Tag Archives: small talk

Finnishness

What is finnishness (to me)?

When I think about finnish people and Finland, two things pop into my head: our beautiful nature and our pure desire not to communicate with each other. Here’s what I mean.

Folk of few words

If you encounter a finnish person, you might notice that, generally speaking, we are not a very chatty people. We usually don’t like to chit-chat and so we try our best to avoid any situations where we might have to do that. For example in the bus, we would much prefer to sit alone than next to someone and this is why we will try to sit on an empty row if we possibly can. Of course when we do talk we are very polite and kind, we just might sound a little rude with our short answers and overall awkwardness in that situation.

All of four (but mostly one)

Seasons. We get them all (even if we don’t really want to). We get the snow when it’s winter so we can play some winter sports, we get the heat in the summer so we can go to the beach and get a tan (or seriously sun-burned). We get the color shifting trees, shining on us all the colors of Fall, and we get the long lost bird singing and sun after a gruesomely long and dark winter. We finnish people tend to say that we have winter most of the year and that our summers last for about a month. Of course that is not the case, we just feel like it. All in all, we get to witness all the seasons of the year and to me that is a blessing.

 

Little parts of Finnishness

Travelling to and living in different countries can really make you appreciate the culture you have grown up with. At least for me that is the case. Listed below are a few “features” of Finnishness which I really appreciate especially compared to other cultures and countries.

Personal space

One unique feature of Finnish culture is the value of personal space, as shown in the picture below. This actually is a common sight at bus stops in Finland and it is hard for some people from other cultures to understand. A part of Finnishness is appreciating the quiet moments and not feeling the pressure to socialize if it is not necessary.

People can just quietly pass each other and still acknowledge the person they are passing,  in the Finnish culture, without it being considered rude. In some other cultures it is common to greet people on the street or  at the bus stop, this is considered common courtesy. For example passing a person in a supermarket at an aisle in the US, they would say “Excuse me”, this was strange to me because there was plenty of room for them to pass and in Finland people would just quietly pass behind the person.

This ties into the lack of small talk in the Finnish culture and a key part of Finnishness for me. People can take the same bus with the same people for a year and never talk to each other because there is no pressure for that. This might be perceived as shyness or being rude which might be hard to explain to other people. Instead it should be considered as a good feature in people, because once a Finn starts a conversation with someone else it usually has a purpose and is not just forced small talk. Also when asking someone how they are, a Finn truly wants to know how have you been and are expecting a better answer than just “good”.

 

Nature

The other thing I really appreciate in Finland is the nature. I know this is a common answer among Finns but there is not many places that have similar nature opportunities like in Finland. You do not need to go far to find a quiet piece of nature, even if it is just the park or a small patch of forest. There are always trails near by where you can for example take your dog for a walk and it is not hard to find.

The distinctive four seasons are also very valued here, even if the summer is short and winter is dark. I could not imagine myself living somewhere where I could not experience both the warmth of summer and the beauty of snowy winter.

These are the things that come to mind when talking about Finnishness to myself. I hope people visiting Finland get to experience these in a positive way and Finns remember to appreciate these features even in the darkest times of winter.

Silence and small talk

People are different when it comes to tolerating silence. Someone thinks it is fine to be quiet when hanging out with friends while someone else has the need to keep the conversation going and to avoid silence. To my mind, Finnish people can cope with silence quite well. Here it is okay to sit on a bus and not to talk to anyone, especially to strangers. People usually queue in silence and don’t start a conversation just because they feel like talking. Sometimes I have had conversations with strangers while waiting for a music concert to begin. In those cases, we shared an interest in something –the band – and there was no need to figure out what to talk about.

(Picture: Finnish Nightmares)

Despite the above-mentioned examples I wouldn’t say Finnish people don’t know the art of small talk. I’ve had chats with strangers in situations I usually wouldn’t talk to anyone, e.g. when waiting for a bus or sitting on a train. Especially at bus stops older people tend to comment on the weather and then continue the conversation. I remember small talk situations well because they do not happen too often. On the other hand, it is nice to mind my own business but then again it’s great to meet new people, even if it was only for a brief chatting.

