25 Feb

Finns & Interpersonal Interactions

With only 16 people per square kilometer, Finland is the least populated country in Europe. If you leave the Helsinki area, chances are that your nearest neighbor lives one forest and a couple of lakes away – or maybe half a poronkusema away. Having grown up with such distances between one another, it’s not surprising that Finns take their personal space very seriously.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal InteractionsWe all have a proxemic bubble that represents our personal, three-dimensional space. We let friends get closer, but when strangers enter our imaginary bubble, we feel threatened and attempt to flee. In Southern Europe, the acceptable interpersonal distance between acquaintances and strangers is diminutive, and the further north you go, the more the bubble expands.

In Scandinavian countries, one meter might be pushing the limit of comfortable space between strangers, which – from our foreign perspective – may lead to some funny interactions in populated urban areas. It starts with public transportation: Finns would rather stand for the whole length of their trip than to sit next to a stranger on a bus. If you happen to sit in a seat adjacently occupied by a fellow Finn, they will readily vacate theirs whenever another row of seats becomes available. At first it may leave you wondering if something is wrong with you. If you are standing around – say, waiting for the bus – and come too close to a fellow Finn, they will promptly move a few steps away. Worry not, dear foreigner, they are just safeguarding their bubble.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal InteractionsMoving on to kinesics, you may notice that gestures and eye contact in Suomi are rare. Gesticulating too much might make you come off as an frantic, eccentric weirdo. Keep your extremities paced. On the same note, eye contact is one of the ways in which we regulate communication: it signals that we are listening to our conversational partner or that we are ready to respond. Whereas staring into each other is customary in many cultures, maintaining eye contact in Finland qualifies as uncomfortable and even threatening. Glancing away is the norm – regardless of how interesting your topic might be – but they will always come back to you to acknowledge that they are following the conversation.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal Interactions

And what about the human touch? Picture the following scenario: you are at the workplace and your colleague Matti Meikäläinen just got promoted. Congratulations, Matti! If you think a pat in the back is in order, don’t. Finns are quite reserved in their haptics and they don’t like being touched unless you have an intimate connection with them. Now picture a social gathering or juhla where you are introduced to someone. Going all southern on them with two pecks on the cheek upon introduction will immediately make you the creepy nutcase of the party (I learnt this the hard way). Refrain yourself, a brief handshake will suffice.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal InteractionsDespite the apparent cold demeanor, Finland does have one thing going for it. This seemingly emotionless, reserved behavior derives from a highly practical mindset: Finns don’t like wasting their time with small talk or faking social interactions. It might take a while to tear down all the icy layers, but once you do, Finns can be the most straightforward and reliable friends you’ll ever find.

26 Nov

Recycling in Switzerland

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, recycling, Switzerland, Swiss, gold

One would think that recycling doesn’t really differ much from one country to another. Glass, paper, plastic and regular garbage: that’s what I knew from Germany, quite the environmentally friendly country. But the Swiss go the extra mile – at times I feel like they are just Germans on steroids.

When I moved to Zürich back in 2008, it took a while to get used to their recycling. For starters, they have a different container for every type of glass and plastic. Even mineral and cooking oil go in separate bins. Old appliances and electronic devices also have their special place, but remember to take out the batteries first: they are excruciatingly contaminating! Did you just eat a banana? The peel goes into the compost, so organic matter can make its way back to nature again. Did you just drink a beverage? PET bottles are returnable: if you take them back to a store, you can get some money back. Did your cat just die? I’m so sorry for your loss. In order to avoid potential illnesses, dispose of the dead body in the proper container.

I know what you are thinking: this is way too complicated. Do the Swiss really go to these lengths to save nature? It’s partly their love of nature and – for the most part – their love of money: in Switzerland you have to pay for every bag you throw into the trash, and you know how the Swiss like to keep their finances going…

What do you think about their recycling system? How does it work in your country? Let me know in the comments!

30 Jul

The Last Name Standing

Two issues at hand. First, coming from a Spanish-speaking country I have always thought the notion of dropping your name upon marriage is barbaric. Second, here’s the problem I have with feminists in this country :

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, last names, surnames, marriage, maiden name

25 Jun

The Workplace Etiquette: German Edition

I have never been great at etiquette to begin with, whether it is social gatherings, dress code or celebratory events. The excruciating sea of unwritten norms and protocols becomes even more confusing when you have to factor in culture-specific practices.

The secret to blending in perfectly in the German workplace is addressing people in an utterly polite,  highly apologetic, purely factual, emotionless manner. Too much trouble, you say? I agree. You can always opt for being your-expat-self ;D

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Arbeitsplatz, work space, manners, etiquette

04 Jun

The Weißwurstäquator

A new fun word I learnt this week! The Weißwurstäquator refers to the supposed cultural divide separating Southern Germany from the rest of the country. I believe it’s named after the white sausage, which is traditional in Bavaria, along with its lovely castles, medieval towns and tasty food. Road trip time, gell?

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Weißwurstäquator, Bavaria