Question: On a summer’s day, what household chore can you find Finns doing along the banks of the Baltic Sea?
Answer: Cleaning their carpets in seawater
For a day at the park along the banks of the Baltic Sea in Helsinki, it’s common to see kids splashing in the water, young people sunning themselves, and residents washing their carpets. This age-old tradition has been a part of Finnish culture for decades, in both rural areas and big cities, continuing today as a cheery activity to socialize with neighbors and have fun, all while getting a household task done.
Throughout cities like Helsinki, there are many piers built specifically for the use of carpet cleaning. The piers feature built-in wooden tables and racks for scrubbing and drying the rugs. On a warm day, Finns carry their thick carpets, a bucket, a wooden brush, and a bottle of pine oil soap to the park. At the pier, they hang their carpet over the railing and splash buckets of seawater on it. Once it’s drenched in water, they lay the carpets on the wooden tables, apply their soap, and scrub. They splash water again to rinse off the soap and hang them on wooden racks to dry. Families spend the rest of the day jumping off the pier, enjoying drinks, picnicking, and being in the company of neighbors while the carpet dries. Sometimes it may take a day or two to dry, but in these trustworthy communities, stealing is not a worry.
The practice of washing carpets in the outdoors began in rural areas when it was common to wash laundry in one of Finland’s many lakes. As people began moving towards the city, washing all sorts of laundry in the seawater became a common part of urban life. However, as the city grew, so did the water’s pollution from the industries and factories nearby. By the 1870s it was not clean enough to wash clothing, bed linens, and blankets for risk of receiving an infectious disease from the polluted water. But carpets were different. City dwellers used collected rainwater for washing and seawater for rinsing, so the tradition of cleaning carpets outside continued on. Now the salt from the clean brackish water makes the carpets smell like fresh air without damaging the cotton or wool.
Recently, environmental concerns over the soapy water have become somewhat divisive, but research by Helsinki’s water protection department showed that the biodegradable liquid pine soap used does not badly affect the water. The special carpet cleaning piers remain in place, and Finns continue this lively tradition by the sea enveloped in the smell of their freshly cleaned carpets.
8 More Quirky Facts About the Finns:
- The sauna is an essential part of Finnish culture as a place to relax and socialize with friends. There are more than three million saunas throughout the country.
- The Finns rank in the top 10 as one of the world’s biggest coffee consuming nations—they drink more than 26 pounds of coffee per person annually. In Finland, coffee is not only just a morning beverage, but it is an important part of special occasions and feasts.
- Finland also has the highest consumption of milk per capita in the world at about one quart per person per day.
- The Finnish celebrate a very strange holiday known as the “Day for Failure” on October 13th each year. The special day was first held in 2010 by university students but it has grown in popularity and now attracts big names to share their stories of failure and overcoming challenges.
- Finland is known for having some of the world’s strangest sports such as wife-carrying, mosquito hunting, rubber boot throwing, and air guitar.
- In the dark and icy landscape, it’s not surprising that Finland is also home to the most heavy metal bands per capita. They channel their nation’s wintery and wild nature through their intense music.
- Finland is known around the world for its progressive “open prison” system in which prisoners are allowed in the surrounding community during the day-time. However, this trusting system doesn’t always work out as Finland has the highest prison break numbers in all of Europe.
- While Finland might be 8,000 miles away from Buenos Aires, the Finns love to tango. The love for tango swept through the nation when the dance first arrived on its shores in 1913 and it has continued to be practiced throughout the country, even with its own special tango festival in July.
Experience the quirky culture of Finland and learn more about their long-held traditions when you travel aboard our Grand Baltic Sea Voyage.