Cultural EA considerations for Nordic folks

I wrote this to list some cultural EA considerations from a Finnish/​Nordic perspective. I guess some other people might find it useful too. And some others might feel that all of this is very obvious to them.

If you spot any mistakes or disagree on something please let me know in the comments!

US/​UK cultural stuff

  • Many EA folks are located in the UK, especially London and Oxford

  • Even more EA folks are located in the US, especially in the Bay Area, which is an area in California and has places like San Francisco and Berkeley in it. This area is also known for having many IT companies (if you have heard of Silicon Valley this is the same place). This place is so common for EAs to live in that if you see posts like “is anyone up for going to the park” in an EA group they probably live there. (Kind of like people from Helsinki forget there are other places in Finland.)

  • And some US EA folks are in Boston which is on the other side of the country. Of course there are EAs also in other US places but these are some of the biggest ones.

  • It is more common to move to countries within the anglophone world (for example from Australia to the US) for work or study. People in EA might assume you’d be willing to do that (or that what is stopping you from doing that are external conditions and not for example “wanting to live in Finland”).

  • Many cities many EAs live in have very high living costs. Thus, even full-time working adults often do flat sharing. This is why some people have set up EA (or rationalist) group houses: they’d prefer to live with like-minded folks. Edit: People have pointed out in the comments that it is common to do flat sharing even if you could afford living alone, and that this might be more common for EAs than non-EAs.

  • Since the state is not that great at taking care of people in the US, many people feel a social expectation to give money to their struggling relatives or acquaintances, for example if they don’t have enough to pay for a medical operation.

    • Because of this, US non-EA folks might think they are already being altruistic in their daily lives – they are, but it is not the impartial and cost-effective type.

    • In Finland it might be more common for non-EAs to feel like they should not be asked to donate, because helping all people should be outsourced to the state and helping should not be the responsibility of an individual. (I mostly agree with the sentiment but we don’t live in an ideal world, so help from individuals is still needed.)

Other geographical stuff

  • There are quite some EA/​rationalist folks in Central Europe as well, in particular in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

  • Also, Prague has a lot of EA/​rationalist folks and established locations that are used for rationalist workshops and EA coworking.

  • Many other Western places have EA groups, some of them bigger than others.

  • There are also EAs in non-Western places but many non-Western groups are still small. But not all, for example EA Philippines is quite active.

  • Out of Nordic countries, the probably most well-established EA activity happens in Norway, but all Nordic countries have active EA national organizations and are catching up.

  • In the EA context Estonia is sometimes counted as a Nordic country. It has more EA activity than other Baltics and participates in some Nordic collaboration.

  • If you are interested in the cross-cultural aspect of EA, you are in luck

    • A lot of EAs like meeting (or even housing) other EAs when traveling, so if you are going abroad anyway, a good option is to check if there is a local group where you could meet new interesting people.

    • You can also connect to other EAs across the world through online EA stuff such as EA Anywhere or the EA Gathertown Coworking Space (you don’t need to be working on anything directly EA related to spend time on the latter!)


  • In the US, it is quite common to donate large sums of money. This is because there are significant tax benefits in doing so, effectively meaning that in some cases you can somewhat choose to either pay taxes or to donate to an organization of your choice. Edit: It appears I had an exaggerated idea on the amount of taxes you can convert to donations, see discussion on comments.

  • Many other countries also have tax benefits for donations. (In Finland you can only get tax benefits only if you donate to one of a few selected education and art related beneficiaries, and only and only for specific types of tax – practically the average person never needs to worry about this.)

  • Anyway, most people in Finland still donate some money to charity. According to surveys, around 80% of Finns have donated within the last year and have 20% set up a regular monthly donation to some non-profit.

  • Some religious (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) people around the world practice tithing, which often means giving 10% of your income to the local religious organization. Thus, the Giving What We Can pledge with its 10% of income to effective charity might sound familiar to people who know about tithing. In Finland tithing is maybe not that well-known as churches usually get their income from a church membership tax. While GWWC has not chosen this percentage for religious purposes, the already established similar practice is said to help people consider taking the GWWC pledge as well.


