Just saying, muses, Relationships, Suomi
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The 5 positive sneaky things my Finnish friends taught me.


Hey folks!

I’m really sleepy right now but since I’d made a commitment to myself to write on a daily basis, today I shall write about the 5 positive sneaky things my Finnish friends taught me in my 1+years here.

I love learning about sneaky/politically incorrect stuffs! It is the quirky and politically incorrect things that make life worth living in any country. I’d always been fascinated with the secretly bitchy sides to people, regardless of nationality. Winston Churchill for instance, never fails to impress me with his sophisticated insults. Same applies for Shakespeare. Like the eloquent Englishmen with their dark British humor, I think Finns (my Finnish friends at least) have their positive sneaky ways too.

Finns are not sneaky you say? Haha, you probably either don’t have enough Finnish friends, or have gotten used to the following ways of life. Here are the 5 positive sneaky things I learnt from mine:

No.#5: Passive Aggression.

I’d never done anything passive aggressive in my entire life until I came to Finland, mainly because the term “passive aggressive” never existed in my dictionary. For example, whenever I am pissed off with something or someone in Singapore, Korea or Japan, I’d demand to talk it out with the people involved, or write in letters to the relevant institutions to complain. People usually see me as “proactive”, seldom “passive”.

However, when I came to Finland, I realised that there is this thing known as “passive aggression”–which honestly is a genius concept. I define passive aggression as “insisting on not doing anything” in an aggressive manner. Let me illustrate what I mean with a simple scenario:

  • Your name has been spelt wrongly by the Aalto email system, because they have an algorithm of {first name [dot] last name} @aalto.fi. So, you go to your school’s IT support to ask them to change it. You find out from them at the IT support desk that it is not the job scope of the IT support to change your name, and they ask you to go to the Student Services Centre. Student Services Centre said that it is not their business to change the student’s name, because of the algorithm can’t be changed, so they tell you that they can’t do anything.
  • It’s a real story by the way. I had to live with 1.5years of my official name in the system being “Soh Wan” because my first name is Wan Wei, spelt with the space. So basically the system thought “Wei” is my middle name, and omitted it. Eventually I got it changed after 1.5 years, 3 times after visiting the Student Service Centre, but only because a nice young lady went the extra mile for me.
  • From this incident, I learnt–“Ah, so there is such a thing as insisting aggressively not to do anything out of your job scope.” And staffs can afford to do this because there is no way they can be sacked, due to the strong labour union in Finland. Well, this came as an amusement to me, because doesn’t Aalto University claim to champion noble values, equality and inclusiveness, LOL? Very equal indeed, to have your proper Chinese name denied for 1.5years. This sort of behavior would be unthinkable and unacceptable in Singapore, because we pride ourselves on going the extra mile, with a smile, too.

So I’d reframed the above negative experience into some positive learning about passive aggression:

  • If you don’t want to do anything, just don’t do.
  • If you don’t like someone, just don’t meet.
  • If you can’t be bothered to reply emails, just ignore.
  • If you don’t feel like talking, just don’t talk.

This is very liberating for me! In Singapore, I always felt the pressure to do certain things I hate, simply for show, or simply because it’s expected. But passive aggression–“Just insist on not doing”–is an awesome method to live your life on your terms. It saves time and energy.

And people can’t really fault you for not going the extra mile, not responding fast enough, or not liking someone.

Passive aggression is therefore a positive, sneaky, silent (and therefore polite) way of telling people– “Fuck you.”

LOVE IT!!!! It’s such an elegant strategy.

No. #4: Always keep THE same face during negotiation.

There is a tendency for Finns to keep a straight face during negotiation. I’d seen it so, so many times in business meetings and negotiations. I thought it was effective because you can never read what a Finn is thinking about during these times, unless you are super sensitive to micro-expressions, such as the “micro-smile”. I honestly can’t even tell if they are nervous behind the straight face.

And whenever a Finn frowns during negotiation, I’d be slightly taken aback, and then I’d start to self-doubt because he/she looks fierce.

My default face is smiley. So once upon a time, I honestly thought I am screwed at the negotiation table, since I can never make–much less keep–a straight face during meetings. I’m smiling pretty much most of the time!

