I moved to Finland on August 21st. Ever since all I have seen was beauty and peace. I might still be enjoying the “Honeymoon” phase, but I certainly like it here. It should although be stated, for the sake of argument, that I still haven’t experienced the Finnish winter.
Before moving to a new country, one has some ideas and expectations of what he/she might find. My idea of Finland was a calm country that was very cold, both in weather and native’s interaction with others, and a country where people might be a bit racist towards others who seem to be a foreigner with perhaps different skin tone. Although some true, most of my views towards Finland have been changed.
Finland is a very clean and neat place, mostly because I believe the Finns find themselves responsible for the environment they live in. Finns possess a large bubble of personal space in which strangers are not welcome in normal circumstances (when sober). However, if one is genuinely interested in them and shows respect to the Finns’ privacy, they are let in and are welcomed warmly. Finns are patient people. They listen to you when you speak and expect the same from you in return. They are also very respectful. I haven’t yet seen a Finn get angry or talk differently to me because I was wasting their time with my questions about the HLS card (travel card) and my obvious and futile observations and comments. The Finns who I had the opportunity to talk to and befriend have been very warm, respectful, and welcoming. They show interest and are eager to help. Almost all of them talk fluent English with a British accent. Just a little bit slower.
Alcohol is an important part of social life in Finland, as far as I have seen. Of course, this observation might be skewed because of my student life, but never the less, the interviews I have had with some Finns, more or less, confirms what I am going to say.
Finns drink to get drunk!
In some cultures drinking wine and beer with food is part of a daily routine that helps you relax when on break or after a long day at work. In Finland, however, one does not drink beer to refresh. One buys alcohol in “pallets” and drinks till his/her bubble of privacy shrinks down to the size of a walnut and he/she becomes as social as an Italian at a wedding party. The drinking age in Finland is 18 and one can drink beer in public (as far as one’s not too obvious). This, of course, leads to uncomfortable public transportation rides back home where a bunch of drunk people are all huddled up in a bus that seems like a ship lost in a storm from the point of view of a drunk.
Now a little about how a Finn looks like. Finns are attractive. Both males and females. They have slender stature, bleach blond hair, and light blue eyes. Men are mostly cleanly shaven and have a rather deep voice. Females don’t wear much makeup and have good skin. Finns also seem to have a healthy diet. I have not seen many out of shape people.
As a conclusion, I would like to say that the stereotype towards Finns stating that they are antisocial and cold might seem true at first, but just like any other stereotype, it is just a stereotype to facilitate making jokes. Finns are highly educated, as a matter of fact, they have the best education system in the world, and Finland is one of the most democratic countries in the world. Sorry, America.
Almost all Finns below the age of 60/50 talk fluent English. They can be approached with a direct question but not with intentions of starting a small talk. As a matter of fact, they have a word in Finnish for a small talk which translates to “Chewing S#!t!”
Breaking the ice and penetrating the personal bubble takes about 3 to 4 interesting questions, after that, you have a Finnish friend!
Finnish is not a popular nor an easy language and Finns themselves find it easy to switch to English whenever they can. For foreigners, this is a great news. But starting small talk just for the sake of breaking the silence, as Americans and some other cultures tend to do, is frowned upon in the Finnish culture. I find this rather pleasing because small talk can sometimes be annoying and time wasting especially if one of the parties is busy. I prefer silence over a conversation that does not add to your knowledge. However, Finns are taught the ways of small talk in their English classes, just to be able to communicate with foreigners. This is an important part of English lesson that is not taught everywhere. Learning English is not just the language, it is also the way one converses with it.
Want a finish friend? Be genuine and ask how a Finn does something (For example: Do Finns drink beer before, during, or after Sauna? Answer: all of the above). Don’t forget to say how much you like Finland. Don’t lie though.
By: Bijan Bayat Mokhtari
Bijan is an Iranian student currently studying for a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering in Finland. He has lived in South Africa, Switzerland and New York, USA.