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Why Finland has a “shyness problem”: the “in-built” national mentality of outward humility.


Good morning starshines! Today I want to write about this concept of an “in-built” national mentality of outward humility to people who identify themselves as “typically Finnish”.

As someone with a passion for rhetoric and public relations, two articles on the topic of Finland and its Public Image in the global business context are constantly at the back of my mind. These two articles are Finland as a Shyness Problem and Shyness is Damaging Finland’s Economy, written by a particular Professor Ira Kalb.

Now, any social media manager will tell you that the juiciest part in any viral online article is not in the content of the article per se. The most entertaining part of any viral post is in the comments section, because via raw emotions, you witness what people are insecure or unhappy about behind a computer screen.

Anonymous comments are the most revealing, because how is it even possible that anyone can make any emotionally-rich statement without even having the guts to write down their real names? It is as though they are thoroughly ashamed of who they are. Oh–and don’t get me started on the lack of argumentation abilities by most anonymous commentators.

Social media is all about human nature–And this is precisely why I love my job as a social media manager so much.

That being said, have you ever wondered why Professor Kalb bothered to write both articles and even actually went the additional mile to engage all commentators? He is obviously not paid to write the articles.

In the comments section, he even confidently said that “I wrote this article to help Finland”. I see his heart 100% and believe him.

In fact, most of the angry comments in the comments section are angry precisely because they question his intention: Who does this professor think he is to claim superiority to “help” Finland?

The answer is simple–He is a business professor with an expertise in marketing. This professor makes very solid and reasonable business arguments. He probably saw the same things I did: The huge economic potential of the Finnish nation– A country filled with smart people, great innovative products, but somehow–a less than ideal national economy that does not justify the smartness of its people.

The next important question then is, do most Finns want economic growth to their country? If your answer is no and you are perfectly fine with a lacklusture “Finnish economy that champions recession in the Eurozone”, then obviously you’d find a huge problem with what the professor is suggesting.

But I think most people staying in Finland want this country out of recession. Ideally therefore, they should consider what this professor is saying with an open mind.  And in both articles, Professor Kalb strongly recommended for the economic and business purposes–and I quote– that:

  • Finns need to overcome their shyness, and not be afraid to tell others how Finland can help them.
  • The Finnish government and its better known companies need to lead the charge to communicate the great things that have come out of Finland.

The thing is this–Most people staying in Finland do sort of know how good Finnish products are. For instance, I can confidently say that most Finnish houses are never cold regardless of the temperature outside. If you’d stayed in any other countries during winters, you would know that this is not necessarily the case. But no, most houses are warm in Finland.

Most Finns also know that they are shy. So in spite of having a warm house, and knowing that more countries need proper technology to build a warm house, they do not go around imposing their views on others.

In other words– in a non-business context– this is basic respect. HAHA.

But is such “basic respect” necessarily beneficial to the other party, aka your potential client, in a business context? Just take a moment to think about it. If you know very clearly that a particular country X has a huge problem with cold houses, and you know very clearly that you can value-add so many citizens with your warm house–

–then pray tell, why on earth won’t you go ahead to tell them “Hey look, I can build warm houses because I have the innovation and the technology to do so?” If I were a citizen in country X I would be super pleased to have a warm house and can’t wait to thank you for your genius inventions!

So my question is, if the solution is as simple as “Just do, just market, just advertise, just not be afraid, just tell?”–then why aren’t Finns already doing it?

For example, to any person who identifies herself/himself as “typical Singaporean” or “typical American”, the “just do it” mentality is super easy to execute. But I’d only recently started to appreciate why a “typical Finnish person” can’t “just advertise”.

Yesterday I was talking to two of my smart Finnish girl friends about this. And in both conversations , we realized that it is difficult for a Finn to “just self-praise” because humility is “in-built” in most of them, as long as they are brought up in Finland.

This “in-built” national mentality is invisible and permeates most– if not all–thought processes. Now this is not a stereotype: A stereotype is when you observe a particular trait in a group of people, and impose this observation on ALL people of a particular observable group. What I am talking about here is the effects of societal invisible structure on micro-thought processes. That is to say, if you have been in a country for long enough, part of the (constructed) national culture becomes you, and you becomes part of the national culture.

