Finland — the land of introverts
About being Finnish and introvert
Originally published on Medium.
Finnish people are not reserved but calm. We are social only when need to be. We don’t generally keep in touch with family members so why it is expected from us to be more social with foreigners? This behaviour is in our culture in the same way than social customs are cultural norms in Italy or Spain.
I have a few friends that are not originally from Finland. They have lived most of their lives in another country or moved here in some point in their lives. Some of them speak Finnish but prefer English, yet understanding Finnish language.
People from my mother’s side are from Australia. The late wife of my father is from Thailand. I have friends from Middle East, Great Britain and Netherlands. The foreigners living here have coped pretty well with the local oddities, but it always amazes me how some of them are still not capable of understanding the Finnish culture, Finnish people or Finnish values.
I often get criticized by people that are not Finnish by nationality. They are often surprised on how I don’t keep in touch, don’t stay and talk to them when I meet them on the street by chance, or not saying hi more often or like their Facebook posts. Every time I get confused by the critique — why should I do those things? I’m not used to that, not interested in that in that particular moment. And it is nothing personal. I don’t want to feel pressured to be social. I’m social when I decide to be and that doesn’t happen often in real life. I get anxious very easily.
It is one thing to be a Finn, but it’s another to be a Finnish introvert — although those two are often considered as a same thing. Finns are close to introverts by default because of the Finnish culture, but a Finnish introvert is way more than that. They say Finns are “quiet and reserved”. That’s a general misunderstood assumption. We are not quiet, but rather open, warm and sincere people, but you need to get to know us first. We just need our space and there’s a separate time for discussion, it does not need to happen all at once.
We don’t know how to “small talk”, we don’t do dinner parties that much and we don’t spend half a day wandering in the markets talking to people. When we talk, we usually mean what we say. If I want to have a beer sometimes with you, I say it as I really do, but it doesn’t mean I should do so in the same day or the next. It might take two years to have that beer depending on the mood and life situation and for Finns that is okay. At least I don’t say “see you soon”, because I know it won’t happen any time soon. We are quite literal in a sense. If I know you well enough, it’s not weird to answer “really shitty” to a question like “How are you?”.
In other parts of the world it may be considered rude not to greet on the streets, not to answer a phone call or not accepting a visit invitation. Not in Finland.
Talking to strangers is awkward in Finland, even from a Finn to another Finn. Usually people who talk to strangers at bus stops or in the mall are either drunk or mentally ill. We don’t talk to strangers if we don’t have to. And when we do, we keep it brief.
Well, I have tried. In some point I tried to meet people more. I’m quite eloquent when it comes to speaking English, not proud of it, but it’s better than the average “Finnish rally English”. When I meet people, I really meet them and throw myself into the conversation and forget about my anxiety for a while.
I think it’s like this for the most introverts that would like to be social but are not really into it in general sense. I really like meeting people, but I don’t like the thought of it. Before meetups I get really anxious, but when the meeting happens the feeling lifts away, for a while at least.
However, after forcing myself to be more social for some time I got really tired. Not by the people, not by the conversations, not by the social events, I like all of that, but because of trying to be something that I am not and pushing myself to the limits. Everyone knows that you should not push yourself into something you don’t want to do or you don’t have a tendency to do. It’s really nothing personal to people.
But why the Finns are like that? Is it just you or all the Finnish people?
Not all Finns are introverts like me and an average Finn gets quite social after you get to know him or her. But we have to keep in mind most of the year is dark and cold in here — we practically have 10 months of winter and two months of summer (if we get lucky).
There are just a bit over 5 million people in about 338 424 square kilometres (210,287 square miles) and there are only 17 people per one kilometre/mile which makes Finland the third most sparsely populated country in Europe. No wonder we tend to be a bit introverted since we have practically lived in pitch black and cold solitary all our lives. Okay, that’s a bit harsh and one dimensional thought, but you get the point.
Many Finns like to go to warmer countries like Spain or Thailand many times a year. My father moved there first thing he got retired and I know couple of family relatives that have lived in Spain for the most of their lives. My australian cousins like it more in Australia and no wonder — I would like to have the sun all day and surf in the ocean in my backyard. Now I just have to stick to surfing in the Internet, in the darkness.
Many Finns have said they get more open and refreshed after spending some time abroad. Yet in some twisted way we like it here in Finland, being left alone in cold and dark.
We are kinda fucked up people in a sense. Kinda social, but anti-social. Every year we curse the snow, cold an darkness, but love swimming in icy waters and then go to sauna heated up in 100 °C (212 °F).
Finland is a country of extremes and contrasts — for example, cold and dark winters alternate with warm and light-filled summers. For some reason, Finns need to accentuate this by swimming in icy waters while bathing in steaming saunas. Come to think of it, the rather challenging conditions must have played a part in making Finns wanting to test their limits so vigorously. The reason why is probably unclear even for most Finns; it’s just something we’re born with, for better or for worse.
A country filled with people of a tough history about survival in the cold winter in Arctic Circle, what else is expected?
I don’t always say this, but I’m proud to be a Finnish introvert. Like it or not, can’t help it. If I decide to talk to you, I will. If I don’t want to talk to you in that particular moment, don’t get offended by it.