How to talk about work and leisure like a Finn: A step-by-step guide for expats


It’s a common belief among Finns that it’s not possible to fully relax and forget about your work if your vacation is shorter than the famous four weeks. The most usual and traditional summer holiday month is July. Nothing moves in July. Even if you work in July, you cannot get anything done, because except for you, there is nobody around. Little birds have told me a great strategy to have an eight-week holiday: keep on working in July (read: pretend) and take your four-week holiday in August. Feeling relaxed? Yes! And a little guilty? Of course not! Somebody has to work in July to answer e-mails and calls to say there is nobody working at the moment and you can’t really do anything about anything. You have sacrificed yourself for the good of the community.

1. Remember four weeks isn’t actually that long


Finnish kids relax 2,5 months in the summer. Photo Credit: ptrktn

Finnish schoolchildren are on vacation two and half months from the end of May till mid-August. We’ve got used to long summer holidays since we were kids. To us, coming down from ten weeks to four weeks is actually one of those compromises you must make when growing up and moving from school to working life. When you think about it like that, you’ll realise we’re actually a pretty flexible bunch of people, settling with only four short weeks.

2. Act like your long holiday is a human right

Human Rights Council

Four week summer holiday. Approved by the Human Rights Council, right? Photo Credit: UN Geneva

When I was living and working in Amsterdam it was unbearable to talk with Finns about my summer holiday plans, because they would respond with pure horror: ”Only two weeks! It will take the first week for you to get into the holiday mood and forget about work and then you have only one week left and you have to start preparing yourself to go back to work!” Let me tell you, to get these two, short weeks of holiday I had to use all my negotiation skills and stretch my Dutch-American bosses’ patience to the absolute extreme. However, now I’m back in Finland and, like everybody else, I act like the four-week holiday is a human right… even though for me the illusion was slightly broken by that good, relaxing holiday of only two weeks.

3. Forget everything about work during your vacation


Forgot all your passwords? Never mind! This is how it is supposed to go! Photo Credit: Pablo Municio

Now, listen closely, this is very important to know when you get back to the office.During the holiday you need to forget all your work-related passwords, so you spend the first working day sorting out new ones for email and other tools you need in order to perform at work. We believe that your level of relaxation has not been deep and extensive enough if you just get back to the office and log into your email account. When – take notice – when this happens to you, do not try to hide the fact that you’re unable to do any actual work on the first days after returning to work. Quite the opposite, you must be proud and shout it out to everyone: your colleagues will come running to you and congratulate you on your successful holiday relaxation!

5. Play along with everyone


Whether you want it or not: play along! Photo Credit: Nguyen Hung Vu

It can’t be emphasised enough that it’s extremely important that everyone plays along with the holiday trick. If you’re new to Finnish working culture, you might think that’d make you seem like you’re lazy, but don’t worry, we Finns don’t see it that way. It’s hard to explain how we see it, but lazy is not the word, so take a leap of faith, and success, happiness and long guilt-free summer holidays will follow!

6. Always remember winter is coming

winter picture

Winter is coming! Get your act together! Photo credit: Jeff S. Photoart

By the end of August, let alone now in September, it’s no longer okay to neither forget your passwords nor brag about it. The weather’s getting cooler and you can feel how the winter is coming to your office too. It’s time to get your act together again and keep it up until July! Good luck!

4 replies

  1. “in Finland and, like everybody else, act like the four-week holiday is a human right…” Lol, this is so true. It’s a great tradition but took me a while to get used to it

  2. The “human-right-rule” for an annual four-week-holiday applies to all Nordic countries, I guess. This is a must in order to recharge ones “batteries”, i.e. feel new energy. Maybe it ought to be considered a necessity in order to compensate for the long winter with lack of sun light. Nevertheless, important to underline, this practice characterises the Nordic countries as wellfare societies.

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