Have a question for my Finnish friends. First some quick context for others.

Finland really confused me at first. Social distancing seemed to be part of the culture. Walking on the street, no one even made eye contact with me, let alone smile. If I smiled I would just get a blank stare. If I was standing anywhere, no one came close to me. I felt very much unseen. I felt like a ghost. I didn’t even realize how much passive social validation I was used to in my everyday life until then. Just that sense of being acknowledged. I wondered if I was being subject to passive hostility. I am not paranoid and I wouldn’t have allowed myself to go that far had it not felt so jarring and odd.

After some time as I got to know people they told me to not take it the wrong way “That’s just how we interact socially. We give each other a lot of space and even engaging in non-verbal communication with a stranger would be a little imposing.”

That made sense. And it made me see things totally differently. I also noticed that within bars etc, people were super friendly and very talkative and would spontaneously approach me to talk to me.

I remember once when I was driving in the north, in Lapland, I stopped at a gas station. There was no eye contact, no small talk, just a transaction involving transfer of goods and currency. Someone pointed at signs in stores as part of a campaign that said “If you greet the cashier, you get 0.5% off” or something like this. There are attempts at making the culture less distanced.

So the question I have is to my Finnish friends. How is the social distancing etc working for you? Does it feel as disruptive as it would feel in other cultures where not being able to see smiles on people you encounter makes you feel like something is terribly wrong?

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