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Navigating the Finnish etiquette, culture and social norms

Picture of Barona employee Maria Duca.
Maria Duca Palarie Barona
People walking on the streets of Helsinki, Finland. Social life in Finland

Does the word Finn cause you goosebumps? Have you heard Finns are cold, mean, shy, and quiet? I bet you have – and that’s probably one the biggest lies you have ever been told!

When it comes to Finnish customs and social etiquette, several unique aspects set Finland apart. Stereotypically, Finns are cold and shy introverts, but Finnish people are actually something else. Contrary to common stereotypes, Finnish people exhibit a rich culture of respecting one another and having deep and genuine relationships. In this article, we will explore the nuances of Finnish culture and etiquette, breaking the typical stereotypes and shedding light on the admirable qualities that define Finnish society.

Finnish Customs: Understanding Finnish Culture

Finland is the country of freedom, it’s known for being the happiest country in the world for the 6th time in a row, and even the Finnish educational system is impressive. Even when there are a lot of amazing things in Finland, relocating can be scary when there’s a whole new culture ahead. While the pandemic made us keep a safe distance from each other, for Finns, it was already normal behavior – So, it’s not a surprise that for a foreigner Finns might seem difficult to approach.

Because of the individuals minding their businesses, you might even think there isn’t such a thing as Finnish small talk. That can be considered right, but it depends on what we count as small talk. However, Finns do have their unique way of small talk.

Finnish social etiquette – Do Finnish people small talk?

No matter if you relocate to Finland from the USA or Central Europe, Finnish small talk will, most likely, be very different from the one you’re used to. It’s not uncommon to have a small talk with a Finn, but there has to be a topic for it to happen. The topic can be something you two have in common: you both are walking your dogs, the bus is late and it’s making you both frustrated – or something is happening around you both, making it easy to chat about it.

Finns like to start a conversation by going straight to the point and the style of speech is direct and straightforward. In Finland, people are expected to truly mean what they say, and expect you to act accordingly. It’s considered rude to interrupt people when they are speaking and Finns prefer to speak not too loudly. So, don’t feel pressured while communicating with a Finn! You can easily start a small talk. Once everything is said, don’t let the calm silence disturb you. It’s just a natural ending for a successful conversation – and Finn will not see the possible awkwardness.

Finns are always on time

Finns are renowned for their punctuality. If you invite a Finn to a party starting at 6 PM, you can rest assured that they will be there at 6 PM sharp – or probably even a few minutes earlier. Finnish people can find it disrespectful to not show up on time, especially without notifying them. Every Finn knows the stress that comes with being late. Punctuality is deeply embedded in Finnish culture for generations. From an early age, children are taught the value of being on time and the importance of fulfilling commitments. These cultural norms and expectations shape individuals’ behavior and contribute to the overall adherence to punctuality.

But it’s essential to note that while Finns make a genuine effort to be punctual and consider it a matter of personal responsibility and societal expectation, occasional delays or unforeseen circumstances are always understood and accepted. No one’s going to hate you for being late once or twice – but don’t make it a habit.

Understanding Finnish culture: How to make friends in Finland?

Finnish people are known for their honesty and sincerity. When a Finn gives their word, it is considered a bond that’s not easily broken. However, building a deep connection with a Finn requires more than a few small talks.
Trust is the main key to making friends in Finland. As Finns do not chat about anything with anyone, there’s a lot of room left for genuine and deep conversations. Once you get past the small talking line, you can assure that the Finn genuinely wants to get to know you.

Finns are known for their straightforwardness and sincerity in their interactions. They value honesty as a means of building trust and maintaining open communication. This cultural emphasis on honesty may manifest as directness in conversations, which might be perceived as bluntness by those unfamiliar with Finnish customs. However, it is important to recognize that this directness stems from a place of authenticity rather than rudeness.

Life happens at home

Finns make new friends differently than many other cultures do, and the most common ways to make friends in Finland are at work, school, or hobbies. Finns do spend a lot of time at their homes.
Of course, Finns do love to go out, especially in the summertime. But creating a deeper connection with someone usually happens at home. No matter if it’s a romantic date or getting to know your new co-worker, it’s common to meet somewhere outside a few times before “taking the next step” by inviting them to your place. When invited to Finn’s home, you are about to get to the deeper level!

