About Finland/ Culture

A 5-step guide to communicating with Finnish people

Finnish people are so shy.

The Finns aren’t really talkative.

Finding an outgoing Finn is as easy as fitting a square block to a round hole.

You might have heard all of these (and even more!) stereotypical sayings about us Finns, and thus are under the assumption that we are introverted, serious and, in general, don’t really like about people. We know, we have heard it all when traveling abroad. People seem to think us Finns like to crouch alone in a corner and don’t really care about having other people around us.

This is not exactly true. Or it might be, in some cases, but with most Finnish people you’ll do just fine if you bare in mind a couple of things about the ways we interact with other people. So here’s a small step-by-step guide on communicating with Finnish people.

1. Learn to accept quiet moments in a conversation.

In Finland they are totally okay and normal. You don’t have to come up with irrelevant stuff to talk about when there’s nothing important to say. Isn’t it wonderful?  Some love small talk, we love less talk. We actually think it is a good sign when in a new relationship you feel comfortable not speaking to each other. True story.

2. Learn to love sarcasm and black humor.

All in all, us Finns have a weird sense of humor. We love sarcasm and dry jokes. Your situation might get tricky only when you take a Finn’s statement literally (we usually give it to you with a straight face), and only after several minutes start to wonder, whether it was a joke or not. This is a thing you simply must learn to embrace.

3. Be prepared for becoming a joke without even noticing it.

The next difficult step is to figure out whether or not you are the joke. When talking to a Finn you might find the person you are having a conversation with grinning funnily by themselves. When asking what’s the problem, they’ll just give a casual shrug and be like nothing’s happened. That’s when you know you have just become the joke – without even knowing why. But don’t get offended by this, since this is actually one of the biggest signs of friendship there is in Finland!

4. Be aware that Finns are able to communicate in multiple different situations with one word only.

This is a true Finnish classic. Why speak with complexe sentences when you can deal with everything with just one word? Saying “niin” or “no niin” with different kinds of tone, strength and volume in your voice and expressions on your face can be a relevant answer to dozens of different situations.


5. Be like a Finn – don’t take yourself too seriously.

Last but not least – be able to laugh at yourself – we like it. For example, we are fully aware of the picture people have of us around the world (and we know they might even overstate that picture a bit when it comes to us being unsocial hermits and stuff). But still we like to throw gasoline to the fire by cultivating blog posts like this one to keep the stereotypes up. Because, why not? It’s a lot of fun laughing at ourselves. Life shouldn’t be taken too seriously, even though we might seem like we’re super serious. Dig a little deeper and you’ll see there’s a lot more to us Finns than you might have expected in the first place!

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56 Comments

  • Reply
    Tiziano
    February 1, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    I’m italian and I visited two times Helsinki and its region. I love Finland.
    But it’s very difficult talk with the finnish, i tought to disturb them.
    This post can help me for the future 🙂

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 2, 2017 at 9:04 am

      Hello Tiziano, thank you for your comment! I’m really glad this post might help you in dealing with us Finns. We are not the easiest people to communicate with, but I’m sure it’ll get easier! Finns might look like they are disturbed when you go talk to them, but usually they are just surprised when a stranger starts to speak to them – as they are not used to this. Finnish people aren’t big on small talk, as I mentioned, and especially when they haven’t meant the person before. 🙂 But deep down we are really friendly when you get to know us – I promise! 🙂

      • Reply
        Tiziano
        February 2, 2017 at 6:05 pm

        Yes Laura, the problem is the first step 🙂

  • Reply
    Sussu
    February 6, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Hahah, great post, I loved it! 😀 🙂

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 13, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks, great to hear that! 😀

  • Reply
    Pirjo Skopa
    February 7, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    I agree with you 100% ! It was so fun to read your text because I recoqnize myself and many others which doesn’t act like Finnish peoples are usually thought to be acted. We are like strangers in the Paradise called Finland.

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 13, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      Thanks!

  • Reply
    Silvia
    February 8, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    Aah I should have read this while in Finland! Especially #3, I found myself wondering that often, haha.

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 13, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      Haha, well, for the next time you’ll got all your communication issues covered!

  • Reply
    W
    February 10, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Dudette, come on.

    You forget the simple nodding of the head that can be anything from an agreement to a greeting to a compliment and more. The Finns have mastered the non.speak and the comfortable with blank. …and joking about the Swedes as any other NorDick citizen. Oh yeah.

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 13, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      Yep, a simple nod can mean so many things, that’s true for sure!

      • Reply
        Antti
        February 28, 2017 at 7:00 am

        And I think here we are very close to a hypotheses I’ve been testing for a couple of decades already: We Finns are good in nonverbal communication.

        Sounds odd right, but still makes sense: We don’t always talk a lot. We keep distance and don’t touch each other that much etc. Still we manage to understand each other.

        The idea came to me over twenty years ago when a Canadian friend of mine was in Finland. We had been working together all day and we were sitting in a countryside house in the evening sipping our herbal teas, not talking and the tv was on. There was some Finnish tv drama (that the Swedish and Norwegian make fun about).