Another point of silence is the absence of noise. In cities, there are all kinds of noise, e.g. cars, construction sites, announcements… Luckily in Finland it is easy to get away from the noise. One doesn’t need to go far to get to a more silent place. There are forests and hiking trails close to cities or even within them. In today’s world noise may cause problems such as stress or a headache. If noise is work related it is hard to escape from it. That is why I value places where people can go on their free time to enjoy the silence.

Some things about Finns and Finland

After traveling to some countries and coming back to home, first thing to be thankful is recycling. For me that is important matter. When you are at home, you might get too used to recycling your things because in Finland it is made so easy. Recycling reflects to tidiness in living environments and nature.

Finnish people are tight-lipped and silent human beings. Yes, we are politely shaking hands and murmuring hello, but that’s all you can get. No smile, no hugging, no kissing and especially no chit chat.

In Finland, we have four seasons. That should be amazing gift from the nature and it provides so many opportunities for many things. But once again, no. We like to complain about it. The weather is never good enough.

 

Nature sets the mindset

Finland – the land of thousand lakes, lush green nature and shy people who are hard to get to know and go to sauna a lot. As a Finn, I’ve heard this a gazillion times and as all of those notions are true, there is more to us Finns than meets the eye.

As there are so many forests and lakes, it is natural (pun intended) that our culture has become so closely entwined with it – in the past as provider of food and shelter and today as a sanctuary where people can rest and forget the hectic outside world. The feeling you get from watching the sun set behind a lake, seeing the Northern Lights dance upon a frosty winter sky or just gazing at the stars in dark autumn night is just indescribable and it has had a profound effect in us.

There are even studies about how walking in a forest will lower your blood pressure in 20 minutes and I believe that we Finns have known this all along, nature gives us peace of mind and we just want to enjoy it. That background added with the traditional Finnish logic of if you don’t have anything meaningful to say, it is better to be quiet and say nothing at all. That can easily show differently on the outside and is at least partly the reason why Finns are so unfamiliar with small talk.

I remember reading an article about which European citizens travel the most and was really surprised to find Finns in the top 3. The article explained that Finns don’t travel abroad that much but the reason that put them in top places of list was, of course, summer cottages. And there was a staggering number of 502 900 of them in 2016. So that’s where we are, not talking and going to saunas most of the time.

My theory is that the nature has shaped us into who we are and how we see the world and personally, I couldn’t be happier.

 

Finnishness for me

Introverted and quiet

If I have to describe the main personality trait in a Finn, it would probably be introverted and fairly quiet. People talk here when they have something to say. There is no chit chat, no pointless banter. silence is golden in here. The lack of small talk reflects to our speaking. If you ask something you better be prepared for straight answer.

All in all, we like our silence but a Finn can also be very talkative and outgoing when you really get to know them. The better you know them the more outgoing they will become.

 

Coffee culture

Finns are the biggest coffee drinkers in the world. When you look at the consumption of coffee per capita, there we are, – right at the top of the list. It’s not like our country is situated even remotely close to an area where it would be possible to grow coffee beans. But still, we consume about 12 kilos of coffee a year, per capita. I guess that has something to do with our dark and cold winter time.

Coffee is so important to us Finns that we have a legitimate coffee break officially added to our work days.

In Finland, we have lots of different kind of coffee houses. I think that a good coffee house is a place you don’t mind spending hours tucked away studying on your laptop hiding from the frosty winter air or just spending time with your friends. It´s not always all about the coffee itself. It´s also about the atmosphere and the company the time you enjoy it.

 

The archipelago

 If you are into sailing or boating and you have not yet been to Finland, there is a unique sailing experience just waiting for you.

Finland is referred to as the land of the thousand lakes, but that is a serious understatement. Finland has 180.000 lakes and almost as many islands. Just the Archipelago Sea alone has about 40.000 islands.

