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TJC Global: Doing Business in Finland

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About Finland

The eighth largest country in Europe, Finland is also the most sparsely populated with approximately 16 people per km2.  More than 20% of its 5.4 million population lives in and around Helsinki, its largest city and capital. As a whole, Finland consists of 19 regions called 'maakunta'. Like its Scandinavian neighbours (do remember Finland itself is not Scandinavian, but Nordic), Sweden and Denmark, Finland has a sophisticated and comprehensive welfare system and a strong economy, with a very high GDP per capita. It also scores highly in the World Economic Forums's global competitiveness ranking, its main exports being electronics, metal production (steel, copper and chromium) or metal products (the biggest cruise ships in the world are built in Finland) or those related to the forestry industry (paper, pulp and timber). Engineering holds a similar status in Finland to in Germany, and in recent decades Finland has become a leader in many hi-tech sectors including information technology and electronics (think Nokia and Angry Birds makers, Rovio). 

Finnish people are very connected to nature and proud of their country's natural beauty. Many have holiday homes in the countryside by the sea or lakes which, like the forests, are considered places of peace and solitude. Complementing this sense of interconnectedness with the environment, is Finland's sense of social and environmental responsibility. Their sustainability measures include extensive recycling of cardboard and paper, as well as a system whereby one pays a deposit on bottles which is redeemed when they are returned. This system has a return rate of around 97-98%.

Finland's companies are also very interested and active in promoting Corporate Social Responsibility and take their responsibility to society and the wider community very seriously. They implement measures which address issues such as environmental and climate change, cultural adaptation, competitiveness, ethical consumption and employment practices. 

 

Language

Finnish is spoken by approximately 5 million people worldwide, around 91% of the population in Finland use it as a first language along with almost 5.5% of the population in Sweden, as well as minorities in Estonia, Russia and Norway. One of the official languages of the EU, it is relatively young as an official language in its own country in terms of official usage: it was not until 1863, that Finnish achieved official language status in Finland, before this, Swedish was the language used in government, education and literature. 

Finnish is, along with Estonian and some lesser spoken languages around the Baltic Sea, a member of the Finnic branch of the Uralic language language family.  It is similar in construction to Estonian but by no means mutually intelligible with it. Surprisingly, Finnish is not at all related to its Scandinavian neighbouring languages such as Swedish and Norwegian. Nonetheless most people in Finland are able to speak Swedish as a second language as they are taught this in school. Swedish also has official language status in Finland. Finnish also holds minority language status in Sweden. 

Other minority languages spoken in Finland are Russian, Estonian, Finnish Romani, as well as the three Sami languages, Northern Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami

Finnish is written using the Latin alphabet minus the letter 'w' which is merely a variant spelling of 'v', plus three diacritics:  Å, Ä, Ö. š and ž are also letters used to convey the sound of foreign loanwords, but can be written as 'sh' and 'zh' when needed. 

Finnish words adopt modifiers and suffixes depending upon the case. There are 8 locative cases in Finnish plus the genitive, accusative, nominative and extra cases which affect nouns and adjectives. The subject is indicated through the use of suffixes added to the root of the verb.

Most people in Finland have a very good command of English, with more people speaking English than Swedish as their second language although they may be shy to demonstrate their ability. Nonetheless, it may be helpful to know a handful of useful Finnish phrases when you visit. 

 

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Phrases

Hello = Hei or Moi (both informal) 

Hello = Päivää [literally: (Good) Day]

How are you? = Mitä kuuluu? (informal) 

How are you? = Mitä Teille kuuluu? (formal, or to a group) 

What’s your name? – Mikä sinun nimesi on?

My name is... = Minun nimeni on ... 

Pleased to meet you = Hauska tutustua 

Goodbye = Näkemiin 

How do I find ... ? = Miten löydän ...? 

Yes = Kyllä

No = Ei

Thank you = Kiitos 

Yes, please = Kyllä kiitos 

No thank you = Ei kiitos

It was nice / fun to meet you = Oli mukava / hauska tavata 

Where are you from? = Mistä olet kotoisin?

I’m from London. = Olen Lontoosta.

I don’t speak Finnish. = En puhu suomea.

 

Communication Style

Handshaking is the accepted form of greeting when meeting people for the first time and usually before and after business meetings - with men, women and children greeted in the same way. Greet people by their title and surname until invited to use first names. It is important to make eye contact when shaking hands and when talking. 

In general, Finns are rather reserved when it comes to conversation with strangers, with many tourists noticing an unusual degree silence on the metro in Finland. Do not be surprised if there is minimal chit-chat before a meeting: silence is an accepted part of interaction with others in Finland. Words are important to Finns and are used sparingly. A man will always be taken at his word, with spoken agreements, often sealed by a handshake, binding. Indeed, this is a culture where “a man’s word is his bond”.

