There used to be a travel guide to Finland that gave rather awkward advice on how to behave with Finns. The book recommended that women take their rings off before shaking hands with Finnish men – Finns’ handshakes were supposedly so strong that you could easily get hurt. The book also suggested that it was worthwhile singing a song to a Finn as they are so fond of singing that they would join in a rendition of a traditional song for the smallest of reasons.
I don’t know how many awkward situations this book has caused with its random and inaccurately-interpreted views of my nation. Therefore I have decided to reassess it. One of the good things about living in an international city such as London is that I find myself hosting and observing fellow Finns almost non-stop. Seeing them in London interacting with people, I have learned a few lessons on how to impress a foreigner. You can jot these down in your notebook under the title “Markus Hippi’s Laws on Intercultural Communication.”
Lesson one: it is often good to speak slower but not too slowly. Brits and Americans have the same problem – sometimes when they meet foreigners they simplify their language to the level of the three-year-old and speak so slowly that I have time to check the emails from my BlackBerry before they have managed to finish their sentences. I am often on the verge of screaming to my discussion partner that I am not a “thicko”.
Lesson two: if you don’t understand what a foreigner says, don’t pretend that you got it. You can maybe get away with this a few times but sooner or later you will get into the awkward quiet moment when nobody really knows what either of you is saying, doing or what you’re about to do.
Lesson three: don’t drink too much. Or if you do, at least don’t think you are the self-appointed ambassador of your country.
Lesson four: keep your promises. I always feel a lump in my throat when I see Finns and Americans or Brits together – the discussion that usually involves the immortal line, “we should absolutely do dinner at some point.”
The Finn in this instance automatically thinks he or she has just met a new best friend. Finns take the promise seriously because Finns take everything seriously. They do not realise that there is no dinner on the horizon.
Lesson five: if you are offered local food and you don’t happen to like it – don’t reveal that. Lie instead. When I hear people saying they don’t like Finnish food I feel like convincing them that it’s great actually. And you don’t want to get into that discussion, it’s a difficult one to win when the Finnish taste buds are so refined and the Finnish mentality is so persistent.
These are the five key lessons from The Markus Hippi Guide to Hosting Finns. The book will be out soon – priced reasonably, of course.