Moving to another country is always exciting! It can also be confusing if you don't know anything about the local culture and functions. This list is to help you a little bit!
View our full survival guide here at the following link!
Here are some basic things about Finland (and Oulu), that you might or might not know about:
1. Weather in Oulu and in Finland
In Finland you will notice all four seasons, the longest of which is winter, but the light and warm days of summer soon make up for the coldness of the darker season. You may have heard stories about the depressing darkness during the winter, and in the darkest months, Oulu receives natural light from around 10:30-14:30. Make sure to eat lots of vitamin D and maybe buy a special daylight lamp to keep yourself awake during those darkest times.
As winter approaches the temperature starts to fall below 10°C during September and October. By November, the snow often begins to fall, usually not melting away again until April the following year. The coldest winter month is February when the average daily temperature can reach -20°C. There may even be days where the temperature in Oulu falls closer to -30°C. The wind can chill the air so much more so be sure to wrap up in warm and protective clothes on a winter day! Weather conditions are no excuse to miss an exam or lecture. Finns always go to work and school, in the spirit of the Winter War.
After the coldness of winter, the temperature in Oulu will reach up to 10°C during spring, and about +20°C in the summer months. These are then the times to pack up your thickest winter sweaters and to break out your lighter clothes, but remember to have a rain jacket as there are some weeks where the rain does not stop!
2. Greeting and meeting
In Finland, unlike some other European countries, kissing on the cheeks doesn't exist. A handshake is a very common way of saying hello, in formal and also informal situations. Even young people might shake hands if they're presented to each other. Often a smile/nod plus saying hello is enough to be polite. A neutral way of greeting someone, for example in a shop, is "Hei!" (pronounce as "hey" in English).
Finnish people are usually very punctual. If you agree on meeting someone or if an event it set to start at 20:00, it means at 20:00 sharp. Arrive in good time and respect other peoples schedules.
A quintessential part of Finnish life and culture which is as important as salmiakki and the Moomins is sauna (pronounced sou-nah, like the “sou” in sour) culture. In a typical Finnish home you will find a sauna, and it is not uncommon to find saunas in shared apartment buildings. In apartments, these require you to book and reserve them in advance, or they might have public hours where anyone can use them. In these public hours, they will split the scheduling into men and women usage of the saunas.
In public saunas, people normally wear swimsuits, except in swimming halls. Swimming halls have separate saunas for men and women. The only time when men and women go to the sauna together naked is with family members (depending on the family) and with friends (depending on the friends). It's common especially in some student sauna evenings in Teekkaritalo, but for example in ESN events we wear swimsuits!
In winter, and with saunas near frozen lakes, you will typically find Finns will jump into the ice-cold water to cool off from the extreme sauna temperatures! Will you try doing this when winter comes around? Please be mindful of how thick the ice is, and take necessary safety precautions.
4. Shoes inside?
Always take off your shoes when entering a Finnish home! And leave them by the door. Especially in spring and autumn shoes get so dirty that no one wants to walk around the livingroom with them on. An exception is a fancy party / formal event, when women can wear for example heals and men can wear fancy mens shoes. In winter especially women may want to carry their fancy shoes to the party where they change from snow shoes to fancy shoes.
Doors automatically lock when you close them: the outside door of your apartment and the door of your room, if you live at PSOAS, for example. So don't leave your keys inside! In every door, there's also a little button that you can move up/down to make the door stay open.
We have one train company, vr.fi (state monopoly on railways). Students with official uni student card get a discount (ask your Student Union for this card). Using buses, for example for going to Helsinki, is very cheap with Onnibus. Cheap flights (30€) between Helsinki and Oulu are available from Norwegian if you book months in advance. Also Arctic Airlink will give you budget fares on flights from Oulu to the Paris of the North: Tromso, Norway!
In Oulu, the public transport is good between university campuses and city center. You should get a travel card, because without it one trip is quite expensive. More information about Waltti travel card for local buses here.
7. Nightlife and going out
You will need an ID when you enter a bar/pub or a nightclub. A driver's licence and passport are valid IDs. A student card or residence permit are not accepted. In autumn and winter the doormen also require that you wear proper clothing = your outdoor jacket when entering a club. Even if you live close and want to leave your jacket home to avoid the cloakroom fee. It's better to do things properly on the first time, or you might find yourself not getting in the club at all the rest of the semester.
Finnish law says you are not allowed to bring your own alcohol to bars or smoke inside. If you need to bring your drinks, you have to leave them in the cloakroom. Drinking anything not bought from the premises or smoking in the premises will get you thrown out.
In Finland, you usually pay your drinks and snacks before eating them. In "proper" restaurants where they serve you at the table, you only pay afterwards.
8. Alcohol and smoking
In Finland, you can only buy beer and cider in normal supermarkets. All of them also stop selling the latest at 9pm (and start again at 9am). Stronger alcoholic beverages are sold in Alko, where you need to be 20 years old to be able to buy strong liquer. It's also good to remember your ID when buying alcohol!
Smoking is not allowed in public buildings. Also remember to check the rules in your accommodation (ex. PSOAS), because usually smoking is not allowed. Look for and ask for designated smoking area.
9. Empty cans and bottles
Don't smash them or throw them away!! Return the empty cans and bottles to a grocery store or Alko and you'll get money. There are machines for this purpose in almost any grocery store.
Organic waste (leftover food etc.) is collected separately! Usually almost every building also has own containers for paper, glass and metal. "Sekajäte" or "energiajäte" then means all other waste that doesn't have a container. Empty batteries you can take to some grocery stores, they very often have small boxes for them. In Oulu, electronic waste (broken gadgets etc.) can be taken to Gigantti (a store that also sells electronics), for example. For additional information, see http://www.kierratys.info/.
BONUS: The Mankel
And finally, don't hesitate to ask more from us or from your Finnish student tutor(s)! It also helps when you ask around your fellow exchange students, because everyone usually has the same problems or questions in mind, so someone probably knows (someone who knows) the answer!