Business is one of the fields where Finland and South Africa are worlds apart. As entrepreneurs, we’ve had the pleasure of doing business in both, as well as witnessing Finnish companies doing business in South Africa and South Africans doing business in Finland.
FINLAND IN SOUTH AFRICA
Most Finnish companies are completely in love with their flowcharts. Or acronyms. Or flowcharts and acronyms. Compiled into a 50-something-slide PowerPoint presentation. Which they call sales material. South Africans read (if…) the first two sentences. That’s why in South Africa sending a sms works better than any other written form of communication.
For many Finnish company representatives South Africa is the first glimpse of what they call Africa. Besides an occasional diving holiday in Egypt. Then they are amazed when it’s almost like in Europe (if in Cape Town) or very posh (if in Joburg, where they usually see the hotel, some fancy offices, Sandton the shopping mall, and a plethora luxury cars).
Oh and those good meetings. They were very interested in our product, now we just have send them a proposal and then close the deal. LOL. All that smiling and listening is no indication whatsoever of any interest. And in case word interesting is said out loud, it’s a no. It means it’s as interesting as when you prepare Finnish food for your South African friends and they politely try not to vomit in front of you.
The funniest “Finnish companies in South Africa” happened when a delegation lead by a Finnish minister visited Cape Town. I’m so honoured to be here in South America… said the minister. A slip the minister didn’t even notice. A slip that got all South Africans roll their eyes and smile embarrassingly. The speech was followed by pitches of Finnish companies. Myötähäpeä in Finnish. I don’t know the word in English. Maybe it doesn’t exist in English speaking cultures. Second-hand-shame? Ouch.
As an icing on the South America cake, we – I was there with a Finnish client – were invited by some of the delegation members for a drink to the hotel after the official event was over. After a while an uptight Finnish lady started barking: there are too many people here, this is for the delegation members only. So we stood up, said good night, and rushed giggling out. Finnish company reps travel all the way to Africa only to spend time with fellow Finns?
Finally. Before the money reflects on the seller’s account, there simply is no deal. Therefore, nothing – let me repeat nothing – in South Africa happens without at least 50 percent upfront payment.
SOUTH AFRICA IN FINLAND
Mostly there is no South Africa in Finland. When we were newbies in South Africa, Sporty asked the Ambassador (not the current one) what he thinks South Africa could export to Finland. The Ambassador clearly had hard time to come up with anything, but finally he said wine.
We do have South African wine in Finland. Crappiest of the crappy. None of the decent, let alone excellent. There is a Facebook group called South Africans in Finland. There is a South African guy who makes and sells boerewors and koekisters and vetkoek.
Then we have coffee. The things you get involved with when you’re a little crazy and like experimenting and your son’s best friend’s father is into coffee (business). All of the sudden we have the pleasure of dealing with Finnish foodstuff legislation. Yikes. In the evenings we print labels, figure out how izettle works, and pretend being graphic designers making posters. Our basement is full of coffee, and we no longer use Moomin cups for coffee because the only decent cup for coffee apparently is Acme. Sporty spends a whole extended weekend – in between coming from Cape Town and leaving for Joburg – on a coffee festival and hosting a South African lost in Helsinki. So I’m back to single parenting, just with crappier weather and a full time work assignment and school struggles. But that’s how business with South Africans works. It’s all about personal relations. Except this coffee thing is not business. It’s a hobby.
Anyway. My dream would be to have a little shop called Piece of Cape Town in Helsinki. Not that it would be a viable business. Therefore I’d have to have an office in the back where I’d do my money-making boring business. The shop would be only open when I feel like it. The customers would be nice and bubbly and all smiles. Good coffee would be served, alongside yummy cheap food. And wine. I’d only employ young people with African background, and we’d organise virtual reality hikes up Table Mountain. It would be very noisy and I’d wear the same clothes every day.
Our little South African in Finland is definitely and thankfully not becoming re-Finned at all. This morning he casually announced that he was gonna participate a talent show at school. So what are doing there? I’m going to be a stand-up comedian. Is everybody from your class participating? No, just me and some of the girls. Are they going to do comedy as well? No, they’re doing gymnastics. Are you nervous? Nope.
Life is more about having fun and seizing the moment. Showing off and being a people person.
That’s why serious Finns will never do well in (South) Africa. Unless they somehow find their way to the hearts of Afrikaaners, who also like it very (very very) serious. That’s why South Africans will never do well in Finland. Unless the South Africans are Afrikaaners. Or unless they find some little cuckoo Finns.