You May Remember These Public Rivalries Between Finland and Sweden

Swedish and Finnish flags combined / Public domain / WikiCommons
Swedish and Finnish flags combined / Public domain / WikiCommons
Photo of Jessica Wood
29 August 2017

Finland and Sweden are neighbouring countries, separated only by the Gulf of Bothnia, who get along incredibly well and share many cultural similarities. But like all good neighbours, there is still a strong degree of one-upmanship between them.

This conflict stems all the way back to the medieval period when Sweden was in control of Finland, but didn’t pay it much attention and frequently left the country in poverty. After Sweden gave up control of Finland to Russia in 1809, the rift began to heal and the two nations are now on amicable terms. Swedish is the second official language in Finland, with around 5% of the population being native speakers, and there are a fair number of Finns living in Sweden as well. But this doesn’t stop them from having a friendly rivalry with one another. These are some of the main areas in which Finns and Swedes love to compete:


The sauna has been a staple of Finnish life for thousands of years, and is popular in Sweden as well to almost the same extent. Yet Finns sometimes jab at Swedes for preferring their sauna slightly colder. Supposedly, Finns also believe that a sauna should be humid while Swedes believe it should be dry, which can cause even more arguments over which is better.

Swedish lake sauna / Michal Pise / WikiCommons


Even with Nokia pulling out of Finland, the country has still been a significant player in the tech industry with many smaller startups popping up. Sweden is also a rising ‘tech superstar’ with companies such as Spotify, Skype, Ericsson, and µtorrent being based or developed in the country. This again leads to arguments over which country’s tech is better and who is making bigger strides in the industry.

Nokia phones developed in Finland / Santeri Viinamäki / WikiCommons


Finnish and Swedish tastes and eating habits are highly similar in many regards. Both enjoy simple dishes from local sources. Yet they can once again become competitive about whose food is better. Finland is proud of the fact that they consume the most ice cream per capita in Europe while Swedes pride themselves on their expensive coffee. There are also frequent jokes about each other’s dishes, such as the traditional Swedish food surströmming, a type of fermented fish which is so rancid that even most Swedes hate it.

Tin of surströmming / WikiCommons


Both Finns and Swedes love their music and place a heavy emphasis on music education in schools. Yet both generally enjoy highly different genres. Sweden is the global king of pop music, producing legendary bands such as Abba, Blue Swede, Europe, Roxette, Ace of Base, and The Cardigans. Finns on the other hand tend to prefer heavy metal, with internationally famous bands including Lordi and Nightwish. This caused a large surprise at the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest, an event which is highly popular in Sweden due to its association with pop music, when Lordi became the first heavy metal band to not only win but break voting records. Even so, both nations tend to vote for the other during the contest regardless of the quality of their songs, possibly because of their proximity.

Lordi's victory at Eurovison | © Michael Coté / Flickr


This is no doubt the biggest area in which Finns and Swedes compete, sometimes even becoming violent. Nowhere is this more prominent than in both nation’s favourite sport – ice hockey. Both countries are internationally ranked in ice hockey and some Finnish players have emigrated to Sweden and vice-versa, but they still enjoy the chance to best one another at their favourite pastime.

In some international competitions, beating one another is more important to Swedish and Finnish athletes than coming in first place. Swedes celebrated when they beat the Finns at the 2006 Winter Olympics, but Finland got them back a few years later when they beat the Swedes in the 2011 Ice Hockey World Championships. Still, while the rivalries can be bitter, they are still only friendly rivalries and both Finns and Swedes utilize good sportsmanship.

Finland vs. Sweden at the IIHF World Women Championship 2011 / _becaro_ / Flickr

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