Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saudi Dude's Guide To Finnish Coffee Drinking Ceremony

So you're a lucky Saudi dude and you find yourself visiting Finland for the first time. You think Finland is full of polar bears, Angry Birds and drunks. That is only partly true. There's also lots of reindeer.

A Finnish family has invited you to their house for some coffee and you get the chance to see there's a lot more to Finland than you thought and most importantly participate in the sacred coffee drinking ceremony.

You might have heard rumors how serious the Finns are when it comes to coffee. This tiny Nordic country tops the world's coffee consumption charts. They call themselves the Coffee King's but with pretty good credentials. Finns consume about 12kg or 608 litres of coffee per capita annually. That's about 1,6 litres per day!

This might raise your suspicions. Why do they need so much coffee? Is there some chemical missing in their brains which needs to be substituted by caffeine? Do they ever sleep? Are their guts made out of steel?

No need to worry, they are actually quite normal. Finns just simply love their coffee and once you've tasted it you'll understand why. Keep in mind when the Finns talk about cups of coffee they mean mugs, as in about 2-3 dl, not those tiny baby cups you're used to drinking from back home!
By following this simple guide you will not only survive the Finnish coffee drinking ceremony but avoid getting arrested and impress your hosts too!

It is a good idea to bring a small souvenir from Saudi-Arabia with you. The Finnish family will value it highly and show off the gift to everyone in their family and neighborhood for the next 27 years or so. The item will be placed on the top of the bookshelf  "this is what a real Saudi-Arab brought us!
On arrival you will greet the entire family (this means women too) the Finnish way which means by shaking hands. Resist your urge to kiss everyone repeatedly on the cheeks. Especially the womenfolk to avoid any stabbings. Finnish men don't like Arab dudes near their women at all. However not shaking the women's hands would be seen as a serious insult. 

You need to practice your handshaking skills because Finns are experts at telling what kind of person you are from that brief moment. This will be the only time you will come into this close contact with your hosts. The perfected handshake will also cast away the last suspicions your hosts have of you as an Arab dude. A firm but short handshake is best. Look the other person in the eye briefly but don't stare. Don't shake for too long, or do anything with the other hand like hugging, this might be taken the wrong way. Practice letting the hand droop next to your body. Make sure you don't give them the "dead fish" hand either.

Say "terve" while shaking hands. That is sufficient enough.

When you enter the house remember to remove your shoes at the door, walking in with them will be seen as uncivilized. Wear white tennis socks with your sandals and be sure to pull them high up your leg, this is seen as stylish.  In the house you will be shown a place to sit around the coffee table. Please don't sit on the carpets or floors.

At the table you will be asked if you want coffee. Of course you do! You CANNOT refuse. Coffee will be served from cups that look like this:
The make is ARABIA. As much as you would like them to be, the cups were not especially made for your visit. All Finns own coffee cups made by a company called Arabia Finland since 1873 to serve their guests coffee in. They just vary in color and design. Finns are a bit boring but hang on to their traditions.

The cup will come with a spoon and plate, which have significant importance in the ceremony you will learn later on. On the table you will see sugar cubes and two jugs, one will have milk and one cream in it. There will be a variety of cookies and maybe some candy on offer too. If you're extremely lucky you might have a chance to taste the "salmiakki" candy, well at least Finns like to call it candy. It's basically salty licorice, which has more ammonium in it than dynamite. If you can manage to eat one without exploding or puking you will become a hero in the hosts eyes.
If you don't want to take the risk of permanently damaging your taste buds ask before putting anything black in your mouth.

Be warned that your hosts might be sneaky and serve you salmiakki hidden inside other sweets! Finnish people love to do practical jokes.

Your host will now pour the coffee in your cup and ask if you need space for the milk? The way you take your coffee will send a message about you to your hosts. For Finns having it straight up black is what real men do. Putting lots of cream and at least six cubes of sugar in the cup will have them thinking the opposite. You want to impress, so say no need for milk space. The host will pour it full. Note the Finnish coffee is very dark in color. Don't worry they are not serving you oil. They know you bathe in it, but don't prefer to drink it.

If your host is female she will most likely smile at you. Do not hand her your mobile number written on the napkin. Se is not flirting with you, just being polite. It is normal in Finland for women to smile at men without any hidden agendas.
During all this time not many words have been said. This is nothing out of the ordinary, the hosts are not scared of you. It's just not common for Finns to engage in small talk. They most likely will ask you about what you think of Finland and how you like the weather. To amuse the hosts you can say you're freezing (which you probably are anyways) and comment on how beautiful the nature is. 

You might be asked how many camels you own. Even if you don't personally own any, you could say you have a few and they will believe you because it's assumed all Arabs own at least one camel. The hosts might ask how many camels their daughter is worth. Note that this is a joke and they are not offering their daughter for marriage. Be polite and say at least one hundred camels.

Don't start babbling too much. It will make the Finns uncomfortable, because they are not drunk yet (in most cases) and are not up to talking lots of English.

