Typically Finnish: Personal space in Finland

It is hard to say what is typical for a whole nation-still we have to admit that there are cultural habits which are more representative for one country than for the other.  Or more exactly said: certain things you do at one place and it is totally ok and understood. You do the same thing at an other place and it does not come through at all or it might be even totally misunderstood.

To start with an easy one: such thing is personal space for example. Physically and through gestures Finn respect the personal space of each other a lot. You might have seen this funny picture already about Finns waiting in the bus stop..

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The distance between people standing in the bus stop. Source: Reddit

and it is totally true. Someone said that the comfortable personal space between strangers in Nordic countries is approx. 1,5 meters. It might be exaggerated but I would say that 1 meter might be on the comfortable limit. Also on the bus if there are still free seats people prefer to take a free seat instead of sitting next to someone.

What else? People do not like to make eye contact with strangers and even when talking to friends and family constant eye contact is not very common. It might be a sign of rudeness in other cultures not to look each other in the eye when talking- in Finland it is simply just a cultural habit. A lot of habits might be rooted in functionality and social behavior: Finns do not like small talk too much and do not like faking social situations. On the other hand if you become friends with Finnish people they really mean what they are saying and they will be friends who you can count on. It is just so that with Finns you may proceed a bit slower until you reach this point and until then there are a lot of small unwritten social rules which might be handy if you know them.

Some other conversational rules are: if you are standing too close to someone while talking you will notice that the other person is trying to get a bit further from you. You should notice and respect it and leave as much personal space for the other person what he/she can feel comfortable with.

Also touching strangers while talking to them might feel awkward to the other person. Being a Finnish-Hungarian double citizen it took time also for me to learn these rules and sometimes I was staring awkward when I first saw how people interact. In more Southern cultures it is acceptable for example to tap on someone`s shoulder or hold his arm for a sec as a sign of sympathy. In Finland for most people physical contact while talking even within friends is not so common. Finns do not give kisses on the cheek when greeting each other. Mostly the greeting is saying hi or shaking hands (even with women), people who know each other and are friends or family greet each other with a hug.

An other strange/funny thing might be that depending on the house where you live in it might not be common for neighbors to great each other while seeing each other in the stairwell. It is because it is simply not common to great strangers. It might sound rude but in Finland it is simply logical: of course you see that there is an other person but why to  say hi if do not know who he is :)..

On the other hand this distance does also a lot for the mutual respect of each other and the common mental well being of people living in this society. To tell some examples: people do  not talk about their salaries or financial status and it is very uncommon (and sometimes even considered rude) to ask even friends about how much they earn. It is simply considered as a part of their personal space. No one comments about each others appearance or clothes unless it is something positive or someone asks for an opinion. The same way it is totally not accepted to ask married friends or couples about if and when they want to have children and how many of them they want. The logic behind this is that people will tell things themselves anyways if they want to talk about them. A lot of unwritten social rules in the Finnish society represent the principle of “Live and Let Live”.

To be continued…

PS: As I was browsing photos about waiting for the bus I found a really funny webpage about socially awkward situations in Finland. It is called “Finnish nightmares”:  www.finnishnightmares.blogspot.com.

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2 thoughts on “Typically Finnish: Personal space in Finland

  1. Thank you :)! Yes, I know what you mean with Kimi Räikönnen :). He had also some legendary interviews when the journalists did not really know how to react on his communication style and short-spoken answers. And it is true that humbleness is a Finnish characteristics. I saw good memes about it on the blog I mentioned a the end of the post how people freeze when someone compliments them-I think this one is actually quite a cute thing.

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  2. Nice post, you are picturing the Finnish habits and oddities quite well. 🙂 Also, what to me is a nice detail is the Kimi Räikkönen style of humbleness. “yeah, sure I won, but so what, it is not a big deal” if you know what I mean. 🙂

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