Shhhh… It’s all so quiet in the Nordics!

December 22nd. Only two days until Christmas. Streets are crowded with shoppers. Shops are full of people buying their last-minute Christmas presents. Coffee shops are packed. The streets around the city centre are full of cars. Bikes too, of course! Yet, it is quiet. What would be a loud frenzy in other countries is very calm, relaxed and quiet in Denmark. It’s like watching a movie with the volume down, really down. This is the sound of the Nordics. People love and appreciate silence. Both in their private life and social occasions. But why is so quiet in the Nordic countries? Is it something imposed by law or does it come naturally?
Talking is silver, but silence is gold!
This is a popular Finnish proverb. It clearly shows the way people in the Nordic perceive talking and silence. The Finns themselves are known to be the most reserved and quiet of all. But this applies to all Nordic people, to a greater or lesser degree. Here is how social norms are:  when you are outside home, you must not speak loudly. In social encounters, there is no need for excessive talking, if at all. During a discussion or meeting at work, it is totally fine to not speak unless you have something important to say. Also, you don’t have to speak to strangers (call it chit-chat). And don’t you ever think of hitting the car horn, unless it is a matter of life or death.

Silence is sacred. Some claim it is because of the harsh climate and the geography of Scandinavia. Add in the relatively small population (compared with the area of the Nordic countries) and you get the recipe for silence. People are used to silence, because of their nature and climate. Population density is among the lowest in Europe. But is it just that? No, it is also a cultural thing. Being silent and quiet means you respect other people’s privacy. You should not disturb or intrude other people’s lives in any way. You should respect their peace. There are even the so-called “Quiet wagons” in trains. Some say it is also because of the “Law of Jante” or the Swedish concept of “lagom” that you should stay quiet. They are both about being in the middle and not stand out in any way.

Only one exception: booze!
Or anything related. Like parties and holidays. People in the Nordics are quiet and reserved most of the time. There are however some occasions when people can become loud and noisy. The common thing among all these occasions is alcohol.  Once they start drinking, the volume can be turned up. And they get more open and social.  Scandinavian holidaymakers can get pretty loud as well. Maybe it is because they throw their “Jante law” and “lagom” hats off the plane when they travel to the warm holiday destinations, only to put them on again once they set foot back on their Nordic countries. And guess what! There are also some occasions that are allowed even to go loud in public: the annual graduation parades in summer! That includes celebrating on the streets. Horns and loud music included. Let’s drink to that!