Friday, April 08, 2005

Understanding Finns

I am presently watching a curling match between Canada and my native Finland. Comments from players are very audible in this Canadian broadcast and it makes me laugh to hear my countrymen swear. The expressions used are so different from this language and culture. Here one wouldn't use "God help", "devil", "paralyzed" or nicknames for private body parts as the strongest swear words known to man.

The is a very informative site on the web,, that explains to a non-Finn how and why the Finnish people are and behave the way they do. It is definitely worth a visit.

I found this chapter, about the value of spoken word, particularly well described:


The conception that Finns are a reserved and taciturn lot is an ancient one and does not retain the same validity any more, certainly not with the younger generations. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that Finns have a special attitude to words and speech: words are taken seriously, and people are held to what they say. “Take a man by his word and a bull by its horn,” says the Finnish proverb. A Finn will carefully consider what he says and expect others to do so too. He considers verbal agreements and promises binding not only upon himself but upon the other party too, and he considers that the value of words remains essentially the same, regardless of when and where they are uttered. Visitors should remember that invitations or wishes expressed in a light conversational manner (such as: “We must have lunch together sometime.”) are often taken at face value, and forgetting them can cause concern. Small talk, a skill at which Finns are notoriously lacking, is considered suspect by definition, and is not especially valued.

Finns rarely enter into conversation with strangers, unless a particularly strong impulse prompts it. As foreigners often note, Finns are curiously silent in the metro, the bus or the tram. In lifts, they suffer from the same mute embarrassment as everyone else in the world. However, a visitor clutching a map will have no trouble in getting advice on a street corner or in any other public place, since the hospitality of Finns easily overrides their customary reserve.

Finns are better at listening than at talking, and interrupting another speaker is considered impolite. A Finn does not grow nervous if there are breaks in the conversation; silence is regarded as a part of communication. Finns usually speak unhurriedly, even in their mother tongue (the pace of newsreading on Finnish TV is a source of amusement for many foreigners), and although many Finns are competent in several foreign languages, they may be wary of the speed at which these languages are spoken. Nevertheless, Finns can become excited and voluble, given the right situation. Many foreigners have wondered at the effect the sauna has on Finns: in this familiar environment, they may suddenly become embarrassingly open and candid.