The extreme cold is the biggest issue that expats face in Finland but they do still get used to the snow and the cold given enough time. What is more difficult to accept is the sheer amount of winter clothing needed in Finland. There is the problem of putting on multiple layers every time you need to step outside, even if it’s only to check the mail or take out the garbage. Even worse is the need to buy multiple sets of winter clothing for different parts of winter, as expats forget how much the temperature of the Finnish winter fluctuates. Clothes which keep you warm and cosy when the temperature is around freezing point will be far too cold when it drops below minus 20 degrees Celsius, while deep winter clothing may cause overheating when the mercury is higher up.
Finnish food is great and highly underappreciated, except when you buy a bag of sweets, reach in, and find yourself chewing an unexpected piece of salted liquorice. This Finnish confection, also known as salmiakki, is incredibly popular among Finns yet it is a highly acquired taste. If you haven’t been eating it since you were a child then you have no chance of getting into it as an adult and will need to be extra vigilant when picking out your sweets.
Owning a pretty wooden cottage on a lake or a private island for summer getaways far away from the rest of the world is a Finnish dream which many expats want a piece of too. Yet it can be difficult for foreigners to comprehend just how sparse Finland is and how remote some of these summer cottages are. You may find yourself driving ten minutes from your cottage just to reach the mail box! And you’d better hope you have enough groceries and alcohol to last the entire trip, since it’s always a long way to the nearest grocery store.
It is customary in Finland to remove shoes inside houses, since most Finnish homes have wooden floors rather than carpets (they do have a lot of wood readily available). This can throw off those from countries where removing shoes in the house isn’t a custom. You may even find yourself making the awful social faux-pas of walking right into the house with your shoes on, then feeling guilty about your mistake as you look down upon the puddle of melting snow you have spread onto the clean floors.
Finns are a delightfully quirky nation, yet their tastes and need to be as different as possible from everyone else can be a little too bizarre at times. Just like their distaste for salmiakki, visitors might be put off by the Finns obsession with heavy metal music, tar flavoured ice cream, or skinny dipping.
Even if you do get used to the cold winters, the Finnish weather will find a way to mess with your body at any time of year. During the winter, the days are so short that the darkness can feel like it will never end and the body goes into a near hibernation mode, refusing to get up until spring. The summer has the opposite effect with the midnight sun shining all through the night and causing insomnia. Sometimes during the summer, you might not even know what time of day it is, as 4pm looks exactly the same as 3am!
Finns are obsessed with their winter sports such as ice hockey and skiing, making the most out of even the harshest parts of winter. Even school PE classes include ski lessons, and in some particularly cold areas, children have to ski to school every winter morning. Yet if you have grown up in a country where winter sports aren’t as popular, it can leave you feeling a little left out of the loop, especially when an ice hockey game starts on television. If you do give them a try, you will feel embarrassed about your constant slips and falls compared to the Finns who have been practicing these sports since they could walk.
The Finnish winter can be beautiful and fun, yet around March you can begin to grow sick of it and wander if the snowdrifts are ever going to melt. It becomes even worse when your friends back home are sharing photos of spring flowers, summer dresses, and Easter displays while you’re still shovelling snow off your car every morning. When summer does come, it doesn’t stay for very long. In August when your friends are still enjoying their summer holidays, you’re already getting out your woollens and preparing your snow tyres.