, art, and technology with 19th century composer Jan Sibelius and celebrated designer Alvar Aalto, a founder of the contemporary Scandinavian design movement in architecture and industrial design. Eero Saarinen, a Finnish American, designed Dulles Airport and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. In the 1800s, the national myth of The Kalevala was created by a Finnish doctor Elias Lönnrot who synthesized the local Finnish folk tales into a reconstructed pre-Christian myth of Finland. It inspired JRR Tolkien to write a similar ‘national myth’ for the English. In the process, he based Quenya, the language of High Elvish, on Finnish and created the iconic Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you have a cell phone, you can thank the Finnish, because it was two Finns, Fredrick Idestam and Leo Mechelin who founded Nokia in 1865, which later produced, in 1992, the world’s first commercially available mobile phone. Again, another world record title claimed for Finland!
More fun facts about Finland and the Finns; it’s a legal requirement to have your headlights on, whether in summer or winter, in sunlight or darkness, even under the midnight sun, the maple is the symbol of Helsinki and the city uses a squirrel as its symbol, Helsinki is one of the coldest cities in the world, with an average of 169 days below 0 Celsius or 32°F a year… But don’t sweat it, you can go warm up in perhaps the most famous Finish inventions of all; the Sauna, there’s over two million of them in Finland so there’s sauna for every two people in Finland. And then you can cool off and jump in an icy lake! There are plenty of those too!