Excerpted from the Finland Career Guide
Finland is not part of Scandinavia, but is part of the larger Nordic culture. Denmark, Sweden and Norway share a common Scandinavian root language and a common Viking history, based on North Sea and Northern European traditions linked to Germany and England. In contrast, Finland shares its linguistic roots with Estonians and Hungarians. While the people of Scandinavia emerged from Northern Europe, the people of Finland emigrated from the east. Despite their unique roots, Finns today share more cultural traits with the neighboring Nordic countries than with their eastern neighbors; the Finns, like their Nordic neighbors, have an unshakable belief in the social welfare system. Even so, Finland’s rugged landscape and climate, and its historic struggles against overbearing neighbors – both east and west – have helped forge a distinct Finnish culture, distinguished by a powerful belief in the ideal of the flexible, clever, ingenious individual who can find a way through difficult circumstances. This concept is known as sisu, which refers to courage, stamina and perseverance. Sometimes, this strong individualism runs counter to the social welfare goals of the larger group, but in most cases group pressures tend to 'normalize' any overtly individualist behaviors.
The sauna has a role in both business and social interactions, and has a protocol all its own. An invitation to a sauna should be considered an honor and a treat. Refusal is perceived as an insult, unless there is some unusual overriding (and very explainable) reason (i.e., a health prohibition). The experience is expected to be peaceful and, in most cases, quiet. While most Finns sauna naked, they are completely understanding of those who prefer to wear a towel or bathing suit. Most saunas (except within families) are separated by gender. If there is only one sauna and people are not covered, typically the women go in first, and when they are finished, the men enter the sauna.
For the Finn, verbal communication is dominant. Emotions are not often expressed, and privacy is desired. The handshake is the customary greeting in the workplace, while simultaneously stating your name as an introduction. Because the work culture tends to be less formal, titles are rarely used. Young people, however, should still wait for permission from the older person before moving to a first-name basis. Finns commonly use the informal form of the second person pronoun, sinä, even with strangers. The formal version is te. Older people, however, may not appreciate being addressed in such a manner.
If You Want to Act Like a Local...
- If offering flowers as a gift, avoid chrysanthemums and white lilies (funeral flowers), and red roses and orchids (too romantic). The Finnish variation here is to be careful not to make a gift of a large bouquet; it should be small, perhaps consisting of wildflowers. Do not give a potted plant.
- Do not engage strangers in conversations; this is not very Finnish behavior.
- If invited to a restaurant dinner or a formal sit-down dinner at a home, conversation may last one to two hours beyond the meal. Do not leave until all are finished taking dessert, coffee or cognac.
Finns consider themselves hard workers and good employees. Most Finns want to do their job well; showing initiative and asking questions are viewed positively, as are perseverance and stubbornness. Finns are generally quiet and reserved. Anything that emphasizes rank or status is downplayed. The working style is individualistic, and working in teams has not historically been common in the workplace although this is slowly changing and younger, more dynamic companies support teams working in open office environments. Finns tend to be pragmatic and will welcome new ideas and techniques, as long as they make sense.
Finns believe in very egalitarian, 'flat' organizations. While national bureaucracies may be complex, they are not hierarchical. There is very little, if any, antagonism between subordinates and management in the Finnish business culture. Because Finns are individualistic and like to know exactly what they are responsible for, it is important for managers to develop orderly procedures and processes and strictly define the roles and responsibilities of their subordinates, especially if working on a team.
Conducting a meeting or giving a presentation
Meetings can be characterized in two words: long and quiet. Greetings move quickly into business conversation; small talk is uncommon. Conversation tends to be brief, and one can also expect long periods of silence during the conversation. These times should be respected, and one should not try to fill in the gaps by talking.
Finland has a very competitive business environment and, as a result, Finns are extremely tough negotiators. Again, objective facts are the most valuable form of evidence, and are preferred over subjective feelings or emotions. Finns are uncomfortable with a 'hard sell' approach, and more comfortable with an understated and self-deprecating style. Finns do not look favorably on over-enthusiasm when it comes to a proposal or contract. They will expect to hear all of the pros and cons of any particular proposal before proceeding to a resolution. Because Finns are direct communicators, it is very important to present information clearly and honestly, even if the news is bad.
This is just a short sample of what you’ll find in over 100 pages of information in the complete Finland Guide.