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更新时间:2018/11/29 21:22:31 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

How the Finnish survive without small talk

I met my now best friend Hanna a few years ago during my first visit to Helsinki, on a coffee date set up out of desperation. Without any acquaintances in the city, I just wanted someone to sit next to in public, and given our tenuous work connection, she fitted the bill. Our drink quickly turned into dinner, wrapping up four hours later after doing deep dives on politics, religion, sex and life, the kind of topics that usually take friends years to address. A year later, I flew back to be a bridesmaid at her wedding, still shocked at how fast we forged a connection.


“Laura,” she told me matter-of-factly when I asked why we had bonded so quickly.


What she neglected to tell me, however, is that Finns think if there’s no important topic to discuss, there’s no conversation at all. In fact, one of their national sayings is ‘Silence is gold, talking is silver’.


Small talk outside social situations between close friends is virtually non-existent. Interactions with baristas? Limited to the name of the coffee you want to order. Sitting, walking or standing in a way that requires acknowledging a stranger’s presence? Never. (A meme featuring people standing outside a bus shelter rather than under it is an often-posted joke in Finland to illustrate this point.) If you’re a foreigner, congratulations – you’re probably the loudest person on their often (voluntarily) silent public transport.

亲密朋友在社交场合之外的寒暄几乎不存在。与咖啡师交流?仅限于你想点的咖啡的名字。坐着,走着,或站着时都需要承认陌生人的存在?从来没有。在芬兰,一个文化特色是人们站在公交候车亭外,而不是站在候车亭下,这是一个常用的笑话,用来说明这一点。如果你是外国人,恭喜你,你可能是公共交通工具上 (自愿)沉默人群中说话最大声的那个。

With two million saunas in the country, which are enjoyed fully nude (generally gender-segregated, although that rule tends to be thrown out in the company of friends), the Finnish seem to have no problem with getting up close and personal. But when clothes are on, the bets are off.


Finnish people often forgo the conversational niceties that are hard-baked into other cultures, and typically don’t see the need to meet foreign colleagues, tourists and friends in the middle. As Tiina Latvala, a former English instructor in Sodankylä, Lapland, explained, part of her job was to introduce her young students to the concept of small talk.

芬兰人通常不会遵守其它文化中根深蒂固的交谈礼节,而且认为与外国同事、游客和朋友约会没有必要。拉特瓦拉(Tiina Latvala)是拉普兰(Lapland)索丹克雷(Sodankylä)的一名前英语教师,她解释说,她的部分工作就是向年轻学生介绍寒暄的概念。

“We had a practice where you had to pretend to meet someone for the first time,” Latvala said. “You had to pretend you were meeting at the cafe or on a bus and [that] you didn’t know each other and do a bit of chit chat. We had written on the whiteboard all the safe topics so they didn’t have to struggle with coming up with something to talk about. We brainstormed. They usually found it really difficult.”


Alina Jefremoff, an 18-year-old Finnish student in Helsinki, recalls similarly formatted exercises with an air of incredulity. Thanks to television and films (which are mostly broadcast in English) she was already acquainted with non-Finnish communication styles. Even still, she had to endure a series of connect-the-dot-style homework assignments.

住在赫尔辛基的18岁芬兰学生杰弗莱夫(Alina Jefremoff)带着一种怀疑的神情回忆起类似的练习形式。由于电视和电影(主要是用英语播放的),她已经熟悉了非芬兰的交流方式。即便如此,她也不得不忍受一系列“连线游戏”式的家庭作业。

“[They’re] about basic conversation,” she explained. “The answers are already there. We are taught to answer ‘I’m great, how about you?’; ‘How is your mum?’. It was very clear how to be in a conversation, as if we didn’t already know. It was very weird… as if there were right answers to the questions.”

“(作业)是关于基本对话的,”她解释道。“答案已经在那里了。我们被教导要回答,‘我很好,你呢?’;‘你妈妈好吗? ’如何对谈已经很清楚,我们其实都知道。这很奇怪……好像这些问题有正确答案似的。”

When asked for an example of how she wishes Finnish society were more open, Jefremoff gave the example of doing something ridiculous, like dropping her books in the metro, and then laughing at herself. She says she wishes that strangers would join her in acknowledging the silliness of the situation by laughing or commenting. Initiating social contact with people you don’t know? Not something they’ve been taught.


There are more hypotheses than answers for why Finnish culture has a veil of silence permanently stitched in place. Latvala believes their trademark directness has something to do with the complexity of the Finnish language and the fairly large distance between cities (Latvala’s reasoning: If you’ve travelled any distance to see someone, why waste time?).


However, Prof Laura Kolbe, who teaches European history at the University of Helsinki, sees the topic through a comparative lens. The Finns, she says, don’t see their quietness or lack of small talk as a negative. Instead, every culture judges another on their social norms, hence the widespread stereotype of the silent Finn among more emotive nationalities.

然而,赫尔辛基大学(University of Helsinki)欧洲史教授科尔布(Laura Kolbe),以比较的角度看待这个问题。她说,芬兰人不认为他们的安静或不愿寒暄是消极的。但每种文化都根据自己的社会规范来评判另一种文化,因此,在更情绪化的民族的印象中,沉默的芬兰人是刻板的。

“The idea of silence has been especially prevalent when Finns were seen from the eyes of close neighbours,” she explained. “For example, when Swedish- and German-speaking people came to Finland in the past, they saw Finns as silent citizens, wondering why the people didn’t speak any Swedish or German and rather remained silent among their guests.”


It isn’t for lack of skill, for Finland has two national languages – Finnish and Swedish – and Finns begin English lessons when they’re six or seven. But rather it’s because when faced with expressing themselves in second (or third) language, many often choose to not say anything rather than risk not being fully understood. However, when among their own, silence functions as an extension of comfortable conversation.


It’s an idea that’s backed up by Dr Anna Vatanen, a researcher at the University of Oulu, whose forthcoming study ‘Lapses in interaction and the stereotype of the Silent Finn’ demonstrates that at least among their own, Finns do communicate through comfortable silence – particularly among familiars. When it comes to outsiders judging the stereotypically straightforward Finn, she warns that some nuances do get lost in translation.

奥卢大学(University of Oulu)研究员瓦塔宁(Anna Vatanen)博士支持这一观点。她即将完成的一项研究——“在互动方面的失误以及沉默芬兰人的刻板印象”,表明至少芬兰人自己之间,尤其是在熟人之间,确实是通过舒适的沉默来交流的。当外人评价直率的芬兰人时,她警告说,跨文化交际中,一些细微的差别确实会被忽视。

“It’s not about the structure or features of the language, but rather the ways in which people use the language to do things,” she explained via email. “For instance, the ‘how are you?’ question that is most often placed in the very beginning of an encounter. In English-speaking countries, it is mostly used just as a greeting and no serious answer is expected to it. On the contrary, the Finnish counterpart (Mitä kuuluu?) can expect a ‘real’ answer after it: quite often the person responding to the question starts to tell how his or her life really is at the moment, what’s new, how they have been doing.”

“这与语言的结构特点无关,而是与人们使用语言的方式有关,”她在电子邮件中解释说。“例如,初次见面最常出现的问题,‘你好吗?’,在英语国家主要是用作问候语,不需要严肃的回答。相反,芬兰语中相应的问题(Mitä kuuluu?),则需要一个‘真实’的回答:回答者往往开始讲述目前的生活,有什么新鲜事,他们过得怎么样。”

But when Finns do opt out of casual conversation, says Karoliina Korhonen, author of Finnish Nightmares, a book and online comic series where an ‘average’ Finn deals with life’s most benign terrors, it also has something to do with respect. Why risk making someone else feel uncomfortable?

不过,《芬兰噩梦》(Finnish Nightmares)一书的作者科尔霍南(Karoliina Korhonen)说,芬兰人决定不加入寒暄,也和尊重有关。为什么要让别人感到不舒服呢?这本书也在网上进行漫画连载,讲的是一个“普通的”芬兰人如何应对生活中那些无害但让人恐慌的事情。

“I like to think Finnish people value personal space,” she notes. “If you don’t know another person, you don’t want to bother them. They might be having their own time or they don’t want a stranger to come bother them. If you see they’re open and you both are open, you can have something. But most of the time people are polite and keep their distance.”


But their desire for avoidance is a predisposition so common that it’s become hard-baked into Finnish culture. Formula One driver Kimi Räikkönen has built his iconic image around his lack of talking. Comics use the Finn’s lack of small talk as part of their routine. It’s even gone international: thanks to the unexpected spike in popularity of Korhonen’s work in China, teens there who don’t enjoy social interactions are describing themselves as ‘spiritually Finnish’.

但希望回避是他们非常普遍的态度,已经成为芬兰文化中根深蒂固的东西。一级方程式赛车手莱科宁(Kimi Räikkönen)因不爱讲话而树立了自己的标志性形象。漫画中,对寒暄不感兴趣是芬兰人日常生活的一部分,甚至走向了国际。科尔霍南的作品在中国出人意料地大受欢迎,不喜社交的中国青少年把自己描述成“精神上的芬兰人”。

In some cases, though, Finnish society seems to be trending toward a marginally more open existence. However, it’s happening slowly. For Jussi Salonen, COO of Finnish chocolate company Goodio, living in Los Angeles for two years made him wish he could import a bit more of the US’ open spirit to his home country.

不过,在某些情况下,芬兰社会似乎有些许更开放的倾向。然而,它发生得很慢。对芬兰巧克力公司古迪奥(Goodio)的首席运营官萨洛宁(Jussi Salonen)来说,在洛杉矶生活了两年,让他希望自己能把美国的开放精神更多一点引入自己的祖国。

“When I was [back] in Finland, I was almost offended when I went to get a cup of coffee from a coffee shop and they didn’t say anything,” he recalled. “It was just ‘what do you want?’. How can you say that? Are you not going to ask anything before that? Oh, yeah. This is my home country. This is just the way things are. It was funny to notice how things got twisted a little bit when I was living over there… I think a little bit of communication or small talk doesn’t hurt.”


It’s a hopeful idea that Finns can meet the rest of the world in the middle while respecting each other’s privacy. But for now, it leaves Finland with one of the most interesting social dichotomies. Sure, you might not speak to people on the street. But if you’re lucky, sometimes a stranger will instantly become a friend and tell you everything.