  • Many people living in Finland would strongly prefer to continue living in Finland (including me). This can sometimes pose constraints in applying for “EA jobs”.

    • Many EA organizations and other places recommended on the 80 000 hours job board only hire for location specific roles. None of these locations are in Finland. (Currently there are two registered EA organizations in Finland: EA Finland and Aalto EA.) Most EA jobs are located in the US or UK.

    • Some organizations allow remote work too (or are completely remote).

      • Unfortunately, this does not necessarily mean you can live in Finland and work for these roles. For example, the organization might not want to adopt a policy that is compatible with the Finnish employment legislation. It could also be that they want all employees to be within a certain time zone range.

      • So if you are applying for a remote role, remember to check that the organization knows where you are located so that you can make sure if they can even hire you.

    • Legally, working as a contractor or as a grantee is usually much less location specific.

      • If you need to calculate cost estimates for contracting or being a grantee yourself, remember to check what taxes and other side costs apply. This is very nation-specific.

  • For the specific case of Finns who want to have children and want to work in remote roles at EA organizations: the organization’s idea of “generous family leave” might not match your expectation of a (minimal) family leave, because Nordic countries have unusually strong state support for people taking care of their infants and then returning to work when the child is a little older. My recommendation here is to be open about your wishes for family leave during the hiring process, but I don’t know anyone in this situation who has actually gotten that far in an EA organization hiring process so this is somewhat hypothetical.


  • In many countries, people start their university education at a younger age than Finland. (In many places the typical age of finishing upper secondary education is younger than in Finland and the university admission process might not give you chances to try out next year again until you get to the program of your choice. Gap years before starting university are not often encouraged /​ well-perceived like in Finland.)

  • Moreover, Finland is uncommonly flexible about the speed in which you need to complete your studies. In many other places, students are just expected to complete the program they attend in a given time, and delays or gap years might not be permitted. Studying at a slower speed in order to work aside your study might not be possible.

  • As a result, many people in EA might have obtained their university degree at an age that feels weirdly young to Finns, but recent graduates might not have that much working experience and might not have tried out different study programs to the extent that would be common in Finland.

    • Many other countries also put less emphasis on self-sufficiency and “adult skills” on students than Finland

  • In the US/​UK, people care a lot about attending a good university. This might matter even more than your field of study.

    • People might introduce themselves as “I am X from Y” – if you don’t know what Y is, it is probably a university US/​UK folks consider well-known. (In Finland it would be more common for students to say “I’m X and I study Z” because there are not that many differences between universities.)

    • Unfortunately none of the Finnish universities are considered “good universities” in this sense: not particularly bad either, people just don’t know how to rate them. (It does not matter much that the University of Helsinki is well-placed in international rankings, because this is about the general reputation of the university.)

    • I actually have no idea what the real difficulty level of for example an “Oxford PhD” is compared to a “University of Helsinki PhD”. Is it significantly more difficult to actually get the PhD done or is it just difficult to get in a PhD program? Do people from elite universities have way better skills or do they mostly just get a reputational advantage? I don’t know.

  • Finnish employers also place more value on hiring someone with a directly related degree. This means if you want to apply for jobs in the global EA space, you can place less value on having “the right education” to the position than you would normally in Finland.

Community building

  • So, Finnish students tend to be older and have more relevant work experience than a median EA student. In EA, a lot of community building work is done by students, especially if the target group is students. As a result, if you do community building, people might assume you are younger and have less experience than you actually have.

  • Even if you are not a student, people might assume you are a student based on the fact that you are doing community building work. (This is not that false given that many people working in EA Finland are in fact students or have a student status despite having no intention to actually graduate because they’ve been in working life for such a long time already. But EA Finland is still a national organization and it does not target students only.)


  • Your level of English is fine! I promise.

  • If you don’t understand something you read on the EA forum and think it is a language issue, it might actually be about jargon or domain specific vocabulary; or the content just might require some context you don’t have. It is of course still annoying not to understand things, but in this case, native speakers are affected too.

Tone (especially hype)

  • Sometimes EA folks or materials can use “hypey” language that might seem off-putting to some Finns.

    • In Finland, hype might be interpreted as a sign of incompetence, fluffiness or even dishonesty, so it can take some time to get used to the tone.

