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!
Table of Contents
- 1 The Theory of The 7 Universal Facial Expressions
- 2 How Do Finns Show Emotions?
- 3 3 Steps to Understand Finnish Non-Verbal Communication
- 4 An Angry Finn is a Rare Sight at the Office
- 5 How Do Finnish people Show Their Happiness?
- 6 Sadness in the Finnish Culture
- 7 It’s a Surprise! Finnish People Showing Surprise
- 8 How Do Finnish People Show Disgust, Anger, Contempt, and Fear
- 9 3 Mistakes to Avoid with 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Mistake. A Finnish person might seem angry when he is only tired and stressed out.
- 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.
- 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:
Warm wishes from Finland,
After this quick cultural class, you’ll know…
- Why feeling connected with the Finnish lifestyle is easier than you think
- "The Hedgehog" template that makes it super comfortable to start a conversation
- The one question that will confuse both you and the Finns
- How to blend in with the Finnish culture, not that you have to fit in