“Why don’t Finnish people ever say please?”
“When a Finnish person passes you too closely on a bike and almost rides you over, they don’t say “excuse me”.”
“If you fall or there is a problem with your bike, nobody helps you up unless you ask for help.”
“Men do not hold the door open for me.”
“If you are meeting someone for a purpose, it is that purpose that is discussed first and then, maybe there will be small talk “how is the weather?”, “how are you?” etc afterwards. It’s such a cold way of interacting”
“People do not smile at strangers, even if they are both walking dogs.”
“Finnish people are so anal about being on time.”
“When walking towards a Finnish person you think that they might not have seen you or that you invisible, such is their way of somehow seeing through you or beyond you. It’s very weird.”
Obviously these are massive generalisations but they are things that I heard people say and things that I have thought myself. Living in Finland and not being able to count further than six in Finnish (I’m working on that) has meant that I have spent most of my time with internationals who the City of Oulu seems to attract quite well for being a city lost up in the north of Finland. I have found that often internationals talk about how rude or socially awkward they find Finnish people to be. I don’t think the internationals are doing this to berate their adopted country, but rather because all these international people come from so many different places and have so few shared experiences that engaging with Finnish culture becomes a major shared experience and therefore a major topic of conversation.
That culture is a socialised norm (and in the false dicotomediuos nature/nurture debate I would put it very firmly in the nurture column if I had to put it anywhere) is not the focus of this blog. Does “culture” exist? Yes. Is it unchanging? No. Does it make some people very uncomfortable? Yes. Does everybody who identifies themselves as belonging to a specific culture act the same way? No. Can “multi-cultural interaction” cause problems? Most definitely. Do those problems always have to be a problem? No. Culture creates social norms about almost everything including what counts as polite and what counts as impolite. So in such situations I like to put on my most postmodern hat and think that what is deemed as polite for me, is not for many Finnish people. And do you know what, maybe I’m being jolly rude or confusing to many Finnish people and I just don’t know it.
What I found out though is that Finnish people tend to not do nothing for no reason (a triple negative??? really? Sorry but I cannot think of any other way to put it). And so, to be invited into a Finnish person’s home is very wonderful. I have always been well fed and treated with a generous hospitality that has deeply humbled me.
And so, when I am offended yet again by some small social gentillesse not being done, I stop and think “Is that rude or is it just Finnish?”