Working in Finland – Enjoy the equality

One of the notable aspects of Finnish work etiquette is the emphasis on equality and flat hierarchies. Finland’s working environment is typically characterized by open communication and a collaborative approach. Employees are encouraged to share their opinions and contribute to decision-making processes, regardless of their position in the organizational hierarchy.

Finnish workplaces value the contributions of each team member. Ideas are freely exchanged, and employees feel empowered to challenge existing practices for improvement. Finland also has many laws and regulations which shape the work environment in every industry. According to Finnish law, everyone is entitled to be treated equally regardless of their background, gender, or other characteristics, and discrimination is a crime.

Finnish Work Culture: What to expect when relocating?

When relocating to Finland, there’s one positive change you will likely find out right away. Finns strongly believe in maintaining a healthy separation between work and personal life. While Finns are dedicated and hardworking professionals, they also prioritize their well-being and leisure time. It is common to see Finns leaving the office on time. This way they ensure they have sufficient time for personal pursuits, hobbies, and spending quality time with family and friends.

There’s not that strong after work-culture in Finland since everyone likes to leave work behind when the day is over. Even when your co-workers can be close friends to you, it’s not so usual to hang out after leaving the office. However, while it might not be happening daily, don’t be scared to invite your co-workers for a nice after-work.
Compared to countries with a more intense work culture, where long hours and overtime are the norm, Finnish work culture emphasizes efficiency and productivity during regular working hours. This focus on work-life balance contributes to a higher quality of life and overall job satisfaction.

Being reliable is the key

Furthermore, Finnish work etiquette values punctuality and reliability. As mentioned earlier, Finns greatly emphasize being on time and honoring commitments. Meetings and deadlines are expected to be strictly followed, and punctuality is considered a sign of professionalism and respect for colleagues’ time. Compared to cultures where flexibility in schedules and adherence to strict timelines may vary, Finnish work culture leans towards structured and organized routines. This reliability and punctuality contribute to efficient workflow and effective collaboration among team members.

While there may be differences in work etiquette between Finland and other countries, it is essential to note that each work culture has unique characteristics shaped by historical, social, and economic factors. Embracing and understanding these cultural differences can lead to effective collaboration and stronger cross-cultural partnerships in the global workplace.

Finnish social etiquette – Modesty means good manners

Modesty is another key characteristic that defines the Finnish people. They tend to downplay their own achievements and shy away from self-promotion. This modesty can be seen in various aspects of life, from personal accomplishments to social interactions. It does not imply a lack of self-confidence or ambition. Finns are highly motivated and driven individuals, but they choose to express their successes more respectfully.

When a Finn invites a guest over, the conversation typically starts with “No, there’s no need to make coffee for me,” which is part of modesty: Finns don’t want to be a nuisance to others. This unwritten rule of modesty shapes a lot of Finnish people’s interactions with each other, but it’s something that Finns do recognize and joke about themselves too. While new generations are shaping the social norms, being proud and acknowledging your success is getting more socially approved.

A country’s success is worth celebrating

While Finns may be modest about their personal achievements, they take great pride in their country and its accomplishments. This national pride is often reflected in their support for Finnish products, traditions, and cultural events. Whether Finland wins the Eurovision or the World Championship in ice hockey, you can be sure there will always be a huge party! Or even if Finland gets mentioned on an international tv show, it’s already something to be proud of. Since Finns have a habit of going out on market squares to celebrate together whenever something worth celebrating happens, there’s a specific word for that: “Torille!”

Forget the stereotypes, enjoy the experience

Navigating Finnish etiquette and social norms unveils a society that values punctuality, keeps promises, upholds honesty, and embraces modesty. Finns take pride in their country’s achievements while remaining humble about their successes. But most importantly, Finnish people always allow you to ask questions or make mistakes. Finns are happy to help you understand their culture and habits, so don’t hesitate to ask!

Finland is definitely a place worth visiting or even moving – especially for hardworking people who still appreciate their free time. If you’d like to experience a strong economy, high living standards, and various job opportunities, you should give Finland a try. Barona has already helped multiple people relocate to Finland and we are happy to help you too!

If you want to learn more about working in Finland or need any help with the process of relocating, contact us. Let’s make your relocating an enjoyable experience together!

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