Tag Archives: etiquette

Finns Are Content in Silence

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One of the biggest cultural differences that I have noticed between Finns and rest of the world is that we can be perfectly at ease with silence even though we are in company. I noticed this especially when I lived for a week with a French family in Belfort, when the mother thought something was wrong if we Finns were quiet during the car ride. We had thought it a bit odd instead, that the mother had tried so hard to keep up small-talk — we were perfectly happy with just appreciating the passing scenery.  When we explained this to the French family, they told us that they felt really weird if things were silent, especially if you didn’t know the people very well.  Silence for them, was a mark that something was wrong.

In addition to Finns being a silent bunch, we normally are not that well versed in the art of small-talk. I had a course in the University of Eastern Finland, where our American professor tried to hammer us some basic dos and dont’s in especially the Anglo culture. First of all, the professor told us, Finns are too honest and straightforward. If someone asks us how we are, we genuinely answer how our day has been; usually the ‘how do you do’ is however, just a polite expression.

There is also something else that stayed in my mind from the course: in the Anglo culture there is a habit of saying the person’s name a lot when you are talking with them. I had never noticed before, but we Finns don’t generally do that. For that reason, our professor emphasized to us, that we should really pay attention to people’s names when they are introduced, as it is expected to use them later in the conversation as a sign of respect.

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Apart from being quiet and having to work on our conversation skills, we Finns sure do love our summer cottages. Maybe it’s because we want to escape to spend our sparse summer months somewhere with even less people, maybe it’s because usually the sauna in the cottage is superior to the one at home. When I was younger, most of our summers were spend in the cottage, and though I go there myself much rarely now, my parents still flee there right when the first a bit warmer weekend comes in the spring.

Dependable but flexible Finnishness

As a person who was born and raised in the not-so-wild Keski-Pohjanmaa region in the middle of nowhere, I have learned to appreciate dependable yet flexible Finnish attitude. Honesty plays a big part in that, even though it’s sometimes seen as rudeness. That is what makes it easy to make agreements with Finns, because they’ll take your word for it if you have earned their trust.

Finns were awkwardly reliable in Iron Sky movie

Open-minded

If you have been so persistent that you finally got through Finnish shyness, you might notice that Finns have quite liberal attitudes. Here, you don’t have to worry too much about breaking etiquettes and taboos that could damage your relationship with local folks. On the contrary, behaviour is often relaxed and creepily honest – even in business meetings and news! That’s one reason why it’s easy to talk about almost any topic, as long as your chatting partner isn’t a complete stranger who is sitting next to you in a crowded bus.

Relaxedness can also be seen at work places, because it’s fine to chat with your boss in caféteria line while addressing that person by their first name. He/she could even get a bit embarassed if someone allowed him/her to go first only because of their title. Bragging about titles is also something that Finns like to avoid, hence those are often dropped in conversations. In fact, if someone uses too many polite expressions, a Finn might assume that person is making fun of him/her or implying that you’re old. Getting straight to the main point is seen as a favorable thing.

Don’t make promises too casually

Words always hold a meaning, as they are not used merely out of politeness. You might have thought it was just small talk when you promised to go to a bar with your childhood friend, who you just met in a busy market, and then forget the whole thing. That same person may call later and actually confirm a date for your bar visit. You should be aware of your schedule promises that you casually made with your boss in that caféteria line too, because he/she probably forwarded that information to your collegues as your accurate work plan! Finns are fortunately flexible folks, therefore little misunderstandings are harmless if you fix them early.

ahtisaari_Karjalainen_saunasta

Martti Ahtisaari in sauna in Africa 1974. © Ulkoministeriö

If you want to combine openmindness and honest opinions, have a meeting in sauna. That’s a place where everyone is equal and stripped of formalities. Compromises are easily found in sauna as well, because Finns like to avoid awkward situations and no one wants to fight in sauna!