Wednesday, October 16

Lend a helping hand

Finland is known for snow, saunas and introverts. The stereotypical Finnish person is quiet, gloomy and very private. You're not allowed to be a burden to anyone else, it's not normal to look a stranger in the eyes, let alone smile, when you pass each other on the street. You keep your nose out of my business, and I'll leave you to yours. Going to school abroad, I was normally greeted with "What's wrong?" instead of "What's up?", because I didn't walk around with a big enough grin on my face. "Nothing, I'm just Finnish..."

The thing I find maybe most oppressing in Finland is the way you need to act like other people don't exist even when you're on an overflowing bus (and by Finnish terms, overflowing means that when you stretch out your arms, you might reach another person). I guess we're so used to privacy and loneliness that acknowledging another person's presence in public is almost face threatening. And I think that this is the essence of a huge problem.

This post on a Finnish blog about an incident on a bus started this social media campaign about helping people. 

"Are you OK?" / Pic from the campaign

The aim is to raise awareness and to activate people to lend a helping hand when they see others in need or in trouble. It's not impolite or shameful to help another person when they fall down, drop their shopping, when their car breaks down or gets stuck in snow. It's the exact opposite of that. 

I've noticed one slight exception to the rule here, especially in the past few years. A shared experience of harsh, dark winters seems to somehow unite Finns, and most help I've received from strangers has happened during those times. Being always late as I am, I never realized to buy a shovel for my car until it was too late, and I was left with the scraps. A ridiculous pink plastic shovel that's about as long as my arm. I've gotten stuck in snow with my car twice, and digging out a car from a pile of frozen, rock solid snow with a plastic piece of garbage is not easy. Both times multiple people have stopped, whether they were on a walk or in their car, to help me dig out my car with their hands and feet and pushed until I managed to break free. How nice is that?

It might be a little embarrassing to have a stranger help you pick up your change and books and gym clothes when your bag decides to explode on a bus, but it's less embarrassing than doing that on your own with a bus full of people just staring. Because staring in silence sometimes seems to be the norm here. Let's change that norm, shall we? The next time you see someone struggling with baby strollers or their shopping, just stop to ask if they're OK, regardless of the time of year, whether you're Finnish or not.

I leave you with Finland at it's finest.


  1. Great, great blog! :) So accurate. Yes, let's change it. I'm with you. Some days ago I heard this story. One girl fell with the scooter. Her scooter slid on the other side of the road and she was lying in front of some cars. What did those drivers do? Waited her to get up without saying a word. Nobody asked if she was okay. Sometimes I'm ashamed to be a Finn. It also challenges me to change things as you said and to come out from that silence. Keep writing!

    1. Thanks so much :) And that's a terrible story, how is that even possible!? Sounds almost borderline illegal to leave someone like that, what if she was injured!? But hopefully we can change this slowly but surely, if some people show a good example, I'm sure others will follow :)


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