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How to Spot an Angry Finn and Read Finnish Facial Expressions

The Finns are known for their cool-headed and quiet nature.

Compared to many others, the Finnish culture is not a very expressive one, verbally or non-verbally. Of course, this is a generalization, Finnish culture is not homogenous.

What happens when a Finn gets angry? How do you know if someone is happy, sad or upset? This blog post will guide you through neutral Finnish facial expressions!

The Theory of The 7 Universal Facial Expressions

Facial expressions are a rich source of nonverbal communication. They can show many different emotions and pieces of information.

To break it down, facial expressions are the voluntary and involuntary movements that occur when one or more of the 43 facial muscles on the face are engaged.

Some studies have revealed that there are 7 universal facial expressions. These seven are: Happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, contempt, and surprise.

Is it just me who finds it a bit sad that only one of these is truly a positive one? Anyway, we’ll go through all of them together from a Finnish perspective.

Finnish non-verbal communication

How Do Finns Show Emotions?

Showing their emotions is not easy for many Finns. That’s why it can be even hard to read if a Finn is happy or angry.

Finnish culture values things like self-control, restraint, sisu and generally not bothering people with unnecessary information. Yep, showing emotions isn’t that important.

3 Steps to Understand Finnish Non-Verbal Communication

Here is your 3-step guide into understanding Finnish non-verbal communication.

  • Step #1 Facial expressions are very subtle. Search for tiny clues.
  • Step #2 Don’t try only to read facial expressions. The trick is to check body language and tone of voice too.
  • Step #3 If you’re unsure, just ask the Finnish person what they mean and how are they feeling. It’s perfectly fine to do so in the Finnish culture.

An Angry Finn is a Rare Sight at the Office

Getting angry is more of a private life thing for us Finns.

Especially in work life, you rarely see a fuming Finn. In our upbringing and education, we are taught that emotions do not belong to the office.

Finns rarely show their anger at the office

I’ve had the pleasure to work with Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, British, Norwegians, French, Russians, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians.

It has been a great experience observing the behavior differences of all of these nationalities.

In summary, I would say that in work life, a Finn is calm as a cucumber but breathtakingly straightforward for many.

How Do Finnish people Show Their Happiness?

For a Finn, to talk about their happiness is culturally counterintuitive because we are raised within a culture that has an old saying: “Kel’ onni on, se onnen kätkeköön.”

It means “He who has happiness, should hide it.”  This saying refers to the Finnish state of mind that one should not boast about what one has.

This is why many Finns have a great poker face hiding their feelings, even the positive ones.

Finns rarely show their happiness

Sadness in the Finnish Culture

Many Finns are genuinely introverted and reserved. But if something sad has happened to you and you tell a Finn about it, your Finnish friend will be there for you.

Finnish empathy is not about many words but it’s always sincere.

With sadness, there can be also an element of “giving the person more space”. If one doesn’t want that, it’s a good idea to communicate that.

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It’s a Surprise! Finnish People Showing Surprise

The Finnish culture is known for being stoic. Showing surprise is one of those things that can be, again, very neutral. Sometimes there’s not even a situation for being surprised.

One weird example of this is when receiving gifts. Nowadays, there isn’t a clear ritual in Finland whether to open the gift immediately or later. You can do either or.

Gifting in Finland can be different

Back in the day, there was a tradition to open the gift later, sometimes even after the person had left! You literally said thank you for the gift without knowing what it was.

This is due to Finnish modesty. You don’t want to look greedy by having a hurry to open your gift.

How Do Finnish People Show Disgust, Anger, Contempt, and Fear

There are a couple of things I would love to talk about when it comes to these emotions.

First, let’s talk about silent treatment. There’s a Finnish word for the word “silent treatment” aka mykkäkoulu.

This type of anger or contempt is commonly used in relationships and in family fights. Unfortunately, the technique is very popular when you have quarreled and are holding a grudge.

You may wonder, as we Finns do not talk that much in general, how you can tell that you are getting the silent treatment from someone and not just regular Finnish zero-communicating which is not negative at all.

Well, then there really are no words at all. Not even a hello basically.


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Secondly, let’s discuss storming off. Storming off, slamming doors, throwing things or causing a scene is only done by kids and teenagers in Finland.

These reactions are all seen as childish behavior. If an adult Finn would do any of these publicly, they would be ashamed for weeks.

Thirdly, the swearing. Probably the most used way to show negative feelings publicly. It can be a one-word sentence like “perkele” or a long and loud sentence of all possible swearing words that comes out of a Finnish mouth.

3 Mistakes to Avoid with Finnish Facial Expressions

Here are the most popular mistakes to avoid when trying to read the facial expressions of a Finn.

  1. Mistake. A Finnish person might seem angry when he is only tired and stressed out.
  2. Mistake. Thinking that a Finn is avoiding eye contact for a reason. In the Finnish culture, it’s not mandatory to make eye contact when having a discussion. Lack of eye contact is usually nothing personal.
  3. Mistake. Finnish people can’t be trusted to smile when they are happy. A Finn can be looking grumpy and still be feeling happy and content.

Looking for more ways to immerse yourself in Finnish culture? Check out some of my other posts:

50+ Addicting Finnish TV Series, Movies, and Books!

50 Funny Finnish Phrases

How to Make Finnish Friends: 7 Steps

About Varpu
I’m the founder of Her Finland. I love cultural tidbits, aha moments, Finnish folklore, and cinnamon buns. My newest interest is learning bird songs. Read more about me..

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Wednesday 11th of January 2023

American bosses can learn from the Finns about not bringing emotions into the office. If you ever see the TV show Star Trek, Vulcans control their emotions.


Wednesday 11th of January 2023

The trouble is that in America, too many adults with hair-trigger tempers particularly bosses act this way by slamming doors, slamming down the telephone, causing a scene, etc. It is also their way of trying to put fear in you and intimidate you.


Monday 16th of January 2023

Hei Gunther, thank you so much for commenting! This is fascinating to know, I have not worked in the US. The situation you describe sounds very different compared to Finland. In Finland, I have never seen door slamming or yelling at a workplace. It's considered very unprofessional.


Friday 29th of March 2019

As an Englishman I can say we are not normally prone to public outbursts of emotion and are normally very reserved but when we do show anger it really all comes at once.

Varpu Pöyry

Friday 29th of March 2019

Hei John, thank you for commenting! Yes, I think British and Finns have the same "cool as a cucumber" attitude, in general. My observations are through my work.

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