Finns know how to Dial M for MODESTY

If you want to spot a Finn, look no further than the level of modesty in that person’s speech.

A high degree of modesty coupled with an absence of bragging is how a Finn mostly designs his speech. He knows very well how not to toot his own horn, despite the fact that his country is among the best in many different world rankings.

For example, Finland is the most stable country in the world, according to the Fragile States Index 2017 published by American non-profit research institution The Fund for Peace.

Along with Sweden and Norway, it is also the freest country in the world, according to the Freedom in the World 2017 report released by US NGO Freedom House.

On the Legatum Prosperity Index 2017 published by London-based think tank Legatum Institute, Finland’s overall ranking was 3rd but it performed best (number 1) in governance. Norway, which ranked 1st overall, came out 2nd in governance. In other words, Finland was found to be the best governed country in the world.

Now who would disagree that these are more than impressive? Finland, in fact, has many such international achievements in a variety of fields, such as society, environment, health and education, that Finns can really be proud of but guess what?

They would still choose not to brag about themselves.

They would not publicly talk about what they have achieved as a nation that makes them great. When these rankings are published, the world pays attention to them but Finns, while talking about themselves, would avoid words that sound boastful.


If you socialise with Finns and bring up their positive achievements, you will see that they neither exaggerate nor brag, and they are the master when it comes to practicing modesty. This is something that comes naturally to them. While Americans are good at using the word ‘great’ to describe how good a product is, it is highly unlikely that you will relentlessly hear this adjective when a Finn is describing the same product.

In his book The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle, British journalist Michael Booth quotes Finnish-German journalist Roman Schatz as saying: “Take a screw. An American presenting a screw would say something like, “This screw is going to change your life! It will make you happy. It is the best screw in the world,” and then bore you for two-and-a-half hours about the technical details of that screw.

But a Finn will just say, “Here is screw.””

Because Finns are such an intensely modest nation, this trait has often been translated into a serious lack of marketing and self-promotion skills, with many claiming that it has negatively affected the country’s export economy. In an article for Business Insider titled “Finland needs to start advertising how great it is”, Ira Kalb, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, said the Finnish brand is not very well-known outside its borders, especially in the US.

He argued that consumers are less likely to want to buy a product if it has no clear and positive image in their mind.

“Finland needs to communicate more effectively. It would help if Finns learned to overcome their shyness, and not be afraid to tell others how Finland can help them. The Finnish government and its bigger, better-known companies need to lead the charge to communicate the great things that have come out of Finland,” Kalb wrote.


Indeed, Finns tend to bury their accomplishments and attainments while communicating with others. While talking to my teacher at the university one day, I mentioned the success of 15-year-old Finnish students in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests and how it brought Finland worldwide fame. I thought his face would light up as I talked about a Finnish achievement related to education but that did not happen. Neither did my teacher react with euphoria.

He simply said: “Yeah. I know.”

I met a Finnish couple at a chapel in Oulu. They live in Papua New Guinea. To make a living, the man fixes computers and his wife is a teacher. I told him I had observed that Finns always keep a low profile of themselves and he replied with a smile: “That’s part of our culture.”

People coming from cultures where they are used to boasting about their accomplishments in everyday conversations will easily conclude that Finns do not know how to market themselves, but the fact is that humility is considered a virtue in this Nordic land and Finnish people practice an extreme version of it almost religiously.

As it turns out, the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, is also aware of the self-effacing nature of his countrymen, and recently took to Twitter to brag about Finland in response to an article published in British daily The Telegraph. Look at the hashtag he used in the tweet.

Was it Niinistö’s attempt to encourage Finns to practice some bragging while remaining modest at the same time?

When talking to others, Finns do not shower themselves with words of praise and self-admiration regarding their enviable achievements. They are not a nation of big talkers who unabashedly engage in hype.

Here in Finland, modesty rules and that is something that makes a Finn a Finn.

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