Derek Sivers

Finland Culture Shock - by Deborah Swallow

Finland Culture Shock - by Deborah Swallow

ISBN: 9780761460619
Date read: 2019-10-05
How strongly I recommend it: 7/10
(See my list of 200+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Surprisingly insightful. Much better than expected. An outsider’s insights into Finnish culture. I read it on my way to Finland, and swooned at the description of what sound like my kind of people. My experience in Finland mostly matches the book’s description, except I was in louder central Helsinki, so the anti-social silence was not on display. The book has a list of spectrums of culture which could be a good framework to categorize various countries’ cultures.

my notes

The Finns themselves joke that of all the EU rules, they obey 120 per cent of them.

How do you get a Finn to talk? Put a phone in his hand.

You will not be ‘sold to’. This will be seen as being an invasion of your privacy and an interruption of your personal silence.

Finns are not Scandinavians, nor are they Slavs.

There are more lakes in Finland than in any other country in the world.

Overall happiness: Finland ranks 6th in the world.

Finland has won more Olympic medals per capita than any other nation.

Finland is the most heavily wooded country in Europe, covering 72 per cent of its lands.
63 per cent of the forests are in the hands of private owners, which equates to one in five families being owners.

Sisu: meaning guts, toughness, stamina, courage, stubbornness.
Doing things until they’re done.

Values are borne of a cultural mindset, developed through taught and learned national concepts which become core beliefs.

Culture is the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge which constitute the shared bases of social action.
It is the ideas of a group with shared traditions and the tastes valued by that group.
Culture is a social and psychological prism:
We think we perceive the world as it is. In fact the world is mediated through our dominant assumptions, values, and beliefs.
Our cultural prism determines how we understand and know ourselves, others, and the world.
Each of our cultural prisms is built out of a history of our group, our religions and other belief systems, economies, educational and legal systems, aesthetics, language, and to some extent our geography.
It is the embedded psychological reality of a group and how it affects thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Every culture distinguishes itself from others by the way they react to certain situations.

Individual or community spirited:
The Finns lie between these two extremes, being very individualistic but having a social conscience, thus they have heavy taxation.
They perceive themselves as fiercely individualistic, but (as we say in English) they won’t rock the boat because of what the neighbours might say, as this will make them stand out from the crowd.

In Japan, individual thinking is a sign of immaturity, demonstrating that a person has not grown up enough to put societal values first.

Sticking to the rules or bending rules:
The Finns lie at the ‘sticking to the rule’ extreme.

Given status versus achievement:
This is the degree to which a society gives recognition for attributes such as age or birth right, versus recognition for one’s own personal and individual achievements.
Finns are definitely achievement oriented - defined as academic achievement, innovation and entrepreneurship. Very little credence is given to celebrities.

Equality versus hierarchy:
Finns believe in total equality.

Cool and calm versus emotional behaviour:
This is the degree to which a society tolerates the expression and use of emotion (especially in decision-making and business).
When an Italian is in love, the whole world knows - likewise when s/he is angry.
Finns are suspicious of melodrama, which confuses them, and secretly believe that people showing this disposition are untrustworthy. They admire coolness and calm judgement. As emotion has no place in their daily, operational lives - facts do.
Facts, evidence and truth are believed to produce the best outcome, and truth is very black and white in Finland - there are absolutely no shades of grey.

Attitudes to time:
people arrive punctually

Environmental consciousness:
This is the degree to which people either abuse their environment, versus being a part of the cosmos system and ecologically aware. The Finns are forest people at heart.

A boss said Finns are the only people he knows where he can give them an exercise to do, return in 15 minutes, and find that the exercise will be completed.
If there is a job to be done, they just get on and do it with no small talk to interrupt.
National trait of obeying the rules.

Finland is one of the lowest debt-ridden countries in the EU (and industrialised nations).
Finns pay faster than any other country.

In Finland, your word is your bond - a statement is like a promise. A handshake on a deal is as good as a written contract. You say EXACTLY what you mean, and mean EXACTLY what you say.
This means the Finns direct communication approach can seem rather rude to other cultures used to ‘softening’.

Chattiness is a sign of empty-headedness.

Few have too much and even fewer have too little.

Without the existence of an overseas empire, or a native monarchy and aristocracy, there has been no opportunity for racial, social or class superiority to take root.
Most of them work with their heads. Labour jobs have been transferred to China or Estonia.

Political summits are held in Helsinki as Finland is seen as a country with ‘no axe to grind’ and no historical alliances.

Survey of 50 countries shows that the Finnish and New Zealand males are the least susceptible to flattery.

In 1990, there were only 9,000 foreigners in the whole of Finland,

The law in Finland requires all major employers to provide a ‘Nuclear’ Bunker, stocked with provisions, water and blankets at their premises for the protection of their workforce in case of an emergency.

