Finnish Basic Politeness and Greetings
Contrary to what might be the common image of Finns, they are a warm-hearted and friendly people, so you have to be able to offer a cheerful greeting when visiting their country. To say a simple hello, you have many different casual choices: Terve, Hyvää päivää, Päivää, Moi, or Hei. To go on and ask how are you?, say mitä kuuluu? Kuinka voit? if you’re being informal or kuinka voitte? if you’re being formal.
Greeting people by the time of day is an international convention that always works. Good morning is hyvää huomenta, good afternoon is hyvää päivää, and good evening is hyvää iltaa. If you’re toasting someone, you might also find kippis to be useful – it means “cheers” or “to good health!”
And of course, you’ll need to apologise for your Touristy ways, won’t you? “Sorry” is anteeksi, and thank you is kiitos or kiitoksia oikein paljon.
Misunderstanding the Finns
Naturally, phrases are the simplest language tools you can use save for grunts and a brisk game of charades – so you’ll need to know how to say “I don't understand” in Finnish: En ymmärrä. And no one will be surprised if you have to seek out an English speaker to help you, so learn “do you speak English?” too: Puhutteko English?
The Gold Standard of necessary phrases remains “where's the toilet?” - a more important phrase you simply cannot learn. In Finnish, it’s missä on vessa? or missä vessa on? or even missä WC on?
To cry for help, shout apua! or auttakaa! (plural), and “call the police!” is soittakaa poliisille! Naturally one would hope you don’t need those particular phrases in your travels, but it’s always better to be prepared, especially if you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language.
Of course, I hope these basic phrases inspire you to learn the Finnish language more deeply, but if this is all you learn you’ll at least be able to get around and make friends – and all it takes is a few friendly Finns and the rest of your trip will be an unmitigated success! Plus, if you spend time with some new Finnish friends, you’ll probably pick up more Finnish, so it’s a win-win!