Basic Finnish for tourists and travelers

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Tervetuloa, Welcome to Basic Finnish for tourists and travelers and kiitos for taking on elementary traveler Finnish.

Tervetuloa. You are welcome to Apotheker Jukeboksi's guide intended for learning meaningful Finnish you might actually use.
  • fi."terve" == en."healthy"
  • fi."tuloa" == en."of coming"
  • -> fi."Tervetuloa" == en."of healthy coming, to welcome"

The way to thank people in Finnish is "Kiitos" which literally translates to "a thank" (plural is 'kiitoksia' and is a slightly more thanking expression). This is the most common way to thank a person in Finnish. "Kiitti" is a casual slang-like way to say thanks, but it is also the the 3rd person singular imperfect i.e. "S/he thanked" in Finnish proper. Another slang way to express thanks is to say "dänks", an obvious loan from English.

Should you bump into someone in the crowd it is good to know the word "anteeksi". It conveys both "(I'm) sorry" and "excuse me". A slang expression for saying "sorry" that has become so widespread that it can almost be considered proper Finnish is "sori", pronounced exactly like the English word "sorry".

Vast majority of Finns will switch to English if they encounter foreigners trying to apply less than perfect Finnish. This does not mean they do not appreciate the effort to try to learn some command of Finnish and to apply it but Finns just figure out the foreigners will not bother to learn the language spoken only by some 5 mln people. Assumption of English being the highest in common language is due to desire to be hospitable towards the non-native.

Knowing the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) helps greatly in this task as nearly all Finnish letters are pronounced as they are written and the IPA equivalent reads pretty much the same.

At the airport / port / terminal[edit]

Get communications[edit]

You will find R-kioski in most entry points to Finland and most public transport hubs. Here you can get prepaid sim cards and HSL travel cards and recharge both of them. Also single tickets are sold here for the same price as in the vending machines.

If you have a postpaid sim card from an EU country then roaming is not prohibitively expensive or even included in your package, but if you don't have a postpaid sim from EU then while you are at the airport, port or train station we could interest you in purchasing a prepaid sim card (prepaid simkortti) from R-kioski. Prepaid sim cards are available at discount almost all of the time (deals at R-kioski in Finnish) The major operators offering prepaid sim cards are DNA, Saunalahti and Telia. These are really inexpensive with 24 hours of unlimited 4G data, unlimited domestic calls and SMS going for under 1€ / day.

Just talk English as "everyone" talks English here but feel free to use 'kiitos' and everyone will be impressed how well versed you are in Finnish as a foreigner.

Now lets get your luggage to the hotel and you to enjoy Finland..

Get public transport[edit]

A ticket vending machine can usually vend single tickets and recharge your travel pass. UI is in Finnish, Swedish and English only (lazy public sector engineer you know..)

Use Ticket types and fares of the Metropolitan Helsinki area (in English) to figure out the best choice of public transport ticket for yourself. Available types are:

  1. Single ticket is expensive and inconvenient for the traveler as they are valid for only 69 minutes (Helsinki internal) and 80 minutes (Helsinki-region).
  2. Day and multi-day tickets (1-7 days)
  3. Long duration pass (14-365 or more days).

The longer period you purchase the lower the per time unit price gets.

At an R-kioski you can purchase single tickets, or much better: Get a public transport pass (HSL travel card) that costs 5€. You can load money to purchase tickets at discounted prices in the vehicle or season (unlimited travel for a period)

Download the HSL App (HSL == Helsinki Region Transport Authority) for Android or iOS. Within the app you can access the in-house traveler router and also purchase tickets, once you have registered your credit card in the app. For people with Finnish postpaid sims also payment in the phone bill is possible.

If you have an Android phone with NFC you could also find the Oma Matkakortti App (Own travel pass) useful as it allows you to check the status of your travel pass with your phone.

Ride-hailing apps[edit]

Operating in the Helsinki region are at least the following ride-hailing services:

  1. Uber(.com) (Uber for Android and Uber for iOS),
  2. Bolt(.eu) (Bolt for Android and Bolt for iOS)
  3. Yango(.yandex.com) (Yango for Android and Yango for iOS).

Taxis[edit]

When the yellow light is on it means the taxi is unoccupied and you can flag it down.

Finland used to have a unified pricing system for taxis, but this was reformed in 2018 and that has lead to widely varying prices as the companies have different price setting models. A good thing that the reformation brought is that you can ask for the price for your trip in advance.

