In his book Not So Barren or Uncultivated: British travellers in Finland 1760–1830, Tony Lurcock presents the familiar figure of the Englishman Abroad in very unfamiliar terms. Travellers told of winter temperatures which froze brandy in the bottle, and of summer journeys when they were eaten alive by bugs and mosquitoes. There are now many more Brits living in Finland than was the case back then.
It is difficult to know the exact numbers, but according to Statistics Finland, in 1990 there were 1,365 Brits living in Finland and by 2011 this number had risen to 3,666. Most of them are based in the Uuismaa region. The figures for Helsinki’s 14 municipalities have also increased from 817 to 2,091 over the same time period. The figures fluctuate within a short period of time, though, since they also include students, who often only come for one year, or, in some cases, a single semester.
The British share various elements of their culture including language, cricket, the arts, music and dancing through a national network of friendship societies. The biggest and oldest is FINNBRIT, an English language training and examinations centre, as well as a hub of cultural activity in Punavuori, where it is not uncommon to see Morris dancers, or amateur drama from the Finn-Britt Players.
For those with more of a celtic spirit, FINNBRIT organises two céilidhs per year. Other associated groups include, the Finnish-Welsh society, who usually meet up in some pub to celebrate, or drown the sorrows together depending on the rugby results during the Six Nations.
The International English Speakers’ Association of Finland also organises excursions, restaurant visits, picnics, sports outings and various beer-related activities.
The numbers of Brits living in Finland may have fluctuated, but their appreciation of nature and the great outdoors has remained constant. Lurcock’s British travellers also wrote lyrical accounts of the idyllic beauty of Finland’s lakes and islands.