Welcome to the first blog in the"Series of the Finnish culture"- in which I have decided to write on how I perceive the Finnish culture and things associated with it. This series is entirely based on my personal experiences and cannot be generalized. This first blog in the series talks about my very first cultural shock that I have noticed upon arriving in Finland.
Cultural shock is an experience a person may have when moved to a new environment which is different than one's own. I moved from Pakistan to Finland in 2016 to study the Masters program. And before coming to Finland, I have stayed in Malaysia for 8 years for my studies. Thus, these two home cultures (Pakistani and Malaysian) have a strong impact on my experiences while looking at the host Finnish culture.
Upon arriving in Finland, I was literally a stranger in a strange land with lots of cultural shocks inlcuding language, food, people, events etc. - regardless of my prior international experience of Malayisa. But, with the passage of time, I found that some of the cultural shocks are actually good ones.
The secret of the Finnish silence - Finnish people are silent & reserved but NOT rude
While, conversations are an important element of socialization in our part of the world (Pakistan and Malaysia) and silence may indicate disrespect or rudness. In Finland, on the bus stop, in the train, in the cafeteria, in the restaurant, in the classrooms - I found the Finnish people mostly silent and are busy in their own world, such as, wearing the headphones, reading newspapers or magazines while having lunch, playing games on their phones, or working on their laptops instead of talking to others. I always had a fear to approach them considering that I may bother them.
As per my observation, the Finnish people are mainly silent and reserved to themselves. They do not interact with others so openly as an ordinary Pakistani, Malay, American or Canadian may do, for instance. And, this was the main cultural difference that hindered me to make Finnish friends in my first year. There are many incidents that made me feel that these people are not socialized at all. Finns do not engage in long conversations and prefer to talk to-the-point. It is very rare that any Finn has taken the first step to get to know me. It is always me who have taken the first step to introduce myself and get to know the other person in my class, for instance. I initially felt that these people are rude to me, they do not even ask "how are you?" outside the university life, they do not care about others' lives - until I spoke to one of the Finnish girl in my study group who told me that :
" we are not rude. we just give respect to others' privacy by keeping silence or making distance"
I understood the whole point behind their silence that they simply do not talk unnecessarily and uninvitedly. They love their own privacy zone and they respect others' privacy too. They may not aware of our (foreingers) culture and assume that the Finnish conversational norms may apply on us too. They offcourse talk, if you give them an opportunity. And, afterall, not all Finns are same. There are many exceptions, like as in any other culture.
So, was it hard to make a Finnish friend?
Yes, it was hard for me to make a Finnish friend in a quick conversation but it was not impossible. I just had to spend some "more" time in getting to know some of the Finns, who are my friends now. For instance, I had to go out for lunch and dinner with them in order to know them more closely. I invited them to my home. I joined a nearby gym with one of the Finnish friends, and she was very happy to have me as her workout-partner. She started talking to me about herself, her work and her life within few personal meetings. Another example, when I met a Finnish girl on my workplace and she was so talktive and friendly by nature. It was easy to communicate with her as she had excellent skills in English language. She told me another possible reason why Finns are silent to me :
"some Finns are not confident in speaking in English, even though they know it. So they may avoid a conversation with a foreinger. They simply prefer talking in Finnish"
I personally think that :
silence is a symbol of calmness and politeness in the Finnish culture. Finns are nice and friendly when you spend time with them and do involve in the activities they love.
I just had to spend few years in order to understand that this cultural norm was actually a good cultural shock. In fact, I do enjoy the Finnish silence-culture now and have somehow adopted it. My mom says : We should always learn and copy the good things, habbits and behaviors from others quickly. And thats what I did !
I hope you have learned some good things about the Finnish culture.
My next blog in the "series of the Finnish culture" will be published soon - with more interesting cultural shocks. Stay tuned and subscribe to get the notification!