In just about a week, most Finns who have the opportunity will disappear to a summer cottage. According to the statistics, over 3 million Finns visit a summer cottage at least once each summer. For all those wondering what it is all about, here is the ABC of Finnish summer cottage culture and a few tips in case you are invited/want to rent a summer cottage for yourself.
Owning a summer cottage became a dream, and often a realised dream, particularly to the generation born in the 1930’s to 1950’s or so. The ideal summer cottage is by the water, and as Finland is the land of thousands of lakes, most of them have a shoreline, and a sauna close to the water.
Traditionally, summer cottages are very basic. The whole idea is to get away from everyday routines into the nature and concentrate on the basics, as well as the company of people you like. That may mean living without electricity and running water, for example, or it may mean a fully furnished single family house. An invitation is a compliment, so consider going, but it is also a good idea to ask what to expect and what to bring.
In every case, prepare to bring insect repellent, a sleeping bag or sheets as well as towels. A bathrobe is nice when having an-after-the-sauna moment on a terrace. A woollen pullover, rubber boots and clothing that keeps you functional also in rain is useful, and in general clothing that is suitable to outdoor activities as most of the time is spent outside at a cottage. Usually Finns dress very casually at a summer cottage, though for midsummer or other such special occasion, a nice cotton/linen dress (and a similar outfit for men) is typical. It is also a good idea to be prepared to help with making food and washing dishes, carrying wood or water, and other such chores that are necessary in the everyday living at a cottage.
Typical activities at a summer cottage are sporty or intellectual games, reading, sunbathing, different water activities, such as rowing a boat or fishing, cooking something special, or some talkoo (doing together) to get a useful maintenance task done. A sauna heated in the traditional way with wood combined with dips into cool water and sitting in peace on a terrace afterwards is the quintessential Finnish summer experience. It is very much worth trying, so warmly recommended. If you feel uneasy about a mixed sauna, it is quite ok to ask for a separate one. More tips on Finnish sauna culture are here: Finns do it naked: Or, what to expect in a Finnish sauna.
In case you would like to rent a summer cottage (kesämökki or mökki), there are plenty of opportunities available, for example through www.nettimokki.com, www.lomarengas.fi, www.mökit.fi, www.huvila.net, www.mokkihaku.fi, www.vuokraamokki.info, or the relevant section in www.tori.fi.
Please note that Finns typically expect you to leave the place as it is when you start your stay, i.e. to clean very well after yourself. In case you want a different arrangement, be sure to negotiate that beforehand. Please also note that most Finns expect peace and quiet at a summer cottage, so if you plan to have a big party with friends, then choose a cottage that does not have neighbours right next to it – or inform them that you will have a party. The only exception is midsummer, which most Finns celebrate at a cottage if they have the opportunity, but even then loud noise should be avoided.
So, hopefully, you will get a chance to visit a summer cottage, and enjoy your stay.