There’s something I call “the look”.
Do you know that feeling when you’re visiting another country and you have to speak english, so the locals know that you’re not a local? Then they look at you in a certain way, like if they acknowledge you are not the same?
Maybe people don’t do it in a rude way or because they’re feeling superior, but it’s like if an invisible barrier was built between the two of you in less than a second. They are citizens of that country, and you’re not. It is what it is….
I was expecting to live with “the look” for the two years that my program will last, but Oh surprise! Finns don’t give “the look”, instead, they switch from Finnish to English and treat you the same way they would treat any other local (at least that has been my experience so far).
So unexpected, so happy for it.
Does everyone speak english?
Short answer would be yes, but since I don’t do short answers, here’s the long explanation:
Even when Finns tell you “I don’t speak english” they do. You can communicate with any person, any time. Elder people might have a harder time trying to explain themselves, but they understand everything. For example, once I needed to buy sour cream, so I went to the area where I thought it would be, and I found tons of small containers with different names, looking all like sour cream. I was so confused that I decided to ask an old lady standing next to me. She looked nervous for the fact that I was breaking the unwritten Finnish rule of “avoid talking to people as much as possible”, she told me she didn’t speak english, -in a perfect english, of course- and started searching for what I was looking for, grabbed one and gave it to me.
She even gave a smile after I said thank you.
Is everything in english?
Short answer: no. Long explanation: since there are two official languages in Finland, most of the products are in Finnish and Swedish, instead of Finnish and English.
Sometimes it’s hard, which turns grocery shopping in an adventure, or you get surprised by the fact that the bus driver on your way to Helsinki gives announcements in Finnish, so you spend the next two hours wondering what he’s saying and if is of relevance for your trip. But you get kinda used to it after a few months.
So, how’s the language?
Many people say Finnish sound strange, but to me, is a language I like to hear. Somehow, makes people sound very polite. Many say it’s difficult to learn, and I can’t say anything about it because I haven’t tried yet, since I haven’t really needed it.
The only two words I’ve learnt are: Moi, -which translation is hello, and people use it to say hi and goodbye-, and Kiitos, which means “thank you”, and that’s basically what a person need to survive in Finland.
For example, when I go grocery shopping, I can say “Moi”, wait for the amount I have to pay, make the payment and say “kiitos”.
And just like that, I can have a normal conversation for Finnish standards.