Text and photos: Couple of Expats
Ask any expat, and we’re confident they will all come back with the same answer – moving abroad involves some culture shock. Sometimes the shock is more significant, and other times it’s less, but it is proof that we live in a beautifully diverse and versatile world.
So, what is culture shock?
A culture shock is something one experiences when introduced to a new culture. One usually does get accustomed to these with time, but individuals may face difficulties in the beginning of their expat journey, particularly in the first one to two years. With time, it’s possible to get accustomed to these differences, and hopefully, you will even admire various cultural attributes of your new country.
1. Personal space
The love of personal space is widespread among Finnish people, and it’s bound to catch your eye straightaway. With a population of five million, most of the country is sparsely populated, and even in cities, people like their personal space and respect that of others. If you’re not yet convinced, here are a couple of examples of why people in Finland love personal space. For a lot of people, their dream house is in the middle of a forest, where the closest neighbour is at least a few hundred meters away. At Finnish bus stops, you’ll notice 3-4 people standing approximately 5 meters away from each other, waiting for the same bus.
2. Social conduct
When a culture is different from the one you’re coming from, it’s easy to have misunderstandings and the key is to be patient and avoid judging quickly. Internationals often find Finnish behaviour to be rude or impolite because of differences in norms. For example, in many cultures, it’s perfectly normal to smile or nod at a stranger, while the same behaviour will likely draw some odd looks in Finland. You may also find yourself in a circumstance where an acquaintance does not acknowledge you if you don’t know each other very well. While over time, you may become accustomed to and even adapt to some of these practices, try to not take it personally as a newcomer.
Finns have a reputation for being very comfortable in their birthday suit. While you may see a plethora of jokes about Finns being socially awkward, remember that these are the same people who have normalised socialising while being naked. This usually comes as a surprise to people from most cultures where socialising while being naked would be considered taboo. A lot of why nudity is normalised in Finland has to do with the country’s rich history of sauna. Did you know that the word “sauna” in the English dictionary is actually of Finnish origin? While Finns traditionally go to saunas nude, that’s not the case for public saunas, which require the use of a bathing suit. We’ve also found that Finns are very understanding of how internationals perceive public nudity and find a more acceptable solution, such as wearing bathing suits or wrapping a towel, so no one is uncomfortable.
4. The climate
Finland’s climate is one of a kind, with long summer days and extended periods of daylight, and very dark periods in the winter. The long days in the summer can last for 10-12 hours, and everything springs to life during this period after a long hibernating slumber. Summer in Finland is a wonderful time, but many are taken aback by seeing daylight at 10 or 11 PM and may experience sleeping trouble. On the other hand, the winters can be quite harsh, with the darkness being difficult for expats to adjust to 6 – 7 hours of daylight. The dark winter days can come as a surprise and can be difficult to adjust to, resulting in sleeping problems, lethargy, and a worsened mood.
Small talk is not very welcome in Finland, and it might not come as a complete surprise that those who prefer to ignore strangers and acquaintances also don’t like to spend time in casual chit chat. Which means that if you do ask a Finn a question as simple as “How are you?”, don’t expect a short, courteous answer and be prepared for a potentially lengthy conversation. While this may not come naturally for some expats, the key to successful communication in Finland is to be direct, honest, and concise. Another interesting aspect of communication in Finland is the use of silence. In Finland, silence is valued over saying something that’s irrelevant or talking simply for the sake of it. Additionally, because the Finnish language is so central to the country’s identity, Finns may be shy in communicating in English.
During the first six months of living in a new country, one can point out tens of things that feel different from “back home”. However, as the months turn into years and the definition of “home” starts to change, it becomes more difficult to pinpoint these differences. In conclusion, moving to a new country can be a thrilling adventure, but it can also come with its own set of challenges. By understanding and embracing the cultural differences you encounter, you’ll be able to adjust more easily to your new environment and make the most of your expat experience. So, pack your bags, be prepared for the unknown, and get ready for an exciting journey!
Want more tips on settling down in Southwest Finland?
Text and pictures: Couple of Expats