The meaning of personal space in Finnish culture

Wanna hear a a short finnish nightmare? French kiss by a stranger.

I noticed this cultural difference clearly when I visited Italy. a Finnish friend of mine warned me in advance that the Italian hostess would kiss me on the cheek as a greeting. When the kiss approached my cheek and arms wrapped lovingly around my shoulders I was prepared, but my nervousness made me think more deeply about the Finnish culture of touching: Where a kiss was a friendly greeting for some, for others it was simply uncomfortable.

I have made notes, that Finns have a great need for their own invidual space, and we also respect the space of others. This includes conversation, touch, attempts to approach and stares (this applies for new acquaintances, not for deeper friendships). It means no surprising touching and no unwanted small talk. We Finns are very comfortable with silence. We only talk when it’s necessary – Not to avoid silence.

One of the most noticeable signs for Finnish personal space is in public transport. If you’ve ever traveled on a Finnish bus, you’ll observe an unspoken rule where passengers like to sit with an empty seat between them. Same rule goes within university restaurants – Give space to others, and kindly let people eat in peace, even though it might be difficult to bear oh-so-silent atmosphere.

This love for personal space is perhaps seen the best In Finnish sauna culture. Despite the community-nature of saunas, there’s a rule that everyone enjoys their personal space and quietness. So next time when In Finnish sauna, no loud talking, no touching. Just enjoy the moment with others.

I think that understanding the Finnish approach to personal space is important for visitors. While the plain nature of Finns might seem rude to some, it’s important to recognize that personal space is not an expression of coldness but rather a sign of deep respect for others’ boundaries. Despite the fact that we don’t hug strangers nor certainly kiss them, we are friendly, obedient people who, once you make friends with us, will perhaps be your loving loyal friends for the rest of your life.

So next time a Finn hugs you – Congrats, you have just made a new friend!


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