        Suddendly my friend Howard blasts: – Look at that guy on tv now! He hasn’t said a word for ten minutes now!

        I took a look at the drama and yes, there was a man who wasn’t talking and I said: – But I know what he is thinking.

  • Reply
    Gillian Hickey
    February 20, 2017 at 3:08 am

    Brilliant examples and so true.. i have some lovely friends in Finland and miss them so much. I wish there wasn’t a whole world between us.

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:17 pm

      Thanks Gillian, happy to hear you enjoyed the post! 🙂

  • Reply
    J Y
    February 20, 2017 at 7:59 am

    6 years living in Finland and I still look strange for many Finnish peoples because I always smile and talk haha

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:18 pm

      Hahaha I bet you do 😀

  • Reply
    Josh Ledger
    February 20, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Hi Laura,
    Thank you for the post. This means a lot for me. Im now in Sydney and planning to migrate to Finland with my family.
    This is really interesting. Hope to make Finland our new home soon..

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:20 pm

      Hi Josh, thanks for your comment! Oh wow, Sydney versus Finland, that’s going to be a huge change (I’ve been to Sydney a couple of years ago). I really hope you’ll fall in love with Finland!

    • Reply
      Ari Engman
      February 27, 2017 at 12:55 am

      Hi, I’m a Finn currently staying in Sydney for couple more months. If you want to have a conversation to get used to the silent moments over a beer, or othervise talk about the Finnish life, let me know!

  • Reply
    Antonio I
    February 21, 2017 at 1:12 am

    My friend and I were just talking about how easy it was to make Finns laugh because of our sarcastic humor! Here is one of my favorite awkward conversations with a Finnish woman at a hotel:
    Me: Do you guys have a sauna?
    Finn: Yes.
    Me: Okay.
    (Uncomfortable pause waiting for her to tell me the price. I relent.)
    Me: How much is it?
    Finn: 8 euro.
    Me: Cool. Here’s 8 euro.
    Finn: There’s only 15 minutes left until it closes.
    Me: OKAY THANKS.
    I’ll never forget that simple but culturally telling conversation, although I did miss it once I took the marshrutka back to St. Petersburg to face endless abuse from the Russian border patrol.

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:20 pm

      😀 Can’t stop laughing. Thanks for the comment!

  • Reply
    Lapsi
    February 21, 2017 at 3:19 am

    I wish I could make all of my co-workers and management read this! I am an American/Finnish girl living in San Diego CA. I fit this stereotype. My family here and especially in Finland say I am quite Finnish. I am misunderstood here!!

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:21 pm

      You should post the link on your company’s mailing list 😉

  • Reply
    Anastasia
    February 21, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    I’ll go Helsinki this Saturday for the first time. Thank you for your artickle, I think it’s gonna help me!

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:21 pm

      Thanks Anastasia, I really hope it will! 🙂

  • Reply
    Cathy Kellstrom
    February 21, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    I visited for 2 weeks from the USA. This is what struck me: the quiet in restaurants, the waiting for red lights to turn green when walking and no traffic is coming, heated streets, the number of people who ride bikes in the snow, and your hospitality. Wonderful!!

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:23 pm

      Cathy, I’m so delighted to hear you liked Finland!

    • Reply
      Karhu Henki
      March 3, 2017 at 6:00 am

      How I CRAVE quiet restaurants here in the US. Every single eatery seems to think I want to listen to their doggone radio blasting, so I can’t even hear my friend across the table, and have to raise my voice if I talk. What’s wrong with Americans that they have to have NOISE everywhere they go?? Does everyone really enjoy this??

  • Reply
    Kathy John
    February 21, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    First time visited Finland thought Fins unfriendly but when someone told me about them not being into small talk etc I warmed to them and often spoke only to ask directions etc .The next few times I really warmed to them especially in Helsinki where I found everyone so helpful and proud of their city

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:24 pm

      Yep, you’ll have to know us to understand us 🙂 And now you do! I’m happy you came back even though your first impression wasn’t the greatest. Thanks for that!

  • Reply
    Richard Persons
    February 21, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    I wish I would have had this guide growing up with a Finnish mother and grandmother. The Finns of the diaspora in the USA did not teach their children Finnish. I could never understand them and it always irritated my Irish half. Number 4 is the biggest trap as well as trying to decipher Finnish maps and addresses.

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:27 pm

      Oh Richard, I too wish you would have had this guide when growing up. But better late than never, I guess? 🙂

  • Reply
    Guenther
    February 21, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    Yep, I have been together with a wild girl from Helsinki when I was young. Enjoyed that we had the same sarcasm (well, I am Austrian, guess we are as weird as Finns, right). Good times:)

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:29 pm

      Hmm, I’ve been to Austria but can’t remember the Austrians being that weird. Maybe it’s because I’m as weird as you are! 😀

  • Reply
    Erland Kivisto
    February 22, 2017 at 12:07 am

    My four grandparents came Finland.My parents and myself were born in the United States.All of the above characteristics fit me,must be inherited

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:31 pm

      Whoa, this blows my mind reading these comments coming from the other side of the world. And yes, it very likely is inherited!

