Critical Incident 1

What is wrong?

This critical incident was written by a Finnish student.

Six years ago I was in the USA for a year as an exchange student. I lived in an American family there. I'm the kind of a person who needs to have some time for herself every day so I would go to my room in the evenings for an hour or two and do my homework or write letters or just relax and listen to music. I didn't think there was anything wrong with it - to me it was just normal. One day my host-Mom came to me and asked if I'm ok. She said that they had thought that I was sad and homesick, or maybe not happy with the host family because I would go to my room and stay there for a couple of hours every evening. I was really surprised to hear this.

Things to consider:

  • Finnish culture is said to be "a quiet culture", where as the North American culture is less tolerant toward silence

  • In North America social relationships are constructed more on social communication than in Finnish culture

  • Personal space that an individual needs varies across cultures and personalities

    ("On the other hand it's an individual question. Compared to other Finnish people I would still be more quiet than most of us.")

The Analysis of the Case

Communicating is a way to nurture self and one's interpersonal relationships. Those who don't communicate are seen as closed, nonsupportive and lacking the key element of healthy relationships. (Carbaugh 1988, 163-164). In this case being alone must have been seen as not communicating and therefore the host-family got worried. They thought that the Finnish girl was homesick but weren't able to talk about it. The host-Mother tried to make her open up about her sadness because in the US White American culture it is believed that communication is a way to nurture one self. She thought that after talking about it Finnish exchange student would feel better. The problem was that in her own mind the Finnish girl was not homesick.

One of the most used stereotypes about Finns is that they are very silent and shy. Various explanations have been given for such national charateristics: race, cold weather and lack of communication studies at school. (Sallinen-Kuparinen 1986, 3). To the Finnish student who wrote this critical incident it is a Finnish charateristic to enjoy being alone in silence. Silence to a Finn is a way to nuture one self, and to Americans that seems odd because they are not used to spending time alone.