A search that led someone to this blog: “finns don’t speak to tourists”.
This is true. We do not, and we have our reasons. They are not very good reasons; but we have reasons.
Finns are polite by being silent; this is my usual pop-ethnological answer. A foreigner might say “hi” and “how are you” and “have you read any good books lately” — a Finn recognizes these questions as meaningless social-lubrication pap, and supposes most people are slimy enough to slide by on their own, without pinging this empty chatter, wasting time, breath and brain cells. It’s not decent to force people into spitballing sour nothings.
Also, there are times when “how’s it going” is supposed to unleash a torrent of words, a barrage of woes and dark gloating jubilation; many Finns are not sufficiently socially perceptive to risk mistaking a casual hello for one of those times. Imagine —
“Heyah. How’s it going?”
“Colonic irrigation today, testicle lamination tomorrow. And I bit a dog yesterday, it’s a funny story except the dog died. Guess what’s in this box? Right! A dead dog! And guess where I’m taking it? My little niece’s birthday—”
The Fenno-Tourean War of 1901–2.
Do you think we’ve forgotten the Tourist death camps?
Finns speak English. Kind of.
You have noticed this is a blog, not a podcast. The reason is, the Internet does not require “1000 Ways to Mispronounce Every Which Word”.
Finnish is writ as she is spoke; English is less so. English is an ancient language, and because there are no tyrants of language, it has drifted. That’s what centuries of written language does to you. Finnish became a serious written language only a century and a half ago (and a written language at all only in the 16th century, thanks to Agricola), so we’re not used to Mother Tongue being in war with Father Orthography.
So, when a tourist asks: “Excuse me, but what is that statue all about?” — a Finn thinks: “It’s a statue of Rector Bloodfist, our university’s first— wait. Oh no. Stashoo or Staatoo? Stat-juu? Certainly not sta-zu-ee. Can I not use that word? Monument… mon-ju-mjent? mon-nu-ment?” — and then the tourist asks out loud: “Hey, why are you running away? Is it running day?”
The previous are deep, grand, universal reasons. There are specific ones, too.
Some Finns don’t know English; but everyone under forty ought to. “Shit yea” and “fuck you” if nothing else. (These are not useful for finding the train station, but they may ease the culture shock.)
Some Finns are shy.
Some Finns are socially awkward. (The percentage’s higher in Finland than in your country, I’m sure.)
Some Finns think the world ought to be someone else’s problem.
Some Finns, much like the memetic honey badger, just don’t care; they should be beaten with hammers but that’s not the tourist’s job, but the job of a guy that the Department of Education has hired for that purpose.
Some Finns don’t think they have anything interesting to say, or anything useful to contribute. This can be a real problem; you can live for decades in a city, and still feel like zero percent a tourist guide when someone asks you where the gardens are, or if the Vaguely-Familiar Street is this way or that.
Some Finns are deathly afraid they will offend, or leave a bad impression. Finland doesn’t have the certainty and the pride of bigger nations; we can’t think that even if we goof, we still have nuclear weapons and a history of kicking all our neighbors’ teeth in. And we Finns have a pretty bad case of wanting to be known as good, successful, upright people, which is why any Famous American mentioning Finland, even if to just say Finland exists, makes the headlines. (Chamillionaire samples Finnish song from 1967 (Google Translate); Finns solemnly think they’re finally made.)
We’re not servile, and we don’t have big scary secrets; but the world seems like a big, beautiful, sophisticated salon, and we’re rubes and rustics at the door, sure that we’re socially dead if we don’t show ourselves absolutely smooth and decent and un-asinine. And most Finns think their contribution may doom the whole nation to eternal infamy and being forever alone… if, say, they offend a tourist.
Better to shut up than to shoulder that awesome responsibility. The world can do without Finland for one more day.
So those are some of the reasons why Finns don’t speak to tourists. It’s a combination of psychosis and neurosis; doesn’t that make you feel better?