    • But on the other hand I feel like this happens way less in EA than in some other technology contexts, probably because EAs need to reserve words like “the best [solution/​method/​way]” to something that is actually the best, not just “good”

  • It can be especially intimidating to see some program advertised to “high-achieving” or “extraordinary” or “extremely talented” folks because in Finland this is not a typical way to advertise anything

    • Most Finns have no idea how to even find out if someone is “extraordinary” or “high-achieving”. Many other countries have things like university class ratings, so students can for example know if they are the 8. best student in their year. Finnish education system is not compatible with giving anyone this information, so many students estimate their performance is “average” even if it is unlikely for everyone to be average at the same time.

    • Even if people know they are “best of Finland” in something they might think it is not a very good achievement “because Finland is so small”. (If you think this about yourself, please stop: most likely you have still achieved something quite important.)

    • And even if someone actually does something clearly extraordinary, there is a cultural expectation to emphasize that it was not because they were special or anything. For example, when Olli from EA Turku finished his 5 year degree in Mathematics in 2 years and entered a PhD program as a 19 year old, they interviewed him for the newspaper but emphasized that he is actually a “balanced young man” who just likes math and enjoys hanging out with friends.[1]

  • People from some other cultural contexts actually like things with a hypey tone. While a Finn might think “this program is for extraordinary people, so not for me”, some others might be motivated to be able to join something that is for extraordinary folks because this means joining is worth their time, and maybe getting accepted can feel nice, “it is a proof of my extraordinariness”

  • But again on the other hand non-Finnish EAs are often also intimidated by this kind of language, and it is often repeated that imposter syndrome is common in EA. So if you are from Finland and an EA, you are very likely to underestimate how talented etc. you actually are.

Interacting with EA folks

  • Sometimes when talking to other EAs I feel like they perceive me as more shy and inexperienced than I actually am. I’m not sure if this is a cultural thing (it might also be that people assume I’m younger than I am) but it could also be because Finns are less assertive even if they are feeling confident. So maybe I come across as insecure/​lost when I just don’t feel like saying anything (for example because I already know everything the other person is telling me and don’t need to ask questions).

  • I have the feeling people sometimes just disappear even if we already agreed to have a call or to meet up (but for example did not agree on the time yet). This of course happens occasionally in Finland too but I feel like it is more common in EA than what I am used to. I suspect this is a cultural thing (what I think of as “promise” the other person might have thought of as “suggestion”). Some Finns told me this could also be the result of some complex rationalist calculation that ultimately leads to having more meetups but I don’t think this is likely.

  • I think many Finns will enjoy the fact that EAs are more likely than average non-Finns to get straight to the point, skip small talk and communicate with high integrity. EAs like effective communication and this can make you feel at home.

Bonus: On “efektiivinen altruismi” as a term

  • For the history of the term “effective altruism”, see here

  • Some of the folks of original Effective Altruism Finland started using the most straight-forward translation in 2013 and it is now what the movement is called in Finland

  • There are downsides to this term, most notably that nobody ever understands it at the first go

    • “efektiivinen” is technical term that can refer to efficacy and impact, but also to something being approximated

    • outside of these technical uses and in “efektiivinen altruismi”, “efektiivinen” is not really used in Finnish

    • people might not exactly remember what “altruismi” means either (for example I’ve heard people translate it as “self-sacrifice”)

    • “EA” in Finnish commonly refers to “ensiapu” (“first aid”) which can sometimes lead to funny misunderstandings

  • There are also upsides to this term

    • since nobody understands it on the first go you’ll at least get their attention to explain what you are even talking about

    • it is easy to automatically detect if someone is talking/​writing about EA because they would not use the words in any other context

  • Even if I consider the term very uncatchy and too technical, I haven’t been able to come up with a better translation either – especially nothing that would justify changing the terminology now.

  1. ^

    One example of this cultural phenomenon is that I asked Olli if it is ok to post this example here, because I was worried he’d be uncomfortable with me talking about his achievements. He was ok with it, and said one of the reasons this was emphasized on the article was that the journalist had a model of his life being really weird, and he wanted to correct them by explaining that his life is pretty normal.