Is it a personality trait or is it the surrounding culture?

During a conversation on a bus ride I was faced with my own Finnishness and personality traits that are quite Finnish, when I stopped to think about it.

Yesterday I was on a bus and a man asked me if it would be okay to sit next to me. I said sure, go ahead. He sat and started to tell me where he’s going, where he came from and I just sat there nodding my head as a sign of listening.

At one point I had to interrupt him and tell, that the next stop is the one he should hop off. He laughed at his own talkativeness and pressed the stop button. When he stood up he said that he likes to talk to people and that seems to be strange in Finland. I laughed and agreed.

It is quite strange to strike up conversations with strangers in Finland unless you are intoxicated and in a bar or at some event. Especially small-talk with a person you sit next to in a bus is pretty unusual in Finland.

During the conversation I realized three strong aspects of being a Finnish person: personal space, straight-forwardness and enjoying silence. I also realized how very typical Finnish person I am.

I have struggled to analyse what it means to be a Finnish person, because I have born and been raised here. I have always been living in this culture and society as well as my parents. I have always had certain personality traits such as being straight-forward and having difficulties with small-talk because of that, enjoying silence and needing personal space. And it seems that those are the traits people associate with being a Finnish person.

My experience with Finnishness is very personal one and I decided not to try to separate what is my personality from what is Finnishness. So here we go…

Finnish people need personal space. You can find a bunch of different memes around the internet about this and somehow many of them are related to buses. People standing in the rain rather than close to each other under the bus stop, bus being full when there’s one person sitting on a two-seat row. Finnish people aren’t huge hugers or cheek-kissers either. And it isn’t personal! We just need personal space probably a bit more than most of the people and we have the luxury to be able to maintain it most of the time.

Finnish people are pretty straight-forward, which can seem rude to people who come from cultures in which it is important to chit-chat about families, how your day has been so far and so on, We go straight to the point and we mean what we say. If you say we should grab a coffee some day, you better mean it and be willing to have a real conversation over that cup of coffee!

Finnish people enjoy silence. I think that this relates to being straight-forward; we enjoy silence over the meaningless chit-chat. This is probably why it can be hard to strike up a conversation with a Finnish person on a bus or while waiting the bus in the rain.


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