I was 13 when I moved from Russia to Finland. Now, I’ve lived here for as long as I lived in there. In this time I’ve discovered that every Finn has an opinion about Russians. Whether it’s love or hate, they’re rarely indifferent to their Eastern neighbours. But I wanted to know more. So, I decided to ask some of my Finnish friends, if they’ve ever interacted with Russians and, if so, what kind of vibe they got from that experience. Here’s what I discovered.
Finnish people’s opinions vary drastically depending on their age, sex and location. For instance, older people seem to hold a grudge based on the warlike history between the two countries. It may seem strange to people my age, but things like that take time. Ironically, another country I know, that doesn’t want to let go of the events of that time, is Russia.
People in Eastern Finland have interactions with Russians on an almost daily basis. My hometown Joensuu is just an hour away from the Russian border. Russian tourists come here regularly, mostly for shopping, and two percent of the region’s population has Russian as their mother tongue. On the other hand, the rest of the country hardly ever sees Russians at all, especially in the west.
Outdated views persist
Many of the people I interviewed wanted to emphasize, that they don’t treat people of other nations any differently than people of their own. They try not to do any generalizations and they want to get to know a person as an individual instead.
There is a group of people, who can be described as Russia’s fans. They speak the language, have Russian friends and travel to Russia frequently. Nevertheless, it can also be said, that Finnish people in general have an outdated view on Russia and they even have a strong prejudice against Russians. Many Finns think, that Russians are bad behaved, rude or even insolent. You can easily make such a conclusion, if a Russian is cutting you in line or being too loud in a restaurant.
One person I interviewed works with Russian clients almost every day. She says her experience with them has been quite the opposite. “Russians look you in the eye, thank you and smile at you. And they really try to speak as good English as they can.”
Look out for languages
Speaking of foreign languages, another stereotype, that was mentioned more than once, was that Russians do not usually speak English at all. This may even seem arrogant to Finns and give them an impression, that Russians simply do not want to speak anything but Russian to them. However, one interviewee noticed, that you can definitely see, how this is changing right now. Especially young Russians know English very well nowadays.
“Russian person is like a coconut. Hard on the outside, but soft on the inside.” Russians take their time to let people close, but once you get there you might find a dear and loyal friend. As a friend Russian person can be described as very kind and hospitable. Family seems to be very important to Russians, but they own a strong work ethic, as well. It is worth mentioning, that the church seems to have a much more significant role in Russia than in Finland.
Both are bad at small talk
Finns and Russians are very similar in a sense, that they are bad at small talk. They are direct and talk only, when they have something important to say. But then, Russians seem to be bolder and they have a better self-esteem. They dare to dress flamboyantly and to show off their wealth. Finnish people are humble to the extreme and they underrate themselves all the time.
I can personally add, that I don’t always feel quite welcome as a Russian living in Finland. Of course, no one’s ever told me anything insulting or racist to my face. It’s more of a gut feeling, that people don’t really like you, even though they don’t know you. For a very long time as a teenager, I wanted to be Finnish so badly. Now I understand, it is neither possible nor desirable. To sum up, on a high, I think people’s attitude towards Russians is changing in a positive direction, despite Russia’s foreign policy. Thanks to the Internet and globalization, Russian culture seems to interest people nowadays. Many said that wanted to travel to Russia and learn more about it. And, in my opinion, that’s good for everyone.