One of the first things you will notice as a foreigner in Finland is, besides the long freezing winter and darkness, the fact that Finns are humble to a fault.
You will hardly hear a Finn boasting of her achievement , knowledge or possession. A person who is a leader or boss of a company may causally tell you that she works in the company, or that she is part of a team. It is only when you probe further that you’ll find out her position.
I often wonder why humility is a trend in Finland especially because of where I came from. Status and achievements are overly celebrated in Nigeria. Many Nigerians are eager to tell a new acquaintance of their status even if it’s unsolicited. Respect and prestige are often linked to a person’s achievement as well as his connections. Some people may even exaggerate their achievements in other to attract respect.
It was in Finland I learnt that academic titles are almost never used when addressing a person. Many Nigerians will frown if you fail to add their academic or earned titles before their names. And a student can hardly address her lecturer without titles like ‘Sir’, ‘Ma’, ‘doctor’. Such carelessness on the part of the student is often met with a disapproving look and even an outright correction. I have hardly heard of these titles been used among Finns both in formal and informal communication.
Apart from been too humble of their achievements, Finns are equally humble of their knowledge, especially their knowledge of a second language. Ask as Finn if she speaks English, for instance. The answer you will get is ‘very little’ no matter how well she knows the language. In the course of your conversion, you’ll find out that ‘very little’ actually means ‘very much’. I’m yet to understand the reason for this personal underestimation.
And now that I’m learning Finnish, I’m also tempted to almost say ‘very little’ when asked of my Finnish language skills, just in case I make a mistake.