While the country has an individual culture, today many Finns are increasingly encountering foreign cultural influences outside their previously defined sphere. This includes Russia and the Baltic regions, as well as influence from Sweden and Germany. Karelian culture, as particularly expressed in music, is seen as the one of the purest expressions of Finnic myths and beliefs. Some minorities existing within Finland’s borders, including the Sami, have maintained their own distinct cultural characteristics as well. The majority, however, (about 94% of the total population) is of Finnish descent and is divided into two slightly different cultural categories. The Ethnic Finns have a cultural focus on lakes and woods and are generally strongly connected to nature. The Finland-Swede culture is considered the more outward and urbanized culture exhibited mostly by people living in the coastal areas. The differences between the two are very slight, displaying only minor differences in accents and vocabulary.
Sparsely populated with many expanses of heavily forested land, the country has only five million inhabitants, ranking 162nd in population density. When you are on a tour of Finland you are likely to hear both Finnish and Swedish. These are the two official languages of the country, but Finnish is spoken amongst 92% of the population. The Finnish language is often very hard for foreigners to understand, and is considered to be one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. Perhaps in recognition of this great communication barrier, the majority of Finns speak English very well, so most travelers should not have a problem communicating during their trip. Other minority languages include Russian and Estonian, and three derisions from Sami. The rights of minority groups to protect their culture and language are protected by Finnish law, but only the Sami languages are considered to be an official minority language. About 500,000 Finns had to emigrate between the period of 1939 and 1970 due to poor economic conditions and political instability with the constant threat of a Soviet takeover. Since the late 1990s Finland has begun to receive refugees at a rate similar to that of other Nordic countries, although the total ethnic minority populations still remain far lower in Finland than elsewhere.
The primary religion you can expect to encounter on your Finland tour is the evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. This is the most practiced religion; about 84% of Finns are members. A minority belong to the Finnish Orthodox Church, which is the only other official state church of Finland. There also exists a small portion of other Protestant denominations, Catholics, Muslims, Jews and some who claim to be unaffiliated.
When taking a Finland tour, you cannot help but consider enjoying their widely celebrated saunas. Well known throughout the world for their adherence to taking a sauna at least once a week, the Finns have incorporated this practice into their culture. Used for relating with friends and family, and for mental and physical relaxation, the sauna is not considered a luxury, but rather a necessity. For the five million people who live in Finland, over 2 million saunas are found, amounting to at least one per household. The whole process of a sauna bath lasts about 30 minutes to 2 hours and consists of a number of repeated cycles. First one needs to undress and take a shower without soap. Next one enters the sauna ranging from about 80°C to 100°C in temperature and sit back for about 10-30 minutes allowing the heat to penetrate and open the pores in their skin. Next, exit and cool down outside or take a dip in a pool or lake. The cycle is not usually considered complete at a lakeside cottage without a cool swim. Should the lake be frozen, some may even cut a hole in the ice to jump in. Then they return to the sauna to repeat the cycle all over again. There is no limit as to the number of cycles, however two cycles is considered a minimum. At the end of all the cycles, one takes a shower with soap to clean off. While many do take saunas in coed settings or as a whole family, unspoken social rules govern which situations are appropriate. Almost all public saunas are divided into same sex only rooms. Should you travel to a Finnish home, being invited to take a sauna is considered a nice gesture, and one should be wary of declining the invitation for fear of offending the host.