As a rule, Finns are sincere, humble, trustworthy and funny. However, one thing that can be difficult for visitors to know is what makes them happy, being that they often exude a Spock-like calm in all situations. With this in mind, I’ve put together a handy guide, gained from 13 years experience, of seven sure-fire ways to put a spring in any Finn’s step.
Ask them to put more löyly on the sauna
Finns like it hot and they expect you not to. Prove them wrong and yourself a sauna pro by taking everything they’ve got and more. If it’s their sauna, sit back, smile and marvel out loud not only at the heat but the silken quality of the löyly. However, if it gets too much and you think you might pass out, make sure you use one of two valid excuses to leave: you either need more beer or a dip in the ice, or even better, both simultaneously.
Binge on mämmi
Mämmi has to be one of the least appealing looking celebration dishes on the planet. Happily, it’s only dished out once a year at Easter. When you meet it, try to avoid eye contact with the sloppy pile on your dish and tuck in as enthusiastically as possible. Fight the urge to gag, then rub your stomach, smile and compliment your host on how amazingly versatile Finns are with rye.
Relentlessly mock Sweden whenever possible
Depending on where you’re from, this might come naturally. If not, be sure to put down Sweden whenever a Finn brings the country up. Conversational contributions like “What has Sweden ever given the world except Abba and porn?” or “If they spent less time on the sunbed and more time practicing ice hockey they might actually have a chance” are guaranteed to get you into every Finn’s good books.
Dazzle with your knowledge of Finnish heroes
Finland’s a small country, but it does have some big name iconic superstars. War heroes Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, Simo “The White Death” Häyhä as well as sporting gods Mika Häkkinen, Teemu Selänne and Jari Litmanen are all safe bets for gaining approval. Add to that the first female president Tarja Halonen, Moomin creator Tove Jansson, iconic DJ Darude and recently revered Saara Aalto and you’re spoilt for choice. If you can’t remember them, Santa Claus is always a good fall back. But never, ever say he’s not real.
“Wow! You speak brilliant English.”
Finns are some of the best English speakers in the world, although you wouldn’t know it the way they apologise for their language skills. Torpedo this humility with a well-placed compliment. They deserve it, and the likelihood is their English is a million times better than your Finnish anyway.
Only cross the zebra crossing when it’s green
One thing that amazes many people from elsewhere in the world is the Finns’ almost holy reverence for green lights. You can stand at pedestrian crossing, and even if there’s not a car in sight for a hundred kilometres either way, nobody will cross until the light goes green. Maintaining this tradition has two advantages: you make Finns happy and you don’t get run over.
Take the stairs when there’s someone else in the lift
For many Finns their daily interactions with the world are governed by two key instincts, maintaining personal space and avoiding small talk at all costs. This is especially the case during the long dark of winter, when people go into a kind of walking hibernation. Consequently, stuck in a small lift with a stranger is a special kind of hell to your average Finn. Take the stairs instead, and you’re likely to hear the huge sigh of joy as the lift glides gently past you with its grinning Finn inside.
These are my super seven tips, but there are doubtlessly more. If you’ve had success making a Finn smile, don’t be shy – let us know down below.
Joel Willans is the Co-Founder of Ink Tank Media and creator of Very Finnish Problems. Author of Spellbound: Stories of Women’s Magic over Men and 101 Very Finnish Problems: A foreigner’s guide to surviving in Finland, his prize-winning fiction has been broadcast on BBC radio and published in dozens of magazines and collections worldwide. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.