When travelling abroad I´m always keen on observing the actions of other travellers, especially those of my fellow countrymen. There are two typical features in the way Finnish tourists behave which often catch my attention: suspiciousness of local food and restaurants and, on the other hand, a total absence of any effort to haggle over the prices.
I and my family usually go to popular tourist destinations such as beach resorts on the Mediterranean coast. Such places are ideal for observing other tourists because these are ubiquitous. I´m frequently amazed to see how quite normal Finnish people who are used to eating almost anything at home become so timid abroad. It is not uncommon to find a Finnish family in front of a restaurant wondering whether it would be wise to venture in: the chicken they serve might not be well cooked or they might use beef from hormone-fed cattle. Of course a Mediterranean seafood restaurant is even scarier: the fish and shellfish might not be fresh.
Mayonnaise is another classic; almost every Finn has been warned against eating it when travelling. Ice cream and ice cubes naturally belong to the forbidden substances as well. I have also heard that you shouldn´t eat vegetables or fruits in restaurants because they are washed with local water. So you never know.
Let´s move from restaurants to shopping. Here we encounter another phenomenon which I find quite interesting. At popular resorts there is usually an enormous number of small stores which all sell almost identical tourist stuff: clothes, hats, airbeds, swimming rings, sun lotion, etc. And the prices can be many times higher than in Finland, which is not the cheapest country either, as we all know. But I have rarely seen a Finnish tourist negotiate about the price. He humbly pays whatever is asked, even though he would never pay so much at home. In my opinion that is where the Finnish tourist is really getting cheated.
Travellers from many other countries are more aware of prices, and they are not so “pleasant customers” or such “easy game” for local storekeepers. For example, my wife, who is of Russian origin, hardly ever pays the price first asked. Once in the Canary Islands she had forgotten the charger for her iPhone at home, so she had to buy a new one. In a local store we found a suitable charger and the price was around 50€ (in Finland 10-20€). She said to the storekeeper: “No way, I´m not going to pay so much!” Finally, she got it for 10€…
What makes a Finnish tourist behave as he does? In my view one important factor is that in Finland prices are rarely negotiable and people are accustomed to that. That is how the Finnish society works: a customer can rely on the stores. But should they?
On the other hand, the history of Finnish tourism is rather short. The first travel agencies arranging package tours abroad were established in the 1960s, and this type of holidays did not become really popular until the seventies. We don’t have such a long tradition of travelling as, for example, the UK or continental Europe.
According to Statistics Finland, the Finns made 7.8 million leisure trips abroad in 2013 compared to just over 5 million in 2005. So we are getting used to travelling. And it is not only Finnish tourists that act strangely or suspiciously in foreign countries – it is probably a universal characteristic.
Anyway, when it comes to food and dining, maybe we could be a little more broadminded also when travelling.