A Few Words

If I were to pick one characteristic of Finnish people, I would pick this: “Finns place great value on words”. The keys to Finnish character are peacefulness, calmness, and placidity. They value tranquillity, serenity, and silence. It is reflected in the way Finns choose their words carefully, how literally they take what is said and how slowly they speak. Finnish language might indeed have very long words, but Finland is a nation of a few words! ⁠

It is quite evident that Finns do not engage in long unnecessary conversations. Words are for the purpose of delivering a message. Because Finns also value their own personal space, they are unlikely to take the first step to get to know strangers. Speaking one’s mind, being honest and dependable as well as not drawing attention to oneself are all highly valued qualities.

Finns have a saying: “I would rather sell the family estate than go back on my word”. No wonder Finns are not known for being talkative! Generations come and go, but the family estate stays in the family. It is not something to be sold easily. On the other hand, looking at this from the reverse, if you know a Finn, don’t promise something that you don’t intend keeping! A Finn will keep you to your word!⁠

Australian people are friendly, outgoing, talkative and at the same time relaxed and laid-back. When our family migrated to Australia, my mum managed to lose her passport somewhere between Helsinki and London. The first Australian that our family ever met, was an Australian official in London that we had to report this to. His first words to us were: “No Worries!!!” Since then, I have heard that uttered more times than I can count. ⁠

Over the years I have found myself in situations where there are Finns as well as Australians in the same room. With very few exceptions, I am the most talkative Finn there. It makes me laugh how often my easy-going and friendly Australian friends ask me: “are they okay?” about my Finnish friends and relatives. I am so used to their silence, I hardly notice it, yet outsiders can’t work out what is going on.

Confusion can arise when different cultures collide, especially when people are not aware of each other’s cultural traits. Finns show their interest in a topic by concentrating quietly, whereas Australians ask questions. Interrupting another person is frown upon by Finns.

If you know a typical Finn, who says very little, do not worry as if there was something wrong with them. Their silence is no indication of their level of enjoyment in any given social situation. In fact, active silence is part of a Finnish person’s communication style. Finns have a saying: “Speech is silver but silence is golden”. Silence does not mean muteness. It just means that they have nothing to say just then.

Finnish language is very literal. An aeroplane is a flying-machine, a computer is a knowledge-machine, and a dictionary is a wordbook.

When a Finnish person describes something, it can sound rather clumsy. Their faces light up as they tell you about their love of saunas. But when they say: “We beat and whip ourselves with birch branches until our skin pores open and our skin is red hot” it can sound more like a torture chamber than an enjoyable sauna experience. What they mean is: “We use a bouquet of tender birch twigs to gently whisk our backs. It helps to remove dead skin cells, opens pores, stimulates blood circulation, ease tense muscles and provide therapeutic properties from the natural oils in the birch leaves. It also leaves a beautiful scent behind in the sauna”. Notice how going straight to the point, delivering the message, is more important to a Finn, than the way it is delivered.

Lastly, Finns are not inclined to compliment others easily, or to otherwise express their feelings, so if they say something positive to you or about you, it can be received with great honour, even if the delivery is a little clumsy or awkward.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Hanna says:

    Osut naulan kantaan ! How do you say it in English – nail to the head 😀.
    You really can explain us finns, we can’t see it ourselves so clear as you do. This was great !
    Rgds Hanna

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s “you hit the nail on the head!”
      Thank you Hanna!
      Sometimes it’s easier to see things from afar, rather than when you are in the midst of it.
      Because I’m a migrant and I can compare two different cultures, it’s easy to spot the differences. I find it fascinating and enriching!


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