Saturday, August 5, 2017

An American's Guide to Attending a Finnish Funeral

My friend's elderly aunt died recently, and today we went to her funeral.  There are a few differences between funerals in the US and in Finland, so if you do ever find yourself going to a funeral in Finland, here are a few tips.

Keep in mind, though, that Finns are a gracious and laid-back people, so if you find that you have been unintentionally weird and foreign, they want you to feel at ease. "Ei se mitään", they say. It's nothing.  It is more important that everyone feel comfortable than strictly adhering to protocol. 

Tip #1, is that pall bearing is no joke. In both countries, it is as close to a sacred duty as you will come, of course. But in Finland, there is no room for error, no tricks. You will carry that coffin, and you will put it in the ground. If you cannot carry heavy weight, if you even have doubt about it, do not pick it up. You seriously risk disaster. No, nothing bad happened at my friend's aunt's funeral, but there was no backup if even one of us pallbearers failed.

The second is that, in the US, there has been a shift away from solid black dress. Patterns are ok, hues are ok. As long as your clothes are not outright festive, you will be okay. In Finland, no.  Dress only in solid black without pattern. If you are a man, wear a white shirt with your black suit. It is important that your outfit not be fancy. Do not demonstrate your sartorial sophistication. You do not want to stand out.

The third difference is that Americans smile a lot.  Even at funerals, wakes, memorials and such. Lock that down. Finns smile less than Americans in general, and at funerals in particular. Do not wear a brave or comforting smile.  It will come off as weird.

The fourth tip: bring a change of more casual clothes. It is possible that you may be invited to someone's home afterwards, and they will likely immediately change out of their funeral wear. You will feel more comfortable, yourself, if you can.