“The neighbours here are different”

A man from Somalia has lived in Finland for more than 20 years. In his opinion, if one were to find something negative about Finland, it would be the reserved nature of its people.

“In Somalia, the neighbour is part of the family, the children are brought up together and you watch everyone’s back. Neighbours eat together without any feeling of reserve. The relationship is close and warm,” he begins.

According to him, in Finland it is the opposite.

“Even if you say hello to your neighbour, you may hear nothing back, much less an invitation to visit. I have lived in Finland for a long time and, although I have tried, I have not yet been able to make friends with my neighbours. When I tell this to my friends living in Somalia, they have trouble believing me.”

A man from Afghanistan who has lived in Finland for a long time particularly values the honesty of Finns and the fact that they keep their word. According to him, this holds true in dealings with both the authorities and ordinary people. The creation of personal relations, however, requires patience.

“Finns like to get to know people gradually, see who they are and only then decide whether they want them as friends or not,” he explains.

Another man from Afghanistan also expresses surprise at this.

“No one has yet come up to me at work to introduce themselves and ask who I am. Things are different in my home country. There nobody would behave in such a reserved fashion.”

Nakedness is relatively natural

Particularly for those arriving from Islamic countries, certain elements of Finnish culture may be difficult to understand. For example, nakedness for Finns is quite a natural thing. Even in Finland, however, people do not of course go around naked in public – except in the sauna where Finns bathe not only with family members but also with friends and colleagues.

“Finnish sauna is different, as you are supposed to take everything off. This is a really big thing as, in Islamic culture, nobody undresses in front of strangers,” says a man from Afghanistan who lives in Finland.

In a public swimming pool, for example, people walk naked around the shower and sauna facilities. You are supposed to wash yourself thoroughly before entering the pool.

“In Finland, nakedness is different from elsewhere, even for Kurds even though we are not particularly religious. We do not go around completely naked even at swimming pools, so experiences in Finland can be very peculiar,” says a Kurdish man.

In Finland, women and men may go to the sauna together. Even if a man sees a woman in the sauna with just a towel or even naked, this does not mean anything sexual. It is just the way to bathe and should be respected.

The relaxing effect of alcohol – sometimes too much

Finns drink the most alcohol in Europe, after the British and the Danish. For some people drinking is a problem, but for most it is just a way to have fun and relax. For somebody coming from a completely different culture, the excessive consumption of alcohol may be a problem.

“At first this was surprising for me, as we hardly drink any alcohol where I come from. In Finland, you encounter it everywhere and you constantly see people who have had too much. They might insult you just based on how you look,” says a man from Somalia.

The alcohol culture in Finland has, however, been smartened up. Nevertheless, for religious people in particular the Finnish consumption of alcohol may be difficult to understand.

“There are many who will have nothing to do with those who drink alcohol. The most religious consider it bad and disapprove of it. Although it’s usually not a big thing for Kurds and many Kurds even drink a little themselves, we are not used to drinking just to get drunk. Seeing somebody completely drunk on the street seems odd,” says a Kurdish man who lives in Finland.


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