Abu Dhabi: A significant aspect about Finnish dining etiquette is that it is changeably observed across Finnish households. Today, many youth are independent and live away from their families which has had an impact on their lifestyle. Influenced in large by European customs, Finnish customs and manners have national variations, with a liberal attitude underpinning them.

Erkka-Ville Juhana Hirvonen, 31 development analyst from Helsinki, Finland who lives in Dubai shares his views

Talking about Finnish customs, Erkka-Ville Juhana Hirvonen, 31, a development analyst from Helsinki, Finland, says: “Despite the lack of a strong dining etiquette culture in Finland, my own family tends to follow its long-practised tradition of table manners and dining etiquette, where we always dine around the table for long hours, chat and laugh, and have a good time,” says Hirvonen.

“We always use cutlery and hardly eat anything with our hands, aside from bread. We don’t tend to have a fixed set of rules when it comes to how, when, where and with who to dine,” he said.

But the essential table manners are to be followed.

“We expect guests to display basic etiquette such as using cutlery to eat, not talking while chewing food, not making sounds and noises when eating as it’s considered rude. And looking into one’s eyes when it comes to cheering, otherwise it’s considered bad luck.”

Also, it’s considered disrespectful to fidget around with your phone while dining, he added.

Hirvonen says, “Contrary to other cultures, less variety of food is better and considered more hospitable in the Finnish culture. This dates back in history when we had spare life conditions and food was highly appreciated.

“In the past, living conditions were very harsh in a very cold country that was in constant warfare with Russia and Sweden to gain its independence; that’s why wasting food is perceived negatively, and therefore, guests should finish all their courses and not leave any food behind.

“We hate wasting food and showing off,” said Hirvonen.

In the past, women would take care of the cooking and the table setting, but now it’s becoming more common for men to help out, he said. “A guest could also offer to assist in any way, from bringing a dish to helping prepare it once they arrive.

“As you are being seated, let your host show you your seat.

“Punctuality is also key in our culture, and it’s best to arrive early than late.

“Also, when it comes to the seating arrangement at the dining table, it’s random and casual, but out of respect for the guest, we direct them to their seats, and we should always have a man seated next to a woman.”

Finnish food is very simple and not heavily flavoured, said Hirvonen.

“Stews are quite popular, and so are pickled items. We eat a lot of meat and potatoes in Finnish cuisine and among our top traditional dishes is ‘karelian stew’, which is made of big chunks of beef and mixed vegetables such as carrots, onions and potatoes.

“It usually takes a very long time to cook such dish; that’s why it’s seldom prepared except for foreign guests. We also eat a lot of rye bread and fish such as salmon.”

Usually, all the food is placed on the table at the same time, he said.

“Guests can serve themselves or whoever is closer to a certain dish can assist. They’re also welcome to help in clearing the table if they offer.

“Also, Finnish people are not talkative, so the more entertaining you are as a guest, the better.”

During celebratory occasions, there is singing and chanting with notes to follow at the table, and follow traditions from Swedish culture.

And when should guests leave? Not right away after having their meal, especially when others are still eating. “On the contrary, the longer they stay, the better,” he said.

His interactions with Emiratis have been a eye-opener, he said. “[Living in the UAE], I have learnt a lot about Emiratis and Arabs and of their generosity.”

Asma Samir is a freelance journalist based in Abu Dhabi.