So you’re a lucky Saudi dude and you find yourself visiting Finland for the first time. You think Finland is full of polar bears, Angry Birds and drunks. That is only partly true. There’s also lots of reindeer.
A Finnish family has invited you to their house for some coffee and you get the chance to see there’s a lot more to Finland than you thought and most importantly participate in the sacred coffee drinking ceremony.
You might have heard rumors how serious the Finns are when it comes to coffee. This tiny Nordic country tops the world’s coffee consumption charts. They call themselves the Coffee King’s but with pretty good credentials. Finns consume about 12kg or 608 litres of coffee per capita annually. That’s about 1,6 litres per day!
This might raise your suspicions. Why do they need so much coffee? Is there some chemical missing in their brains which needs to be substituted by caffeine? Do they ever sleep? Are their guts made out of steel?
No need to worry, they are actually quite normal. Finns just simply love their coffee and once you’ve tasted it you’ll understand why. Keep in mind when the Finns talk about cups of coffee they mean mugs, as in about 2-3 dl, not those tiny baby cups you’re used to drinking from back home!By following this simple guide you will not only survive the Finnish coffee drinking ceremony but avoid getting arrested and impress your hosts too!
It is a good idea to bring a small souvenir from Saudi-Arabia with you. The Finnish family will value it highly and show off the gift to everyone in their family and neighborhood for the next 27 years or so. The item will be placed on the top of the bookshelf “this is what a real Saudi-Arab brought us!
On arrival you will greet the entire family (this means women too) the Finnish way which means by shaking hands. Resist your urge to kiss everyone repeatedly on the cheeks. Especially the womenfolk to avoid any stabbings. Finnish men don’t like Arab dudes near their women at all. However not shaking the women’s hands would be seen as a serious insult.
You need to practice your handshaking skills because Finns are experts at telling what kind of person you are from that brief moment. This will be the only time you will come into this close contact with your hosts. The perfected handshake will also cast away the last suspicions your hosts have of you as an Arab dude. A firm but short handshake is best. Look the other person in the eye briefly but don’t stare. Don’t shake for too long, or do anything with the other hand like hugging, this might be taken the wrong way. Practice letting the hand droop next to your body. Make sure you don’t give them the “dead fish” hand either.
Say “terve” while shaking hands. That is sufficient enough.
When you enter the house remember to remove your shoes at the door, walking in with them will be seen as uncivilized. Wear white tennis socks with your sandals and be sure to pull them high up your leg, this is seen as stylish. In the house you will be shown a place to sit around the coffee table. Please don’t sit on the carpets or floors.
At the table you will be asked if you want coffee. Of course you do! You CANNOT refuse. Coffee will be served from cups that look like this:
The make is ARABIA. As much as you would like them to be, the cups were not especially made for your visit. All Finns own coffee cups made by a company called Arabia Finland since 1873 to serve their guests coffee in. They just vary in color and design. Finns are a bit boring but hang on to their traditions.
The cup will come with a spoon and plate, which have significant importance in the ceremony you will learn later on. On the table you will see sugar cubes and two jugs, one will have milk and one cream in it. There will be a variety of cookies and maybe some candy on offer too. If you’re extremely lucky you might have a chance to taste the “salmiakki” candy, well at least Finns like to call it candy. It’s basically salty licorice, which has more ammonium in it than dynamite. If you can manage to eat one without exploding or puking you will become a hero in the hosts eyes.
If you don’t want to take the risk of permanently damaging your taste buds ask before putting anything black in your mouth.
Be warned that your hosts might be sneaky and serve you salmiakki hidden inside other sweets! Finnish people love to do practical jokes.
Your host will now pour the coffee in your cup and ask if you need space for the milk? The way you take your coffee will send a message about you to your hosts. For Finns having it straight up black is what real men do. Putting lots of cream and at least six cubes of sugar in the cup will have them thinking the opposite. You want to impress, so say no need for milk space. The host will pour it full. Note the Finnish coffee is very dark in color. Don’t worry they are not serving you oil. They know you bathe in it, but don’t prefer to drink it.
