Risto Vuorio, Startup Life 2014
I’m probably the most Finnish person I know with my roots deep in the Finnish countryside, blond hair and a very distinct English accent. Some time ago I was shared this article from a Finnish tabloid about how other people have a very negative stereotype of Finns being an unsociable people with awkward manners and certain shyness to them. The article was strongly against my experience with the people in the bay area. If you are held back from coming here by any assumed negativity, I hope to dispel such doubts and encourage you to come see the reception for yourself.
I’m working at a company of about 60 people which is a lot compared to many other Startup Life companies but still few enough that everybody knows each other by their first names and will sit next to anyone at lunch table. One of my colleagues was traveling to Finland for business and before the trip she wanted to learn some Finnish phrases. I taught her the usual kiitos, hyvää huomenta, olut, perkele etc. She studied some words and pronunciation on her own and I was very impressed by her newly learned language skills. One day she asked me, how do you say “how’s it going” in Finnish and I gave her the most honest answer I had in mind: you don’t!
While you can by all means throw in an occasional “miten menee” in day-to-day life in Finland, the culture of constant small-talk took some getting used to. In the first few times I actually answered the questions with explanations of my day, rather than the expected “I’m fine”. After getting used to it, the idea of casual small-talk became a very welcome feature in the local culture. It’s easy to get to know new people and start conversations when the first couple of lines come out on complete autopilot.
The article presented this idea that people abroad have a strong negative image of Finnish people which might affect your relations with other people. Everyone I’ve talked with has had either a super positive image of Finland or no idea about it at all. The people with positive ideas have probably read some of the rankings and articles praising Finnish primary education and health care, or have heard of Linus Torvalds and look up to his achievements. The people who don’t have any idea about Finland at all are cool too. You get to be their first impression of Finns and as Finns are a little on the humble side, you will probably leave much better impression than you thought.
One more thing in your favor is that bay area has a quite diverse population. The locals are used to having foreigners around and don’t mind the various accents. So to sum everything up, don’t be afraid of being from a different culture, most likely people here will make you feel welcome in no time and you feel a little patriotic on 4th July. ‘Murica!
Follow Risto on Twitter at @ristovuorio