Even though the best thing about the archipelago is its nature, there is also no shortage of cultural offerings here. There are countless old stone churches, nature trails, excellent museums, outstanding hotels, cosy cafés, village shops and fine dining establishments.

Nature loving people

Living my childhood ”in the middle of the woods” has taught me to appreciate the clean nature and the peace and sounds it has to offer us. I believe that I’m not the only Finn, who’s favorite thing during the summer is just to sit outside, listen the wind rustling the leaves, birds and crickets chirping and the sound of a bee flying somewhere nearby and the scent of flowers… I love the fact that I can go and swim in a lake almost everywhere, because the nature is so clean in Finland. Somehow nature is the only thing that really soothes me, no matter what is going on in my mind.

I can’t really picture myself living in a city far from the true nature for the rest of my life. I believe that this is something almost every Finn has, some more than others. Of course everyone doesn’t need the feel of nature around them in their everyday life. Some never, but for many of us it is enough to have a summer cottage, mökki, where to spend the summer and enjoy the nature. In fact nature has always played a major part in our lives and that can be seen strongly in old Finnish mythologies. If you’re interested, here’s one site you may want to visit: http://www.finnishmyth.org/FINNISHMYTH.ORG/Welcome.html

Sometimes we Finns may seem rude, because we often lack the skill of small talk from the foreigners point of view. Our answers tend to be straight and short, which may give an impression, that we don’t really want to chat with you. I think that easier way to get to know a Finn is to have an conversation during an activity: doesn’t really matter if it is just walking or playing games, but doing something during the chatting makes the situation way more relaxed.

Pictures: @SaraHenriikka, http://sarahenriikka.blogspot.fi/

 

Truth about the Finns

When I thought about Finland and what finnishness meant to me, these stereotypes about Finns came to my mind. I’m going to present a few of them in the pictures below. What makes the pics more fun is because they are actually so true!

Coffee consumption

”It’s time for a cup of a coffee.” The Finns are known for the largest coffee consumption in the world with about 2,6 cups per day. Finns usually drink very light roasted coffee, which is lighter than anywhere else in the world. Coffee has always been a part of my daily life and Finnish culture. For example, coffee is served at workplaces (free of charge), at birthdays and at home. Finns must also get their morning coffee and it’s a huge disaster if there’s none of it. TIP: It’s a great way to get to know a Finn by asking him to go for a coffee.

Small talk

Small talk – there is not even a word for that in finnish. Maybe word “jutustelu”, but it does not exactly mean the same. Most of the Finns are introverts and chatting with a stranger feels uncomfortable, so the silence is a better option. For example, if you’re waiting for a bus on the bus stop, you don’t want that anyone talks to you. Not even asking you about the weather (which is always bad). In my case, I just want to listen to music and survive through the day (especially through a morning without a cup of coffee).

Usually, when some foreigner asks you “How are you?”, we usually start to tell about our bad day at work instead of answering “Fine, thanks!” and asking “How about you?”. Why do Finns behave like this? I have heard an explanation that says because Finns are interested in what other people are saying, they are expecting that the other side is also listening. Finns are also better in listening than talking, and in the Finnish culture it’s inappropriate to interrupt the one who is speaking.

Personal space

Finns respect each other and a personal space. It’s said that a comfortable space between strangers is approximately 1,5 meters. TIP: When you are having a conversation with a Finn, and you notice that the other one is trying to get further from you, then you’re too close and you should give more space.

Finns prefer to take free seats on the bus, instead of sitting next to someone strange, like in this picture below. Usually, when I get on a bus, first thing is that I’m looking for free seats and if there are none, I might rather stand. In my opinion, Finns do not like to be loud and in a public place that would be uncomfortable. Once, when I was getting off the bus, I pushed the stop button but the doors didn’t open. There were me and a few others, standing and waiting quietly for the doors to open until someone finally had to say something to the bus driver (and that wasn’t me) for him to open the doors.

