Thursday, November 8, 2012

Excuse me

OK, so I will hopefully not get any "hate mail" from Finns for posting this. I just wanted to keep to the theme of the "observer", based on my experiences and observations living in Finland for the last year.  So, this week's topic is on manners and using "excuse me" ("anteeksi" in Finnish). Anteeksi translates into "pardon me", "excuse me" or just plain "sorry".  Finns also say the actual English words "sorry" or "oops" in other situations.

In my observations over the last year, I have noticed that Finns rarely use "excuse me" unless they pretty much accidentally run into you.  :)  If you are standing in an aisle at the store looking at something and then someone is about to come down that aisle with a shopping cart (assuming they cannot get by without you moving), they will typically stand there with a look of frustration in their face if you do not move away and let them through.  They will typically remain silent and wait for you to move out of the way.  A simple "excuse me" (anteeksi) would work wonders for me, but most folks just don't seem to want to say that in Finland.

I am not sure if it is just me, but I also notice a general lack of patience these days. Maybe, I am just stuck in Californian time.  :)  Just the other day, I went to the grocery store on a crowded Friday night.  First of all, the cars were storming in and out of the parking lot, fighting for spots and not really paying attention to anything.  I was walking through the parking lot and practically had to dodge cars that didn't seem to care or notice that I was trying to cross the road.  Then, once I got into the store itself, I could barely walk without getting trampled over by shoppers.  You would have thought they were rushing to get the last items on the shelf as if they were preparing for the apocalypse.  The reality was that Saturday was a Holiday and they were stocking up for the weekend since the stores would be closed.  However, the stores would open again on Sunday, so not the end of the world.

I don't really get annoyed anymore by the apparent rudeness of some folks in these situations.  It might not be actual rudeness in some situations, but a lack of wanting to talk.  I just try to go on with my day and keep a smile on my face when encountering these situations.  The point is that you cannot change people and cultures, you need to accept them for what they are.  Certain situations living abroad are going to seem a bit more annoying than others, but one must remember that they are no longer in their own country and they must adapt to cultural standards and norms no matter how odd they might feel.  My solution is just to keep being my polite self and smile at everyone.   


  1. I'd say your approach will work wonders! I don't think anyone will mind politeness, even if they themselves are not.

    I'd say you're pretty spot on with your analysis as well. It's partly rudeness, but some of it is definitely not wanting to talk to anyone. I am struggling with the other side of things here. I still find it so hard to always be talking to people, I miss the shared silence.

    Oh and I also noticed when I moved from Lapland to Southern Finland to study, how incredibly impatient people there are. You see the people waiting for trains and getting steam rising out of their ears after the train is 3 minutes late. In Lapland you'd go to the bus stop around the time the bus leaves the first station and hope it'll get there before you lose feeling in your toes :D

  2. I should point out that people here have an expectation of others trying to not be in their way. It's polite to give room, so that people can get on with their business. It's likely that business doesn't include you. So why should you be involved? If you're the one blocking their way, why should they be excused by you?

    A good way to piss off people more is then to smile afterwards to show that you found it enjoyable.

  3. Anonymous, hmmm. "People expect others not to be in their way" ?? How rude is that? So, if I am in the store in the aisle first and then a shopper decides to barge in, I should just get up and move for them even if I am still looking at something and was first to be there? And on top of that, they should not be required to say something like "Excuse me". I think it is pretty clear that you are part of the problem. And you think I am pissing off people because I like to be friendly and smile. Get a life! I think Katri begs to differ with your comments as well. She thought blog post was pretty spot on and that smiling does wonders. So, I will keep smiling. :)

    1. I think what the other anon was getting at was that the expectation is everyone respects everyone's space. This means you are to make sure you don't take anyone's space by being in their way. If you're looking at something, you should make sure there is room around you for people to pass by. This does not, however, mean it'd be wrong to open your mouth and ask someone to move. Nor is it wrong to smile in response as long as you apologise yourself for being in the way.

    2. Exactly.

      I find nothing more annoying than people who don't pay attention to their surroundings in a public place.

      I try to plan the most efficient route to get what I need from a shop in advance to minimize the inconvenience I might cause for myself or others. And if I have to stop to look for an item, I keep an eye out for people trying to get past me so I don't block their way just because I'm looking for something.

      It's stressful enough being in a place with so many people, I don't want to make the experience any longer if I can help it.

    3. Hi!
      Way too late :) but anons are actually right. Politeness is a cultural construct after all, it really isn't the same in diff cultures. Anon said it brilliantly, this really is what is considered polite in finland.

      "..anon was getting at was that the expectation is everyone respects everyone's space. This means you are to make sure you don't take anyone's space by being in their way. If you're looking at something, you should make sure there is room around you for people to pass by..."

      When i read your post I immediately cringed, and thought, oh no he doesn't get it, he doesn't realise he was the one that didn't follow the rules of polite behaviour in Finland. You should always be aware of the space you take, and make sure you are not in anyones way. If you want the same spot by the selves you try your best to share the space. I always smile apologetically or say sorry if I am blocking someone, it's a no no mister :) I can see how it might be difficult to crasp as it is the opposite of the way you are used to, but in your case you should have known to get out of the way.

  4. Hello
    I have paid attention to impatience of my countrymen and women that Mark wrote about. However, it is not very general, in my mind. Personally I do not find it difficult to say anteeksi, excuse me in a rush. On the other hand I do not get insulted if someone else says so. While visiting the US I noticed that shops and grocery stores are much bigger than here in Helsinki. It was so easy to move around. Many of our grocery shops tend to be so packed at least in Helsinki. Mark, I hope you will have experiences in the future.

  5. To add to above: crowded places do not give right to rude behaviour. Excuse me if I gave that impression.

  6. Hi Anon II,

    So, it is my duty to get up from the aisle when I was the first one there? You are saying it would be rude of me, not them? I am in the aisle and then someone comes and barges into me and I am at fault if I don't move? Why wouldn't they wait patiently till I am finished in that aisle then move in after me? Wouldn't that make more sense. I am not sure if you read what I wrote. I am saying that I am there first and then come in and almost run over me to get into my personal space. So please explain how I didn't follow the rules of Finland?