Ho to Tame a Finn
How to Tame a Finn: Via Helsinki Magazine 4/2011
Finns talk little but to the point. Silence is part of communication.
Much of the attraction of travel lies in cultural differences, where various communication characteristics play a key role for different nationalities. Foreigners – or at least those who have spent long periods abroad – see them most clearly.
“Nationality is not as important here as personality, though, although there is some truth to cultural stereotypes,” says Marja Saviaro who has lived in Africa for many years. Her company, Return Ticket, assists Finns moving abroad and foreigners coming to work in Finland with practical matters and helps them adapt to a new culture.
So what are Finns like?
“Impressions of course always depend on whose eyes you look through, but if we take Americans and Asians, the Finnish way to communicate is closer to the Asians. Americans often think of Finns as being quiet and unresponsive,” says Marja, who admits this image is partially true.
“Finns talk little and it takes a long time to get close to them. But once you have, the friendship lasts forever.
Openness reduces friction: if you don’t know, you can always ask how to act in a certain situation. This is the polite thing to do in all cultures. Marja also has her own hints about how to ‘tame’ Finns:
• Allow time to get to know each other. Finns do not easily show their feelings or let people get close, even if they would like to. A person’s physical space is approximately at arm’s length.
• Treat men and women the same. Finland is a country of gender equality.
• Don’t rush to be invited to someone’s home. Finns will open up over time. Many women work, which takes a toll on the culture of visiting people.
• Take your shoes off at the door when entering a private home.
• Talk quietly and calmly. Silences are part of the Finnish process of exchanging ideas, interruption is not.
• Aggressive, self-centred communication is alien to Finns.
• Finns value honesty, in communication too. Too many superlatives are often thought pretentious.
• Avoid personal comments or questions. Salaries and appearance, for example, are considered personal.
• Be punctual and reliable. 8 o’clock means 8 o’clock sharp and agreements must be honoured.
• Eat everything on your plate. Food is only left if it doesn’t taste good.
• Be aware of regional differences. Finland is a geographically large country, with many cultural differences between north and south, for example. Life is generally more laid-back in the countryside than in the capital area.
• Learn out about Finland and remember that Finns are internationally aware; they travel widely and are skilled in languages. But do try to speak some Finnish. It will be appreciated.
Source: Finavia`s customer magazine Via Helsinki (published in the issue 4/2011)
Finland in Brief: www.returnticket.fi