I returned home last week from my vacation in Finland.
My parents were born there, and my sister and I are dual citizens. Our family owns a cabin in Puolanka, and we try to go every other year for at least three weeks.
“Visiting” is the entertainment of choice in this small town, and by “visiting” I mean, drop-in-unannounced-and-stay-for-several-hours. I have 16 aunts and uncles–not including spouses–over 50 first cousins, hundreds of second and third cousins, and many live in the area. So on most days, the cabin is full of people drinking coffee, eating cake and speaking a language my husband has only learned to swear in.
Visiting is so much a part of the culture, in fact, that the Finns have designed a nifty nonverbal way to alert people roaming the neighborhood in search of sugar and caffeine that they need not make the trip up the driveway: they lean a broom on the front door when they leave the house. Works like a charm.
Except when Kevin had the idea of using this tactic to trick people into believing we weren’t home, in an effort to get some much needed peace and quiet. Outside of the challenge of getting a broom to lean up against the front door from the inside, we had to stay away from the windows–lest our deception be revealed–which resorted to us crawling around on the floor or hiding in closets.
Seeing the brooms on the doors, and other nonverbal indicators of “we’re not home” (in Rauma, they face ceramic animals sitting in the window in or out depending on whether the owners are inside), reminded me how nonverbal communication extends past our own communication and applies to clothing, signs and objects. In my recent eBook Beyond a Firm Handshake, 21 Ways to Communicate You’re the Right Person for the Job, I devote an entire chapter to deciphering what objects you should bring with you to an interview and which ones you should leave at home, since most people don’t ever think about what their “stuff” says about them.
Objects communicate nonverbally. And this traveler is thankful for it. Due to various nonverbals I could find my way in foreign airports, locate taxis, and identify security personnel should I need to. And although broadcasting to the world that you’re away from home probably seems risky to most Americans, in Finland it works nicely.
If you’re honestly away from home, that is.