1. Talk all the time, just for the sake of talking.
Us Finns do not know a concept called “awkward silence.” If you talk incessantly, it will really annoy us because we actually love silence. Even surrounded by our best friends, we can sometimes just happily sit and be silent for long periods of time. During these kinds of moments, if you start talking to fill the awkward silence, Finns will think you are a bother.
This even applies when you see close relatives after a long time — after telling briefly how it’s been lately, we don’t necessarily need to talk that much anymore. We can just “be.”
2. Talk to strangers when using the public transport.
This goes hand in hand with the first point. We Finns really do love our personal space! Even more so when we are riding on the bus, tram, or train. If you sit next to us and start talking, we may awkwardly try to answer something, but we’re secretly hoping that you’ll just stop. And everyone else on board will look at you like there’s something wrong with you.
If there’s a choice, Finns prefer not to sit next to anyone. The usual sight in a bus or tram is that there’s one person sitting on every row of two seats. If there aren’t free rows anymore and we have to sit next to someone, we get annoyed.
3. Ask if we have polar bears.
This is still a classic one which I’ve bumped into every now and then when abroad. Some people will actually think that we have polar bears because Finland is cold and ‘in the North’. Well, that doesn’t mean we have all the same things as the North Pole. If you really don’t know and want to ask — don’t! And if you know that we don’t have polar bears but want to ask anyway as a “funny joke” — double don’t! You’re only going to get back a look saying, “Moron.”
4. Ask if we work at Nokia.
No, everyone in Finland is not a software engineer nor do they work at Nokia. Nowadays you can annoy even the Nokia engineers themselves by asking this. There was a time when working at Nokia actually was a thing craved by many, but those days are unfortunately long gone. Nowadays the best things we have to export are not connected to Nokia, even though they have much to do with engineering.
We build magnificent ships and we produce great paper, just to mention a couple of examples. Try asking us about this instead.
5. Suggest that we have something in common with the Russians.
Just because we border Russia doesn’t mean that we have much in common. Actually, Finns have a kind of primal hate relationship with Russia, which originates from the wartimes during the 1940s. We take great pride from beating the then Soviet Union in the Winter War. We won by being smarter and more cunning.
If you try to draw a parallel between the Finns and the Russians, it’s one of the worst insults you can throw at a Finn.
6. Assume that we all live in the countryside.
The majority of the landscape of Finland can be described as countryside filled with thick spruce and pine forests. But the majority of the population lives in the cities. And they have done since the day they were born. It was the generation of our grandparents who lived in the countryside on their parents’ farm before they moved into the cities.
7. Be too “helpful” and care too much about other people’s business.
One of the most typical mindsets of Finnish people is that “everybody minds their own business, and only their own.” Whether it’s a matter of a happy or a bad incident, we mostly like to keep it to ourselves. Even if you mean well and would just like to help with some things, it can be seen negatively as an intent to interfere with things which are none of your business.
An exception is if we specifically ask for your help. Then and only then are you allowed to interfere.
Photo: Maria Morri