Us Finnish people have a good excuse. It’s not so long ago we lived in the isolation of the forest, so it’s understandable if we’re yet to master textbook social skills, or we forget the little pleasantries that sweeten urban coexistence. Yet, I think we have a few national traits we can no longer get away with if we want to survive in this increasingly international and interactive world. I believe that these six quintessentially Finnish bad habits should be instantly banned and banished back into those forests (ok, no zebra crossings in the forest, but you get my point).
1. We’re mad about rules
Show me the Finn who crosses the road on a red light, even if there were no cars within a 10-mile radius. We always wear our seatbelts, put on our helmets, don’t smoke on communal balconies, don’t eat on the bus and don’t park outside other people’s gates.
We’re so virtuous…how could that possibly be annoying? Because it makes us into closet policemen! God have mercy on the person who cycles on the pavement or puts banana peels in the mixed waste container. Their mistake will be quickly pointed out to them, probably by the very next passer-by, and accompanied by the wagging finger. Stick to the rules or the wrath of the nation shall be upon you.
2. We moan because we can
Our life is, well, too easy. Despite tireless efforts by the conservative government to demolish it, we still have a welfare state that makes sure we rarely need to worry about things that really matter. We have a roof over our head, food on the table, no one is likely to point a gun at our family, and if we get sick, we can get well without breaking the bank.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m totally loving this. The downside is that it allows us to complain about the teeniest of things, and to do it with relentless passion. We can’t drink outside after 10pm because people complain about the noise. We moan about children shouting (or crying) in restaurants, about the neighbour’s unkempt garden that makes the entire block of flats look shabby, and the high pillows we had to suffer on our hotel mini-break. Shall we just stop?
3. We don’t buy rounds
When I moved to London as a student, I was astonished at how friendly everyone was. They bought me drinks all the time, and they didn’t seem to have a hidden agenda either. It took me months to realize that I was supposed to have bought drinks back at them. That the way things work is reciprocity. Back in Finland, I find myself on the other side, buying rounds of drinks and getting just a surprised thank you. Perhaps the trouble for us Finns, traditionally careful with our money, is that some nights you end up down on your cash. But hey, some nights you’ll be up, too. Generosity makes us all happy. Let’s give it a go!
4. We don’t ask questions
We’re not big on small talk, and I think I know why that is. Once upon a time in sales training, I was told to ask open questions. What, when, where, why. They keep the conversation going, and everyone, in the end, loves to talk about themselves. But us Finns, we don’t do questions, so the conversation ends. We don’t like to pry, we say. Maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t think of it as prying, but rather as taking an interest in the person we’re talking to. Watch out, Kaurismäki, the new question-asking, small-talking Finn might just relegate your films to history!
5. We don’t stop at zebra crossings
Rules. Yes, we’re good at them, apart from this one. Zebra crossings are for zebras, not for cars to stop, and we have no zebras in Finland anyway. So what’s the point? When us Finns get in our cars, we become powerful. We’re no longer those pitiful creatures who have to respect authorities. Screw zebra crossings, screw pedestrians! We don’t stop for them because we’re stronger than them. According to official statistics, 31 pedestrians were involved in an accident on a zebra crossing last year. While this might not sound like much, we have to keep in mind that this is a fair share of Finland’s minute population! It’s about time we changed or our cars were burned in a big forest bonfire.
6. We let our dogs poo in the snow
When climate change doesn’t mess with our winters, they are simply beautiful. The glistening white blanket of snow helps us survive the darkest December days without descending into madness, but it also helps us sneakily hide our dog poo. Snow isn’t some magical powder that makes turds disappear, so in spring,
they appear again in all their stinking glory. I think I have just demonstrated habit number 2… you clearly can’t take Finland out of the Finnish girl!
In my dreams, the new Finns are admirable global citizens who obey rules when they matter and display flexibility when they don’t. They complain when life really treats them badly, but keep in mind how much better off they really are than, say, the Syrians they now take pride in welcoming into their huge, sparsely populated country.
The new Finns aren’t so worried about counting pennies and getting as much as they give, because what matters is that we share when we have something to share. In order to get to know someone new, or to cheer up a friend, they ask a simple question about how things are, and then follow it up with some whats, whens and whys. They let children cross the road safely, and to stop anyone moaning about first world problems, they pick up their dog poo in tiny little paper bags. It’s a beautiful future.