      PS. My mother-in-law actually shares the same last name with you, maybe you are related!

  • Reply
    liisa Feldmann
    February 22, 2017 at 4:49 am

    Well,I am a finn but they get surprice if they think all finns are like me.My mother was a introvert and my father the opposite.I take after my father,the Karelian spirit,we talk a lot and growing up in Helsinki,my mother always said,dont talk to all people.i dont understan this and i am over seventy now.Luckily I live now in Canada and the people here talk a lot!Yhe finns need somebody to break the ice too.

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:35 pm

      I’m also really talkative, and some say I’m not a typical Finn in that way. But I must admit I love my own space and don’t always love small talk, though I know how to handle it as a well-traveled person.

      Thanks so much for commenting, love read all of these great stories!

  • Reply
    William A. Jokela
    February 22, 2017 at 6:24 am

    Thank you. This helps me to understand my now deceased father. His parents were from Finland but he was born in Michigan. Only as an adult did I learn that English was a second language for him.

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:36 pm

      Thank you, William! This comment truly warms my heart.

  • Reply
    Kelly Forth
    February 22, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    OMG, maybe Finnish is part of my heritage.
    As a 51 year old woman, I’m blond, hazel eyes & 6’4″. I don’t have many friends because of all the facts you stated, thats just the way i am. The friends I do have understand me thou and love my humor 🙂
    Would Love to visit Finland!

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:37 pm

      Hahaha, it just might be you have some secret Finnish heritage! I hope you’ll get to visit Finland one day 🙂

  • Reply
    Bilal
    February 23, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    Thanks Laura!

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 24, 2017 at 11:37 pm

      No prob, thanks for the read! 🙂

  • Reply
    V
    February 25, 2017 at 5:11 am

    It is really touching to read stories from people with Finnish roots finding out about their parents / grandparents through your story. I’m a Finn living in the UK whose half Finnish son is proud of his mum’s culture and language and gets it.

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 26, 2017 at 10:41 am

      I know, isn’t it! I’ve had so many goosebumps going through these lovely comments. Great to hear you son is proud of and familiar with his Finnish roots, too, even though he lives permanently surrounded by a different kind of culture 🙂

  • Reply
    Nikolai Ylirotu
    February 25, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    What a lovely post. My english friend said once that you are so scottish with your dry sarcastic humour, almost black humour.

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 26, 2017 at 10:43 am

      Thank you Nikolai! Yep, us Finns can be pretty dark with our humor. I haven’t been to Scotland yet, but I’ve heard the people there have the same kind of mindset compared to Finns!

  • Reply
    Asta
    February 25, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Stumbled into your blog via another blog (from here: http://www.heartmybackpack.com/finland/worst-scandinavian-country/ ) and I have to say I’m hooked! Your site is beautifully executed, it doesn’t feel forced or like it’s trying to sell me something (like so many official tourist or travel sites) but definitely makes me feel like roaming my home country and finding all the hidden treasures 🙂

    So bookmarked and most definitely coming back for tips. Brava, ladies!

    • Reply
      Laura
      February 26, 2017 at 10:47 am

      Thanks so much Asta for the amazing feedback! We’re doing this purely out of love for our home country, so I’m super glad to hear it truly shows! <3 If we can inspire people (and better yet - Finnish people) to travel more in Finland, we have achieved our goal!

  • Reply
    Okropny
    February 27, 2017 at 12:53 am

    I used to draw an online comic about monster vikings, yeah, for real. And there was a Finn Olli, who still remains most beloved character among comic fans, mostly because of his use of “juu” and being a silent doer 😉

    • Reply
      Laura
      March 4, 2017 at 11:28 pm

      Ahahahahah :DDD “Juu.” I can totally picture that. Great stuff 😀

  • Reply
    Benjamin
    February 27, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Hello Laura. I was twice in Helsinki and had always a great time there. At the end of march, I go back again to Helsinki and I can’t wait to be there. For me Finns are very nice people. Most of the time, I think people are afraid to start to talk (because of stereotypes of being silent and cold people). You just have to start a conversation and Finns will always be very friendly. Greetings from Belgium

    • Reply
      Laura
      March 4, 2017 at 11:31 pm

      Exactly!! That’s how it usually goes. Welcome back, I really hope you’ll enjoy your second stay in Helsinki! 🙂

  • Reply
    Lana Kartanson
    March 9, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    My sis and I can sit together for a long time saying nothing . When we see something weird happen we just say hmm and know what that means. Then laugh like fools. One set of Our grandparents came from Finland and the other were born in Canada in a small Finish community. We still continue with some family traditions. We did however have some relatives that could talk and talk

  • Reply
    Mela
    August 26, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    Hello there, I am working on a project for School and I want to create a coffee and chocolate spread to use on bread, cookies, baking o anything that you think of. I would like to take that producto to Finland. What do you think about that idea?? HELP PLEASE 🙂

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