All nations have characteristics, which have been influenced by geopolitical situation, climate, the historical development of the nation, immigration etc. Personally I don’t like any national stereotypes, which easily cause prejudice and may cause trouble in intercultural relationships. However, even if you don’t consider yourself as a typical representative of your culture, I have noticed the background tends to lurk all the time in the background and spending longer time periods abroad have also revealed my own Finnishness…
Below is a view from our country’s tallest building over our second largest city. In Finland scale this is a big city, but still you can mostly see lakes and forests. So inevitably our country being quite sparcely populated has had its effect on our mentality and molded it towards being somewhat hermit-like.
Finns tend to keep quiet and try to “hide” and blend in with the wall paper, so that they don’t draw attention to themselves. There are regional differences, but at least in the western Finland such behaviours as rapid and loud speech, using lots of arm and hand gestures, walking fast etc. are things that we try to avoid and also look down on. We appreciate listening quietly when other people speak, giving lots of personal space during interaction. Others view us as being shy and timid, when we are just trying to be polite and avoid irritating others.
An old joke about us Finns I find very descriptive of our character: There was an elephant which was observed for the first time by a Frenchman, a German and a Finn. The Frenchman immediately thought what sort of food could I cook of this animal. The German started pondering ways to make money with the elephant. The Finn immediately thought: “I wonder what this animal thinks of me.” Also whenever a Finn succeeds abroad, even the fact that some foreign media did a story about some Finnish phenomenon makes it to the headlines of tabloid news in our country.
So, for foreigners Finland is in that sense a very easy place to be, because we are much more worried about what others think of us than actually thinking about what we think of them. This characteristic and our shyness makes us perhaps a little bit difficult to get to know, but once you break the surface ice and gain our confidence, you also get a friend for life. 🙂