It is well known that personal space is sacred in Finland.
If you have been in the country and have not seen a bus stop where each person is at least three meters away from the next, you haven’t been in Finland long enough. And this happens under rain or snow – literally.
But does this happen only in Finland or is it something Nordic? How does it compare to other countries? That’s what we are going to outline in today’s post.
Table of Contents
The beginning of the meme
It all started with some online photos: reddit, twitter… in them you could see a group of Finns waiting for the bus in a curious way: leaving quite a lot of space between each person. A photo like the one we put above or like this one.
Finns like to keep distance, also in the normal dealings. The issue of transport, however, is almost iconic, as Finns wait for the bus or tram in the manner seen, and also once on the transport they will invariably prefer to walk to the other side of the car to sit alone, rather than sit with someone.
The bus stop, though, is what has become famous. Under all weather conditions. You better take an umbrella with you because even if the bus stop has a roof, if there are 1-2 people at most you will have to – if you want to respect personal space – wait outside:
And, as with drinking alone at home in your underwear, there is an emoji that the Finnish government itself brought out to show the phenomenon. This is the one:
Does it only happen at the Bus stop?
There are other everyday things where Finns persona space remains inviolable. For instance, it is common for neighbours to not say hello when they pass each other in a building. And they are not very good at kissing when they meet someone, either. On the contrary: the two-kisses-in-the-cheek greet can be a scary thing for them. Ah, I still remember the first time it happened to me…
Finns are well aware of the perks of being alone, and they designed park benches for just one person.
Personal space in Finland VS other countries
But it is clear that personal space is something we all need, although the degree – and actual distance – does vary by culture.
In addition to this, a study called “Preferred Interpersonal Distances: A Global Comparison” caught my attention. We’ll get to the conclusions in a moment, but if you want to read the whole thing, it’s here (PDF).
The data comes from interviewing 9,000 participants from 42 countries. The closest comparison point with Finns would be the Norwegians, as Finland wasn’t part of the study (and we have to rely on the bus-stop-distance for guidance).
The people interviewed for the study were asked how far away strangers, acquaintances and close friends (in this order on the table) should be to feel comfortable during the interaction.
The countries that need more personal space with strangers are Romania, Hungary and Saudi Arabia. Norway, which is in the middle of the table for distance with strangers, between South Korea and Canada (with less space needed than Portugal, for example, and more than Spain). Surprisingly, the Norwegians prefer their good friends at 30 centimeters, and the Germans are also very close with friends. Who knows if it’s because of the coolness in those latitudes.
Is it all the same for everyone?
Something interesting, and which can also be read in the study, women in all countries prefer to have more personal space than men, and the older they are – equally in all countries – they prefer the others to be at a greater distance.
However, even if Finland does not appear, we can rely on this unofficial diagram of what personal space is like in Finland, which I believe is quite correct.
Besides, in Finland even ducks have their own personal space, as Luis Puerto commented on twitter.
However, personal space in Finland does not apply in the sauna… or in pubs.
What do you think of the unwritten rule of personal space in Finland? How much space do you feel comfortable with friends, acquaintances and/or strangers?