Top 3 Cultural Differences Between Finland and Québec

"Oh, you're moving to Canada? So it's basically like another Finland isn't it?"

Here we have a sentence I heard multiple times while informing my Finnish acquintances about my plans for the upcoming year. And who can blame them? When you type "Canada" in Google Image Search, you'll mostly see pictures of mountains, snow, ice hockey, forests and clear waters - excluding the mountains, sounds pretty familiar to me. For a person who's spent the majority of their life living in the Nordic Wonderland with Nordic-Scandinavian culture, surrounded by a nordic landscape and nordic habits, it might be hard to imagine that on the other side of the Atlantic, in seemingly similar settings, a completely different kind of culture goes on a rampage.

What Finns probably mean with "basically like another Finland" is this:
FACT 1: Canada is in the North - Finland is in the North
FACT 2: Canada has snow - Finland has snow
FACT 3: Canada has forests - Finland has forests
FACT 4: Canada likes ice hockey - Finland likes ice hockey
====> Canadians live in the cold, dark north, drink vodka to keep themselves warm, hate social interaction because you can't see anyone in the dark anyway, wear plaid shirts all year round and hate their over-social neighbours (USA) who always think a bit too high of themselves.


So what is it then?
Québec is the rebellious emo-kid of Canada. The province has a very unique culture which might differ slightly from the general "Canadian" culture (which is, to be honest, quite a wide term taking into account Canada as a country is wider that the whole of Europe), having influences from the French culture and combining them with the English-Canadian customs. The result is something that might put the "basically like another Finland" into a weird light. My self-ironic list loves generalisations and could actually be titled "Where can a Finn go wrong in Québec". So here goes:


1. Social Interaction

When Finns meet each other for the first time in an official situation, they might shake hands quickly. In other occasions they're more likely to just wave hands from a distance and say "hi". Or not say anything at all. Actually we might just suspiciously stare at each other in silence. The truth is, Finns are a bit reserved when it comes to social interaction. We might be surprised if someone touches us and we most definitely won't get too close without a reason. The personal space for a typical Finn is quite big and we might make people from more physical cultures (e.g. Italian or Spanish) a bit uncomfortable with this distance. We don't do small talk - actually, we don't really do talk. Silence is golden and if we have nothing important to say, we're more likely to stay silent (unless we're drunk - in that case, everyone's our best friend). And rule number one: You don't talk to strangers in Finland. You just don't. People will think you're a crazy person.

BUT: When you come to Québec, a quebecois(e) grabs you softly from one arm, pulls you closer, gives you kisses on both cheeks and asks "Ça va?"
When a quebecker goes to a grocery store, he or she has a short small talkish conversation with the clerk while waiting for the groceries (which are, by the way, packed for you). Actually, they have small talk with everyone. I was walking down the street with my ice cream cone the other day and I was stopped by three people to ask where I found a cone that big. People easily comment out loud on the things they see, and discussions from one balcony to another in an apartment block is not uncommon at all. Quebeckers love to talk - and they talk loud. If I stop on the traffic lights, stand still for 5 seconds in a grocery store or even breathe in a public place, someone will most likely come and e.g. ask where the fries are, tell me my bag is super cool or just comment on life in general. Which, of course, could make a typical Finn absolutely terrified.

Conclusion: If a Finn in Québec looks a bit awkward when talked to in public or given a kiss when greeted, it's not necessarily because we don't like it - it's because we forget to expect it. Sorry everyone.

2. Alcohol

Finns drink. We drink a lot. Our alcohol culture could be described as "anything goes". Finns tend to get smashed with vodka and the idea of drinking just for the sake of getting wasted is really common. Sitting on a front porch on a Friday night sipping your wine responsibly really isn't a typical Finnish thing. Instead, we're more likely to lie naked in a fountain wrapped into a Finnish flag, hugging a bottle of Finlandia vodka. Not referring to any 2011 events here.

BUT: If Finns thought we drink a lot of beer, we don't. Because quebeckers do. I have 7 12-packs of beer in my kitchen at this very moment, and we buy more every week. Beer is mostly sold in boxes in here, and no one really buys individual bottles. Beer is cheap and beer is good. Quebeckers are crazy about their microbreweries, and every town seems to have at least one. It's a hipster's dream in here, really. If a quebecker wants to get drunk, they do it with beer or, in some cases, cocktails. People seem to be able to drink ridiculous amounts of beer without their bellies looking like beach balls, which is the case with yours truly after c.a. 3 bottles. It wobbles.

Conclusion: Quebeckers drink more beer than I ever could. On the contrary, when I served bottles of vodka and Salmari on my very Finnish birthday party, I was the only one waking up without a hangover the following morning.

3. Language

The people of Québec consist of 80% Francophones. Vaguely 8% of the rest are speaking English as their mother tongue, and the last 12% are either immigrants with a diverse set of different native languages, or Native Americans.
People in Finland speak mostly Finnish with approx. 5% of the population falling into minority categories, most notable ones being two other official languages, Swedish and Sami. As a Finnish speaking Finn surrounded by 99% people with French as their mother tongue, the third section of my list concentrates on comparing the way our cultures differ in their ways of dealing with their own language without going into details or political questions, since this entry is already huge.

When a tourist arrives to Finland, they'll get by perfectly without ever even trying to say a word in Finnish. In case you'd decide to try, the clerk from whom you tried to order a beer in broken dictionary-Finnish is most likely to immediately switch to English without even offering you a chance to continue the discussion in Finnish. We might actually even find it a little weird of you to try - because no one speaks Finnish. There are a little over 5 million of us in this world and so far I know 3 people who've decided to study our language on their freetime just for fun. I'm not expecting it. I can go around Québec and when people find out my mother tongue is Finnish, they might request me to say a sentence or two just for them to catch up on how it sounds like. No one has ever even heard my mother tongue.

BUT: Quebeckers are really jealous of their language - and one might say, for a reason. French is an official language of Canada, spoken by approximately 7 million people out of c.a. 35 million inhabitants. So when you come to Québec, the first question is "do you speak French?" If the answer is no, the next question is "Are you planning on learning?"
People of Québec want you to speak French, and they do all they can to help you with that. You might ask for a word and they'll give you at least 7 different variations and expressions where you might be able to use the word. They're more than happy to tell you everything they can about the ethymology of a certain phrase and all the dialectical differences of it around the province. They tell you all the swear words and their origins even if you forget to ask. You might go to a counter and try an embarrassed "Hello", and they'll immediately continue with "Bonjour".

Conclusion: Even if your pronounciation of French sounds like a reindeer driven over by a pick-up truck filled with angry beavers, it's better to say that Finnish-seasoned "merrrrsiiiii", just for the sake of showing respect.

BONUS: The famous ice cream cone.

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Hiking in Sentier des Caps

I've successfully settled in Québec. I've unsuccessfully tried to speak French. More of that later!

Yesterday I went hiking to Sentier des Caps with Jib. Pictures were taken.

The nature in Québec, or Canada in general, is quite similar to Finland's. The mountains of Québec are a thrill for a girl from the flatland of southern Finland, though. This thing here is not a lake, but a fleuve of Saint Lawrence - in other words, a huge river. Saint Lawrence flows from the Lake Ontario all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, and is apparently extremely difficult to navigate. While admiring this view, Jib told me that only Canadian sailors are allowed to navigate their way from the Atlantic to Lake Ontario. If international ships aim to travel Saint Lawrence, they have to pick up a Canadian sailor to do the job.

We also found a batcave.

And a huge tree with ass cancer. And probably some other problems too.

Sentier des Caps, apart from all of your mushiness, you were awesome.

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