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How to Deal With Finns and Finnish Culture – 11 Tips for Starting Out in the Country of a Thousand Lakes

You may have come to Finland to study, to work, for business, seeking political asylum or for family reasons. Whatever your motivation may be, there are some things everyone should be aware of when they arrive to this country. Compiled here is a concise list of Finnish characteristics and quirks that aims to make your life more pleasant in Finland. Please take note especially if you plan to remain here for a longer period of time or even permanently. This is how you should go about when interacting with Finns and dealing with the Finnish society. 1. Dealing with the Finns Finns are generally friendly and cooperative, but remember that a great majority of them take time to warm to interaction. I have noticed that Finns need a longer reactionary time compared to many other nationalities. Therefore, when you approach an ordinary Finn or an official do not start talking very fast, instead: 1. Greet them first 2. Be a bit hesitant or slip intentionally 3. Present your issue in a plain manner 4. Expect a pause or some time to react 5. Get a reply and 6. Continue. Finns are very factual, perfectionist and non-emotional in official situations – your words should support your papers or facts. Do not lie to Finns. 2. Importance of the Finnish Language Proficiency in the Finnish language is very important in opening up doors for opportunities, getting and keeping a job and becoming a part of the Finnish society. A foreigner should start learning Finnish from day one when arriving to Finland. Finnish is a difficult language to learn but it’s not impossible – everything depends on how passionate you are towards learning Finnish. Here are some ways to get started in Finnish: 1. Join one or two language courses 2. Use the language in daily life without paying any heed to mistake 3. Read Finnish newspapers on a daily basis and keep a dictionary nearby 4. Watch TV programmes including the news regularly 5. Choose a topic (ice hockey, football, politics, weather, etc.) to strike up a conversation with a Finn. In general, Finns do not talk with others without a specific topic. 3. Equality in the Finnish Society Discrimination by gender, age, religion, or ethnic background is not allowed nor even legal in Finland. Children go to daycare or kindergarten mostly at the age of two or even earlier and grow up with a sense of gender equality. Consequently one may consider Finland as one of the most gender-neutral countries: men and women participate equally in household work, business activities, politics and everyday working life. In higher education, women have surpassed men long ago. Therefore, it is not impossible that a PhD holding high-ranking female official is married to a male ambulance driver, or a female doctor is married to a male welder. A sense of gender equality and its practice are necessary preconditions for being a part of the Finnish society. 4. Individualist Culture Individualism is the primary cultural dimension of the Finnish society. People live in a nuclear family comprised of parents and their immediate children. Kids grow up to be self-dependent, respect others’ opinions, be career-oriented and establish their own household once they reach adulthood. Consequently, children move away from home around the age of 18 to 20 and start their own household. It is likely that one will have three homes in his or her entire life cycle: a childhood home with their parents, their own home in adulthood and an elderly care home in their old age. Children start to develop an identity of “I” instead of “we ” at a very tender age – you are responsible for your own actions. 5. Shy People All Around Finns are typically rather shy especially when compared to my native Bangladesh. They may sit next to you for eight hours on the bus without saying a single word unless you take the first initiative. They are also very reactive and introvert, at least at first. In general, it is highly uncommon for a Finn to start talking to a stranger first. However, Finns are very honest, helpful, caring, and sincere people – do not hesitate to ask a Finn if you have any questions while in Finland. 6. Correlation Between Words and Deeds Finns do not like bargaining and do not talk much. If they say something, they really mean it. There is a strong correlation between words and deeds in Finland – Finns seldom make promises, but if they do, they keep them. I have to say that Finns are a straight-spoken people or “suorasanaisia ihmisiä”. Finland is one of the most peaceful countries you can find. Finland is always in the top 5 of lists of least corrupt countries in the world. While in Finland, always stand by your words and avoid dishonesty. 7. Sauna-loving Nation Finns love sauna, which many consider a holy place. In old times, Finns used to give birth in the sauna. A Finn visits a sauna usually twice a week. Sauna is a place to relax; find refreshment and warmth; discuss daily issues with family members and friends plus make decisions and solve critical problems. Sauna can be considered to be an integral part of the Finnish lifestyle or a national hobby. There are 3 million saunas in a country of 5.5 million people. Visit a sauna whenever you have the chance – it will bring you closer to Finnish people and Finnish culture. 8. Take Vitamin D Every Day Finland has a beautiful, sunny, and short summer (from June to July), a delicate autumn (from August to October), a long, dark, and cold winter (from November to February) and a shiny spring (from March to May). Regardless of the season sunlight is so sparse that the amount of vitamin D is not sufficient for most folks. Lack of vitamin D, among other reasons, makes us feel depressed and prevents our bones from using calcium for their growth. Finns use vitamin D supplements from birth to death. Different kinds of vitamin mixtures and concentrations are available in pharmacies and grocery stores. Start your day with a vitamin D tablet – ask your doctor first about appropriate dosage. 9. Pay Your Taxes Religion is a taboo in Finland. However, paying your taxes is something more than a religion here. Do you know how the Finnish society is funded? It functions mainly on progressive taxation and transfer payment – these two are the lifeblood of the social welfare system. We go to work and pay tax on a progressive principle and the government transfers the tax money to less well-off and vulnerable members of the society in the form of study benefits, child benefits, maternal benefits, paternal benefits, unemployment benefits, housing benefits, health care benefits, elderly care benefits, and so on. Pay your tax per rate when you earn because tax evasion falls on the list of serious crimes. 10. The Forest May Enrich Your Life Forests cover three quarters of the surface of Finland. Therefore, from almost anywhere, one may wander into a forest by walking just 5 to 10 minutes. An interesting feature of a Finnish forest is that one may own the forest but cannot forbid others from picking up berries, mushrooms or herbs – do not forget to enjoy these forest produce while in Finland. Walking and biking in the forest especially during the summer season may be a cure to loneliness and source of joy. 11. A Country of a Thousand Lakes Finland is a nature rich country of a thousand lakes. In fact, there are 187,888 lakes in total in Finland. Lakes hold a special place in Finnish life, which is demonstrated by the fact that Järvinen (Lake Person) is a very common Finnish surname. Swimming in a lake during the Finnish summer is fun and free, that is, if you know how to swim. Is fishing a hobby of yours? Finnish lakes welcome you all year round. Try ice fishing – many call it Finnish meditation. Therse tips merely scrape the surface of Finnish life and are meant to aid you in your journey in becoming a member of Finnish society and culture. Hopefully they can help you one day feel a sense of belonging here. The writer of this article: Shaidul Kazi, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer of Economics and International Business Behaviour at The Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK).