tiistai 28. kesäkuuta 2011

BFF #4: Whaaat?

In the series of BeFriending Finland I explore and marvel some of the peculiarities of Finnish culture. Today’s topic is about our way of saying “excuse me”. You might also want to check out parts #1, #2 and #3!

Yesterday I, like the rest of the Finland, was still recovering from Juhannus. Juhannus is the midsummer’s festival, during which we just loose it. Imagine it yourself: for few days the sun does not set at all – at least in most parts of Finland. Those few nightless nights are definitely worth celebrating for!

While celebrating, one might get a little sidetracked during a conversation. Now, being a polite English speaking person, one would say “excuse me?” or like my favourite dialect in the world puts it: “pardon?”. But how do we do it? We say: “WHAT?” Sometimes I seriously think we must have the rudest language in the world…

Before you decide never to set your foot inside the borders of Finland let me assure you the tone of the word makes all the difference. In three cases out of four the tone is not rude at all. More likely “what” (“mitä?”) is said very quickly and with a light tone. Since it is a question, it sounds like a question.

But once again, like with please, it is very hard for us to get rid of the “what” while learning a new language. It took several weeks for me to learn to say “pardon” instead of "what" even though I was living in England and faced situations like that every day. That's how tightly the habit sticks with us.

So please give us some credit for trying, be patient and understanding. When a Finn says “umm… what?” what he’s really saying is ”excuse me, can you repeat that, I didn’t quite get it”.

Stay tuned for more, coming up next: a word or two about the Finnish women.

4 kommenttia:

  1. One Slovakian, who had been living in UK for a long time, asked me once why ask what when we should say pardon or excuse me.She thought it's really rude to just ask "what?" Before that I hadn't thought about it at all. I have never been in English speaking country but now living in China meet foreigners all the time. But it's not easy to overcome "what". Excuse me and pardon just sounds so overly polite to my Finnish ears :) And Finnish language isn't that polite. When English spakers says "thank you very much", Finnish guy would only say "thanks".

  2. Sara, my point exactly. We do not think it is rude, we think it is normal! :D Imagine if someone would say "thank you very much" (kiitos oikein paljon) in a regular conversation in Finland, people would think he's being sarcastic! We don't mean to be rude, we just sound that way. :]

  3. http://pics.kuvaton.com/kuvei/the_finn_is_a_person_of_few_words.jpg


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