The way we are

It usually takes some time to adapt to a culture that is different from one’s own, but after a while, you will probably notice that despite our national characteristics we are not so very different after all.

The foreign language skills of Finns could be described by saying that people know more than they show. Most Finns have learnt at school basic skills in at least one foreign language, the most common being English. German and French are also quite popular (as mentioned before, Swedish is not a foreign language in Finland). English is quite widely spoken and understood in Finland and you will be able to deal with your official business in English. However, you may notice that some Finns are a bit shy to use a foreign language, especially in a group conversation.

One thing that might strike you as peculiar is our great tolerance of silence in conversation. A Finn may talk with you excitedly for several minutes and then suddenly there is a long pause – for no apparent reason. Generally, Finns speak up when they feel that there is something significant to say and silence is tolerated, sometimes even preferred to empty phrases. Indeed, there is a Finnish saying that goes, ‘speech is silver, but silence is gold’. When a Finn says something, he/she usually means it, too. Therefore, if a Finn suggests that you could have lunch together sometime you are usually to consider this as a real invitation, not just small talk.

In any office, be it at the University or outside, personnel will usually be willing to help you with your problems and provide you with information. If you get a negative answer to your request it is not likely to change. Therefore, it is no use to ask the same question over and over again or try to get a different answer from someone else in the same office. Persistence in such cases is considered rude and annoying, and might have quite the opposite effect to what you want.

Please keep in mind, though, that these are all generalisations. On the other hand, taking the differences between conversation styles into consideration is useful. Due to the process of internationalisation in various fields, the typical stereotype of a silent Finn is slowly but surely breaking and Finns are becoming more and more international.

You can read more about Finland from a brochure provided by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy: “Welcome to Finland – Finland and the Finnish people”