Just a note on scandal — the Finns don’t “do scandal”. Not at all! Because the Finnish view of what is considered normal in life is quite broad, there seems very little to gossip about. The key to whether your story is accepted is whether you are deceitful or not. Being deceitful is frowned upon, and children are taught that it is a real sin. (Remember the Finnish values of honesty and integrity).
Finns will give you quite a lot of information that, in other cultures, may be considered embarrassing or private, as these things are just considered normal things that people experience in life. Finnish logic tells them it is therefore not embarrassing or particularly private; your parents divorce, illness in the family, breaking up, having difficulty deciding career path etc., are very openly talked about.
If you feel uncomfortable, you can always say, “I’d prefer not to talk about that” and the conversation will continue without any interruption. In some cultures (as in the UK), what is deemed acceptable is defined by the person asking the question and s’he should not pose questions that the other person may feel uncomfortable with. In Finland, the responsibility of defining what can be talked about lies with the answerer.
From Maria, a Finnish reader:
When Elisabeth Rehn ran for the president’s office, it turned out that both she and her husband had had affairs during their 30 years of marriage. Elisabeth Rehn went on television and said in an interview that she’s not proud about it but it’s tough staying faithful for decades and they’ve gotten past the affairs and are still happy about it. Her popularity shot like a rocket as everyone thought she had a point: it is tough staying faithful for 30 years.
There are few taboos, the main one is perhaps physical abuse within families. It is discussed on a general level but few people experiencing it will talk about it openly. They will say something like “my dad is very difficult”.
From a Finnish reader: If you’re from your father’s 5th marriage, most Finns would say “Wow… that’s interesting” meaning it’s interesting that your father has had so many marriages and that your family situation must be quite complicated and therefore interestingly different. They are, however, not making any kind of value judgment about your father who could not commit. They are just genuinely interested.
Finns traditionally don’t have a celebrity culture, though with the advent of the MTV generation, things are changing slowly. Therefore, they don’t have a target for curiosity and fascination. (And, they don’t have a target because they like to leave people alone).
The former president of Finland went to belly dancing lessons for several years, but the media didn’t try to make a big four-week-long story about it. It was just accepted — she has a right to her privacy. For non-British readers, if Cherie Blair did the same, the British newspapers would have made so much hype out of the “story”.