With the coffee you will be served "pulla". It comes in various forms but most likely looks like something this:
This is sweet coffee bread which Finns always have with their coffee. You must take one! They are sort of like the Cinnabons you eat in Saudi, but about hundred times better. Consider yourself a lucky man to be able to experience this culinary masterpiece.

Now for the actual coffee drinking ceremony. The following is the hardcore traditional way of drinking the coffee. Your hosts will be ecstatic to see you do this.

Begin with taking the cup off the plate and pouring some coffee on it until the bottom is covered. Now take the pulla and break it into small pieces, then place them inside the cup to soak up the rest of the coffee. Then take a sugar cube and place it between your lips. Sip the coffee slowly from the plate while firmly holding the cube between your lips, making sure to make a nice guzzling sound. The louder the better.

Then take the spoon and stir the pieces of pulla around, making sure to make a clinking sound. If you still have the cube stuck between your lips take another dose of the coffee from the plate. Try to avoid drooling.When the cube has dissolved eat the pulla from the cup with the spoon. Do all this in complete silence, taking your time while glancing out of the window every once in a while.

Your hosts will be beaming with pleasure of your cultural knowledge. They will be dying to know how the coffee and pulla tastes. Say everything is excellent and ask for more.

It would be advisable to drink at least three cups, but four would be impressive. When the host is pouring more, offer your cup to him on the plate. Take another pulla. Don't linger too long, Finns don't like guests staying for many hours.

When the time comes to leave your host will let you know by standing up and clearing his throat, maybe mentioning the ice hockey game is about to start on TV. This is your cue to leave, not join him on the couch. Thank them for the excellent coffee. Your hosts will be concerned if you enjoyed your time or not. Ensure them it was fantastic and make your way to the door. If the Finnish man pats your back as you leave, this is a sign of success!

You have passed the Finnish coffee drinking ceremony with flying colors!

Read also: The Finnish Dude's Ultimate Guide To Coffee Drinking In Saudi-Arabia


Noor said...

I am a big coffee person myself and this has to be the first time I heard that the Finnish like it this much, very interesting and funny post :)

Much of what you said is like how we are in the South where I am from. GOTTA take your shoes off we were asked if we were raised in a barn if we did not lol. Black coffee=real man for us too. Same with the hand shake thing I always shake firm and look in the eyes bc I was always told you can tell everything about a person from the shake.

Affinity for Modesty said...

Ramadan Kareem Laylah!

Shimshim said...

As ever Laylah, you writing is excellent and you spin such a great story. As well as laughing and grinning, I have learnt about the Finns coffee rituals which I was in complete ignorance before. Thank you! You make me want to go and visit Finland and Saudi because of your tales - one day!

Jenny said...

I thought this was a delightful post; I laughed out loud a couple times. I've got to ask about something though- I don't know what to make of the slurping coffee with a sugar cube between lips. Is that a joke making fun of an eccentric peculiarity of one of your relatives or could this really be a common practice? It seems outlandish to me, and I'm thinking it must be a joke.

dragonlady said...

lol. Its always interesting to read about these little cultural differences that exist! Hope you are having a great holiday break and that your husband has impressed many a Finn with his excellent coffee drinking knowledge!!

راوية said...

This is, by far, the most enjoyable post I read on your blog. I cannot imagine sipping coffee from a plate with a sugar cube between my lips.. I hope there is a youtube video for this. I cannot wait to try it tomorrow at breakfast..
I was also surprised to learn that Finns take their shoes off at the door. I thought this was an Asian tradition.
Thanks Laylah for a great post and Ramadan Mubarak.

Tiffany Wacaser said...

So I lived in Sweden for 5 1/2 years and they claimed THEY were the biggest coffee consumers in the world. So who would win? Sweden or Finland??

Layla said...

Noor it sounds like there's so much in common to where you're from and Finnish culture :) I like your raised in the barn comparison, something we would say too lol

Layla said...

Ramadan Kareem to you too!

Layla said...

SHimshim, thanks for the comment! I hope you get to visit either or both someday!

Layla said...

Hi Jenny, it's not a joke but it is "a bit" of an exaggeration ;)
Some ppl do drink coffee with the cube between the lips and even from the plate! But it's not common, I don't honestly know of anyone who routinely uses the plate vs the cup, but this is what they say was done back in the day. I find it really funny, and have no clue how that started :)

Layla said...

drgonlady-thanks! He is master of Finnish coffee drinking ceremony by now :)

Layla said...

Ramadan Kareem and thanks! I can't wait to hear back from your breakfast experiment :)

Layla said...

Swedemom-hahah those sneaky Swedes! They also claim they invented sauna. At least according to worldwide coffee consumption statistics, year after year it's been the Finns who are at the number one slot :)

Anonymous said...

Very nicely described!
I recently found your very entertaining (as well as informative) blog and got addicted :)


Anonymous said...

Layla you are just too funny. I'd love to read an interview of your husband and hear his perspective of this very different culture into which he has married.


Layla said...

Hi Eveliina thanks and welcome to the blog!

Layla said...

