“Hey, do you want to come to my stag party? It’s in Finland.”
Prior to moving to London as an American expat, I could never imagine such a question heading my way. Totally unlikely. Yet, here I find myself, finally recovered from a rather debaucherous weekend spent in rural Himos, Finland, a small ski resort town three hours north of Helsinki. Did I mention that I was the lone American among a crew of thirty Finnish guys? To say it was an “interesting” weekend would be a gross understatement.
I met my Finnish buddy Tom through our local London tennis league. We played a few times and visited the local pub afterwards for a pint. After a few months, he asked me about attending his stag party. I was hesitant, since I would only know Tom and no one else in his large group of friends. But Julie, being the great partner she is, said I had no choice but to go. “When is the next time you will get invited to a Finnish stag party with a group of Finnish guys?” Good point, babe. So last weekend, we took off, flying from London to Helsinki for a long weekend of all the typical activities associated with a stag, plus a few unique Finnish twists.
Now, I cannot go into details about the weekend, as a few laws were probably broken and more than a few poor choices made. Plus, the stories and language required would not be well received by anyone with a strong sense of moral conviction. But I did emerge from my alcohol-fueled weekend with some fascinating insights into Finnish culture.
1) The Finnish love sauna
I had heard about this and assumed that it was a Nordic thing in general. But while other countries like Sweden take saunas, the Finnish take it to another level, making it a central part of their culture. The word sauna is even used as a verb (‘When will we sauna this afternoon?’). Our cottage in Himos had a sauna, and every morning, no matter how hungover, the Finns would sit in the oppressively hot sauna and take an ice cold shower afterwards. I usually avoid sunlight, people and the outside world when I’m hungover, but the Finns sit in sweat box together. It’s different. We even took part in a traditional Finnish smoke sauna, requiring eight hours of preparation to make the room hot and slightly smokey. It was over 70C (160F), so basically surface of the sun level hot. In place of the cold shower, we walked down the dock near the smoke sauna and jumped into a frozen lake. I am not kidding. I jumped in too, and have never felt my heart beating that loudly and quickly in my life. I got so light headed I had to sit down. This series was repeated, without issue, by the Finns over the course of the four hours we relaxed at the smoke sauna. We literally spent a whole afternoon at a sauna, during a stag party. Only the Finns.
2) The Finnish love being naked
I am assuming this is directly linked to their sauna culture, but nudity is not discouraged. I saw more naked people in one weekend that I have seen in my entire life. Guys would walk between our rental cottages, in public, with no pants. Our afternoon at the smoke sauna was spent by most of the thirty or so Finns completely naked. For FOUR hours! We even had some food delivered and most sat outside on picnic benches, still naked, casually eating potato casserole and salad. During a party at one of the cottages, attended by both men and women, one of the Finnish guys, inexplicably, took off all of his clothes and just sat at a table in the middle of the room, talking with a few of the other Finns. No one really batted an eye. One girl told me, “It’s fine. When I’m at home, I’m always naked.” Okay. Another Finn even took his off his clothes inside of a packed nightclub, showing his goods off to everyone around. Everyone just laughed and smiled. He did not get kicked out. In America, he would have gone to jail. In Finland, he just kept on partying.
3) The Finnish can drink. A lot.
The quantity of alcohol consumed over the weekend was staggering. Even the British guy and Irishman in attendance thought it was crazy (which is saying something). On Saturday, most in the group started drinking around 10am and didn’t stop until 4 or 5am. Nonstop. A few passed out for an hour or two in the afternoon (including one guy who was completely naked at a picnic table during the smoke sauna). Most didn’t get sick or overly belligerent. It was simple, unadulterated drinking. The Finns are professionals. The best part? First thing Sunday morning, they got up, after a few hours of hazy sleep, immediately cracked a beer and got in the sauna.
So I managed to survive my weekend of sauna, nakedness and endless drinking.
Barely, but I did it. Of course, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see something different, right? Well, not exactly. Shortly afterwards, my friend Tom suggested we go to his friend’s stag party in July. In Finland. So it looks like it was more like a twice in a lifetime experience. Oh dear.