Finns are viewed as shy. Really shy. But are we? Yes and no. Meaning yes, some Finns too are shy, but not all, and most of us just seem shy but that’s because it’s easy to mistake reservedness to shyness.

So what’s the difference? Well, look at it like this. You have a bus full of people. And by full we mean half way filled. Every two seater bench set has one person on it. And quite possibly sitting on the window seat, with their backpack or grocery bag next to them. They’ll move it if you try to sit on it, but you might get a glare with it. Anyway, the bus is full of people, and in that bus, there is probably one person who is shy, and maybe one with crippling social anxiety, but the others just like their personal space.

Talking about bus behavior, here’s an easy way to remember how to act. Electrons locate themselves to orbitals the same way as Finnish people fill the bus. First every two seater is filled by one person and just then they start filling the second seat. At least easy if you are into science.

Another reason we are viewed as shy is because we’re quiet. Like, we talk, not a lot, we don’t waste our breath. We have a lot of old sayings about quietness being treasured, for example, roughly translated; “think twice, talk once”, “you talk, I’ll hold the horse”, “the wisest of the fools is the one not speaking”. And when we talk, we talk quiet. It’s viewed as impolite to be loud. We talk, on the phone, in the store, when we are with friends, but it’s all done in a proper volume. A quiet one. We don’t want to be broadcasting our affairs to everyone around.

One Finnish mother married an American and with time got really annoyed and stressed with his loudness. She bought him a gift, a mug that had the old children’s book character Mr. Noisy (from Mr. Men) on it, to diffuse to stress and make it fun. She thought it was super funny, but the husband got offended. She still stands by it being super funny. If you’re loud and we like you, we will make fun of you.

Finnish people don’t exceed in chit-chat. To “Hi how are you” we might just answer with “not too great at the moment, having an headache, and couldn’t sleep all night since grandma is in the hospital, but at least the kids have school all day and I get to go to work to relax!”. Yea we kinda know it’s just a hello, but if you ask, we answer. And if you ask “did you have a good day?” you probably get a yes or a no. Nothing more. And really, nothing more is needed, it answers the question asked. If you want to know more, ask more.

Putting it simple, you’re out in a -4 degrees Fahrenheit weather. Only way to keep warm is to keep moving, and that’s a fact we have been taught since we were babies, since we have been forced outside to play in the cold since we were babies, again, fresh air is really important. So you’re out, maybe on your way to the bus or work, or both, and you run into your nextdoor neighbor. If you stop and chat, you’ll freeze. So you raise your eyes, if they notice you, they do the same and you make eye contact for one second. You nod, they nod. Maybe a smile but it doesn’t matter since your mouth is covered with a scarf. End of social interaction. And this is all completely acceptable, even encouraged. If you stopped and started to talk about weather it would be weird, you both know what the weather is like, you’re both outside. It’s too cold for nonsense.

Photo by Kristina Flour.

— Editors

The writer of this story is a member of the Mom of Finland community.

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