October 2021 will be my one-year anniversary of living in Finland, and since I have moved here I have had a hard time making new friends in Finland.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do have some friends. My husband’s friends are super nice to me and they make me feel like a part of the group.
Then there are the friends I have made in Finland, which I would consider “my friends”.
These are the friends that I have actually met and have been talking to since 2017-2018.
Not going to lie, I got lucky with one friend.
I met her at one of Tuomas’ pool tournaments in 2017, the first time I came to Finland, and we have texted each other ever since.
She was like my first long distance best friend.
The other two I met online through Instagram, as we shared similar hobbies and interests.
What I have learned from these friendships is that friendships with Finns take a lot of time.
So much time 😫
In this blog post, I will be sharing with you why it’s so hard to make friends in Finland especially if you are an expat.
Before that, let’s discuss what might be preventing you from making friends in Finland.
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What’s Preventing you from Making Friends in Finland?
Making friends in Finland is 95% Skill and 5% luck.
No seriously, it really is.
If you are already in Finland or plan on moving to Finland there is something you should know. When it comes to making friends in Finland the ball is entirely in your court.
You have to make the first move.
Now, if you are someone who is shy and introverted, because hello that’s probably why we like Finnish culture so much, it might be harder for you.
The best way I can describe this to you is through an image.
Have you ever seen a Finnish person walk? No matter the season, Finns will walk with their head down and like they are on a mission from God.
You cannot interrupt a Finn when they are walking. If you do they will get annoyed because you instantly snapped them back into reality when they were on a mission.
So now that you have “seen” that image, imagine going up to a group of Finns when they are at the bar and starting a conversation with them.
You will literally hear the universe break 😅
There is a sweet spot of when you can make Finnish friends, and the best way to do that is by taking the lead and joining a club or trying to make some friends on social media.
What you can’t do is just expect to make friends like how you did back home.
You also might need to accept that your first friends in Finland might not actually be Finns, they will probably be other expats or other long distance couples in Finland.
After living here for almost a year, I believe expat friends are the first friends you should try to make.
Having other expat friends will help you understand Finnish culture better, and give you a buffer from all the culture shocks you may be feeling.
So what’s preventing you from making friends in Finland?
Nothing really, friendships are something that develops over time, that can transcend race and cultural differences.
Just understand that it’s not going to happen as fast here as it would in other places.
7 Reasons Why It’s SO Hard to Make Friends in Finland as an Expat
I’ll be sharing with you some of the things I’ve learned, as an American, while trying to make friends in Finland.
These ideas are from my own experiences and the people I have met while I’ve been here.
I don’t speak for every Finnish person out there.
Now let’s get started.
Finns Are Introverted
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. One main reason why it’s so hard to make friends with Finns is because they are so introverted.
Remember the image of a Finnish person walking I gave you earlier, yep that’s essentially what it means to be introverted.
It’s also not really that Finns are introverted, it’s more that they don’t care. Actually, I think aloof or distant would be better words to describe Finns.
This theme of not really caring will come up a lot, there could be a million reasons why some Finns feel this way.
It could be because of their history of war, dealing with life post WW2, the dark winters, the never-ending summer nights, or the sisu that has carried their society for the longest time.
Acquaintances Aren’t Really Thing
In the US everyone is overly friendly. We try to create friend groups really quickly in the beginning. Then, if over time we don’t want to continue that friendship we’ll stop talking to them.
In Finland, it’s the complete opposite.
It takes a while for you to build trust and a bond with Finns. But once you have that bond it doesn’t go away.
That means both the good and the bad.
In US culture if you don’t like someone as much as you thought you did you just stop talking to them or slowly drift away from them.
That is again the opposite of Finnish culture.
This is also why so many Finns have the same friends that they’ve had since childhood.
Finns accept all sides of their friends and watch their friends grow and develop into the person they are today.
That means they support their friends through the good and the bad times. Finns really let their friends live their life, without giving interfering or giving unwanted advice.
This is something I still have to accept when it comes to making Finnish friends. As an American I feel like our culture is full of people sticking their noses into other people’s business.
