Harri Pennanen would welcome more international flavour, especially in the form of French bakeries, to Helsinki. Always a bit surprising but ultimately not that different, replies Paula Ojaniemi in Café Fanny in Punavuori, Helsinki, when asked to comment on the fact that English is the primary language of service at a growing number of eateries in Helsinki.

In doing so, she summarises the views of most customers.

The girls sitting at the next table view that the use of English creates an international atmosphere.

Harri Pennanen, in turn, says that when getting his lunch from the buffet table he did not even notice that the person behind the counter was not a native speaker of Finnish. “She said salaattibuffet, keitto and chili con carne fluently. As long as the food is good, the language of service doesn't matter,” he views.

The woman behind the counter, Denisa Zebrokova from the Czech Republic, is to continue her Finnish studies with an advanced course this autumn. “When I came to Finland three years ago, everyone said that everyone spoke English. Yet, my English is confusing for many, especially on the phone.”

Some customers may consequently ignore Zebrokova altogether and look for a Finnish-speaking staff member. At worst, customers become so overwhelmed that they leave the café or hang up the phone.

Young people, in particular, are easily unsettled, Zebrokova tells.

“Speaking English to older people is often more natural. Young people have better language skills, but they are shyer and can almost panic,” she explains.

Timo Lappi, the chief executive at the Finnish Hospitality Association (MaRa), points out that the increasing use of English as a language of service can to an extent be attributed to the increasing number of ethnic restaurants in the Finnish capital.

Another contributing factor, he adds, is the shortage of trained workforce. “People with no Finnish skills to begin with work increasingly also at restaurants in Finnish ownership,” Lappi says.

Virve Rissanen – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Rio Gandara / HS