Annie he might do it but who would interview him? I'm biased :)

Unknown said...

Great post & very entertaining!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm . . . how about Susi of Susi's Big Adventure or Americanbedu? I think Susi is in Jeddah but AB is in the US for medical reasons. I'd love to read it as I have not read much about Saudi Men's experience of being married to westerners.

Maybe you could interview Susi's husband? He is Saudi.


Noor said...

Yea I swear so many of the things you post are just like the South.

Lavender © said...

Loved this post! In my family it was a MUST to remove your shoes at the door... now in most homes here.. everyone walks in with their shoes.. I used to think it was weird.. and would ALWAYS remove my shoes.. but alas... I am catching the Saudi bug! I still don't get it though.. why oh why would it be OK to track in all the nastiness from outside to ones home? :s

As for the Finish coffee experience.. I am delighted to say I tried it at your place.. but did not have too much as I was BF'ing back then! Next time I am over.. I will be sure to have a few mugs! :D

Lavender © said...

Me? :P

Anonymous said...

Great Post...must add Finland to my list of places to visit.

Ildi said...

Great post Laylah! I became more and more courious to your culture! Btw, when will you share famous cinnamon cake's recipe?

johanna_dxb said...

love it!!! many years ago I was working for a sugar company in Finland as a summer trainee and part of my job was to do a market research about new sugar cubes and intervew people by phone how they like it and whether they place the cubes between their lips etc.

Alejandra said...

I love that idea I think it would be awesome! Especially since Susie's DH lived in the US a gazillion years, yours had more culture shock lol

Anonymous said...

MashaAllah Layla, so funny!! I live in Finland and I can totally relate! Keep up the good work sister.

Layla said...

Why not! I doubt he would agree face to face husband lived half his life in the U.S.

Layla said...

I will have to translate the recipe soon, I know I promised to share it!

Layla said...

johanna that is pretty funny, do tell did many still have the habit of putting the cube between the lips?

Anonymous said...

Hah haa! Not laughed as much in ages. Big shock if theres only fine sugar?

Well, mushing the pulla is one thing - its done by "older folk" as by tradition there was "back in the day" very bad teeth, and the pulla wasn't necessarily fresh. Nowadays you do seem slightly... erm... country folk if you do that. Dipping the pulla also might incinuate to the hostess she is serving old pulla. Then again, old pulla, or the braided version 'pullapitko' is fried in the oven and served as crackers 'korppu' in some households, and that is quite OK to dip in.

What comes to drinking from the 'tassi', you need to check if the saucer is bowl-shaped or not, it does not quite work on totally straight plates. What this tradition stems from, is twofold. Its not all that peculiar if you remember that all these antics were created by common country folk trying to emulate the rich city folks. They wouldn't buy a coffee cup AND a saucer just to waste a good saucer by not using it... In the "olden days" when you made coffee from beans or something else ground up and called coffee, you first fried the beans, ground them and boiled them in a pot. This causes coffee to gather "soot" in the bottom, so pouring the scalding hot coffee from the pot you then pour the coffee from the cup to your plate to make it cool as well as keep the soot in the cup. After a few rounds you can then collect the soot to make another brew - coffee was an imported luxury - how many times do you boil the grounds? Its not dust-like as in Arabic coffee.

And the slurping with the sugar... Now we must remember the bad or nonexisting teeth - there is a saying that an old lady has her "coffee tooth aching" probability was it was the only tooth she had. Sugar being a luxury and in olden days sugar being rock-hard piece cut with 'sugar scissors' or secateurs from a big pillar, you would place it between your gums (or the tooth that was left) and then try slurping (as it is scalding hot) through trying to save the precious piece of sugar to last the three cups or for the next day.

And no, its not a joke, old habit, but you can see it in films even - 1938 "Tulitikkuja lainaamassa" has a very nice scene of a coffee moment

Layla said...

THANK YOU so much for posting this explanation and history of the Finnish coffee drinking! And the link you posted was awesome too, I am going to attach that pic on the original post :) on the link it says that some people thought drinking the coffee straight from the cup was too fancy lol Finns are so careful of not being seen as too posh or proud people.

Anonymous said...

A warning one should add, that if you end up going to a fishing trip (in winter, in lappland) and are getting coffee done in a pot over an open fire - of course a dash of salt is put in to sweeten the bitterness (believe it or not), and the coffee is "cleared" from the billowing coffee grounds, with fish scales or a whole skin. Now after having coffee served like that, slurping it off a plate is quite civilized indeed.

Anonymous said...

I am Scandinavian descent in the US, and I just found your story by chance. It is hysterically funny, and totally accurate! We laughed out loud. When I visit my relatives in Scandinavia, it's a lot like this for me. You have a great sense of humor and such a great eye for cultural details, sugar cube and all. Keep writing, and keep posting! You make us want to visit Saudi Arabia and drink coffee!

Fayez said...

I've been following your blog for a while and just came across this older post through Twitter. Never thought I'd say this, but I'm going to Helsinki from Riyadh next week and these tips might actually help!