So, let me expound on the concept of an “in-built” national mentality. I won’t just talk about what the Finnish “in-built” national mentality is–in fact, I will also tell you about the Singaporean “in-built” national mentality, so that you will understand where I am coming from:


  • To a “typical Singaporean”, the “in-built” national mentality is known as “Kiasu-ism”. “Kiasuism” means competitiveness and the fear of losing out. Whether or not this “kiasu” competition contributes towards your life-goal might sometimes even be irrelevant. A person who identifies himself/herself as “typical Singaporean” will panick once his or her peers do better than him/her. This panick need not even be logical.



  • This “kiasu” mentality is why I panick about Finland’s lack of public relations, and this lack-of-strong-PR issue has been in my heart and on my mind quite often, ever since I’d arrived here in January 2014.
  • Is this mentality logical? I think not, but I can’t help panicking! Why should I panick for instance, when Finland’s image to the world is none of my business anyway?
  • This “panicking” is actually consistent in people who self-identify as “typical Singaporean”. For example, if someone were to make any disparaging comments about Singapore to imply that Singapore is less than perfect, this “kiasu” mentality would be triggered to various extent.



  • To a “typical Finn”, there is an “in-built” national mentality known as outward “humility” and/or “self doubt”. This in-built mechanism makes Finns very awkward when they receive praise or excessive attention.
  • So you see, the natural state of a person who self-identifies himself/herself as a “typical Finn” is low-profile and humble. Arrogance–defined as “thinking too highly of oneself”–is frowned upon if you are a Finn, because to a fellow Finn “it doesn’t feel right”. This implies that you can think “too highly” of yourself in private, with a trusted group of friends, rather than “publicly”. This could also be why I find my Finnish friends “secretly something something”. HAHA!
  • It is however, relatively acceptable for a foreigner to come across as arrogant, because the foreigner can “sort of” pull it off. At least it does not feel unnatural for a foreigner to self-praise.



  • It is difficult for a person who identifies himself as “typically Finnish” to self-praise or advertise his own innovation, because of this “in-built” outward humility mechanism. In fact he won’t even be 100% convinced that the world wants his innovation, or that his innovation/technology is good enough. Because of this “in-built humility mechanism”, you can’t tell a Finn to “just not be afraid”. It’s not even a matter of fear, it just doesn’t feel natural to “self-praise”. To self-praise, therefore, goes against the national identity of being Finnish.
  • If a Finnish country or company wants to improve the communication process, it should partially outsource the public relations function to foreigners who have stakes in Finland. These foreigners who can do Public Relations should ideally work together with Finns, so that the Finnish PR person can do the strategic planning of what to communicate, when to communicate and what to say, whereas the foreigner can just execute it “naturally”.
  • Now, having “stakes” in a country–in this case Finland– such as a family, a house, or kinship is important. Having physical “stakes” is more important than the voodoo and abstract concept of “trust”. The reasoning is intuitive: you can voodoo your way through words by saying “Oh I trust you, blablabla”, but when bad things hits the country, these people who speak cheap words can simply flee.
  • However, when you have family ties in that country, you can’t flee, can you? Because your loved ones are there. Therefore, stakes are important because stakes reveal a lot about intention and interests behind every word and action done by a person.


Okay I got to go to school now. But this post really is to highlight that there is such a thing as an “in-built national mechanism”, and why we shouldn’t merely dismiss this “in-built mechanism” as a national stereotype.

It’s not a stereotype because it’s real to everyone who identifies himself –imagined or otherwise–as a patriot, or a nationalist who is part of a larger imagined community.

The “in-built” competitiveness of a person who identifies himself as a “typical Singaporean”, and the “in-built” humility of a person who identifies himself as a “typical Finn”–is very real!!😮


  1. Markku Ikonen says

    Finland needs to get out of EU and find its feet alone, Finns are not very good playing in the big crowd they must determine their own destiny and not be dictated too by Germany as is at present. There is too much concentration given to shyness it more of “why express my view when in the big picture no one listens” Finland needs to make its move shortly otherwise the entire next generation will be lost to anti business and sleeping on the soft mattress Referendum is required and get out while you can!.

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