This section provides more specific information about the behavior that Finns usually expect in certain situations.
- Meeting Finns
There is no ritual greeting. Usually there is a short greeting "terve!", "huomenta", "päivää" or "iltaa" ("health!", good morning, day and evening respectively). A ritual greeting produces unpredictable results: the Finn may interpret it as a start for a conversation. If you want to start a conversation, then you can use the ritual greeting. If you speak only English, use English, because if you do not speak Finnish and utter a Finnish greeting, Finns may assume that you speak Finnish. When two people have met once in a morning or afternoon, they usually do not greet each other again, unless they wish a conversation.
Men usually shake hands with each other when they are introduced or meet in a formal occasion when they have not seen each other for a long time. Men usually shake hands with women and women shake hands with one another.
Finns, especially men, frequently try to avoid using names personally. If they have to, they use only the last name. The first name is thought as personal and not used in a business context or in the workplace, unless the people know each other already. Politeness is expressed by avoiding a direct reference to the addressee. There is no Finnish equivalent of honorifics, like "mister", "sir", "miss", "doctor" and so on. Only in the army and in the parliament people address each other as "herra luutnantti" or "rouva ministeri" (Lieutenant Sir and Minister Ms respectively).
The use of "nicknames" is common among Finns, but only in close circles. A nickname is not the person's real name but a name given to the person based on his real name or some in-joke, etc. Finns may expect you to come up with a shortened form your name if they find it difficult to pronounce. Being called by a nickname is not usually uncomplimentary. Instead, it may indicate that you are viewed with respect and even affection.
Finns are usually reserved and straightforward when they are with one another. Unless they are very close friends, "being quiet" is usually noticed and the discussion is ended. Long silences are usually uncomfortable to Finns, if the discussion is not ended with mutual agreement. Before any serious conversation, "making small talk" is not mandatory, and frequently Finns prefer to go straight to the point.
When Finns talk to one another they are usually not afraid to establish eye contact and keep a distance of 1,3 meters. Only friends are admitted closer. It is extremely uncomfortable for most Finns to talk with someone who stands "too close" to them and you will find them backing away from such a situation. Physical contact, other than shaking hands, for most Finns connotes sexual attraction or aggressiveness and this is usually not done.
- Visiting Finns
You may receive a verbal or written invitation from an Finn to visit his or her home. You should always answer a written invitation. Do not say that you will attend unless you plan to do so. It is acceptable to ask your host about appropriate clothing.
It is important to arrive on time for special dinners and parties. If you will be late, call your host to explain. When you visit an Finn, especially for dinner, you will be asked what you would like to drink. You do not need to drink an alcoholic beverage.
If you have any dietary restrictions you should tell the host at the time you accept the invitation.
It is not necessary to bring a gift, unless it is a special occasion - a birthday or an important holiday, like Christmas. However, you may always politely ask your host if there is anything you can bring. It is also nice to give a small gift, such as a bottle of wine from your country, if you are invited as a house guest for an extended visit. When you are invited to someone's home, you may always ask if there is anything you may do to help in preparing the meal or cleaning up afterwards.
Most Finns consider it polite for guests to leave one or two hours after dinner unless a special party has been planned or you are asked to stay longer. You may call the person or say something when you see them again.
As a rule, you are expected to take your shoes off when entering another's home.
Among university students there are often many parties. These usually begin at night, often after 18.00, and continue for several hours. Some of these are informal and it is not as important to be on time or to dress formally. Most students will wear jeans to these parties. Usually the organisation that arranges the party collects the money needed and buys the food for the party. The exception is alcohol, which is sold separately in an house party. Finnish students like to drink beer and eat "munchies" - potato chips, grilled sausage, etc. Some traditional student organisations arrange also highly formal parties, where the dresscode is posted in the invitation.
As a rule, gifts are given only to relatives and close friends. It is acceptable to give a gift to a host or hostess or to someone with whom you have a more casual or friendly relationship, but it is not strictly required to do so. Gifts are not usually given to people in official positions; such a gift may be misinterpreted as a way to gain favor or special treatment. It is acceptable to give teachers a gift to show your appreciation, but it is better to do so after you have completed the course.
Finns usually give gifts to family and friends at Christmas, birthdays, weddings, graduations and child-births. Gifts are also sometimes given to someone who has moved into a new house or is moving away. Greeting cards may given to acquaintances who are not close friends.
Gifts are not expected to be very expensive. More expensive gifts are acceptable between people who are close to one another. We usually give something which the recipient needs, wants or would enjoy.
Finns may or may not open gifts in the presence of the giver. A verbal expression of thanks is appropriate. If the gift is opened in the absence of the giver, the next time you contact the giver, thank him and specifically mention the gift.
- Time Schedules
In general, you can telephone Finns between 9.00 and 21.00 without awakening them. If you have to call someone after 21.00, apologise for the late time of night at which you had to call.
Service charges (tips) are always included in the bill and they are not expected. If something has a price, the it is posted in clear view, such as in coat rooms of theaters or restaurants.
- Dating Finns
In Finland, relationships between young people are informal and involve a broad range of activities and values. Some unmarried couples live together, some maintain one relationship, and some date many different people without commitment to one person. This may be confusing for someone coming from a non-Western culture.
An invitation to a dinner, movie, dance, concert, etc. may not imply an emotional attachment, but it does mean that someone's company is enjoyed. Usually "a date" means getting together with someone to "do something" which may be planned in advance or agreed upon spontaneously - for example, a cup of coffee after class.
Men still tend to initiate invitations for dates, although many women are beginning to feel equally comfortable asking or calling someone for a date. In this country, when someone is "asked out" - to go on a date - he or she may politely decline. If he or she declines three or four requests for a date with someone, that person probably does not wish to "go out." It is usually not polite to demand a reason or explanation for a refusal. However, the person may offer one.
Compared to the "dating culture", the difference usually is that the circle of friends or a student party is the most important way to get to know someone first before a date is arranged. If this is not possible, the date can the first thing to do, too.
Many students do not have much money and may share the cost of the entertainment. In a more formal situation, the man is still expected to pay for the transportation and entertainment. However, it is acceptable for the woman to offer to help share the cost.
"Breaking a date" is serious for most Finns. A change in plans for a date (re-scheduling it for another time) is not as big a problem as actually no longer wishing to go on a date. It is polite to inform the other person as soon as possible if you are absolutely unable to go.
The amount of physical contact between men and women in Finland depends on the amount of affection that two people feel for one another. Finns differ in this according to their personal values and in many cases, their upbringing. Misunderstandings may result when members of the opposite sex are from different cultures. It is hoped that both individuals will be patient and respect the other's feelings and social customs. Some Finns value and respect talking honestly and openly about their feelings, whereas others are unable to do so. In our culture the greatest amount of touch in public usually occurs only between men and women. There is less of this between female friends and very little between men. As a result, a casual hug or holding hands with someone of the opposite sex should not necessarily be interpreted as an invitation to greater intimacy.