May 29, 2014

Why "how are you" is so difficult to Finns

I've worked almost ten years with UK and US people. I had heard about and experienced the "how are you" -culture few times, but properly I experienced it the first time when I started working with them and traveled there more. In the first years, I actually answered to the "How are you" question properly even to the cashiers and waitresses. I did tell about long travels, difficulties with time difference or what was actually ongoing on my mind. Then at some point I realized that they don't actually give a shit about how I am, but that's just their way of being polite.

In Finland, when someone asks "How are you", they actually mean it. Most of the times people genuinely want to know is everything OK and is there something new ongoing. World is slowly changing even in Finland,, but we've had the mentality to only talk when there's something to say. So the always coming "how are you" questions are quite strange.

I've learned a lot in my trips about the "how are you" culture, but even nowadays I'm confused in when the question comes from someone you know or even consider a friend. I'm not really sure if they actually want to know how I am or is just their way of saying hi.

In my recent London trip I again noticed myself actually answering to the "how are you" question with a proper answer at least twice. They were people who I hadn't seen for a while, but I considered as a work friends, people who might have actually cared about how I was doing. When I was answering to the question, I did notice from their body language that they were not actually expecting me to answer.

The whole "how are you" thing is just too difficult for Finns. I would encourage anyone working with Finns to skip the "How are you" part, if you don't actually mean it. We will not get offended, because we don't realize that's something one should do. Next time you meet a Finn, just say Hi.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen