Small Talk – No Talk


Stereotypes can be cruel. As a product of two German immigrants I have many times been assumed to be a stubborn man with angular skull features. Once they come to know me, sadly, theyll realize their assumptions were largely correct. Although in my defense, I am only stubborn when I believe I am correct! However there is no denying the shape of my head. When time finally takes its last toll on my hair, any pretense in that regard will be gone. Stereotypes it seems, are on occasion accurate. In my case, I admittedly possess some stereotypically Germanic traits. A recent visit to Finland however, made me wonder if I had some Finnish blood in me.

In Helsinki for only a day, my observation was limited to attending a walking tour delivered in perfect English, by a mid 20s university student. It was, for the most part, the typical walking tour fare about who built this church, who conquered what country traversing which body of water and so on – very little of which I retained beyond the Helsinki harbour. Amid the local historical factoids however, she stumbled upon what she described as a Finnish characteristic – Finns do not like, nor participate in, small talk. Eureka! (She was preaching to the converted!) In fact, they have a saying that alludes to their aversion to idle chatter: small talk – no talk. Her generation, she went on to say, would not find it at all unusual to gather with a group of friends in a coffee shop or pub, and sit together in what North Americans would consider silence. Some would find this odd, or even painful. Personally, I have to admit I found it somewhat appealing. I am also aware that adding the non talking characteristic to the stubborn man with the square head is not constructing the ideal human.

“Small talk – no talk” may not be the best marital advice, and very thankfully, my wife is one of the few people with whom I enjoy idle chatter. Just as thankfully, we can sit in silence for hours and not feel bored or awkward – something that long before my Helsinki experience I considered a sign of true friendship: silence isnt uncomfortable.

Like all personal characteristics, this one has crept into my day job as well. Partly because it is my natural inclination. But also as a result of a retrospective critique of my business interactions. When I recount moments in which I felt I clearly fell short of my competition, invariably I did the majority of the talking. Which brings to mind the Abraham Lincoln maxim with Proverbial origins: Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

Thanks for reading,

Jeff Neumann