How to take a compliment like a Finn?

There’s already a trick question in the title. Even though we give praise when it’s due, we find it hard to be on the receiving end.

If someone did well at work, the chances are the they’ll mumble something along the lines of “oh, it was nothing.”

Compliment someone’s attire and you’ll either get “this old thing?”-themed answer or a rundown on how little it cost.

Someone looks great and you say so? They’ll blush and mumble thanks.

I dare you, try it and see for yourself.

Because if they wouldn’t downplay the compliment, they’d be in danger of being perceived arrogant. It’s an intricate balance.


The stares

I always feel like somebody's watching me

Finns are taught it’s rude to stare. So we avert our eyes all the time. Sure, there might be a person walking around naked but it would be rude to stare. Oh yea, I did see that guy in a pink tutu singing a Spice Girls song but I didn’t want to stare.

These are just your everyday responses to something’s that is very innate in us.

Not so in Belgium. When you walk down to street, prepare to be stared at – especially if you’re a girl. No matter if you’re wearing your sweats or a mini-skirt, the stares will follow you everywhere.

Even at the bus when you’re facing someone and sitting there for 30 min you might think that a stare would be awkward. In Finland you might steal an occasional embarrassed glance but in Belgium you’re more likely to get a full-on wide-eyed stare for the whole trip.

Finns have mastered the technique for averting their eyes from other people and are experts in staring out of the window or simply facing the ground all the time. In Belgium there’s no shame in looking.

Most people won’t notice the difference because they’re so used to their own environment but juxtapose countries like Finland and Belgium you’ll definitely notice the difference.


Finns celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve, perhaps not wholly unrelated to my previous post about us being obsessed about being on time.

Cemetaries across Finland are lit up with candles

Nevertheless, the traditional thing to do is to first visit the cemetary to light a candle for family members no longer with us. This is indeed the one time of the year there are massive traffic jams outside the cemetary. There’s massive amounts of snow everywhere and candles lighting the night so it is actually quite pretty..

After this things get a bit weirder. Most people then go to the sauna. In the nude I might add – none of that shy towel-wrapping thing in Finland. Some of us choose to roll in the snow and then go back to sauna for an added thrill. (Now how many creepy stalkers did I gain by revealing that?)

Then there’s the Christmas dinner. Most dishes would have been prepared the night before because they’re about as peasant dishes as these things get – a massive piece of ham covered in mustard for example, accompanied by carrot casserole, potato casserole, liver casserole, swede casserole (the vegetable, not our neighbours) and so on which take a lot of time to prepare. Most people go all the way and have all these casseroles, not just one.

After stuffing yourself, there’s the time Christmas was invented for: presents.

The word joulu, meaning Christmas, is by the way, in the Germanic tradition and has no relation to the whole Christian thing like in English. So even naughty atheists  like me can gen enjoy the day.

I hope you too will have a lovely Christmas.