Who are the Finland-Swedes?

The Finland-Swede’s culture is centuries old and dates from the reign of the Swedish kingdom, through the times of Russian rule, up to its status today as a protected linguistic minority. The Swedish spoken by Finland-Swedes consists of distinct dialects that are understandable to other Swedish speakers and those who speak other Scandinavian languages. The majority of Swedish-speaking Finns are bilingual.

About 290,000 people in mainland Finland have Swedish as their mother tongue, as well as practically the entire population of the Åland islands, meaning that around 5.5% of Finns are Finland-Swedes. The Swedish-speaking population are generally located in pocketed areas of Finland, particularly along the southern and western coasts. This community is, of course, quite small, leading to the so-called “duck pond” or ankdammen phenomenon – the situation where you meet one Swedish-speaking Finn in Helsinki and another in Oulu, and they both end up being related or went to school together. The idea of six degrees of separation finds its apotheosis in Finland-Swedish society, except it would be more accurate to say three degrees instead of six.

This relatively small community is bound up in many traditions; including those related to everyday Finnish culture and those that are entirely distinct among Finland-Swedes. They, of course, feel part of Finland yet tend to be aware of belonging to a distinct group within the wider society. Certain customs such as the annual round of crayfish parties or kräftskivor in the autumn are rigorously adhered to in the Finland-Swedish community. However, one must never make the mistake of asking a Finland-Swede whether they are supporting Finland or Sweden in the ice hockey – they are just as blue and white as the rest of the country.