Finland was the first country I traveled to. I was just 16. That’s the time I caught the travel bug that never left. As it was my first trip out of the country and Africa, there were a number of culture shocks I experienced that I’ll share.
Before traveling to Finland, I knew nothing about the country or where exactly it was located. Apart from it being in Europe, I knew nothing else about the country. I went to Finland through an exchange program and didn’t even bother doing any research on the country before getting there. I didn’t have any expectations about Finland other than to go have fun there.
Here are 10 things that were culture shock to me or just different for me:
1. Taking off shoes at the door
All my life we wore shoes in the house, no matter the type of flooring a house has. It’s just weird walking around the house without shoes. We are actually encouraged to always wear shoes but in Finland, you have to remove your shoes when entering a house. It’s a must, not a suggestion. This helps with the cleanness of the house which actually makes sense.
2. You buy your own bag or bring your own bag
This was such a shock to me that when buying in a shop, they don’t give you are bag to put your items in. You had to buy it or bring it from home. It was just not something normal for me at the time.
Currently in Namibia, carry bags are being sold too. This too makes sense and the reason is valid because it helps with waste reduction.
3. Finnish Awkward Silence
Finnish people don’t partake in any small talk. They enjoy silence. Being a quiet person has been taken to another level by the Finnish. They even call it comfortable silence. Finnish love being together but with no talking. It’s just weird awkward silence and they enjoy it.
4. Sauna nudity
Finnish love their sauna and it’s something you find all over the country. If you had to ask a Finnish what’s the one thing they can’t live without, their answer would be a sauna. That’s how deep the love is. It was my first time experiencing a sauna, and to my surprise when I entered one all the ladies were naked in there. I didn’t get a warning of that, just walked into a lot of nudity.
I on the other hand was dressed in my swimsuit, which actually isn’t allowed but I got away with it. I just couldn’t be naked like that around strangers. Where I come from we don’t see each other naked like that, even people we know. They also have a unisex sauna but I used one for females only.
5. Greeting strangers
In Namibia, we love smiling at and greeting people we don’t know while passing by them in the mall or sidewalk. It’s just so common and we take it as someone just being friendly. Or while you are standing in a queue and you make eye contact with someone, you say Hi or smile at them. On the other hand in Finland, everyone keeps to themselves. If you greet or smile at them, they look at you weirdly. According to them, it’s questionable why are you trying to be nice.
It’s funny how Finnish are not comfortable talking to strangers, but so comfortable being naked around strangers.
6. Constant light
I traveled to Finland in August which was summer over there. So in summer, you get 24 hours of sunlight. You don’t get any nighttime as the sun is always up. I sleep once I see it’s dark outside but in Finland, I couldn’t tell when the day ends and night begins. I did enjoy it as we got longer days and it gave me more time to explore the country.
I’m used to sweets but these Salmiakki sweets in Finland were salty and the Finnish love them so much. It’s salty licorice and definitely an acquired taste. Definitely not for me.
8. Everything is compact
Spaces in Finland are smaller than those in Namibia. The hostel, hotel, and camp I stayed at were smaller than those in Namibia.
9. Addressing older people by their first name
In Namibia, we are used to addressing our older people by their title or last name but in Finland, everyone old or young is addressed by their first name. It was very weird and uncomfortable for me to address older people by their first name because for us doing that is like you being disrespectful towards the person.
10. Following rules
Finnish really love following rules to the last detail. In Namibia, some rules are more like suggestions to us than actual rules. That is just how we are. There was an instance in Helsinki where we were at a zebra (pedestrian) crossing and the light was red but there was no car coming. We had to still stand and wait till the light changed to green. In Namibia, I would have just crossed.
These are just a few of the things I experienced during my stay in Finland.