But then, my good Finnish friend told me, “It’s okay. As long as you keep the same face throughout, nobody can read what you are thinking of.”

And so I learnt!🙂

No. #3: It’s really OK to take your time. Even if life is already really short. #YOLOslowly

I think some of my closer Finnish friends have already heard me say to them more than once–“How many years do you think you have to live?!?!”

I tend to always be in a rush. I pride myself on being efficient. My default thinking mode is– “If I can get A+B+C done within 1 year, why should I have to compromise for just doing A in a year?!” or “If I can earn $7,000 a month, why do I have to compromise for $3,000 a month?!”

But I have observed, in general, that taking your time or being slow is not seen as a negative thing in Finland. In fact, cramming too many things within a specific time period might be seen as a negative thing instead. Finns are never in a rush, be it through thinking, listening, writing, or reading. Singaporeans in contrast, are always multi-tasking, speed-reading, half-listening, and running from places to places.

One major takeaway here for me is to take my time in listening, because that’s awesome for spyi–I mean–understanding more about a person. I think most Singaporeans don’t really listen fully–we tend to talk too much.

Oh this is a positive sneaky thing because after hearing the logic behind “being slow”, I can’t really blame my Finnish friends for exceeding their allocated presentation times in group presentations, can I?

No. #2: Hyväksyä/ En hyväksy–“I approve/disapprove!”

After a while of being friends with Finns, I realise that they like to use the English words “approve” and “disapprove”. I find that very strange and cute.

In Singapore, we use the terms “like” or “dislike”; not “approve” or “disapprove”. This “approve/disapprove” expression calls to mind a Finnish approval bar that everyone has to cross to earn the glorious “Hyväksyä” badge of approval.

Which is honestly genius, because it’s POSITIVE REAFFIRMATION!!

How cool is that?!?! To have a positive reaffirmation function embedded in the Finnish language!! This is totally positively sneaky because it implies that through language, I can modify your behavior to something I “approve of”, instead of something I merely “like”!

“Like” is cheap– any Tom, Dick and Harry can “like” or “dislike” something. “Approval”–on the other hand– needs to be won. And the more I “approve” you, the more it reinforces that behavior I desire out of you. This is positively sneaky, no?

And according to my observation, the Finnish approval/disapproval function tends to follow this pattern:

  • Any smart comment or person is approved.
  • Any gift that makes a lady look more beautiful is approved.
  • Flowers and salmon are always approved.
  • Anybody late is disapproved.
  • Anything done without a plan is disapproved.
  • Any attempts to stand out from the crowd is disapproved.

No. #1: Do whatever you like, but justify.

This is the single most important “sneaky” thing I’d learnt from my Finnish friends!

“Do whatever you like, just justify!”–Is this not the epitome of personal freedom?

I’d also had the privilege to make friends with Finns who are living super unconventional lives, for instance. I’d met a couple of people who are playboys (as a disclaimer: I have a lot of playboy friends, not only in Finland but all over the world), people who just want to take drugs because they felt like it, Finns who are liberally in open relationships, etc.

The most amazing part is not that they are behaving in unconventional manners. Instead, it is that they provide good justifications to such unconventional behavior.

Example 1:

WW: “Why did you smoke weed!?!? Won’t it rot your brain!?”

Friend: “Oh, because smoking weed brings me to another dimension of life.”

Example 2:

WW: “Oh gosh! Why did you get another tattoo?”

Friend: “Oh, because I felt like it.”

And trust me, they really mean what they say.

I keep hearing things like “Oh I felt like it” or “Yea it feels right” from my Finnish friends. And they’re actually people with quite high IQ (yes I’d asked), so as I thought more about their simple answers, I realised that “Oh, so life is also about being in another dimension, or doing things because you felt like it.”

Both motivations may not go down so well in the Singaporean society–it seems like in Singapore, we (1) Might not even do whatever we like; (2) Might do whatever we like but are terrible at justifying it!

It is therefore pretty cool to learn, from these slightly extreme anecdotes, that one is free to do whatever he/she wants in life, as long as he/she can justify it properly to himself/herself.

Very sneaky way of making life yours by reclaiming it back from society. And very positive, too.


Okay! Time for me to sleep–Hope you have enjoyed this post. Good night! =)


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