Ways to get a taxi:

  1. Flag one down by waving your hand when you see a taxi with the yellow light lit on the roof indicating that the taxi is not occupied
  2. There are various apps to get a taxi
  3. There are various numbers to call to get a taxi

Learn Finnish by sauna[edit]

You want to experience the wonderfully indescribable soothing effect of the Finnish sauna? Excellent decision esteamed Sir / Madam.

Depending on your choice of sauna, i.e. municipal swimming hall, country-side cabin sauna, old-school commercial sauna, hotel's or restaurant's sauna or one of the new designer saunas that have recently sprung up, the etiquette is slightly different, but lingo is unchanged throughout Finnish sauna culture.

Choosing a sauna[edit]

The fi."kiuas" == en."stove" of a smoke sauna.
Oldschool sauna. No chimney ergo smoke sauna. These are actually some of the most enjoyable saunas around. Don't worry, the hotel sauna looks like in the picture below just more lavish and luxurious.
  • fi."allas" == en."pool"
  • fi."teltta" == en."tent"
  • fi."löyly" == en."steam, quality of sauna experience"
Kotiharjun sauna is a public wood heated sauna in the heart of the Sörnäinen district in Helsinki.

Saunat.co lists all public saunas, saunas for rent, mobile saunas for rent and hot tubs for rent in Finland.

Below you can find the public saunas of Helsinki.

  • Allas Seapool by the central market square with saunas, warm swimming pool (which floats in the sea) and the sea pool itself. Single ticket 12€, discounts for kids etc.
  • Arlan Sauna oldschool sauna since 1929. Kaarlenkatu 15. Single ticket 12€.
  • Helsinki Swimming Stadium is an outdoor swimming stadium with milder and hotter saunas is an inexpensive and authentic way to experience sauna. Hammarskjöldintie 5. Single ticket 4€.
  • Kotiharjun Sauna is the original wood heated public sauna in town. Open Tue-Sun 14:00-20:00 with bathing till 21:30. Harjutorinkatu 1. Single ticket 13€.
  • Lapinlahden telttasauna by the sea in the scenic Lapinlahti grounds open Fri and Sat 15-20 is renowned for their trademark smooth and mellow löyly administered by the 'Sauna Major'.
  • Kulttuurisauna is a public sauna situated in Hakaniemanranta by the seaside. Hakaniemenranta 17. Obs: No swimsuits or towels allowed in the sauna proper. Adults 15€, students 12€.
  • Löyly is a recently built designer sauna with sun decks and a restaurant in Hernesaari. This sauna is by the sea. Hernesaarenranta 4. A 2 hr sauna session is 19€ includes a towel, seat cover as well as soap and shampoo.
  • Sauna Hermanni is a traditional sauna in the Hermanni district. Hämeentie 63. Single ticket 10€
  • Sompasauna has 2 community run saunas by the sea and is free of charge but bringing löyly water (normal tap water) and firewood (available at gas stations) will be appreciated at this community-built and community-run sauna. If the sauna is cold (may occur off-peak hours) you should just heat it yourself.

Other saunas in Helsinki

Getting to the sauna[edit]

Even geeks can do it.
Modern Finnish sauna, probably of a private individual
A lavish floating sauna photographed during Juhannus celebrations.
Saunas on wheels also exist in Finland. This one has been built into a Volkswagen Type 2 Microbus.
  • fi."Missä?" is equivalent to the English expression en."Where?"
  • fi."on" is the verb 'to be' for 3rd person singular in present tense and the plural is ovat
  • fi."puku" == en."dressing, suit, costume"
  • fi."huone" == en."room"
  • fi."kalja" plural "kaljat" == en."beer" (slang) officially the word is olut but people call it kalja

Now we are ready to form some useful sentences

  • -> fi."Missä on sauna?" == en."Where is the sauna?"
  • -> fi."Missä on pukuhuone?" == en."Where is the dressing room?"
  • -> fi."Missä ovat kaljat?" == en."Where are the beers?"
  • Now we can also form the compound word fi."pukuhuonekaljat" == en."dressing room beers", awesome!
  • fi."Tarvitsen" == en."[I] need"
  • '-ko' or '-kö'-suffix always forms a question but is not the only way to do so.
  • fi."pyyhkeen == en."a towel"
  • fi."shampoo == en."shampoo"
  • fi."uima == en."of swimming"
  • fi."housut == en."pants"
  • fi."uimahousut" == en."swimming trunks"
  • fi."uimapuvun" == en."a swimsuit"

Lets apply with what we know so far:

  • -> "Tarvitsenko pyyhkeen?" == en."Do I need a towel?"
  • -> "Onko kaljaa?" == en."Are there any beers?"

