Finland…Land of the Midnight Sun. Home of Santa Clause. Landscape of lakes and forests. A beautiful country with an exotic reputation, Finland is modern and progressive, and business is taken seriously. Here’s what you need to know, whether you’re visiting on a business trip or making a long-term move.
Finns are rather formal; the hugs and air kisses common in many other countries are not part of Finnish culture. Firm handshakes with a smile and steady eye contact are the norm, although they’re sometimes discarded once the parties get to know each other better.
It’s common to exchange business cards, but there is no formal ritual involved. Just be sure to treat the cards you receive with respect, as it’s considered symbolic of how you’ll treat the relationship.
First names are commonly used in business, but wait to be invited to address your colleagues in this way. If you know a Finn’s title (doctor, professor, etc.), use it; however, no Finn will be offended by your use of the standard Mr./Mrs./Miss or Sir/Madame.
It may be a cliché, but your word is your bond in Finland. The spoken word is taken as seriously as any contract, and you’re expected to follow through on your verbal commitments.
Finns also tend to be reserved in their communication style. It’s considered rude to ask too many questions about a Finn’s personal life. You also won’t find Finns loudly gossiping and calling out to each other on public transportation. To fit in, avoid speaking loudly or otherwise calling attention yourself, and let your colleagues finish speaking before you jump in. And don’t feel like you have to start talking just to break a silence. Silence isn’t considered awkward or uncomfortable in Finnish culture: It gives everyone time to think.
Meetings in Finland are planned in advance. If you want to have a meeting with colleagues or customers in Finland, book it at least two weeks out. Distribute an agenda in advance – it’s all about efficiency.
Finns are famously punctual, and tardiness is considered insulting. And, not only are meetings expected to start on time, they’re expected to end on time, as well. Because of that, don’t be afraid to jump right into business. If you do make small talk, keep it short. Also, Finns might not ask a lot of questions, so it’s important to cover all pertinent information without being asked. After a meeting, Finns expect a written summary of what was discussed, complete with responsibilities and deadlines.
Business attire in Finland tends to be rather formal. Men are expected to wear business suits, and women should wear suits or dresses. If no one specifies the dress code, opt for caution: Dress formally and conservatively.
If you’re invited to someone’s home, bring a small gift of wine, chocolate, flowers, etc. Don’t bring gifts for a business meeting, especially if you’re still negotiating details. It’s acceptable to give a small gift after negotiations are complete, but keep the gifts small. Valuable gifts may be seen as a bribe, and, in Finland, bribery is a crime that carries stiff penalties, both for the giver and for the recipient.
Finns take their business seriously. Get to the point, mean what you say, and be friendly without being nosy or intrusive. If you do those things and remember that Finns are somewhat formal, mastering Finnish business etiquette should be a breeze.
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