Read our survival tips to fluent communication in Finnish culture: the do’s and don’ts! Make the most out of your stay and get to know the Finns.
1. Mean what you say
There is no small talk or meaningless chit chat – just facts, truth, and a bit awkward but totally socially acceptable silences. The Finns don’t do small talk, as this is often seen as useless and unnecessary. Finns can be a bit blunt sometimes, but they are trying their best to be honest with you, even if the topic is not the nicest one. So, don’t beat around the bush but mean what you say!
2. Be polite
Being honest does not mean that you shouldn’t be polite. Finns respect each other, and although being honest is an essential part of this, so is being polite. Shouting, or even loud talking, as well being rude or waving your hands a lot is in most situations not appropriate.
3. Be punctual
Being late is taken as a sign of uninterest and lack of respect. If you’re running late, let the other person know by calling or shooting a text message.
4. Learn a few words of Finnish
The Finns will be more than delighted if you can say “Kiitos” (Thank you) or literally anything in Finnish! They know that their language is not easy, so they appreciate it a lot if a foreigner gives it a shot.
5. Try reindeer
A bit like deer or beef, reindeer is definitely one of the things you should try while in Finland! The meat is tasty, and many delicious dishes are made using reindeer.
6. Go to sauna
A national pride, Finns are very keen of their saunas. The country of a population of 5.4 million has over 3 million saunas! Don’t be afraid of being naked – in Finland, the saunas are separated by gender, and people go naked to sauna. Nakedness is seen natural, and no one will stare at you. You can enjoy the sauna in comfortable silence, but sometimes you can have the best heart-to-heart talks in the dim lighting and surrounded by the heat.
1. Call Finland Scandinavia. Or Soviet.
Geographically, Finland is not part of Scandinavia. Finns are neither Vikings nor Slavs, they are Finns! However, Finland is part of the Nordic countries.
2. Be afraid to talk to people
There is a stereotype of Finns being solemn and grumpy – not true! While the Finns are not into small talk, they are not introverted or shut in their own circles only. Many people, especially the younger generation, enjoy a good banter. If this is done over a pint of beer, even better! Most Finns speak excellent English, and alcohol, or as the Finns have nicknamed it, “Happiness Potion”, is a fool proof way to get a Finn to talk.
3. Get too close to people you don’t know
Finns do value their personal space and are not touchy-feely with people they meet for the first time, so don’t give kisses on the cheeks when you meet new people. If a bus is full of people, of course you can sit next to someone, but if there are plenty of extra seats, don’t randomly take a seat next to someone! Respect their personal space.
4. Disrespect nature
Nature is very important for the Finns. Jokamiehenoikeudet, or Every man’s rights, entitle you to hike any forests or swim in any lakes you wish, and pick as many berries and mushrooms as you want to, but don’t litter, don’t make too much noise, or in any way disturb the nature.
5. Keep your shoes on
When visiting someone’s home, leave your shoes at the door. You don’t want to bring any dirt inside!
In fact, be very humble. Highlighting yourself is seen as rude, and people are very humble about their own achievements. However, it is nice to compliment others: they might be a bit flustered, but very happy and thankful! Don’t say anything you don’t mean, though. No chit chat is necessary. Likewise, if you get a compliment, you can be sure that the Finn 100% means it!
The wonderful illustrations are from Finnish Nightmares, check it out for more funny posts about Matti, your stereotypical Finn, who tries his best to treat others like he wishes to be treated: give space, be polite, and avoid unnecessary small talk. However, not everything goes according to his plans!
Want more information about the do’s and don’ts in Finnish culture? Check out: