A new Finn in Finland

I moved to Finland in 2009. I am totally integrated and had the opportunity of building a very good life I am very proud of. My adaptation, though, was not so easy as people might think.

Since I receive a lot of questions about it, I decided to briefly analyze a bit of my journey. Needless to say that everything you will read is based on my own experiences and conclusions, and the opinions of other people might differ a lot from mine. Let´s go!

casamento-maila-jussi-web-nathan-thrall-0103

Personal collection

Process of adaptation: was it easier for being half-Finnish?

In many senses of course. If we consider bureaucracy and papers I didn´t have any problem, it was pretty much save money, get on the plane, and move.

Another thing that certainly helped is that I didn´t decide to move permanently to Finland out of the blue just for having a citizenship. I already knew Finland. First time I came here was in 1996 and I spent almost 6 months with my relatives; and this is the second point which made it easier: I have relatives here and we are very close. I also came to spend holidays a couple of times after that and during all these comes and goes of course I made friends; another really important thing to support me during the adaptation process.

But one thing is a fact: it´s never easy to leave a life behind, never. I came here with nothing certain and I left a very nice home, a good career, amazing friends. Why I did it is another story but I didn´t come out of a miserable life without expectations. It was extremely hard for me to leave my comfort zone and start a life from nothing.

Finnish citizenship, a Finnish name and Finnish appearance: people see you as a Finn

This assumption is a huge mistake.

Finnish people don´t see me as a Finn, at least not the majority of them. Of course at first sight and reading my name nobody would doubt it but from the moment I open my mouth everything gets completely different. I have an accent and even though I speak quite ok Finnish nowadays, my language skills are not perfect and during my process of adaptation I had many problems of being accepted because of it. Sometimes I felt as a real intruder and thought it would be much better not to look like them or have a Finnish name. It seemed to be unforgivable for some people the fact that I didn´t speak the language and had a citizenship. This was even more evident two years later when I started to look for a job, even though my language skills were a thousand times better. I sent hundreds of CVs, many times people called me but I could feel immediately the disappointment in their voices when listening to my accent and realizing my foreigner background. It was always the same: “We´ll call you later”, but the phone never rang and most of the times I didn´t even get an email “thanking for the interest”.

I think this situation regarding the language is a huge problem for most of the foreigners moving here. It creates a barrier and a lot of difficulties in one´s integration process because chances are always little in getting a job even if you have an excellent CV and a B2 language level. Since I moved here I think nothing has frustrated me more than being considered “less good” for having an accent or for not speaking Finnish 100% well. Even having done the national exam and getting a very good result (B2.2) it has never helped me.

I have a very good job nowadays but I´ve never had the opportunity to work for a Finnish company.  And of course, how can one really improve her/his language skills without being able to have a routine speaking it?

Are Finns biased?

I don´t see prejudice as a characteristic of Peoples. For this reason I could never assume Finns are biased. Prejudice unfortunately is a dark side we all have and most of it comes from ignorance,  for feeling threatened by differences we don´t understand, for traumas, for arrogance…

This should be one of the main concerns for every educator since the only way to reduce prejudice is through education and information, and I think Finland is doing a great job with the new generation. The previews generation though, is not doing so well, unfortunately.

At this moment there has been violence and problems because of racism and prejudice in a higher level than before. Most of it because of the refugee crisis but I should write a whole post about it later. This topic is too complex to be summarized. However I think it´s important to say that racist and fascist groups make a lot of noise and do terrible things but they are not the majority here.

Analyzing changes

In 1996 when I first came to Finland, population was under 5 million people and there were less than 80 thousand foreigners living here.   Now, in 2016, this number is close to 230 thousand and the population is around 5.4 million. So if the population grew a bit over 500 thousand and there are 230 thousand immigrants here, immigration is responsible for something between 25% and 30% of the population growth in the last 20 years!

In 1996 you wouldn´t see many foreigners even in Helsinki, and I can say that most of the ones I met were Europeans. In the countryside I met – and still meet – people who had never seen a foreigner before. I know people who were born and raised in very small villages and have never left the place, not even to go to Helsinki. This “isolation”, attachment to “your own land”, “your own place” is a Finnish characteristic, and it helped me to understand the ball of confusion cultural changes can make in places where people are not used to changes at all.

I´ve heard politicians trying to brand Finland saying “it has always been a multicultural country”but this is far from being true. Multiculturalism is a new thing in Finland, and it looks scary for many Finns who feel “invaded” having their beloved culture distorted.

Another thing I see clearly: there are two Finlands: the one from Helsinki, Tampere and Turku, which are more metropolitan and international cities, and the Finland from the villages, the North and the countryside, much more isolated.

Does it bother you that they don´t see you as a Finn?

What really matters to me is how I feel and not how people feel about me, and I feel totally part of Finland. I am a very proud Finn who loves this country deeply.

14359700_850458771721037_2118734419_o

My identification with Finland has always existed, it´s part of my genes and part of my cultural background. I have the advantage of being born in Brazil; a melting pot, a country where people don´t have a specific face, where you find all kinds of differences, all kinds of prejudice, all kinds of reality so I know there isn´t such thing as “the perfect place”. Every place in Earth is developing because every human being is in constant process of development. The problems I see in Finland are problems I can handle and live with and I actually believe I have a lot to contribute. I see a society changing and I feel part of this change, Finland is in the middle of a huge change and for this we will see a lot of reaction, positive and negative. But this is how it goes in every society.

 

 

Ten myths about Finland

Note: This post is an English version with some changes of my orginal article for the blog “Brasileiras pelo Mundo”

Because of my Finnish background, even before moving permanently to Finland in 2009, people have always shown interest in knowing more about this land “so far away”. It’s funny sometimes to realize the power of common sense and the myths which come along with it. To help clarifying some of them I will write here 10 very common myths of the “land of 100 thousand lakes” (187,888 to be precise) according to my experience.

1.”The Scandinavian people fascinate me. One day I would like to know Finland.”

I sometimes receive this type comment by my followers. If I didn´t know the myth, would probably think the person is talking about two different things: the Scandinavian people and the wish to know Finland. Finns are not Scandinavians. Scandinavia is a historical and cultural-linguistic region characterized by ethnic-cultural heritage and common Germanic related languages. It consists of three kingdoms: Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

scandinavia

It is correct referring to Finns as Nordic, but not as Scandinavians. Finnish people have  a different origin and the language is completely different.

2. “I wanna meet a handsome Finnish Viking.”

This is also a real comment I have read on Facebook.

I understand the association because of the appearance, Nordic people look like each other very much. Living here you can distinguish certain peculiarities; but there are indeed people who could come from any Nordic country if we consider the looks. One thing is a fact: although there are historical records showing some Finns joined the Vikings – easy to understand because of the proximity – Finnish people were not Vikings. This is a characteristic of the Scandinavian people.

vikings

Photo: http://www.bbc.co.uk In pink: Vikings land in orange: travel Vikings Photo: http://www.bbc.co.uk In pink: Viking lands Orange: Vikings travel

3. “How can you live half an year in the light and the other half in the dark?”

I don´t know if this is still a popular belief about Finland but people used to ask me this question a lot. It is true that winter is dark; however, it isn´t “night” 24 hours a day and neither for 6 months. Same goes for summer, there isn´t a 24-hour-midday sun. From November to the end of January the days are shorter, but we have a few hours of light. In southern Finland, around 5/6 hours; up north, around 2/3. It´s true the sun doesn´t appear high in the sky; the day looks more like a late afternoon, but yes, the sun appears for a while. In the summer, June is the lightest month. The sun rises a little before 4 am and sets around two o’clock in the morning. In the north, the sun does not set at all, it stays a little down in the horizon leaving the sky beautifully pink, yellow and orange, and then it rises again in a couple of hours. From December 26,  days start getting longer again, around 10 minutes a day until the summer when, around June 24, they start to get darker. It is a cycle.

4.  All Finns are blond with blue eyes.

The majority of the Finns are Caucasian but not all are blond with blue eyes. There are many people with brown hair and eyes who are 100% Finnish, no foreigner background. I would say the average number of people with blond and brown hair is very similar. Dark eyes are a little rarer when there is no mixture but they are quite common up north among Sami people. There are many Finns who would not be described as the stereotype.

jari_litmanen

Jari Litmanen, Finnish football player. Picture: Ajax 2004

tumblr_o3kglwjemu1uu9s1eo1_1280

Tomi Joutsen, singer for the Finnish band Amorphis. Picture: Anne C Swallow

sami people in the north of Finland

Sami people in the north of Finland by Robert Harding

5. There isn´t poverty  in Finland.

It is correct to say that there are no people living bellow the poverty line in Finland but there are poor people here. The social welfare system doesn´t allow hunger or homelessness however, no person who depends on it could be considered even as middle class. Who has no source of income receives from the government the exact amount to live but this money is not much and sometimes is not even enough; people have to queue at the social service department to get help for making ends meet. The average number of people in the risk of poverty in Finland (income of about 1,200 euros per month or less) is somewhere around 13%, according to the official website Stats Finland.

6. There is no violence in Finland.

Unfortunately it is a fact that where there are people there will always be violence.

There is no way to compare the violence here with the big metropolises, of course. The small social gap and good education are factors that help reduce violence. I´ve never heard, for example, of any case of robbery followed by death, kidnappings or such things however, unfortunately, domestic violence is something very common. Murders are mostly passional crimes and there are only a few per year (usually less than 10). Violence in Finland is closely associated with alcoholism which has high rates here. There are isolated cases too, of course. This article shows various statistics related to violence and death in Finland.

7. Finnish language is impossible.

Since I am half-Finnish, look 100% Finnish and have a Finnish name people tend to assume I speak the language perfectly but I don´t. My father never taught me the language and 7 years ago my Finnish skills were quite poor, mostly based on chidhood memories and a couple of courses I did while visit the country before. It was very difficult for me to learn and I had to work really hard but I can guarantee: after two years of intensive studies and being immersed in the language I believe one can speak Finnish well enough to work. Nothing is impossible if you really want to achieve it.

8. All Finns had an excellent education and have accomplished higher education.

Although among the OECD countries Finland is on the top of the list for best public basic education, this is relatively new; result of a process which started in the 70s.

For this system to reach a good level of equity it took 10 years, so only those who went to school in the mid-80s could really take advantage on this excellence. Another important fact is that the system is revised and changes are made every 10 years. The first review, done in 1985, brought a lot of new stuff and, of course, it took a while longer for it to reach a good level of equity. The Finnish population who´s actually enjoyed the number 1 education system is still very young: they are at school right now or aren´t older than 30 years old.
As for higher education, in Finland there is no cultural thought saying that a university degree is what will cause you to “be someone in life.” The system is very complete and offers excellent choices of professional technical degrees. The vocational education lasts three years and, in professions such as electrician, plumber, nursing assistant and metallurgy, for example, wages are often as good as those paid for people with a bachelor’s level. Usually in Finland who goes to the university does it to pursue an academic career or at least to achieve a master´s level.  Those with a direct interest in the labor market usually go for the vocational colleges or polytechnic colleges. In this 2013 table you can learn more about the educational level of Finns.

9. All Finns speak English and Swedish fluently.

As I explained in the previous section, basic education in Finland only got equity in the mid-80s. Among younger people, many speak English very well but among the population over 40 years old, many don´t speak or speak very little . I’m not saying that Finns over 40 years old don´t speak English, okay? But it´s very common to find people who don´t speak, especially in small towns and in the countryside.

As for Swedish, it is the second official language of the country and the teaching of Swedish language is compulsory in schools during basic education. However, there is a great resistance from the Finns in learning it. The so-called “Finnish-Swedish” people are around  5% of the population and they are mostly bilingual, speaking both languages perfectly. Among the other 95% this is not a reality. There are a lot of people who only understand the basics and the vast majority is keen to “forget” after school ends.

finnglish

10. Finns are cold and insensitive people.

This is an unfair and clueless judgment, in my opinion. You cannot judge an entire population because of personal characteristics. It is true that foreign residents in other countries go through many difficulties during their process of adaptation and not all receive care and support. This is not something that only happens here, it happens all over the world and there are always happy and sad stories. According to 2013 statistics (I couldn´t find current data), about 430,000 people take antidepressant drugs in Finland. For a population of 5.3 million, this is a very high ratio. I’m not a doctor, but I don´t believe this index would be so high if most people were so cold and insensitive.

I think Finns are extremely sensitive, what seems to be the issue for what I observe is that they internalize all feelings. I don´t know in what stage of life this repression of feelings begins but I think this is the problem that many confuse with insensitivity. Individualism and reserve are, in my view, the strongest characteristics of the Finns. Usually they think they might be invading your privacy if they ask something personal to you and you will feel bothered if they come to talk about their problems, however, there are exceptions and many ways to break this barrier. My advice: learn to observe and analyze before judging. This is always the best way to find the path and open doors.

Tallenna

Tallenna

Tallenna

Finnish winter: love it or leave it

Winter, oh the winter…

In Finland you will not see polar bears, seals or penguins as many people imagine. There will be days it will be so cold but so cold that you will curse all generations in heaven for having to go out. Specially if the temperature is bellow -20 Celsius and it´s windy. It´s like being slapped and having nails scratching your face. Your eyes tear, your get a running nose, all this “water” freezes in your face and the feeling is not nice.

Some days are not so cold though, and the negative temperature can be really pleasant. I particularly like it until -15 Celsius if it´s not windy -wind is NEVER nice – The air is so clean, it´s so pleasant to breath outside and if you know how to get dressed, there won´t be any problem.

 

The worst days in my opinion are those when the temperature rises a bit above zero, it rains and the snow melts. Usually during these days the temperature oscillates in negative and positive, which makes our lives a cold hell because of this melting and freezing bipolar characteristic. It gets so slippery and hard to walk that I can´t even describe in words how I look like when trying to walk around during days like these. I often say the largest number of bad words my brains can remember.

 

But one thing is undeniable: Finnish winter is beautiful. For every angry day I just need one nice moment admiring the landscape and my anger is off.

Hannu avantu

Picture: Hannu Hurme (yes, there´s someone swimming)

And however there are pros and cons, I still prefer a cold winter day than a really hot with temperatures of + 40 degrees Celsius as I was used to when I lived abroad. When it´s too cold you go inside and you´re free! You can relax in sauna, you can make it nice. But when it´s too hot and you´re not on vacation, not even naked it gets better. You get sticky and tired the whole day, this is really not for me…

But since I hope 2016 will be a year of good things (I really don´t want to start the year thinking the opposite of it) I want my first blog entry of the year to be beautiful.

I have gathered for this post some nice videos and pictures personal friends of mine have made and shared in order to show how interesting, beautiful and nice winter can be if you allow it to happen.

The video bellow was made by a friend from Venezuela. He lives in Lappeenranta, a city situated on the shore of the lake Saimaa in South-Eastern Finland, about 30 km from the Russian boarder. Saimaa is the largest lake in this country. From his window he can see this landscape everyday and during the winter, why not take a walk on the frozen water?

 

The second video was made by a friend from Brazil. He made a funny experiment throwing boiling water in the air when the temperature is bellow -20 degrees Celsius.

And to finish off, one more picture taken by Hannu Hurme: an everyday landscape we often see, in a situation we often are, but hardly ever realize how beautiful it is.

hannu buss stop

Picture: Hannu Hurme

That´s all folks, thanks for stopping by and have a nice winter!

 

2015: Finns reacted and the Government got lost

2015 has been a year of challenges in politics, economics and societies everywhere. Sometimes it seems the world is going crazy and people have stopped thinking. I believe what´s coming next is still in the dark.

I usually receive messages of people without any idea of what´s going on in Finland. People from many countries really believe this is a land of rich people with no problems and opportunities rising everyday. So, if you are one of those, this article is for you.

I am not going to analyse the crisis on this article, I have done it a couple of posts before. You can read it here. Opinion article.

This was a year of fallen masks which has shown that even a highly educated population can be manipulated by populist promises, that even here many people vote without actually thinking and researching about their candidates proposals, and that not even one of the best educational systems in the world is able to give sight to the blind.

But there´s something good in all this; not the blind, but those who were only asleep or taking a relax with their eyes closed realised it´s time to wake up, pay attention and see that everything is changing so fast that future looks scary.

A new Government coalition was officially named on May 29, formed by three parties from the centre and right wing, which gained the most seats in the elections: the conservative Center Party, the populist “True Finns”, and the moderate conservative National Coalition Party.

Government coalition: Timo Soini, Minister of Foreign Affairs (left), Prime-Minister Juha Sipilä (center), Minister of Finance Alexander Stubb (right). Picture: Yle.fi

I´ve been very sceptical about this coalition. Although one of the parties is the center, its representative and our Prime-Minister is a rich former CEO, not a very experienced politician. Ruling a country like Finland as if it were a company sounds really bad to my ears but it´s a fact that among the “three favorites” he was the best option for the role.

I was also afraid he would become too close to our former Prime-Minister (Stubb) and start a very strong alliance with his party, the National Coalition, but I am glad it didn´t happen. At least not until this moment.

I see this coalition without much balance, carrying much of the weight in the same side of the scale. And in my humble opinion, this is very dangerous.

When the first measures to fight the crisis were announced I thought: ”Man, unfortunately I was right.”

In the beginning of September the Government published it´s proposals on measures to improve cost-competitiveness. According to an article released by the Communications Department:

” The Government’s objective is to raise the employment rate to 72 per cent and the number of people in employment by 110,000 by the end of the parliamentary term. The debt-to-GDP ratio will level off by the end of the government term and living on debt will be brought to an end in 2021.”

It sounds great doesn´t it? So check out the suggested measures (there are more, you should read the entire article, but these were the big controversy generators):

  • Epiphany and Ascension Day would be changed into unpaid public holidays without reducing annual working time.
  • The benefit level for sick days would be reduced so that the first day will be unpaid and only 80 per cent of pay would be paid from days 2–9.
  • Overtime pay would be halved and Sunday pay would be reduced to 75 per cent.
  • Long holidays, particularly in the public sector, would be shortened from 38 to 30 working days.
  • The private employer’s social security contribution would be reduced by 1.72 percentage points from the beginning of 2017.

Being really honest, if this is really time for sacrifices, if the situation is so bad to the point that radical measures have to be taken, I would not complain as long as the changes come as equal sacrifices to everybody. But you don´t need to be an expert to see that some of these measures would affect more drastically only one segment of the population: those with lower-income.

Think: who are the professionals who work on Sundays, at night and during holidays? You might think of a couple of professions with good income which would be affected but wich ones are the majority?

These measures could work but they are so unfair that a national reaction was immediately brought up. A week after this announcement 30 thousand people went to the streets of Helsinki to protest against the Government cuts. The strike affected the entire country since public transportation and schools also stopped. You can read about it here and here.

And those were not the only proposals which have revolted the citizens. One of the biggest reasons of pride for the Finns is their educational system, among the best of the world. When the subject is high education, Finns are very proud to state that here every citizen has the opportunity of choosing a path in life, since even Universities programs are free of charge.

High education institutes have invested a lot promoting internationalization of the education, since the country needs experts and it´s been proved we don´t have enough people here to make the necessary demands. Specially if we´re talking about Science, Technology and Innovation.

And then the Government comes again…

High cuts on research, about 500 million € being cut from the Universities and a new decision which has shocked many people:

“Finnish Parliament decided on the 15th of December to impose tuition fees for non-European university-level students. The ruling passed by a vote of 137-46…”

About this matter I confess my opinion is divided. It will be for sure bad for the internationalization of the institutions in bachelor levels (master and doctorate students will still studying for free) but the prices discussed are not outrageous – around 1500€ per year – and if the situation is so bad to the point institutions cannot afford improvement, there´s no other way to go.  Read more about it here.

More changes? Yes, there are more but I don´t disagree on all of them. As I mentioned at the beginning, it´s time for sacrifices and some unpleasant measures will be taken. However, I think the Government is taking away from the wrong places.

After all protests some things have changed and, of course, the Government had to back off. On September 29 the newspaper Helsinki Times published the Government response to the protests. You can read it here.

Another big episode happened at the beginning of November, when Prime-Minister Sipilä and Finance Minister Stubb disagreed on the destiny given to health-care policies. They were discussing for three days on how centralized the health-care system should be. In the heat of the emotions there was even a threat of ending with the coalition; a disagreement that showed the situation is so complicated that the Ministers don´t even follow the same line of thought. You can read about it here and here.

And there have been disagreements even inside the same party. The populist party “True Finns” has had internal disagreements and members highly opposing the fact that their leader, Timo Soini, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to support the coalition has contradicted some of his pre-election promises.

Joke GIF made of Timo Soini, Minister of Foreign Affairs, regarding his “mind changing”.

I sometimes watch the parliament meetings on TV and recently it gives me the impression that it´s been walking on a path of disagreement and internal disappointments. And I also confess that everything seems quite confusing at the moment, at least for me. Sorry for my ignorance or perhaps language barrier.

In late November one more episode happened: Finance Minister Stubb had his credibility put in check when claiming :

“90 percent of the civil servant experts consulted supported the coalition government’s plans to open up Finland’s securities custody to competition.”

Reality was very different from his statement, though. Finland´s bigger newspaper Helsingin Sanomat found that out of the 21 officials asked about the issue, 10 opposed it, nine refused to take a stand and two supported it – which leaves the actual support percentage at less than 10 percent. Read more here.

One thing is fact: the following years will bring big changes. It´s too early to predict but I am really curious to see what the government will carry out.

I expect to see changes in areas which are extremely bureaucratic and are not working anymore with the necessary effectiveness, such as the social care system. And of course, I just hope these changes won´t generate a social exclusion nonexistent  before.

I hope the government has good eyes to see that  marginal social classes are arising due to increasing of poverty, lack of job opportunities and lack of effective policies of social integration.

I hope for the best.

Helsinki: trying to end a really bad week showing love and compassion

For me, the 15th of November of 2015 represents the end of a terrible week. I know this is not the first and neither the last horrible week. There is war, poverty, violence and injustice everywhere, and some places might be as horrible as your concept of hell. This is reality. But we cannot live our lives foccusing and digging in only for the bad things, we have to go on and live our lives doing our best to be the best we can to make a better world.

But sometimes things happen and affect us in so many ways that it´s impossible to go on for a while.

For me this week was one of those…

On the 12th of November ISIS bombed Lebanon. 43 people died, over 200 got seriously injured. One day after it was Paris´ turn. Over 100 people dead, over 200 injured. And this was just a very small piece of all atrocities if you immagine what might be happening right now in many troubled palces around the world.

A “holly” war full of interests which go way beyond religion, almost a crusade, has been led by a group of crazy people who believe in a crazy god nobody else but them understand. A crazy group empowered exactly by those they now want to destroy: the Western leaders. And who pays the bill for all this fight for power? Nobody else but innocent people who die living their ordinary lives, doing what me and you do everyday.

I´ve read a lot of things which have really bothered me, things that sometimes make me lose faith in mankind. At first I questioned the fact that mass news were showing only the horrible things that happened in Paris. Almost no word about the lives taken in Lebanon were said. Some of my friends who live in different countries told me that in their local news there was not even a slightly mention of what happened in Lebanon.

When questioning, I received messages justifying it by saying that Paris is one of the most loved cities in the world, the European cradle of culture, Paris is Europe. And more: people don´t get so touched when these things happen in countries like Lebanon because these things happen there all the time.

I got revolted reading it but more revolting is to realise that this is true.

For the greatest part of the Western people who know about both episodes, the one which touches the heart is the Parisian. After all, Lebanese people are used to it, they are muslims.

And what about media? Why wouldn´t they emphasize this weekend as a weekend of tragedy, with human beings from two countries being terminated by crazy mtfks? Well, why would they be interested in showing Lebanon if Paris is much more important, is much better news, will give them many more clicks, likes and shares.? Why would they show muslim people suffering if the Western suffering is what matters?

But not even this is true. The truth it´s much worse than that for a very simple fact people have not realised: the attacks in Lebanon happened one day before the attacks in Paris. Even if you compare the “importance” of these two countries in a 100% Western point of view of “streaming priority”, it wouldn´t make sense, there was space for Lebanon because when Beirut was attacked, nobody knew the same would happen to Paris. But media was just not interested in showing it.

Why woud they show the mass that ISIS is killing muslims in many different countries everyday? Is it good to show support for muslims? Isn´t is better if everybody hates them and we just let them kill each other, so we have a better chance to dominate those areas and win for good the most wanted geopolitical area of the world?

How many people know that there are radical differences among muslim lines? Who knows the difference between a shiia and a suni, who knows that inside the sunis there are also different lines with different degrees of radicalism? Who knows that the Islamic State wants to destroy all the other lines which do not encounter their terms and they are doing it through killing, since they don´t consider ”those muslims” as real muslims?

I am not deffending Islam because I have to say; I don´t agree at any religious institution. I believe in faith and think people should be free to choose theirs but I have problems with any way of institutionalized faith as long as they set up rules that segregate and demand people to change their style, mining their freedom. And I am totally against any kind of State which is not secular. For me, State and religion cannot rule together. But this is not the point here.

The point here is human, is people. We are living in such cruel world that even the extension of our compassion and how much a life is worth it is manipulated and measured.

And you should think about WHY??

About my fears:

I also fear the Islamic State. I think everybody should fear it. They have a project of world domination, they want to terminate the West and all the “infidels” who do not follow their rules. I also fear that right now, all over Europe, there might be ISIS infiltrated groups; some recently arrived, others probably here for a long time. I think the refugee crisis is a matter of national security and all countries should be really careful in their investigation during the process of decision making on giving or not asylum.

I am not a person who believes in pink elephants sliding down rainbows, I am very realistic. But I cannot condemn a whole group, assuming they are all violent and evil because if I did that I would prove to be ignorant, which I could be in some matters but not in this one.

I just wish people study more and learn more about the history of Middle East and Africa, try to learn about how the conflicts started, and most of all: how terrorist groups and dictatorships were empowered.

Study, read and then give your opinion, use the internet on your benefit to improve your knowledge, go beyond Wikipedia and Facebook. Everything is online! Let´s stop seeing things only through our own point of view, only in the Western way. Let´s try to be better in putting ourselves in other people´s shoes.

One thing that every religion preaches in its essence, before the human greed for power and domination takes over, is love. Love and peace. And we should stand a little more for those instead of just judging or caring only for what is of our interest.

Today in Helsinki a little group of people tried to do it and I was very proud to be among them. There were Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, agnostics, children, parents, old and young people of all colors and nationalities together, marching in the name of peace and love. We were just a couple of hundreds but I believe we made some difference just by showing that we want a better world.

Picture: Maila-Kaarina Rantanen March for peace in Helsinki, 15-11-2015. It started up, in front of the cathedral´s gates, and ended in front of the Embassy of France where a minute of silence was taken.

Picture: Maila-Kaarina Rantanen
March for peace in Helsinki, 15-11-2015. It started upstairs, in front of the cathedral´s gates, and ended in front of the Embassy of France where a minute of silence was taken.

This is a post written in the heat of my emotion. I don´t mean to go through political aspects. Who is writing here is not Maila the international relations analyst but Maila the mother, the daughter, the friend, the human, a person who cares about every life lost because of men´s stupidity.

Let´s diversify

Yesterday I was thinking about my next text and realized how easy it is to go on a pessimistic way. And this is exactly the opposite of my intention with this blog.

Finnish crisis, asylum seekers, prejudice, shrinking economy, government taking bad decisions which will affect the country´s future forever, yes, this is all happening and it´s very hard not to talk about it. But I really want to diversify.

For me Finland is still a wonderful country. Not perfect, facing problems, but this is reality and we live in a real world, not in a fairy tale as many imagine we do. However, I don´t want to talk only about the cruel reality. There is also a good reality we live in with great things to do and see, nice food to eat, quality music, beautiful landscapes, positive attitude, and several other things that made this country my chosen one. The place I chose to live and build my family – and I had the whole world as possibility.

I was thinking about it yesterday while cooking.

I enjoy cooking very much and I see a lot of symbology in food. For me food is one of the few symbols of diversity which is usually welcome and accepted by everybody.  People often like to try new tastes, to sense it, experiment and try. The most exotic food can bring out curiosity of the most narrow minded person, and this is great.

So as a symbol of positive diversity (everything has a good and a bad side, even diversity), I will share with you a very simple and delicious Finnish recipe which is among my favorite Finnish tastes: Spinach Soup

Spinach Soup in Finnish Style (4 portions)

Ingredients:

  • 50g butter
  • 4 tbs flour
  • 600ml milk
  • 200ml of light cream
  • 200ml of cream fresh
  • 200g of frozen spinach leaves (I don´t know how much it would be if you make it with fresh spinach)
  • a pinch of white pepper (white papper tastes really strong, you can add more than a pinch if you want, but do it little by little and try. If you put too much it could outstand the other tastes)
  • 4 eggs

How to make it:

  • In pan for soup melt the butter in medium heat. When it´s melted and hot add the flour little by little always stirring.
  • Start adding the milk aslo little by little and stirring all the time for the flower to dissolve well.
  • Let it boil
  • Add the spinach and let it boil until the color of the soup in green.
  • Add the light cream, the cream fresh, the white pepper and as much salt as you need.
  • Mix it well and let it boil in low heat for around 15 minutes.
  • Boil the 4 eggs in a separate pan and serve the soup with a boiled egg cut in half.

Bon appetit!

The Finnish Crisis

Finland has showed great results in many important statistics during this decade: the best public basic education system among the OECD countries, the most innovative country of the world, always in the top three among the most honest countries to live, frequently exchanging with Norway the first or the second places as the best country to be a mother, usually in the top 10 among the most competitive countries of the world, and this list could be longer than this. These awesome results international media loves so much to talk about have brought to many people who don´t know Finland and do not follow Finnish news, the idea that this is the last oasis in the desert, a country with no problems where everybody is happy, well educated and rich.

I also write about Finland for a very popular Brazilian website/blog and for this reason I frequently receive messages of readers with questions about this paradise. Most of the people have the same idea: this is the perfect country to immigrate and start building a perfect and fair life.

I am not an economist but I love reading economists´opinions. I´ve read several texts from people who support very different theories. In this text I want to share with you my opinion based on my readings about the Finnish economic crisis.

For those who ask me if Finland is a paradise I would say: this is an awesome country, the country I chose to live and build my family but it´s not perfect and I don´t think this is a good moment to immigrate if you don´t have a good job in here waiting for you.

Since 2009 Finland has been facing contractions in its economic activity. There is more than one reason for it and however people like to blame it on “the euro”, this is just one of the reasons. Of course we cannot deny the fact that there is a global crisis going on but I would dare to say that even without this general crisis, the country would be facing problems anyway, perhaps just in a lower proportion.

If you research about Finland´s economic history you will see a country which has faced several problems until the international boom in the middle of the 90´s, that happened mainly as a consequence of Nokia´s boom. When the Finnish company became the world leader in telecommunications, it contributed significanlty to raise the economy, the GDP, Finnish exports and the R&D system. Of course as a multinational company Nokia has also generated tons of jobs. The Economist has published: ”NOKIA contributed a quarter of Finnish growth from 1998 to 2007, according to figures from the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (ETLA). Over the same period, the mobile-phone manufacturer’s spending on research and development made up 30% of the country’s total, and it generated nearly a fifth of Finland’s exports. In the decade to 2007, Nokia was sometimes paying as much as 23% of all Finnish corporation tax.” 

With this information you can imagine the size of the damage when the company´s share price started to fall, going as low as 90% of its price in 2012. This can always be a huge problem: when a country relies on one company.

Another industry that used to be very strong and important to Finland which has also lost position is the forest industry. The high prices of the raw material and logistics in Finland made it impossible to compete with countries which besides better prices have also better climate for growing trees.

All in all, Finland has seen significant loss in the whole manufacturing industry in this last decade.

Another thing some economists point as a big problem is the weak stimulation of the domestic aggregate demand. But of course it is understandable since to stimulate aggregate demand, there has to be a boost in the exports which cannot happen if the manufacturing sector is in decline. Declining doesn´t give the private sector ability to invest and innovate and the consequence of it is, of course, making the domestic demand for domestic products go down.

A very important point which I would place at the top of all problems but so far I haven´t seen people worrying about it the way they should is the fact that Finland´s population is ageing. Every year the birth rate is lower and people are living much longer. A country rulled mainly by the old with small chances of renovation has to go down. It´s obvious. Without renovation in the way of thinking, if society itself can´t innovate, of course the system will just get older and older to the point of breaking down.

Live births 1971–2014

Live births 1971-2014 Picture: http://www.stat.fi

An older population consumes less, produces less, and is more reluctant to accept changes, which is the total opposite of what should be happening when you live in a globalized world. The internal market shrinks, unemployment happens and, of course, it costs a lot to the government.

To base what I have just written I would like to invite you to read this research article, published in 2009 on my absolute favorite Finnish website: Statistics Finland. The research shows a population projection from 2009 to 2060 and so far it´s been quite accurate, which I think it is really scary.

Demographic depedency ratio 1865–2060

Population projection Picture: http://www.stat.fi

This is not only a Finnish problem, all nordic countries have the same problem. It seems to be a little worse in Finland because the country has gone for many years in the opposite direction of internationalization from outside in. The neighbour Sweden, for example, has promoted a dynamism in the labour force, universities and research centers for a long time. Finland has recently started to do the same promoting internationalization in universities, reseach centers and in some areas of labour force. This third area, however, is going in a very low speed and there´s been a lot of negative reaction regarding foreign labour force, even though it is more than proved that the country needs it, not having in its internal market enough people and neither enough experts to promote the necessary growth.

Companies hardly ever hire a person who does not speak Finnish even if the job requires English. People are refused on jobs many times just for having a strong accent or a foreign last name. This internationalization is too new and many Finns have not seen how necessary it is for the future of this nation. But going deeper in this subject requests a new text…

I know this is a natural reaction specially when unemployment rates are so high but the thing is: it is high because the market is not growing.

To sum up these are, in my opinion, some of the internal reasons for the crisis that would be happening even if there was no international crisis:

  • Nokia´s fall
  • Ageing population
  • Declining of the manufacturing industry
  • Declining of domestic demand for domestic products
  • Declining of the internal market
  • Late internationalization of universities, research centers and labour force

Add these to all problems the Euro zone has been facing and to the Russian crisis (Russia is a very important commercial partner for Finland) and you will understand what´s going on here.

As I wrote at the beginning of this text, I am not an economist so of course people who are and understand the subject better than me might have different points of view. So if you are one of these people, please, feel free to share your opinion. I could learn more and this kind of debate is what I am willing for with this blog.

Finland and Multiculturalism – The Winds of Change

Editor´s note: This post is about multiculturalism and it´s not taking consideration opinions about the present asylum seekers. This is subject for future posts.

The winds of change are blowing in Finland. It´s not that all changes society and State have been experiencing are totally new but let´s say that what used to be a breeze has become a quite strong wind and at the moment we just hope it won´t turn into a twister.

Pinpointing:

  • There is a huge economic crises going on;
  • a great part of the population is fighting against measures the government has announced a few weeks ago, there was even a huge protest and strike on the 18th of September, which drove around 30 thousand people to scream under rain and cold weather on the streets of the capital Helsinki;
  • there are 7015 asylum seekers from several troubled countries hoping to enter Finland, dividing the population´s opinions (Finns and resident immigrants included), and;
  • there is the big issue I wish to start with – Multiculturalism: to be or not to be a multicultural nation.

    Foto: yle.fi Protest against government measures on the 18th of September

    Foto: yle.fi
    Protest against government measures on the 18th of September

The new Finland is scaring the hell out of some Finns. So let´s talk about this ”terrible monster” called Multiculturalism and understand Finland´s role on it.

Definition: Multiculturalism describes the existence, acceptance, or promotion of multiple cultural traditions within a single jurisdiction, usually considered in terms of the culture associated with an ethnic group. This can happen when a jurisdiction is created or expanded by amalgamating areas with two or more different cultures (e.g. French Canada and English Canada) or through immigration from different jurisdictions around the world (e.g. Australia, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, and many other countries).”

