Finns are known for their aloofness, saunas, and difficult language. Finnish people mind their own business, tend to themselves, and take pride in their independence. Do not, however, mistake their social inhibition for hostility. Finns are kind, benevolent, and won’t hesitate to help you if you ask. If you want to ask a Finn for directions, advice, or if you’d like to make a Finnish friend, you have to know how to say hello in Finnish.
Saying “hello” in Finland is pretty straightforward. However, there are some words, expressions, and social norms that tourists need to be aware of when they want to say hello in Finnish to avoid culture shocks and awkward situations.
Some facts about the Finnish language
The Finnish language belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group and is thus in various ways different from languages such as English, French, and German. Anyone who tries to learn Finnish is going to have a hard time, not only because of the strange words but because of the impossible grammar. Like many other Slavic and Baltic languages, Finnish uses suffixes. For example, there is no word for the verb “to have”. Likewise, there are no words for on, in, to, or from.
In Finnish, there is also an absence of gender. The Finnish word “hän” refers to both “he” and “she”, and thus you must infer the meaning from context. There are no articles such as “a” or “the” and there are some very, very long words in the Finnish language.
“Ice cream” is “jäätelö”, car is “auto”, and “ice cream truck” becomes “jäätelöauto”. With this logic, some words go on for miles. The longest word in the Finnish language is “lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas”, which means “airplane jet turbine engine auxiliary mechanic non-commissioned officer student”. But this is probably not the right place to start learning the Finnish language.
Despite the intricacies of the Finnish language, anyone can learn the basic Finnish greetings. Don’t let the big words scare you! In this article, you’ll find some common and useful Finnish greetings, basic Finnish words, and several expressions to help you during your time in Finland. Saying hello in Finnish is not difficult at all.
Finnish traditions and social norms for greetings
First things first. Knowing which gestures to use when greeting someone is as important as knowing how to say hello in Finnish. Do you shake hands, hug, or lean in for a kiss on the cheek?
In Finland, people don’t appreciate physical closeness from strangers. The common way to greet someone in a formal setting is by shaking hands while making eye contact, and the handshake is usually brief and firm. In more casual circumstances, such as when you’re introduced to a friend’s friend or run into someone on the street, a simple nod of the head is enough.
But what should you say in such situations? Below are some common greetings in Finnish and some basic Finnish words that are going to help you navigate through the strange social norms in Finland.
1. How to say hello in Finnish – Hei
The most common way to say hello in Finnish is simply Hei, which is pronounced like the English “hey”, and is used in similar circumstances. Finnish people don’t care for formalities, and thus there aren’t really any formal greetings or expressions. “Hei” is easy to remember and pronounce, and is used in many situations.
Whether you’re ordering a drink at a bar, buying a bag in a Marimekko store, or simply greeting strangers in the street, “hei” will do just fine.
2. Slang words for “hello” in Finnish – Moi, Moikka, Terve, or Moro
Moi or moikka are also some basic Finnish words that you’ll hear frequently, and also means hello in Finnish. They carry the same meaning as “hei”, and is another way to say hello in Finland. “Moi” and “moikka” are equivalent to “hi” or “hello”, and are used interchangeably with “Hei”, especially among younger people.
Another word that’s Finnish for “hello” is terve, which is commonly used by Finns all over the country. Moro is another word for “hi”, which has only recently become popular. If you use “moro” instead of the other Finnish greetings for “hi”, chances are that the local people might mistake you for a native (at least at first).
3. “Good morning” in Finnish – Hyvää huomenta
If you’re out and about early in the morning, you’re going to need to know how to say “good morning” in Finnish. Good morning, which in Finnish is hyvää huomenta, can be used until noon, in both casual and formal circumstances.
Often native Finnish speakers drop the first part, and simply just say “huomenta”, which is fine, too.
4. “Good day” in Finnish – Hyvää päivää
The greeting hyvää päivää, which means “good day” in Finnish, is used in both formal and casual settings. Usually, nobody greets another by saying “hyvää päivää” after one has eaten dinner. It sometimes happens, just as with “hyvää huomenta”, that natives leave out the “hyvää” and just say päivää.
“Päivää” is a little less formal, so if you’re in a formal setting, you better use the whole phrase, or you might come across as rude.
5. “Good evening” in Finnish – Hyvää iltaa
After dinner-time, which for most Finnish people is around five or six o’clock, people use the phrase hyvää iltaa, or just “iltaa”, which means “good evening”. This is a rather formal Finnish greeting, and you should only say it to people you haven’t met. If you say “hyvää iltaa” to a friend or relative of yours, you’ll likely get some strange looks.
A more casual and frequently used phrase is mukavaa iltaa, which means “nice evening”. Friends and family often use this when they talk to each other.
6. “Good night” in Finnish – Hyvää yötä
The Finnish phrase for “good night” is hyvää yötä and it should only be used at the end of the day. Only people who know each other well use this phrase. If you were to say “hyvää yötä” to someone you just met, they would certainly find it odd.
