Learn how to deal with Finnish people by knowing how they think

A small house in Southern FinlandHe seems to be thinking thoroughly before answering my question. After a long pause, he says “I think that our people did something unforgivable somewhere in Eastern Europe and as a consequence they had to run and hide. And what place would have been better than this to hide, where nobody else would like to live!”

Actually the place we are talking about is awesome. By looking out of the window, I can see a nearly flat land covered in woods and snow, with some granite formations coming out of the ground.
However, living here until a few decades ago must not have been that easy. A long winter, with temperature easily reaching minus 20 F, must have made life hard. For most part of the year there weren’t even crops, leaving only animal food available.
That may explain why I see butter and dried bread available everywhere in the cafeteria. Food habits always tell a lot about a people’s history. Just as much as their language.

But I have a lot more questions about the Finns other than a simple “why are you here?”

Like a child, I ask him “How is that possible that you guys are so quiet? Don’t you have passions like us [southern Europeans]? Don’t you ever love, get angry, happy, or sad?”
Since I landed on this country, I’ve seen only a quiet behavior all around. I still can’t decide whether I’m more envious or happy that I’m not like that.
He confirms it by laconically saying “Finns are quiet – we prefer to listen.”

I’m stubborn and I persist. Where are all the passions?
He looks at me as he wants to tell me a secret and says “passions are all there, just as much as they are in you guys from sunnier countries. We’re not missing any of them. They are just deep inside, well hidden.” He seems to be damn serious about that. I take his word for it.
He makes a pause and then adds “now that I think about that, that’s why we don’t like spicy food. It doesn’t suit our nature.” As for me, I had already noticed that salt doesn’t seem to be that popular either.

As one who’s just found a secret room in a castle, now I’m looking for the key. So I ask “is there a way to let all those feelings come out of a Finn?”
Actually I’m afraid of the answer. A silent volcano, full of magma inside, which is eventually going to cause a biblical explosion is taking shape in my imagination while he is about to answer.
A smile appears on his face as he says “of course there is. That is Vodka!” And again, despite smiling, he seems to be quite serious.

Finnish vodka, by the way, is called Koskenkorva and has got nothing in common with its Russian counterpart but alcohol content.

It’s not only vodka that has to be non-Russian in Finnish eyes. I can’t imagine a true Finlander deal with something Russian at all unless he has to.
More than one person in Finland told me that a century of Russian rule left much deeper scars in Finnish souls than six-hundred years of Swedish rule. He goes further and simply states “unfortunately there is no way we can not be bordering them.”

A significant part of Finnish land was forcibly ceded to the USSR after WWII. Almost all its inhabitants had to flee the place where they were born and raised. That includes his grandparents. They used to live very close to the new border, but still on the wrong side. They had to leave their home forever.
Around 97,000 Finns died in the events against the USSR during WWII. By proportion, it is like the U.S. would have lost more than three million soldiers to WWII.
And yet, Finnish politics during cold war were so pragmatic, that they increased their trade relationship with the USSR for their benefit.

Apparently the existence of Russia is also the main reason why such historically pacific people are more than happy to attend compulsory military service. Having served in the army is a point of pride among young Finns.
He looks at some army men seated at a nearby table and briefly comments, “they are good people.”
I think of my two day stay with the Italian army when I was still in school and “good people” wasn’t the idea I had of them after that experience. Perhaps the fact that I’ve always been very reluctant in following somebody else’s orders played a role on that.

I’m still looking at the snowy landscape and that is what makes me change subject.
“Where do you go for winter vacations?”
I’m almost sure that he is going to mention a country featuring warm weather, when he totally unexpectedly says “Lapland.”
“Lapland. It is the Norther . . . ”
“I know where it is.”

He explains that Finns are very fond of Lapland. Nearly all of them spend one week in winter or spring there, mainly to ski or wondering around forests by snowmobile or dog sled. Somebody else had already advised me visit Lapland as soon as I had a chance to.
I once again glance at the snowy view out of the window and wonder what would be the difference in Lapland, apart from lower temperatures.
He seems to read my mind, as he says “if you go to Lapland in March, there will still be tons of snow, but it will be sunny. Plus there are mountains. You really have to try. You’ll not be disappointed. It’s a twelve-hour drive.”

Lapland is the northern part of Finland, located at the border with Sweden and Norway. It was originally inhabited by the Sami people–trying to figure out how they look like? Think of Renee Zellweger’s eyes and you’ll get an idea.
Nowadays many Samis have left Lapland to look for jobs in the “south”. There is industrial production in Lapland as well, but not as much as in Southern Finland.

Since we are now talking about industry, my brain cells fire connections between “Finnish” and “manufacturing”. Result can be only one: Nokia.
The effect is like dropping a bomb. We are obviously talking about dropping a bomb in Finland, which is like, say, dropping a napkin in Spain. He is quite touched by this subject.
I soon learn that Finland’s fate has been inextricably linked to Nokia over the last decades. Nokia is an important part of Finland’s economics. Losing market shares in telephony over recent years will lead to nearly 25,000 employees to be laid off and has had a big impact on Finnish economy. In proportion, it is like an American company would lay off 1.5 million employees. All of this is perceived as a national tragedy.

I still have tons of questions. Why and how did they developed Nordic system, a liberal-socialist system typical of Northern European countries, why their language is not European, how can their crime rates be so low, and much more.
However, our lunch is coming to an end and so is our conversation. My child-like willingness to learn everything in a short time is going to be frustrated once again.
My salmon was delicious–this time was also paid–as I managed in getting a version of the recipe in which fish was not drowned in butter.

I’m swallowing the last bites of it while I think of the days I’ve just spent in Finland. I will take a southbound flight in a few hours and I will bring with me a memory of good, kind people.
People who don’t talk too much and do that in a low voice and yet can communicate a lot.
Cold individuals, who keep body distance when you take a picture with them, but who still make you feel welcomed by showing an authentic and deep care for others.


If you want to go more into practical details, such as how to behave when a Finn gives you a present or invites you for dinner, here you can find a very useful squidoo lens about Finnish customs and lifestyle.

If you are looking for friendship or sex with Finnish people, here is an article on this matter. Although it kind of puts everyone into the same basket, it seems nonetheless to confirm that Finnish tendency to be reserved and love for independence both play a major role in establishing a contact.

6 Thoughts on “Learn how to deal with Finnish people by knowing how they think

  1. Generally speaking, I find that the farther north you go, the more distant people are. This seems true in your European situation. It’s also the case in the US, people where I come from in New England are aloof compared to their southern counterparts in the warmer south. It goes to show you, behavior is partly formed by climate. I mean, look at the Russians compared to the Indians.
    EarthDrifter recently posted..A Taste of Tamil NaduMy Profile

    • I come from Italy, where differences in behavior from north, to center, to south are remarkable (however, similarities are even bigger, despite what many say, but that’s another story).
      Clearly climate influences a country’s culture, and such a culture is handed down even to the generations that are no longer much affected by climate thanks to technology and affluence.

  2. In my experience Finns are deep. Like the great and almost wordless Kaurismäki films. Don’t forget they gave us the Nordic tango, Leningrad Cowboys and the Moomintrolls.
    Italian Notes recently posted..Abruzzo national parks: Castles and pasturesMy Profile

  3. I really enjoyed that post! I have met only a few Finns in my life, and although a bit quirky, they have all turned out to be deeply fascinating and humorous. I love reading about language, food and culture and the connection between all three.
    JR Riel (@DriftersBlog) recently posted..Tarukog & Palauan – Finding the Familiar in Guiuan, PhilippinesMy Profile

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