 

The comfort in silence and solitude

No small talk in elevators. No laughing loudly and shouting out comments in a movie theather. No asking directions from strangers. Claiming that you would rather stand the whole buss ride to avoid sitting next to the talkative stranger. Pressing the ”close the doors” –button in the elevator repeatedly so that you don’t need to ride it with your neighbour.

hissi

For someone outside the boarders of our Lady Finland, these scenarios might sound a bit odd, even unsocial and rude. But to the extent that we need to admit that some stereotypes about Finns are true, these are frequent things in the life of a Finn that don’t seem that bizarre to us. However it’s not that we want to be rude and not meet our neighbours, we just relish the silence and need a bit more personal space.

To Finns small talk is relatively new concept and we’re still learning. When the American or British ask as ”How are you?”, we might start to tell a long story about our not so great day instead of replying with a simple ”I’m fine, thanks! How about you?” as we are expected. In most cases if a Finn asks you about your day, he is usually genuinly interested and wants to know the details. We don’t ask just for fun, instead we only ask when we really want to know.

Same stands for chatting with people in trains, buss stops or the queue waiting for your coffee-to-go. We are comfortable in silence and nowadays we are basically rescued by our smartphones in these kinds of situations, we can stare at the screen while waiting, hurraay! Otherwise you might accidentally make eye contact with a stranger and that might encourage the other party to engage in a light conversation.

icebreaking

All in all we like our silence, but that doesn’t make us rude or unsocial. We like to give people their space and speak when we have something to say. The term describing this is negative politeness. To us, being polite is leaving people alone when no interaction is needed and not bothering them with unnecessary things. Handshake is a very nice way to introduce yourself and no more than a nod and ”hi” is needed when you’ve been introduced to a bunch of people.

And when a Finn asks about your day and smiles at you, they most certainly mean it. And you might even get an invite to their summer cottage. In the middle of nowhere, where you can hear the wind in the trees and the chirping of the birds. That’s our sanctuary of solitude.

IMG_1895

Tallenna

Finnishness

Finnishness – what it is? Each of us is different, but generally we love our own peace and space. Many Finns dream of their own cottage in a quiet place without the city noises, and possibly with no neighbors at all. Finnish National Landscape could be a summery calm lake, cottage’s sauna, and a loon that breaks the otherwise perfect silence. We enjoyed the quiet of the nature and we respect the personal space of others. We don’t bother even there is silence with other people. Many foreigners may keep us as boring and calm and become anxious of a quiet moment. While the Finns get anxious when someone comes too close to us or an unknown person starts chatting with us.

Public transport

Small talk is an abomination to many Finns – we do not have it in Finland, so we do not know how to act in these situations. Often Finnish respond very briefly and unnaturally conversation to partner or talking too much. In both cases, the Finnish feels uncomfortable and of the conversation. We aren’t intentionally rude we just do not know what should we do.

Small talk Small talk 2

Finns do what they have promised. Being Finnish also includes to be at the agreed place at the agreed time – not late, but not too early at all. This is why it is sometimes hard for us to understand the concept of time in different cultures or even if the bus is late.

late

Although the Finns can sometimes seem like toneless and serious we can also lark around. It tells many special competitions such as Air Guitar World Championships, Wife Carrying and swamp soccer. Air Guitar World Championships is known internationally and the event attracts participants from around the world. Today, many countries have even qwife carryingualifying for the finals.

Wife Carrying is also well-known competition in the world. In this competition a man carries a woman through an obstacle course as quickly as possible. The Wife Carrying World Championship is held every summer.

 

Finnish Sisu (a word that can’t be translated directly, but which could be described with the words: tenacity, perseverance and willpower) partly based on The Swamp Soccer World Championship also attracts competitors from around the world in Finland. Those competitions reveal that Finnish humor is very personal and the Finns are adept users of sarcasm.

I believe that Finnishness and getting to know Finns requires perseverance and patience from a foreigner. However, after winning the trust of Finns people get a reliable and long-time friend.