7. “Goodbye” in Finnish – Hei hei or Moi moi
8. “How are you?” in Finnish – Mitä kuuluu or Kuinka voit
This greeting is a little tricky to learn how to use. Finnish people are not used to having conversations with strangers. In many other countries, it’s common to use phrases like “Hi, how’s it going?”, “Good day, how are you?”, or “Bonjour, ça va?” when you meet someone. But this is not the case in Finland.
“How are you” in Finnish is mitä kuuluu, or kuinka voit, but is never used to greet a stranger. Only friends, family, and those who know each other use this phrase. If you were to ask Finnish people how they’re doing, most people would likely fumble to come up with a reply. Finnish people never interpret “how are you” as a simple greeting, but as a question that requires an answer. It demands a conversation, and many Finns are not ready for it.
However, Finnish people do not wish to be rude, and even though they’ll probably find your question strange and peculiar, some people are surely going to reply. They might answer by saying hyvää kiitos, entä sinulle?, which means “thank you, I’m doing well, and you?”, to which you should reply hyvää, kiitos, meaning “I’m doing well”.
9. “Nice to meet you” or “pleased to meet you” in Finnish – Hauska tavata
This is another expression that can easily lead to a faux pas. “Nice to meet you” in Finnish is hauska tavata, and is a quite neutral expression. However, you should be cautious with this expression. If you say “nice to meet you” to someone, they’ll probably think of you as outgoing and confident.
If you have scheduled a meeting with someone, then using “hauska tavata” is more appropriate, because it’s an anticipated meeting, and you’ve known that you’re going to meet this person.
10. “Long time no see” in English – Pitkästä aikaa
If you have a Finnish friend, who you haven’t seen in a while, a perfect phrase to say when you finally meet again, is pitkästä aikaa. It literally means “from long time”, and Finnish people often use this phrase.
11. “Do you speak English?” in Finnish – Puhutko englantia
No matter how many words or phrases you learn before boarding your flight to Finland, the language barrier is still going to be a problem. Finnish is, after all, one of the most difficult languages in the world.
The Finnish phrase for “do you speak English” is puhutko englantia, and might come in handy if you’re in a jam, surrounded by stone-faced Finns. Finnish people are, however, very good at English.
12. “Cheers” in Finnish – Kippis!
If you have somehow managed to overcome the language barrier and the awkward Finnish social norms, and actually made some Finnish friends, there is one word that you should know. Most natives love to visit bars, pubs, and clubs. The Finnish drinking scene is quite diverse, multicultural, and modern.
When you’re drinking with your new Finnish friends, they’ll probably raise their glasses and say: kippis!, which means “cheers!” in Finnish, to which you also reply with a cheerful “kippis!”
13. “Excuse me” in Finnish – Anteeksi
As mentioned earlier, Finnish people are not going to talk to you unless they have to. If you’re in someone’s way, most Finns will likely just try to gently get past you, without uttering a word. If they can’t get past you without shuffling you to the side, they’ll probably say anteeksi, which means “excuse me”.
“Anteeksi” is also sometimes used to draw attention, or to apologize.
14. Can you tell me the Finnish word for “please”, please?
There is no Finnish word for “please”, and to some that might be absurd. But, that doesn’t mean that Finnish people aren’t polite. Many Finns do their best to make other people feel at ease.
In Finland, people instead use gestures and words to show politeness. The word kiitos is Finnish for “thank you”, and is as close to a please as there is in Finland. Despite the social distance and the lack of a word for “please”, Finns do value eye contact since they regard it as a sign of politeness.
Occasionally, natives who wish to be extra polite start a question with voisitko, which means “would you”. But that’s as close to a “please” you’re going to get in Finland. If you’d like to be extra polite, make eye contact and say kiitos paljon, which means “thank you very much”.
For more details, read this article on the many ways to say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” in Finnish.
15. The unique Finnish expression “torilla tavataan”, a strange way to say “hello” in Finnish
Torilla tavataan is a very difficult phrase to explain. Translated literally, it means “let’s meet at the market square”. This is indeed strange to say to someone. Why would you want to meet a complete stranger at the market square? And what would you do there? This strange Finnish greeting, which is used mostly as a joke, is used only in certain circumstances, such as when something great has happened and you wish to share it with someone.
Finnish people are crazy – I emphasize, crazy – about ice-hockey. If, for example, Finland has just won an ice-hockey tournament, people might shout “torilla tavataan” to each other in the streets, even though they’re strangers. By shouting “torilla tavataan”, they’re expressing their joy, enthusiasm, and excitement, and people immediately know that’s something awesome is going on.
Finns also use the phrase “torilla tavataan” online. However, on the internet, it has taken on a different meaning. “Torilla tavataan” is such a common and funny saying that every Finnish native knows of it. Thus, when a Finn encounters another Finn on the internet, they happily type “torilla tavataan” to each other to proclaim and acknowledge that they’re both Finnish.
Now you have hopefully learned some new Finnish words. Although these words are only basic Finnish greetings, they’re immensely useful. No matter if you’re in the metropolitan area of Helsinki or the snow-clad hills of Lapland, a simple “hei” or “hyvää päivää” will get you far. Who knows, you might even make a Finnish friend!