In the locker room[edit]

In private properties' saunas there are no lockers but many, except the most ad-hoc saunas, offer a lockable locker. Key is attached to a rubber ring (at the swimming hall) that is to be worn around the ankle.

This is usually the start of nudity area but sometimes people may go to the shower room with swim wear on and only there remove it to go to shower, sauna, shower, put swim wear on and hit the pool.

  • fi."päin" == en."the direction of"
  • "Missä päin sauna on?" == en."In which direction the sauna is?". Follow the hand signaled direction.

Shower room / bathing area[edit]

  • In hotel and restaurant saunas toiletries and a towel will be provided by the establishment for the traveler. In private saunas these are also on the house. In other cases bring your own.


In the sauna[edit]

Vihta (Western Finland dialect) or vasta (Eastern Finland dialect) is an essential sauna culture thing. It is a bunch of birch branches tied together with a birch branch and it is used for whacking self and/or others with it. Believe it or not it actually makes the sauna even more soothing in the end-game.
The guy on the left has had it with the cold and heads back to the sauna with haste.
Winter swimming is a high speed way to cool off and it releases a variety of wonderful chemicals onto the blood stream. For an even more intense rush you of course go for fi."Kieritään lumessa!" == en."Lets roll in the snow!"
  • fi."Vihdo" == en."[you] whack with vihta"
  • fi."lujempaa" == en."harder"
  • -> fi."Vihdo lujempaa." == en."Whack me harder with your vihta."
  • fi."lisää" == en."more [of x]"
  • fi."heitä" == en."[you] throw"
  • fi."löyly", plural löylyt could be translated to "steam" but in fact löyly is a far wider concept i.e. it is not only about the heat and humidity percent. Löyly can also be used to refer to the quality of the löyly in a certain sauna.
  • The suffix '-ä' or '-a' (determined if there are umlauted characters present in the word body or not) forms the partitive case.

Lets put that all together, you want more löyly you ask for:

  • -> fi."Lisää löylyä." == en."Throw some more water on the stones."
  • -> fi."Heitä löylyä." == same thing
  • fi."hyvä" plural "hyvät" == en."good"
  • fi."Hyvät löylyt" == en."Good steams."
  • fi."Helvetti" == en."Hell"
  • fi."liian" == en."too much"
  • fi."kuuma" == en."hot"
  • -> fi."Helvetti, liian kuuma." == en."Hell, it is too hot in here."

Getting out of the sauna[edit]

  • fi."mennään" == en."lets go"
  • fi."uimaan" == en."to swimming"
  • -> fi."Mennään uimaan!" == en."Lets go swimming!"
  • fi.'-lle'-suffix == en."for someone/something, to somewhere, to somebody's place"
-> fi."Mennään kaljalle." == en."Lets go have a beer."

Then we go for the more extreme sauna cool down

  • fi."Hypätään" == en."lets jump"
  • fi."avanto" == en."hole in the ice"
  • fi.'-on' / '-ön'-suffix == en."to inside"
  • -> fi."Hypätään avantoon!" == en."Lets jump into the hole in the ice!"
  • fi."kieritään" == en."lets roll"
  • fi."lumi" == en."snow"
  • fi.'-ssa' / '-ssä'-suffix == en."in something"
  • -> fi."Kieritään lumessa!" == en."Lets roll in the snow!"

After the sauna[edit]

  • fi."lonkero" == lit. "tentacle" but means a classic drink made of gin and fizzy grapefruit soda sold in bottles ever since the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. An alternative after sauna drink.
  • fi."grillataan" == en."lets bbq"
  • fi."lähdetään" == en."lets go"
  • fi."ravintolaan" == en."to a restaurant"

Special dates in the sauna calendar[edit]

  • Sauna Day is a day when the saunas are heated and opened up to the public free of charge. Website has possibility to enroll a sauna or book a sauna slot.

June

  • Juhannus sauna with fresh vihta is enjoyed on the Friday closest to the summer solstice

July

December

  • Joulusauna on the Xmas eve afternoon is a family classic

Biannually

Helsinki Sauna Day is an event held on Saturdays annually or biannually. The plot as follows: Saunas are heated and opened up to sauna-goers free-of-charge. This is an excellent way to discover quality saunas inaccessible normally. On the website you may either register your sauna to participate or to book seats in sauna waves (usually 1hr long slots). Not limited only to Helsinki.

More sauna information[edit]


Resources for learning Finnish[edit]

Finnish for beginners[edit]

Finnish for intermediate learners[edit]

Find Finnish courses in the real world[edit]

Want to move to Finland?[edit]