You might not believe what I’m going to say now, but I will say it anyway. I have come to the conclusion that Finns are actually very open bunch of people. I will tell you how I have come to this conclusion.
I went to several mama groups when I was living in Amsterdam and as much as I loved them, I often had a feeling that in a big group you don’t really learn to know anyone and the relationships stay on a superficial level. The fact that 90% of the time you are running after your child, feeding and changing diapers combined with months of not sleeping also does not exactly help you to connect with new people. I talked about this to my Finnish friend (expat in the Netherlands for a long time) and she said to me: “That is such a Finnish thing that you want the relationships immediately to go to a deeper level or alternatively nowhere.” This comment really made me think.
Both Dutch and Finns are famous of being honest. From a Finnish perspective a friend or colleague who is always “ok” and “doing well and fine” is suspicious. People become real only at the moment when everything is not ok. And no, I don’t think, it’s the famous vahingonilo – a joy for another person’s misfortune (yes, we have a word for it!) – but a moment when you see a little deeper, a little more of somebody else and understand that we all have our own little struggles. It hit me that Finnish honesty is actually openness to reveal yourself and your life relatively easily to the outside world. Finns are often disturbingly honest about themselves. Answer to the question how are you, can be “I have a shitty day today” and it is ok.
Dutch on the other hand are honest about others: “Oh, you are married and have taken your husband’s surname, that is so old-fashioned!” Or midwife at the maternity hospital: “Oh, you have the same surname (talking about the mother and father of the yet unborn child). Are you related?” At this point I was already used to the Dutch humour/directness and replied: “Yes we are, Finland is a very small country” and then we all laughed together. It would have been even funnier if I did not have those damn contractions coming and going.
Dutch honesty was a lot more difficult for me to digest than the Finnish honesty is, because I’m not born with it, but do not get me wrong: there are a lot of benefits when people are not afraid to speak up their mind.
I personally realised that the more loose and superficial friendships are also significant and important just the way they are. You cannot expect people to open up their hearts after the first “howareyous” unless you are in Finland. Not to be completely delusional about Finland and Finns: the challenge here is more in how to get to the “how are you”-part. But be aware, once you get there, the Pandora’s Box is open and there is no turning back. 😀