Written by Janet English

5. “Quit It!”

“We talk about what’s working and what’s not

working … then we can have a discussion.”

Chapter 5

 Click below for story.

I’d been in Joensuu about two weeks, maybe three, and I’d visited several schools, many classrooms, had several cups of coffee, met some people, and I went by my colleagues’s office at the University of Eastern Finland to say “Hi” – just check in. He is this wonderful, kind and jovial man who always makes me feel welcome and when I walked in he said to me, “Hey, J!” and he was very, very sweet.
He said, “How are your classroom visits?”
I said, “They were good.” And I thought about seeing the children building the bridges, and the construction in the crafts class, and the Finnish forest in watercolors. So in my mind I’m thinking about all these things I had seen and the freedom the teachers had had and the relaxed environment with which they were working.
I continued, “It was good, it was really interesting.”
He looked at me and he said, “Quit being so ‘American.’”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I said, “What?”
He said, “Quit being so ‘American.’ Not everything is ‘good.’”
At that point I got a little teared up because transitioning to a new culture is not easy. I didn’t know (the) Finnish language. I was living all alone. It was completely quiet. (It was the) middle of the Finnish winter. People go home at 3:00 – (they) stay inside. Weekends they stay inside. (I was) very isolated except when I was visiting schools and here he’s telling me, “Quit being so ‘American.’” I thought I was trying so hard to be respectful of their culture, be more quiet, not talk too much…and when he said, “Quit being so ‘American’” I really had no idea what he was saying.
I said, “Why?”
“Not everything is ‘good.’ Americans have a tendency to say everything is ‘good’ or ‘great.’ The Finnish don’t’ talk like that. When we get together we talk about what’s working and what’s not working because then we can have a discussion. If we say everything is ‘good’ there’s no discussion. So next time you come in I want you to tell me what worked and what didn’t work so we can have a discussion.”
That was one of the pivotal points in my trip because I started really thinking about the words that I say and (then) trying to explain exactly what I was seeing, what I thought about it and what was working and what wasn’t working…I talked with two other people in Finland who knew American culture and they both agreed, “Yes, Americans can be a little boring because …we say everything is “good.” “How are you?” (Fine.) “How is your day?” (Good.)
It’s an interesting point of view and (what is the best way) to improve anything … both in school and in working environments because (this is)  a great place to start. No one’s ego’s hurt if you start the discussion with, “What’s working and what’s not working?” …although it takes a little getting used to.