Finns abroad are a modest success - Monocolumn | Monocle


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6 April 2012

There is something in common between two countries that are very far away from each other, even if at first sight they may seem so very different. The Japanese culture is world-famous for its modesty; the Finnish people are perhaps not so well known for being modest, but are probably equally so. Coming from the latter country, I am tired of modesty or more specifically the obtuse version of it.

I guess this is something you get when you grow up in a social democratic country where everyone has been brainwashed to understand that we are equal and you really shouldn’t think you are special in any terms.

Often this gets exaggerated to the stage of underrating and diminishing yourself. Oh, you don’t need to offer me that expensive tea of yours. Nobody needs to remember my birthday, it’s only about me.

At the same time, being too modest is incredibly ingrained within me. I find it difficult to say anything good about what I have done or who I am. After living abroad I have been trying to rectify this, to have a little more verbal confidence about myself. Because – let’s be honest, having an employee who never says anything positive about the results of his or her work is kind of suspicious.

Similarly, I can’t help but feel irritated when I see people overplaying their achievements. When I meet someone who is overconfident, I’m almost physically repulsed.

In Finland saying something grand about yourself is considered to be bragging or thinking that you are better than others. It’s strongly frowned upon, sometimes openly ridiculed.

The ones who have the guts to do this can get very far with their careers though. Because if someone thinks he or she is superior, then that person – indeed – has to be.

Now that I have been living away from my home country long enough I notice that I am changing.

I am creeping ever closer to that moment where I verbally acknowledge what I may have done well. I am now starting to describe something I’ve done as “good”, not just as “ok”. I’m still not ready to use expressions such as “amazing” or “fascinating”, “great” is still a borderline adjective.

And when it comes to national modesty – I have no problems with that. I tire my colleagues with my Finland stories, but hey, it doesn’t matter since this is about a country and countries can’t get bigheaded the same way a person can, can they? One of my new promises to myself is to try to use the word “amazing” more.

And funnily enough, recently I came across an article where a woman complained that her life has been rather difficult because she is so beautiful. I loved it! That’s when I knew I really live abroad.


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