By Annette Lindahl, October 2005
How is doing business in Finland different? In short, the way Finns communicate is upfront and uncomplicated.
To coin a stereotype, Finns tend to behave more quietly and more efficiently than many other nationalities. The internet, mobile phones and satellite navigation are used by Finns on an everyday basis. Valuable from the business point of view, there is a high degree of integrity – you see what you get, and get what you see.
Finns are very straightforward; if they don’t know the answer to something, they will say so. “Take a bull by its horns and a man by his word” is an old Finnish saying. A Finn’s "yes" is a "yes" and a "no" is never a "perhaps". Finnish frankness may seem a bit indelicate, but it makes communication uncomplicated and upfront, which is rather refreshing.
Finns are somewhat formal but business etiquette clearly shows that with their liberal attitudes they belong to the western European family. Finns shake hands briefly and firmly and no supporting gestures such as touching the shoulder are involved. Embracing or kissing when greeting is rare and usually reserved for family members or close friends.
Do you speak Finnish? No? Don't worry – the standard of spoken English in Finland is universally good. English is the major business language, having long ago replaced German in that role. Russian and French are not widely spoken or understood. Swedish shares the status of an official language, alongside Finnish, but it is spoken as a mother tongue by only 6.2 % of the population.
Business meetings are often set up by email, even by SMS message. Be on time and wear business clothes. Meetings tend to be brief and to the point. Coffee, tea, soft drinks and biscuits are usually served. The Finns are a nation of devoted coffee drinkers, consuming 10 kilogrammes of ground coffee per person a year, often said to be the highest per capita consumption in the world.
Invited to a sauna? Relax. Mixed bathing is nonexistent – men and women bathe separately. It is customary for a business meeting to progress from formal to informal, often leading to a session in the sauna. Sauna bathing is considered to be a way to relax and the sauna is one of the few places where Finns forget about work and talk about something else. It is here – if not before – you get on first name terms with your host.
Any questions you might have about the sauna will be well received. You are well advised to comment on the sauna experience to the host. Sauna is a subject that Finns never tire of talking about. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of going into the sauna – just say so. In Finland frankness is appreciated and understood.
Be on time. This goes for both lunch and dinner. At lunch, what might strike you is that the business talk seems to go on. Finns love to do business and during business hours there’s no time for “small talk”.
At dinner, dress formally if no other dress code is given. Seated at table, if you are the guest of honour, seated to the right of the host or hostess, you are expected to say a few words of thanks for the dinner at dessert time. These few unobtrusive words of appreciation are expected of you but are not compulsory.
What are you going to be served? The comments and jokes about Finnish cuisine come from people who envy our fresh delicacies. There is a wide array of berries and mushrooms; fresh fish from our rivers, lakes and seas; and caviar, especially in the wintertime. Poultry, game and meat dishes are also excellent choices.
Again, wear nice clothing and don’t be late. If unavoidable, a 15-minute delay is accepted. If there is a hostess, do bring her flowers. .And as a guest of honour, seated on her right-hand side, say a few words of appreciation at dessert time.
For ladies: Take two sets of footwear. It is normal practice for ladies to change their comfortable outdoor footwear to more elegant shoes when inside. Men sometimes use galoshes to keep their indoor shoes dry in wet or wintry weather then remove the overshoes once indoors.
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