Thursday, March 26, 2015

Never take a "no" as a definitive refusal

Photo: Pinterest

It is not rare that Finns answer "no" to the questions foreigners ask in English. I faced it in different places such as in shops, at the bank and at KELA (social insurance institution). During the past years I have understood that behind this 2-letters-word there is a hidden message. It is easier for them to say "no" that to look for the answer when they don't know or are not sure to understand what you really want. The language is very often an issue. But the culture also plays a role. Finns are honest people. No doubt about it. And lying is not in their habits.

Here are some examples that happened to me:

Once I went to the info desk of one of Finland's biggest store chains and asked in English as I didn't feel confident enough to ask in Finnish if I could get their bonus card. The woman answered that foreigners were not allowed to possess the card. I was surprised as many of my friends have it. The reason of that refusal was simply a misunderstanding. In order to get the card, you must have a permanent address and the forms are (were?) only available in Finnish and in Swedish.

Another day I was looking for a specific poster in Lahti and I went to the right place. It was at the reception of a building where a hostess was taking care of different sports associations. The lady said right away that the poster didn't exist. I knew that it was not true as I saw it on the Internet. I kindly ask her if she could contact someone that might know where I could get the poster. A few minutes later she came back with dozens of them. I thanked her with a wide smile and we greeted. In that case the lady felt that she failed in her task. She didn't know about these posters. But when you stay calm and solve the problem with kindness, you always get what you want and Finns feel helpful again.

This third example is a bit different. It's more about a cultural shock I had. In a restaurant I got a dish where my shrimps where not cooked enough. This was simply unacceptable for me. How could I get the attention of the waiter without being rude? I didn't know what was the right way to do it in Finland. First I tried to make eye-contact with the waiter. Unsuccessfully. Then I tried to call, raise my hand. No reaction. The waiter was always doing something else or during his back to our table before hidding in the kitchen. Finally I took my plate and went to the bar. I complained to the barman and he said that he would see what he could do. A few minutes later I got a new plate without apologies. At that moment I felt that it was really not common that people complain and bring their plate back to the chef.

How to get what you want?

Almost all Finns speak English. But some are not confident and don't understand the language very well. Also your accent can be a problem. The person might stress in front of you and continue to say "no" to get rid of you. Finns feel very uncomfortable when someone tells them that they are wrong or get criticism. Don't give up! When you know that you are right just kindly ask for a colleague that speaks better English or come back with a friend that speaks Finnish. Because Finns will always do their best to help you!

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