Good neighbors: Finland and Norway

Finland and Norway, two countries with similar but distinct histories and personalities. Fought over by others in the past and admired by many today, although the countries have similarities, there are also subtle differences.

Out of all the Nordic people, Finns and Norwegians are perhaps the most alike in our methods of communication. “Norwegians are direct communicators. This is something that for many might seem cold and unfriendly, but for us honesty is a matter of respect. We will tell you that we disagree if we do, and we are expecting the same courtesy from you – as long as you do not interrupt others while they are speaking. Disagreements are not viewed upon as a negative matter, but rather a way to arrive at the best possible solution for all parties”, says Gro Hanssen from Oslo Relocation. This directness is also typical of Finns, who often appear to be blunt to the extreme. Smalltalk and speaking polite nothings are not traditionally appreciated by either culture, although with younger generation becoming more international and cosmopolitan this is naturally changing.

“We prize plain speaking and rely on facts, and at times the more subtle approach found in many Asian countries as well as the UK can be perceived as evasive or even dishonest. If your plan is to win over a Norwegian, try not to ‘oversell’. Be straightforward and express the facts in a direct manner without avoiding the weaknesses in your argument – the honesty when doing so is more likely to foster respect and reap rewards than a more self-promotional line of attack – also when it comes to PR. Sugarcoating something we are destined to find out about eventually is very likely to, as a Norwegian would say, make us want to kick your ass”, Gro continues.

In addition to the directness found in both cultures’ communication, privacy is highly valued by both Finns and Norwegians. “The Finns are introverted thinkers keeping much to themselves and they might seem a bit hostile, but it’s actually shyness. They are very gentle and kind when they warm up to you. And if you try to learn their language, they often do warm up”, Gro says. Norway is similar in their approach to privacy and keeping the private and professional lives separate. “Despite its equality principles, Norway is an individualistic society. The right to privacy is important and respected, and there are clear lines between work and private life.  Hence, our professional relations are viewed upon as transactions, and we do not depend upon a long-standing personal relationship in order to conduct business,” she continues.

That is not to say that Norwegians are entirely cold-blooded, despite the country’s average temperatures. “Doing business with people we trust is a preference – so providing us with references, company data and personal information will help you get an in. We will probably not invite you to our home for dinner, but that is not to be taken as a sign of disinterest or distrust. For Norwegians, reserve is a greatly valued characteristic, and it would be foolish to understand our seemingly lack of emotional attachment as anything but respecting your privacy.”

Maybe because daylight is a precious commodity in the Nordics for most of the year and time is not to be wasted, keeping to schedules is equally important in Norway and Finland. “You will probably never meet anyone with a more literal understanding of appointment schedules as a Norwegian”, Gro says, although I present that us Finns give the Norwegians a run for their money. “Value our time as much as we do: Punctuality is crucial, as it indicates your respect and trustworthiness. Don’t get me wrong, we have all encountered something to make us a bit late – but if you don’t give us prior notice it may damage a potential relationship. You should make appointments well in advance, because if you are expecting us to be at your every beck and call – we absolutely will not be”, she ends, and I have to wonder if I in fact have a little Norwegian in me after all.

Basics for Finnish-Norwegian cooperation:

  1. Stay on schedule, Finns and Norwegians appreciate punctuality.
  2. Communication is direct and fact-based. Avoid subtlety and overselling.
  3. Body language in both cultures is very subdued. There’s little need to read into it too much.
  4. Both Finns and Norwegians are task-focused rather than relationship-focused in their professional approaches.
  5. Although both are egalitarian societies, Norwegians are more “democratic” in their decision making, whereas Finnish organizations tend to be more authoritarian.


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