Letters and emails in Finland

Letters and emails in Finland

These can be a source of confusion, irritation and misinterpretation. Because the Finns speak such good English in a one-on-one situation, we tend to attribute them with having a good understanding of the way «we» do business. «We» in this instance means anyone who isn’t Finnish. Unfortunately, written communications from them are often interpreted as commands and demands by other nations. Again, Finnish efficiency means they do not bother to use more words than they have to and there is no ‘soft» language used. They are so concerned that the relevant information is understood correctly that they do not «dress up» any correspondence. This abruptness can lead to them appearing very arrogant and unjustifiably demanding. Other nationalities can easily be offended. However, there is rarely any intention to offend.

Finnish business is mostly conducted over the telephone or with face-to-face meetings. Emails are for clarification and letters usually get sent as a final round-up or summary of agreements reached.

Just an interesting thing to note, where we in Britain are used to ticking boxes to indicate that something is correct, the Finns cross boxes (crosses do not mean that things are wrong). Another thing not to overlook is that the Finns use the continental numbering system with decimal commas, not decimal points. For instance, one may talk about 2,5 million Euros, whereas for the English speakers we would use 2.5 million Euros. This may seem just a small detail but I have witnessed some potentially disastrous misinterpretations!

Please and Thank You In giving seminars to other cultures, I tell the story of my experience working with a Finnish company (whilst still living in England). I used to dread going to my fax machine or opening up my emails on a Monday morning. As Finland is two hours ahead of us, my instructions for the week would be waiting for me to read as I started work. An example of the instructions: «Dear Debby, do abc, do def, do this, then do that. Speak to Mr xyz, tell him 123. When finished call the office. Please. Thank you. Hely.» In English, that note would have been full of words such as: could you, would you kindly, find the time, etc. and the instructions would have been shaped to be asking, not demanding. But along the way, someone has told the Finns that the English are excessively polite, so they must use «please» and ‘thank you». Incidentally, there is no word for «please» in Finnish.