Good neighbors: Finland/Denmark

Finland and Denmark, two countries very similar in population, but with vast differences in size. Just like the countries have similarities and differences, so do the people and the cultures. Søren Sørensen and Jaana Aalto-Sørensen are a Danish-Finnish couple who personify and open the dynamic of the two countries.

Already when we start, the spirit of the conversation is very positive. The couple thinks that there are more similarities than differences between the two people. “Humor, definitely, is one similarity. I actually believe that Finnish and Danish humor is much more alike than Danish and Norwegian or Danish and Swedish”, Søren begins. Jaana nods and adds “Also values, the values in the daily life are very similar”. “I agree. Maybe a little more traditional values, a little old fashioned. You have to be an honest, proper and good citizen and human being in both countries”, Søren finishes.

When it comes to work, the similarities continue “Working culture is very similar. We both appreciate that there is tangible management. Of course we like to have open discourse, but once there is a decision you go ahead” Søren says, and Jaana agrees. “Agreed. With Swedes there needs to be a lot of discussion, like ‘Is this ok for everyone?’ Finns and Danes are more decisive, more straight-forward.”

Both cultures also respect meeting times, but the Danes play a little more fast and loose with social meetings. “Danes respect meeting times, if it’s agreed at 09:00 then it’s 09:00. But it’s funny that in leisure time this is not that strict. People are actually surprised if you show up on time for dinner!” Jaana laughs.

But there are differences as well. “Dealing with other people, particularly new people, is very different. Finns will keep you at a distance in the beginning. During this time you are judged, you have to be very careful what you do and what you say. You might have to be quiet, that might actually be better. But once you’re in the ‘inner circle’, you are there forever. You will have a friend for life” Søren says. “This difference in attitude may come from history and the prevailing social interaction Finns and Danes have always had with people”, Jaana theorizes. There could be some validity to the argument, as the two countries have a vastly different population densities. “Danes are used to sharing a little land with a lot of people. Finns need more space. Danes can have a summer cottage that is right next to another one with no fence and that’s perfectly ok. This is very easily seen in Finnish and Danish summer cottage ads. Usually in local services listed there are things such as the closest shop, restaurant etc. In Finland the top mention is ‘closest neighbor, 1 km’. Danes have always been more used to meeting new people”

Another major difference is the outlook on life, and according to Søren nowhere is this more visible than in pop music. “One huge difference is pop music. Finnish music is very melancholic. The range goes from melancholic to downright tragic. Danish music is happier, more upbeat. The songs are about subjects like ‘I just met a new girl’ etc. Even the sad stuff ‘My girl left me’, often has a happy ending ‘But I can now meet someone new!’ I feel that this perfectly encapsulates the major difference in Finnish and Danish mentality”

In social interactions there are more commonalities than differences, with both cultures appreciating directness. However, the Danes are perhaps even more direct “Danes are more open in disagreements, even with superiors. In Finland there is maybe a little hesitancy in voicing differing opinions” Jaana says, but Søren defends the Finns “A little yes, but Finns can take directness. Swedes would run away from Danish directness, Finns are easier to deal with.”

Finally, I ask if the two have a story to tell from their ten years of marriage that stands out as an example of cultural differences. Jaana speaks up immediately “When we got married in Finland, we had the wedding with Finnish and Danish customs. Søren was putting on the nice new suit and then took out old, terrible socks! They were so horrible! Turns out that in Danish weddings the groom’s socks are cut up, so you obviously don’t want to wear the nice ones! But to a bride, this was a huge shock on her wedding day!” she laughs. Søren of course changed to a new better pair of socks after the old ones were cut.

Basics for Finnish-Danish cooperation:

  1. Stay on schedule, Finns and Danes appreciate punctuality.
  2. Communication is informal, but direct. Stay on point.
  3. Small talk isn’t highly valued with either culture, get to business right away.
  4. Strive for a win-win result in negotiations. Starting by laying out the written offer, terms and conditions of an agreement will speed up the process, which is appreciated by the Danish counterpart.
  5. Expect a flat hierarchy in Danish organizations, where disagreeing with one’s boss is normal.

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