If your host is female she will most likely smile at you. Do not hand her your mobile number written on the napkin. Se is not flirting with you, just being polite. It is normal in Finland for women to smile at men without any hidden agendas.
During all this time not many words have been said. This is nothing out of the ordinary, the hosts are not scared of you. It’s just not common for Finns to engage in small talk. They most likely will ask you about what you think of Finland and how you like the weather. To amuse the hosts you can say you’re freezing (which you probably are anyways) and comment on how beautiful the nature is. (to find out what exactly Finns do when the temperature is -90c outside click here)
You might be asked how many camels you own. Even if you don’t personally own any, you could say you have a few and they will believe you because it’s assumed all Arabs own at least one camel. The hosts might ask how many camels their daughter is worth. Note that this is a joke and they are not offering their daughter for marriage. Be polite and say at least one hundred camels.
Don’t start babbling too much. It will make the Finns uncomfortable, because they are not drunk yet (in most cases) and are not up to talking lots of English.
With the coffee you will be served “pulla”. It comes in various forms but most likely looks like something this:
This is sweet coffee bread which Finns always have with their coffee. You must take one! They are sort of like the Cinnabons you eat in Saudi, but about hundred times better. Consider yourself a lucky man to be able to experience this culinary masterpiece. Secret Recipe can be found here.
Now for the actual coffee drinking ceremony. The following is the hardcore traditional way of drinking the coffee. Your hosts will be ecstatic to see you do this.
Begin with taking the cup off the plate and pouring some coffee on it until the bottom is covered. Now take the pulla and break it into small pieces, then place them inside the cup to soak up the rest of the coffee. Then take a sugar cube and place it between your lips. Sip the coffee slowly from the plate while firmly holding the cube between your lips, making sure to make a nice guzzling sound. The louder the better.
Then take the spoon and stir the pieces of pulla around, making sure to make a clinking sound. If you still have the cube stuck between your lips take another dose of the coffee from the plate. Try to avoid drooling.When the cube has dissolved eat the pulla from the cup with the spoon. Do all this in complete silence, taking your time while glancing out of the window every once in a while.
Your hosts will be beaming with pleasure of your cultural knowledge. They will be dying to know how the coffee and pulla tastes. Say everything is excellent and ask for more.
It would be advisable to drink at least three cups, but four would be impressive. When the host is pouring more, offer your cup to him on the plate. Take another pulla. Don’t linger too long, Finns don’t like guests staying for many hours.
When the time comes to leave your host will let you know by standing up and clearing his throat, maybe mentioning the ice hockey game is about to start on TV. This is your cue to leave, not join him on the couch. Thank them for the excellent coffee. Your hosts will be concerned if you enjoyed your time or not. Ensure them it was fantastic and make your way to the door. If the Finnish man pats your back as you leave, this is a sign of success!
You have passed the Finnish coffee drinking ceremony with flying colors!
What if you’re a Finnish dude and you find yourself invited for coffee in the land of the sand?? Survival Guide here: The Finnish Dude’s Ultimate Guide To Coffee Drinking In Saudi-Arabia
Did you like this post? Then you will love this one: The Saudi Son-in-Law’s Finnish Sauna Traditions Survival Guide
Check out this post to see how the Finnish husband compares to a Saudi husband (according to a Finnish woman)
Not sure what this blog is all about and who the heck writes this stuff? Click here to find out.
Don’t forget to subscribe to Blue Abaya to receive more awesome posts sent directly to your email!
Sign up for email updates!
Join over 6000 Subscribers and get our latest content and updates from Saudi Arabia directly to your inbox.
Hello there, I’m Laura, the founder, author and manager of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 69 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Having visited all corners of the Kingdom with over a decade of experience, I have a vast knowledge base about travel and tourism in Saudi Arabia.