Finns like to use time well and are considered to be great time managers: efficient and organised. Meetings are less a forum for debate and more the place for information transmission and are usually well-structured. When presenting at a meeting with Finns, one should be very well prepared, as they expect to be well informed enough by a presentation for questions not to be necessary.  It is implicitly understood in Finland that decisions are made by those who have the power to make them and consensus is not so much prized as in other Nordic countries. Indeed, most decisions are made by a small team of senior managers. 

Modesty, honesty, frankness, reliability and perseverance in the face of adversity are all very much Finnish characteristics. Loudness or brashness are not received well. Certainly, the technique of the 'hard-sell' does not go down well in Finland, where people prefer to remain understated and modest. If you are prone to loud animated talk, it may be a good idea to tone down your behaviour slightly as Finns are usually very quiet. It is very rude to interrupt and in Finnish culture, listening skills are considered a great virtue, especially in meetings. 

Finland is a very tolerant and open country with few taboos, however it is probably best to avoid politics or intrusive personal questions regarding salary, health or love life, particularly when you first meet. Finnish people have a sardonic, dry wit and appreciate the intervention of humour in business proceedings as well as in most other circumstances. 

Despite their reserve, if you win the trust of a Finn, you are likely to be lifelong friends. 

 

Business Etiquette

Remember Finns are a very open-minded and tolerant people who will not react strongly or negatively to any faux pas you may make. These are merely tips to help communication between you and your business partners run more smoothly. 

  • Arrange business meetings in advance and confirm these in writing. 
  • Finland's holiday months are throughout July, August and September so it is better not to make an appointment during this time. 
  • Office hours differ depending upon the season. In winter offices will open from 08:00 - 16:15 / 17.15 In summer it will be 08:00 - 15:15 / 16.15. 
  • Finns are very happy to communicate via email and SMS, even to arrange meetings. 
  • Punctuality is prized in Finland and the Finns are very good timekeepers. Lateness is considered rude and a disruption to a strict schedule, although not as much as in Sweden. If you are going to be late to a meeting, it is only polite to telephone in advance to let your partners know. 
  • Dress conservatively with men in dark coloured business wear / suits and women in similar coloured dresses; skirt or trouser suits. Garishness or overdressing will not well-received as it can be intepreted as arrogance.
  • Do not interrupt during meetings, or at any other time. Show respect when other people are speaking by listening carefully. Meetings are not the place for debate and are usually very structured. 
  • Speak only when you have something constructive to say - silence is positive Finland. Finns appreciate interjections that are timely and appropriate. 
  • Address people by their professional titles, until invited not to do so. 
  • Be organised, concise and well-prepared when presenting.  
  • Remember a man's word is his bond in Finland, so take verbal agreements seriously and do not commit to anything in a conversation if you cannot follow up on it. 
  • Do not give gifts of white or yellow flowers or potted plants which are associated with funerals. Instead go for other coloured flowers, chocolates, wine or local specialities such as liquor. 
  • Smoking is prohibited in the workplace and other public buildings. 
  • Resist the temptation to make small talk: silence is preferred in Finland. 
  • Unless you have a very good reason, accept an invitation to the sauna if one is extended to you during a business trip in Finland. A rejection may be considered rude. 

 

A few words about the Sauna (the only Finnish word to make it into English)

An invitation to the sauna signifies a step forward in your relationship with a Finn and indeed this is the place where relationships are built: relaxed and away from the office. 

The sauna is a deep-rooted part of Finnish culture with over 2 million, some think close to 3.3 million, saunas, including those in private residences, for a population of around 5.3 million people. This is the place where Finns go to relax and meditate, away from the noise and bustle of the modern world. It is also thought to be very healthy to go regularly, and very good for one's general wellbeing - with the sauna sometimes being called the "poor man's pharmacy". 99% of the population will go at least once a week. Men and women usually enter separately and parents go in with their children until they reach a certain age. Bathing suits are not permitted. A small towel may be required to sit upon the hot wood benches. Sometimes business negotiations or discussions can carry on informally in the sauna, but often this is a place for silence as it is almost too hot to speak. 

There are many different types of sauna, from the traditional smoke sauna to the electric and/or mobile sauna so be aware of this fact. In Finnish folklore, the sauna is home to the sauna elf, called the saunatonttu, who, it is said, will burn down the sauna if you behave badly in it.  

 

Food

  • Business lunches are common and can take between 1-2 hours and may often take place in canteens.
  • In restaurants, service is included, an extra tip is not necessary.
  • There are separate areas for smokers and non smokers in restaurants. 
  • Finnish cuisine is a mixture of European, Scandinavian and Russian. Commonly used ingredients are berries, fish, mushrooms and game.
  • Coffee is very important to Finnish cuisine - with the highest percentage of coffee drunk per person in the world.  
  • Keep to common sense table manners: do not speak with your mouth full and use a knife and fork for most things - bread is one of the only exceptions. 

 

Sources include: http://businessculture.org/northern-europe/finland/

 

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