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Funny Finnish Small Talk Habits You Will Run Into in Finland

Small talk in Finland – does it exist? How can you make small talk with Finns? Hands down, those are the most asked cultural questions in my inbox.

Indeed, Finnish small talk will, most likely, be very different from your culture.

Before I begin, I’d like to say that as this is a cultural thing, there isn’t “one truth only” by any means.

Everyone will have their own encounters and experiences in Finland based on the length and type of their stay and the area(s) they visit.

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There are several positively tingling aspects to this topic so I have tried to combine all of the most common issues neatly in this post.

If there’s anything you’d like to ask, comment below so others will find our conversation too!

What is Small Talk in Finland?

 

So, guys, many of you have written to me that Finnish small talk leaves you speechless (pun intended). You might even think that there is no concept of small talk in Finland. In a way, I think you may be right.

That’s because, in Finnish culture, greeting words and saying your name are already considered small talk.

Then, we can carry on with the real topics. If it happens that there are no actual topics, well then, we might as well be silent. It’s very natural for a Finn to be silent in a group.

However, I think, that the most cultural giggles (or panic) come from the Finnish ability to be silent as a group. And, yes, I mean that nobody is speaking. Anything. For a reallllyyyy long time. 

Add a non-Finn into the mix and most likely he will feel very awkward. That is if he is not a hidden Finn. If he is, he is most likely enjoying his personal silence like all the others.

I know, it must be difficult to understand how we bear such long, queasy pauses. I can say that when you are born to it, it feels cozy and completely normal. It’s surprisingly difficult to add extra words to everyday situations when they aren’t built into your culture.

The Basic Rules of Finnish Small Talk

For a Finn, being silent is being polite, as you are not disturbing the other person. I try to describe the rules of Finnish small talk by demonstrating the likelihood of a Finn talking in different situations with the picture below.

Finnish small talk infographics

Escaping Social Situations with Finnish Small Talk

Some might see the Finnish small talk behavior as escaping social situations aka social avoiding. Indeed, this built-in lack of talk is accepted in all forms of encounters.

As you can see from the picture above, there is a relaxing element of social avoiding even among friendships, especially if the relationship is not that close. It is okay to be focused entirely on your mobile when walking past acquaintances in Finland.

The silence extends to phone calls, messages and social media too. For example, if a Finn reads your message, there’s no cultural pressure in Finland to answer it immediately.

Not-Surprising Situations for a Finn Abroad

Social avoiding hits another level especially when Finns are abroad and spot another Finn.

I was unsure whether or not to write about this but I will, because cultural things are the essence of my blog and, also, because I think this Finnish feature is hilarious and true. Full disclosure: I have certainly done it myself too, haha.

Long story short: there are many occasions, in which we Finns are silent and sometimes even pretend we are not Finns to avoid the social situation that might otherwise occur. Here are three examples.

#1 You are a Finn working abroad, and another Finn comes to your workplace. If you know that you won’t do any collaboration, you may disguise yourself as a mute random employee. The only risk is that some non-Finn colleague will give you away.

#2 You are a Finn on holiday in a secluded environment (like in a paradise island), and miraculously you hear other Finns talking. You continue your way silently.

#3 You are in an environment that is full of Finns, for example, enjoying a holiday in Torremolinos in Spain. You don’t greet nor speak to any of them during the whole stay.

finnish small talk at work in Finland

Finnish Small Talk in Work Life

At work in Finland, you can just start telling your business immediately to the other person. To be more precise, you should start telling your business immediately and not waste time wandering around the subject.

On the other hand, please don’t take it personally if a Finn starts a conversation with you and doesn’t even say “How are you?”.

She is not being rude. She knows that you are super busy and that’ why she is very straight-forward. Also, she is not being a good, efficient worker, if she wastes her time with chitchatting.

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Compliments in Finland

As other people would just smile and say thank you, a Finn usually finds a way to somehow belittle her own contribution to the given praise.

By no means is this habit to insult or depreciate the person who gave the compliment, rather just shows that the receiver is modest.

Amusingly, sometimes the comment makes the situation totally weird. Do not fear if this happens to you, it happens all the time between Finns too. Just smoothly carry on to the next topic of discussion.

Your hair looks great! – Huh, I just washed it.

…What do you say to that?! Nothing. You can just move on with the conversation. 

That blouse looks fantastic on you! – The threads are coming out of the seams and everything…

Okay… And here is one more!

Your garden is beautiful! – Well yes… The soil is good here and there has been good weather.

See what I mean?

perfect gift for a finn

Learn to Read the “No” in Between the Lines

Many Finns struggle with saying no. So they will say something more subtle or stay silent. Here’s an example for you. 

If a Finn responds to an invitation with “I’m not sure I can make it.”  By the way, that translates to “En oo varma pääsenkö”, in Finnish.

In reality, that person can be saying “I probably won’t come.“

Is there anything you would like to ask about Finnish small talk? What are your experiences with Finnish small talk? Let me know in the comments!

Looking for more information about Finnish culture? Check out some of my other posts:

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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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Kiko

Wednesday 31st of March 2021

I am a Brazilian living abroad I go out of my way to avoid other Brazilians. And Brazilians are not exactly know for social avoidance. I must be a closeted Finn ;-)

Varpu

Thursday 1st of April 2021

Hei Kiko, so lovely to virtually meet you here! Thank you for commenting and yes! Have you taken this funny test yet: https://herfinland.com/test-finnish/

Nicholas Omolo

Monday 4th of January 2021

I think we introverts can have a great time in Finland

Varpu

Tuesday 12th of January 2021

Being an introvert myself, I can agree, Nicholas. :D

Egor

Tuesday 17th of November 2020

Hm, I actually don't think that things you described in this post are weird or strange... (but understand that it is not common point of view) A silence need to be appreciated more by the others.

Am I a hidden Finn??

P. S. Thanks for such an interesting information!

Varpu

Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

Hei Egor! Thank you so much for the comment. Yes, we are all unique! <3 Have you taken my hidden Finn test yet: https://herfinland.com/test-finnish/

Igor

Wednesday 21st of October 2020

After many years conversation with a Finn, it still blowing my mind. :)

Varpu

Friday 30th of October 2020

Hei Igor, hahha, thank you so much for commenting! I really appreciate it!

james hendrix

Sunday 23rd of August 2020

you are all so very cute! **except the canadians, all of which travel with the maple leaf somewhere on there clothing or backpack due to very real mortal danger of being accused of american nationality:)

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