So if you want to be friends with a Finn and want to be accepted into someone’s social group then these are some things for you to consider.
At some point, you’ll have to accept the person’s behavior as “that’s just them”.
A lot of Finns Already Have ✨Enough✨ Friends
Since a lot of Finns still keep in touch with their childhood friends, they may feel like that they already have enough friends and don’t have room to make more.
I was talking to Tuomas’ best friend about a friend of mine from the US that is hard to keep in touch with. I told him that I put in a lot of effort but never feel any in return.
In the US that typically means you drop a friend, we are just so quick to cut people out of our lives.
But, what he said was different from my way of thinking.
He told me he has a friend like that too, and he feels bad because he wants to fix their connection but doesn’t know how to do that.
This was a huge cultural difference for me. I was quick to cut that person out, while Tuomas’ friend wanted to figure out how to keep them close.
That’s why Finns might say they already have enough friends. They have friends that it’s already hard to keep in touch with.
Finns will already have friends that are already the party person, the football person, or the frisbee golf person.
And while you are an awesome and amazing person that they would love to be friends with, Finns already have a hard time maintaining their current friendships with people that are from Finland.
Whereas our identities aren’t exactly permanent in Finland. There are so many reasons why we can just up and leave an area or even move back to our home country.
That whole process can be too much for a Finn.
Understand Finnish Culture is Based Around Clubs
I would say that Tuomas has 3 main friend groups. His Korppoo friends, Helsinki friends, and his pool friends.
None of these groups overlap, they are all their separate entities.
His pool friends are the friends he made in college, they are a group of men and women in their mid-20s to 40s.
He met them by playing pool at a pool tournament every Monday, until one day they invited him to join their pool league.
That was the 5% luck that I mentioned earlier. They recognized his skill and wanted him to play pool with them.
Even for Finns, most of the adult friends they make are through work or a hobby they have. Why? Well because Finland is the country of team clubs and sports.
From what Tuomas tells me is at a young age you join a group of people who have the same interests as you.
When he grew up in Korppoo it was the scouts. Then in high school, his Helsinki friends were into gaming.
I feel like in Finland you join a club or activity because it is something that truly interests you and then along the way you might happen to make friends.
You don’t really go into the club/sport thinking “I can’t wait to find others that like to do this too”.
Instead, it’s “I can’t wait to do this thing that I like”.
So if you want to make friends in Finland, with Finns, think about the things you like to do or the person you want to become.
Then join a group to become that person, along the way you might find that one Finnish friend.
After you’ve made that one friend you’ll have to take the lead if you want the friendship to develop.
You Have To Get Comfortable With Taking the Lead
Making friends in Finland is a lot like dating. When it comes to dating a Finnish person you have to ease them into the relationship.
For example, when Tuomas and I were in the same online club for a year, became friends in that club, THEN started dating over a year after being friends.
I started becoming friends with him because I took interest in Finland, from that we found out we followed some of the same YouTubers.
Our friendship really formed around my curiosity for Finland.
None of that would have developed if I let his icy demeanor stop me from talking to him. He was always short and to the point with me, which made me feel like I was bothering him.
I have noticed that with the other Finnish friends I have too. It’s not that they don’t like you, it’s just they really don’t care.
And by don’t care I mean, they don’t see the need for pleasing people. Because in Finnish culture if you have something more to say you will either say it out loud or hold it in out of fear of saying the wrong thing.
That’s why Finns will directly answer your question then get back to what they were doing.
This is when you’ll have to get comfortable with taking the lead when it comes to Finns. Taking the lead doesn’t always mean being pushy, it’s more about being upfront and honest with your feelings.
Ask open-ended questions that will require an elaborate answer rather than a yes or no question.
Another reason why Finns may seem shy or that they don’t care is because for whatever reason a lot Finns aren’t confident about their English.
Even though the majority of them know way more about English grammar than I ever could.
From what I’ve heard their English studies were really intense and didn’t leave room for errors. This makes them more introverted when the conversation is in English.
However, over time they will open up to you, especially when you ask for help with what a word is in Finnish.
Compliments are Awkward
When it comes to making Finnish friends, understand that complimenting them just might make it harder for you.
Again, their English is so good, then you tell them their English is good, immediately they will tell you 50 reasons why it isn’t.
Actually… this could work in your favor, just give a Finn a compliment and they will talk to you 😆
When it comes to younger generations like your Millenials and Gen Z, they are a bit more accepting of compliments, but even then you might get an awkward smile back from them.
From what Tuomas tells me, it’s because words hold more power in the Finnish language.
Compliments are much heavier and carry more meaning behind them when they are said in Finnish.
So when you compliment a Finn, it can be overwhelming for them because they are taking the compliment very literally and assuming you are being genuine and honest with your compliment.
Whereas in the US I feel like we just give compliments to be nice or polite.
Which is probably the hardest thing for me now that I am living in Finland. I love telling people they have a cute outfit, how they inspire me, or how much they mean to me as a person.
And, I only say these things if I really genuinely mean it.
I guess you can see compliments or other grand notions of emotions as invading a Finn’s personal space. It just become awkward for them because it’s not something they do to other Finns.
Not to mention when you have a whole culture that is based around keeping to yourself, compliments can be intimidating, not because Finns don’t like compliments, just because they might not know how to respond to them.
It Takes Time to Build Trust
In my life, I have gone with the motto “I’ll trust you until you prove me otherwise”. I don’t know if it’s because I was raised in the South or if it’s because I am an American.
I give trust in the beginning whereas I feel like Finns are less trusting in the beginning and develop trust with someone over time.
Part of building trust with Finns is first truly understanding their culture and by learning some of the basics in Finnish language.
One part of that is understanding and accepting the way Finns communicate, and how their communication style is going to be different than what you are used to.
Or by understanding some of the unwritten cultural rules that are here in Finland. By learning this, it will help you to build trust with Finns and to connect with their culture more comfortably.
Varpu at HerFinland.com has made a course to help you connect with Finns and learn how to build trust and turn that into long lasting friendships.
You can learn more about Varpu’s program on connecting with Finnish Culture by clicking this link here.
For example, I have learned that for a Finn to have a serious conversation with me I’ll need to be around them multiple times and have them see different sides of me.
After that, we are both more comfortable opening up with each other.
This brings me to my next point.
You’re Not Being 100% Yourself
I was talking to one of Tuomas’ Korppoo friends about having a hard time making friends with other Finns.
I told her I was trying to avoid being my loud American self because everyone is quieter here.
Immediately, she told me that was where I was making a mistake.
Finns don’t want a watered-down version of you, if they feel like you are concealing a part of who you are for their feelings it will just make them not want to be friends with you.
So if you are loud and outgoing like me don’t be afraid to show who you truly are.
Understand that there will be cultural differences, there will be misunderstandings, hell there will even be times that you feel so isolated because you don’t know Finnish.
In these moments, I have found that being open and honest about my feelings to those around me helps them to understand my struggles and pains better than if I said nothing at all.
If you are like me, an expat living in Finland, remember to be yourself all of yourself and not some watered-down version of what you think people will like.
Eventually, the right people will come along in your life, don’t waste your time stressing out on the ones who don’t understand you.
Tips for Making Friends With Finns
Part of making friends with Finns is first understanding Finnish culture, it’s language, and their social norms.
That’s why it’s important to start speaking with other expats and sharing your experiences living in Finland with them.
From those conversations it becomes easier to understand the cultural blindspots you may be in.
After that it’ll become much easier to make friends with Finns because you have learned more about their culture from another perspective than your own.
If you moved to Finland for love as I did, then understand that at first a lot of your Finnish friends will be your partner’s friends.
And that’s completely fine!
Through your partner’s friends, you will understand so much more about Finnish culture as well as your own culture.
Give yourself time to make friends, friendship is something that occurs over time and isn’t built over one interaction.
Finally, know that you are on the right path of a beautiful friendship if a Finn invites you to go to a sauna or grab a coffee with them. That’s how you know.