AAA to Y* of Finland (*The letter Z does not exist in the original Finnish alphabet, only in 'loan' words, we'll have you know)

Finland is now the last eurozone country to hold a triple-A credit rating. So, why are things so rosy in the Scandinavian state?

Holly Williams
Saturday 28 July 2012 20:11

A is for Alvar Aalto

Architect and designer Aalto is one of Finland's more famous figures: you're bound to have sat on one of his three-legged wooden stools, reclined in his moulded-wood Paimio chair, or arranged a few blooms in his swirly Savoy vase.

B is for Berries

Finns do love their berries. And no wonder, for they have many interesting varieties: bilberries, lingonberries, cloudberries, sea buckthorn berries, arctic bramble, mountain crowberries and − our favourite – bog whortleberries. Yum!

C is for Coffee

Forget Americans and their enormous Starbuckets of coffee – it's the Finns that really pack away the black stuff. At nearly 12kg of roasted coffee ground and drunk per person per year, the country tops the per-capita consumption tables.

D is for Design

Great design is a source of pride for the Finns: its industry helped to get the country back on its feet after the Second World War. They easily rival their Scandinavian neighbours with brands such as Iittala, Artek and Arabia selling wares by Alvar Aalto, Kaj Franck and Timo Sarpaneva.

E is for Equality

It's a good place to be female. The Finns can be genuinely proud of their trailblazing history: their women were the first in the world to win the vote, back in 1906. (British women had to wait another 12 years.) Last year, the Finns came third, after Iceland and Norway, in the World Economic Forum's gender-gap report.

F is for Formula One

Another one of those things the Finns seem to have a natural aptitude for … or maybe it's all that coffee. The country has produced more F1 champs per capita than any other. Stars of speed include Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen.

G is for Games

It's likely to have stolen more hours of your life than you'd care to admit – Angry Birds, one of the world's best-selling mobile-phone apps, is the brainchild of the Finnish company Rovio.

H is for Hanoi Rocks

Unless you were poodle-rocking back in the Eighties, Hanoi Rocks just may have passed you by – but this glam-metal band were one of Finland's more successful musical exports. Big in Asia, apparently. They also claim fans as varied as Foo Fighters, Guns N' Roses and the Manic Street Preachers.

I is for Ice

They really do have quite a lot of ice in Finland – even the sea freezes over come winter – and they know how to use it. Ice hotels, ice-sculpting competitions, ice bars, ice fishing, ice skating as a perfectly normal means of transport … pretty cool.

J is for Jean Sibelius

The great Romantic composer is a hero of the Finnish cultural scene. Lauded for his symphonies, he also composed the patriotic symphonic poem "Finlandia".

K is for 'Kaamos'

The Finnish word for the polar night, that eerie, blue, twilit season in the far north, when the sun fails to rise above the horizon for two whole wintry months. And you thought our winters were dismal.

L is for Lakes

It's called "the land of a thousand lakes". Oh, those Finns! So modest! Finland actually has – wait for it – 187,888 lakes. That's roughly one lake for every 26 people.

M is for Moomins

The fictional creation of Tove Jansson, these gentle trolls have entertained generations with their faintly surreal adventures in Moominvalley (somewhere in a forest in Finland). There is now a Moomin World theme park – Muumimaailma – in Naantali.

N is for Nokia

It took this technology giant a while to find its lucrative mobile-phone niche. One hundred and 50 years ago it started life as a paper mill before "diversifying" into Wellington boots, car tyres, electricity, manufacturing TVs... whatever next?

O is for 'Our Land'

Or "Maamme", to give the country's national anthem its Finnish name. But it's hardly the most national of anthems: Johan Ludvig Runeberg wrote the original lyrics in Swedish – awkward! – and it's sung to a tune composed by the German Fredrik Pacius. It's also used for Estonia's anthem.

P is for Paavo Nurmi

Nine times an Olympic gold medallist – not bad, Nurmi. He won an astonishing five of them at just one Games: the 1,500m, the 5,000m, the 3,000m team event and two cross-country events, all at Paris 1924. But he wasn't the only one fleet of foot; a whole generation of runners were nicknamed the "Flying Finns".

Q is for Queen of Finland

Princess Margaret of Prussia was, technically, Queen of Finland. Her reign lasted all of two months, mind, from 9 October to 14 December 1918 when – after the end of the First World War – her husband renounced the throne. It probably wasn't too much of a wrench though, the German pair had yet to even arrive in the country.

R is for Reindeer

For the Sami people, the reindeer is vital – its furs worn, its meat eaten and its antlers ground up to bring a bit of va-va-voom to your polar lovemaking. But global warming and habitat erosion are affecting numbers.

S is for Saunas

Getting naked and sweaty with your friends, family and colleagues is totally normal; whack yourself with birch twigs then jump into freezing water through a hole in the ice for the full, health-giving experience. The sauna is considered such a basic right that even prisons have them.

T is for Teaching standards

Finland's education system is considered the best in the Western world. Teaching is respected, with good funding and small classes.

U is for 'Unikko'

The Finnish word for "poppy" – and the name of textiles/fashion firm Marimekko's most popular design. Maija Isola's classic pattern was born in 1964 – in defiance of the Finnish company's strict "no florals" policy.

V is for Vodka

Forget Sibelius – for many Brits, the word "Finlandia" just conjures up slightly fancy vodka. It is made in Finland, at the Altia Corporation's distillery in the village of Koskenkorva. In typical Finnish style, even the bottles attempt to be design classics.

W is for Wife Carrying World Championships

A very important tradition, held annually in Sonkajarvi. Contestants heave their spouses over their shoulders, and peg it along a 250m track. The winner gets his wife's bodyweight in beer.

X is for Xmas

As we all know, Lapland – the northernmost region of Finland – is home to one Santa Claus. And, happily, this Christmassy wonderland is open to tourists: book your visit to an Xmas village now.

Y is for Yoik

A traditional form of song of the Sami people, a yoik tends to be dedicated to a place or person, and is characterised by its slow pace and air of Arctic melancholy. Like the sound of that? Then check out Wimme Saari's bangin' techno-ambient yoiks.

Additional reporting by Jess Denham

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments