That is one tough border to cross, that one from Russia to Finland. Basically you’re crossing from tea country to coffee country. Otherwise you’re going from ice to ice.
Finns are the world’s greatest coffee drinkers. They drink more coffee per capita than any other nation in the world. They also drink coffee because they won’t drink tea: Russians do. Coffee for me means conversation. I just haven’t cracked it here yet.
The problem is Finns don’t do conversation. Not in the same way Russians don’t, because Russians do singing, hugging, dancing and arguing instead.
I have tried. From many angles, and taken some measures to make contact. I read about a woman who stripped naked to meet an Amazonian tribe. If I did that in Finland I’m told they’d still walk on by, and anyway, I’m not a nice young woman and the Amazon is a long way from here.
But I did throw all off anyway, and sat in the sauna with some locals, ready to discuss the meaning of something, but no-one seemed impressed. I managed a haiku out of it, true, and duly posted, but no Finn I chatted to seemed to be interested in the fact that this was my first time naked with a group of Finns. I chatted. They replied. Until one woman politely informed me that a sauna was important for quiet reflection and thought. The only thought I had was how quiet it was, but I demurred and tried to appear reflective.
Basically, Finns don’t do small talk. They just do not do it. Its quite pleasant actually, but it also means that if Finns say ”hello” to you one day, they don’t do ”hellos” the next day. I know it blows people’s minds when they come here, to Finland, or to the northern part of Finland, Lappland, a land of lakes, forest, and, um, quiet. Bit like southern Finland, actually.
”We like our men to be from the North of Finland, they don’t speak,” said a teacher (woman) I met. That’s all she said. Yappity yap.
Meanwhile my Italian chef friend here is going insane: ”my Finnish girlfriend hasn’t spoken to me since October, he shouted, in an Italian way, all arms and expressions.
”Shshshshsh!” someone said, as they walked by.
You get used to it. Would be better without the staring sometimes. But I’ve got no excuse, after all, they invented Nokia. Someone here wants to have a chat, surely!
But that’s how it is. I didn’t believe the small talk thing either, when I read up on cross-cultural communication before planting myself and small business here. Nowadays when a visitor to my copper shop from another country remarks that it is quite a fine day today, I stare in shock at his pleasantries just like a local, before recovering and saying nothing back.
All Finnish jokes revolve around talking too much. (Of course, we read jokes here, we don’t actually tell them to each other.)
That and not drinking enough. The classic is Mika and Peppe, who haven’t seen each other for ages, so they decided to get together for “one” beer:
At the end of the first pint Peppe says: “How have you been?” Mika just grunts in reply. At the end of the second pint Peppe asks “So how’s your family?” Again, Mika just grunts in reply. After three pints Peppe asks “How’s work going?” Mika turns in fury and yells:“Perkele! Did we come here to talk or drink?!”
Finns don’t do love, either, in the conventional sense:
Q: How do you know a Finnish man is madly in love with his wife?
A: He almost tells her.
A Finnish nurse friend of mine was so surprised when her Cuban boyfriend bought her flowers she actually told us. That was a conversation stopper. Well, it would have been a conversation stopper, if there had been a…well, you know what I was going to say..so..
It is when you are sufficiently acclimatised in Finland that you notice 3 things:
- You understand why the Finnish language has no future tense.
- You actually believe Swedes ”talk too much” and ”never shut up.”
- When a stranger smiles at you, you assume he is drunk, insane, or American.
And as they say, what is the difference between an empty stomach and a Finnish person who wants to ask something from a stranger?
You can actually hear the empty stomach.
So its going to be a little while before I break the ice, I’m afraid, in this pleasant country of beguiling beauty and respectful privacy.