Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Talkative Finns

This week I saw a video of Jimmy Kimmel talking to a couple of his audience members who were from Helsinki, Finland.
In the tradition of great Finnish men like Mika Häkkinen and Kimi Räikkönen these guys were brief and to the point with their one syllable answers.

Finns are not known for the art of small talk like Americans or the English. In fact the idea of speaking uselessly is anathema to them. They really encompass the idea of "If you have nothing useful to say, then say nothing". For instance there is a classic joke about the taciturn Finns which goes like this:

Two Finnish men, Jukka and Pekka, go ice fishing. They fish in silence for a long while and eventually Jukka asks "So how are things?"  Pekka doesn't answer and they continue fishing in silence for some more hours. Then Jukka asks, "So how is the family?" At this Pekka gets angry, stands, up and shouts "Did we come here to talk or to fish?!"

Of course this joke is an exaggeration and there are always exceptions to the rule. But it is true that Finns simply say what they mean and mean what they say. Finnish men especially follow this rule. This also means that Finnish men are not good at "sweet" talk. And many people especially men need a few drinks in order to open up to strangers and talk, or to approach a woman. That's why Latin men are very popular amongst Finnish women and Finnish men hate them. Haha!

For a Trini who likes to talk, in the beginning my interactions with Finns felt awkward at times. For instance, at one of my first work places in Finland we would regularly have lunch together. Quite often there were long silences during our lunch especially near the end. Everyone was content to sit there just staring at each other for long stretches of time which made me uncomfortably try to fill the silence with my chattering. Eventually I grew used to it and also began to be content to just sit there in silence for a few moments with my colleagues.

Trinidadians talk a lot and we are loud. Up until now, I have what is considered a bad and rude habit by Finns, of talking on top of others. This is actually a survival tactic because in Trinidad, especially in my family, you will never get to say your piece if you don't talk over everybody else and louder than them. The last time my husband and I visited Trinidad my family had a gathering. My husband thought it was insane how everyone spoke at once and so loudly. He thinks it is an incredibly inefficient mode of communication. Maybe he is right. Finns will wait patiently for their turn to speak and if you keep interrupting them, like I do, they stop speaking. When they do speak it will be concise and to the point.

 I remember a funny anecdote about a trip to Barcelona my husband and I once took. We stayed with a friend who was a native and she showed us around. The Spaniards are lively, talkative and loud people. I think they may be even more so than Trinis. We went to a house party with my friend. As we entered, the noise level was beyond that of any Finnish house party just from all the chattering. My husband spent quite a while in the hallway just inside the front door before he could acclimatize himself to the noise level and start interacting with these incessantly chattering and gesticulating people. And let me tell you my husband is not the stereotypical quiet Finnish man but, even to him this was too much.

After living here for almost twelve years I must say I have grown accustomed to the "silence is golden"  mantra. I no longer always feel like I have to fill in the silence when I am in a group of Finns. And my brain gets tired when I am with my relatives for long periods of time because of all the noise and endless talking.