There’s no such thing as small talk in Finland. The concept doesn’t even have a word, we just use the English one to refer to something that foreigners do.
Silences are perfectly acceptable in Finland. If there’s nothing to say, just don’t say anything.
When we greet, we nod or shake hands. Nothing confuses a Finn more than the whole kiss-and-greet procedure – most are terrified of it. It’s intruding our personal space.
On occasions, when you don’t know the person that well, people just choose to ignore them. I’ve never encountered this problem anywhere else – in a country when the polite thing to do is to just nod or mumble “moi“, people sometimes choose not to do even that. Because nothing would be more embarrassing than to greet someone you don’t actually know, right?
So you can imagine the dilemma people working in customer service face.
If your waitress or person working at the till doesn’t say the polite “hei” and “kiitos“, then they’re rude. But if they start conversing with you, then it gets uncomfortable.
One person working at a shop in my hometown is known for being overly cheerful and attentive. Seriously. It strikes all the Finns as insincere, like what is she getting at.
The balance between what’s rude and what’s overly zealous is difficult to determine. I remember coming back to Finland one Christmas holiday and almost crying in the bus after dealing with the bus driver because everyone just felt so rude.
But they were just being Finnish.