Episode 25

Finnish Social Culture - Is the Struggle Real?

After a long quarantine spent apart, Jean and Petra are finally together again. The quarantine certainly took a toll on their mental health; however, they are glad to report that life seems to be returning to normal, at least for the time being. Both have been able to return to their kindergarten jobs, and they are both enjoying the wonderful fall weather. They decided to commemorate their reunion by scrolling through facebook posts made by foreigners living in Finland. They got a good laugh out of this activity, as well as an interesting discussion about life for foreigners in Finland. Hopefully, you too will be entertained by the posts they found.

One foreigner made a post recounting their experience of dropping off a Finnish colleague at home after work. When the foreigner greeted their coworker the next day, they did not even return the ‘hello!’ While many foreigners in the comments section, a lone Finn visiting the post commented that they actually found their compatriot’s behavior to be slightly rude. Jean cautioned that there may be a grain of truth in this story, and shared her own experience attempting to befriend Finns. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t easy. Nevertheless, she advises taking such horror stories with a grain of salt. Just like in any other country, individuals in Finland do have varying personalities, and some may even be extraverted (let us know if you encounter one).

After reading some of the Facebook posts, Petra and Jean got to chatting about their own experience with the social customs of Finland. On one hand, they appreciate that there are clear social rules in Finland. On the other hand, they note that this sometimes leaves little room for empathy. What might be normal in other countries, like speaking loudly in the street or the grocery store, might earn you a disapproving glance or two in Finland— or even get you kicked out of the grocery store!

Culture differences are everywhere, Petra and Jean noted. For one thing, personal items are not often shared among strangers in Finland, the way you might lend a coworker your umbrella or borrow sugar from a neighbor. For another, small talk does not exist— Jean even claims to have forgotten how it is done! Petra notes that many might find Finland’s individualism difficult to acclimate to, but acknowledges that she has never had a negative experience interacting with a Finn.

While Jean has also not had a negative encounter with a Finnish person, she did have what she saw as a close call. When coronavirus had just started, a stranger sitting nearby (or, as near as Finnish people get at a bus stop) asked her if she was from China. Immediately, Jean feared that the man was profiling her as a public health threat because she is Asian. When she replied that she was actually Korean, he replied that he was interested in Asian culture and wanted to chat! In general, Petra and Jean noticed that Finnish strangers have gradually begun showing more positivity and friendly behaviors.

Another Facebook post posed the age-old question “How should I go about interacting with local Finnish people?” The consensus in the comments section was that attempting to speak to them in their own language can go a long way. Failing that, you could try drinking together. Keep in mind, however, that Finnish people almost never buy each other drinks. Instead, you should expect to calculate all expenses for a party or get together and pitch in your fair share. The best advice for interacting with Finns, however, is not to overthink the situation. If you do have a conversation with a Finnish person, try to pick an interesting topic rather than attempting meaningless small talk. If all of your attempts fail, be comforted by the fact that you will likely be able to find a vibrant international community full of multicultural people eager to have a chat.

To hear more of the stories that Petra and Jean found on Facebook, tune in to this episode! And remember not to take any generalisations made in the comedic Facebook posts too seriously.