To understand the Finns’ need for personal space, you have to realise that until modern recent history, most Finns lived a simple life by fishing, hunting and cultivating the land. With so few people and such an expanse of land, this life was very lonely and often the only contact with people were with the family that lived with them. The vast majority of the Finns live in towns but they still remain a ‘forest people’. They love to be in close harmony with nature, and it has to be understood that sometimes Finns just like to be alone.

When my (first or second) name is repeatedly mentioned when someone talks to me - a habit of especially American (US) salesmen - I feel pushed and my personal space violated.

A quarter of the population of Finland owns a summer cottage - there are about 400,000 of them.
Normally there is no electricity or running water, but the two things that a mokki has to have are a sauna and a rowing boat.

From a Finnish reader: I spent two months in England to learn the language when I was 17. The place was not a big city, but even so I felt very clear distress when I realised that there is never a place or a moment when I can be alone. In the parks and beaches and everywhere, there is always a bigger or smaller crowd around me.

Problems: It was the first Western country to notice the disastrous affects of the Chernobyl catastrophe. This meant that hundreds of reindeer had to be slaughtered. It suffers from air and water pollution arising from the activities of its Russian neighbour.

The Finnish flag is supposed to represent the white of the snow and the blue lakes of summer.

Nine out of ten Finns belong to the national Lutheran Church.
Finns do not necessarily consider themselves religious, but they feel comfortable belonging to an organised church.

Finland had the first women in the world to vote along with New Zealand.
There is no culture of traditional ‘women’s jobs’.
About 30 per cent of entrepreneurs are women.
Finnish women are better educated than the men.
Women are seen as popular and successful in their role as a boss.

Finland has reduced its incidence of heart attacks by 75 per cent since the early 1970s.

According to UNICEF’s report on the well-being of children in industrialised nations:
Finnish children are the healthiest in all of Europe.
The worst, in descending order, were Portugal, Austria, Hungary, USA, and last Britain.

The essence of effective cross-cultural communication has more to do with releasing the right responses than with sending the ‘right’ message.

People often take their shoes off indoors and in public. On the aeroplane, in training rooms or even in business meetings, shoes will be slipped off without any self-consciousness.

The Finns are a very tolerant people. This is derived from their value-set of leaving people alone and respecting people’s privacy.
However, they will not tolerate lateness - of anything.

A Finnish reader: ‘In the States, an elderly women saw me sitting on a bench and said to me “Your shoes are so cute!” I was taken aback and thought she was so rude. Why should this complete stranger have the right to make value judgements about my dress, and why should she think I’d care? After all, I liked my shoes (that’s why I was wearing them) and why should anyone else’s comments matter to me?

Scandal - the Finns don’t ‘do scandal’. Because the Finnish view of what is considered normal in life is quite broad, there seems very little to gossip about.

Finns will give you quite a lot of information that, in other cultures, may be considered embarrassing or private, as these things are just considered normal things that people experience in life. Finnish logic tells them it is therefore not embarrassing or particularly private; your parents’ divorce, illness in the family, breaking up, having difficulty deciding career path etc., are very openly talked about.
The responsibility of defining what can be talked about lies with the answerer.

Finns joke they are good at being silent in two languages - Finnish and Swedish.

Finnish women, wanting to be romanced or entertained, live in frustration at their silent partners.

Finland has the highest consumption of coffee per capita of anywhere in the world.

The Finnish identity is based on places and ancestors rather than on work and career.
The Finns have a nasty little expression for something that doesn’t have any value: “This isn’t from anywhere!” (Tämä ei ole mistään kotoisin).

In most countries it’s considered polite to communicate. In Finland it’s polite to leave people alone.

One of the knock-on effects of such generous state subsidies is that students will sign up for university and stay there. The majority of young people sign up for Masters degrees and it is very unusual for people to get a degree just at Bachelors level. Currently, the majority of students stay an average of seven to eight years at university.

They like to pay their own way. As the Finns would say, “I don’t like to travel on your wing”. In other words, they don’t like to be beholden to anybody else.

Finns never drink in rounds. Everyone always pays for their own beer, and buys it when they want, even when drinking with friends.

Finns seem to eat as quickly as they can and get up from the table as soon as they are finished.

One of the best ways to understand a nation is to learn something about who they respect and worship.
Who are their heroes?
Who are seen as role models for the nation’s children?
Who are the people who hand down tradition or guidance, values and direction?
Then find out what they do.
How do they spend their leisure time?
What is the most popular leisure activity or hobby?
What do they become fanatical about?
How musical are they?
What art do they appreciate?
Finally, you could travel around the country and see the sites and understand how a nation’s geography has shaped their culture.

In Finnish, computer is tietokone (knowledge machine) and telephone is puhelin (to do with speech).
Every letter in a word is pronounced,
The absence of gender: The same Finnish pronoun han means both he and she.

Finnish sayings:
Love makes you blind; marriage opens your eyes wide.
Behave in the sauna as you would in a church.
Closeness without conflict only exists in the cemetery.
There is no word for ‘please’ in Finnish.