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There is a prevailing stereotype that Finnish people are introverted, quiet, and not too sociable. There are even memes displaying what seems to be the outside world’s perception of Finnish people. But is this stereotype really true or just blown out of proportion?
Finns are generally known to be more introverted than people from most countries. So much that visitors are often genuinely surprised to see how quiet Finns are, even when surrounded by friends. Perhaps it’s due to the amount of time spent living in isolated communities or their habit of escaping to the countryside to stay in summer cottages. We asked native Finn, Joonas Sinkkonen whether or not he feels that he fits the stereotype, in which he replied, “kind of, I’d say it’s based on my personality, mostly from the fact that I was bullied constantly at school so I didn’t want to approach people.”
Ice fishing alone in the Finnish winterUpon leaving his native country, 28-year-old Sinkkonen moved to the US and the UK where he quickly recognised the differences between the two countries and Finland. “In America, people, at least in Texas, had this rather warm and welcoming outgoing habit of striking up conversations with perfect strangers.”
According to Sinkkonen, Brits are more noticeably extroverted compared to Finns, although he considered their [Brits] politeness to be as a necessity. “A lot of times if I hold a door open for a Finn, for example, I’d give it a 50/50 chance that I get thanked,” he said when comparing the countries.
So is the stereotype of Finns being introverts based on culture or personality? The truth is most likely both. While some Finns appear to be shy, socially anxious, or unfriendly to foreigners, the reality is that you will ultimately find different types of people in Finland, just like any other country. Being shy isn’t necessarily considered a negative trait in Finland and silence is considered a healthy time for thoughtfulness and reflection.
Communication isn’t even considered a necessary part when spending time with friends or family. You could spend an entire weekend fishing with a Finn and barely talk to each other. Not because he or she is uncomfortable around you but because one might just consider peace and silence to be relaxing. Nevertheless, a conversation can go on for hours if it is of interest.
Of course, as with all stereotypes, this does not apply to everyone. In fact, many Finns, particularly older people, enjoy engaging with strangers.
It may come as a surprise for visitors when finding out that even the shyest Finns have no hang-ups about nudity and will happily strip off their clothes in front of strangers at a swimming pool or sauna. Strangely, while small talk is discouraged in Finland, particularly in the workplace, the sauna is often the only place where Finns really open up to one another and engage in small talk. It is even common practice for some workplaces to have a communal sauna once a week for colleagues to socialise. In other words, Finns do not dislike talking. They simply choose the time and place to do it carefully.
An introverted person will most likely feel at home in Finland and a socially anxious person will feel even more comfortable. But that doesn’t mean that an extroverted person won’t find new friends or a good time in Finland either. Like all nations, Finland is made up of a mixed bag of people who don’t fit into any one stereotype.