We’ve all had these moments, “what, did I say something wrong?”. It could have been something really innocent that is downright disgusting for someone else, but it also could have been something you didn´t say. A couple of pointers for your travels.
Things you should say:
1. Please. We are kind of like Klingons here. The Klingons don´t have a word for mercy, and us Finns don´t have the word “please” in that context. When you see a Finn demanding “beer” from the bartender, they’re most likely not being rude. They’re just doing it they only way they know how. We are learning, please be patient.
2. Good morning, thank you etc. in their language. Sure, you can say them in English, but take the effort to google a few key phrases in the language of the place you´re visiting. Not much of an effort, but makes the world of difference. Try it. And this goes for all the people everywhere, not just Finns.
Things you should never say:
3. Katso merta (look at the sea). Saying these two innocent words in Italy might get you a weird look from the locals. Or how would you feel, if you´d see a couple staring at the ocean, saying “dick shit”. (cazzo merda)
4. Hui! An involuntary reactionary word, used in a situation where, say a bird flies too close to your head. Perfectly usable in many countries, but bite your lip in Russia. There the word is very naughty, referring to man´s genitalia. Did someone laugh when you spilled some coffee in Russia? This should explain it.
5. Apuva/suut makiaksi/elämä on/a wink a wink…These are just a few examples of many catchphrases taken from Finnish comedy shows and commercials. When repeated enough times at a holiday resort, the locals catch on and start using them on other tourists. This is slightly charming, but oddly disturbing, especially if enough years have passed since the phrase´s expiration date. Also, don´t start chanting catchphrases anywhere ever. Please.
6. A bit of a stretch this one, but if you are a hardcore Charlton Heston-fan and visiting Greece, you might want to restrain yourself in public while enthusing about him. Heston means something like “shit on him” there. Just saying.
7. Talking about the country Nigeria in Finnish anywhere. Maybe a bit far-fetched too, but worth pointing out. The way we pronounce it, could sound like we were using a derogatory word about people of African descent.
8. This one doesn’t sound even remotely plausible, but is a true story nonetheless. A child was mimicking the siren of an emergency vehicle, “pii paa…”. A Greek person chuckled at this, and when an explanation was demanded (without using the word “please”), he explained that it sounds very similar to a word they use to describe fellatio. So…if you feel an urge to do an ambulance-impersonation in Greece, try to fight it.
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