You don´t need to know Finland´s history much to conclude that this definition doesn´t go with the country very well. But we can´t forget that Finland as an independent nation is a very new country. Finland´s independence happened in 1918, only 97 years ago! And this country was not formed by multiple cultural traditions. However there has been immigration since the World War I most of it was from Russia, and considering that before its independence Finland had belonged to Russia and to Sweden, I would not say that immigration from these countries brought a considerable level of cultural diversity here.

According to the official website of the Finnish Immigration Center it was at the turns of the 80´s and 90´s that immigration started to happen in more quantity. The desintegration of the Soviet Union helped to bring back Finnish people and their descendants who came from the old USSR countries. During this period asylum seekers from Somalia also started to arrive and others from Iraq, the old Yugoslavia and Afganistan. During this period immigration from other countries also started to happen for several reasons from work to marriage. A multicultural Finland according to the definition above written started to happen then, giving us the obvious conclusion: multiculturalism based on cultural diversity is extremely new in Finland. The so called ”new Finns”; Finland-born-children of immigrants, and other Finns like me, born-abroad-children of at least one Finnish parent, are now starting to have a voice nevertheless we are still not considered as Finns by most of the Finnish people.

Persons with a foreign background* born in Finland, parents' country of birth in 2010 Foto: www.stat.fi

Persons with a foreign background* born in Finland, parents’ country of birth in 2010
Foto: www.stat.fi

A strong characteristic of many Finns is their tendency to isolation, which can be explained by the fact that this country  was itself very isolated until the mid 90´s. Before that in several parts of the globe if you asked people where Finland was some of them would look for it in Asia (no kidding).

In Finnish countryside from North to South until now there are villages with population lower than 600 people. There are only 7 cities in the whole country considered as ”big”. I would even disagree on this number and remove two from this list.  Adding more information, in these small villages many people are born, raised and die there. I have met a 25-year-old woman who was born in a small city only 150 km from Helsinki and has never left her region. She doesn´t even know Helsinki. So, if you consider this reality, you will understand one of the reasons why accepting changes is so difficult for some people. It is shocking for them that Finns are not anymore only white people with blond or light brown hair, Finns now are Afro-descendants, Asian descendants, Latin America descendants and whatsoever. It hurts traditional nationalists but well, there is absolute NOTHING they can do about it.

Every beginning is difficult, the unknown scares and many people are not able to heal from the viruses of ignorance which causes one of the worst diseases: prejudice.

Many Finns are scared because they are seeing their beloved Finland change but they are forgetting to see that most of us, new Finns and immigrants who chose this country as home, also love and care for it, we also want Finland to grow and become better, and we can contribute as well as they can because this contribution has nothing to do with where you were born; it has to do with opportunity and hard work. And there is more: we are part of the present and our sons and daughters are the FUTURE of this country as well as the 100% ”true Finns´s children”.

Multiculturalism is here to stay and for sure it will only grow in the future. The internationalization of the universities is helping young Finns to open their minds, to see the world, to acquaint with different people, to think outside the box.

Finland is a newborn multicultural nation which has not yet found interculturalism but I believe the young generations will change it.

Final considerations for a brainstorm:

  • Segregation + discriminalization = marginalization, and it brings nothing more than violence;
  • There is no example of successful nationalism without dictatorship;
  • I agree that foreigners who come to Finland have to do their best to accept the country´s culture and integrate but it doesn´t mean they are supposed to forget about their own culture and adopt Finnish culture as the ”only truth”. There has to be a balance and mutual acceptance.
  • Integration is a double way street, it does not come alone and it NEVER comes without acceptance, never.
  • Finnish Government should review the outdated social security system, integration programs and also national security rules.
  • Tolerance has a limit and this limit is when principles of gender equality and human rights guaranteed by the Constitution are disrespected.
  • You can never stop multiculturalism but if you could, Finland would start a countdown to extintion. You are too little in quantity. This is a country with more old than young people. People are having less kids every year. You are in the middle of a crisis and you need labor force and expertise right now to build your near future. If you don´t open your minds and accept that it is necessary to change you are not going to make it through.
  • To finish off, when I wrote here about multiculturalism, if you were hating my words thinking only of people from one specific religion, one specific nationality or one specific color, you are not against multiculturalism, you are a person who has prejudice against specific groups and we are ”talking” about two totally different things.
Live births by quarter 1994–2014 and preliminary data 2015 Foto: www.stat.fi

Live births by quarter 1994–2014 and preliminary data 2015
Foto: www.stat.fi

I hope you understand I am not generalizing and saying the majority of the Finns are against multiculturalism. I don´t actually believe it. While around 15 thousand people where on the streets of Helsinki protesting against racism in favor of multiculturalism in July, only 800 people were protesting against immigration on the 19th of September in Helsinki, Tornio and Kemi. I believe many of those “against” protesters were doing it for being against the asylum seekers and not immigration in general but of course I am not sure. Anyway there is prejudice, there is racism, it hurts and it speaks loud. But there is also kindness and vision. For this reason I want to open a debate, I want to tease and make people think. You don´t have to agree with me, you don´t need to like my ideas but if you have something to say about it, my mission is accomplished. No more silence, it´s time to talk about it.

15 thousand protesters against racism and in favor of multiculturalism in Helsinki in July 2015 (foto: Mia Seppo) 200 protesters against immigration in Helsinki in September of 2015 (foto: Markku Sandell/Ylle)

15 thousand protesters against racism and in favor of multiculturalism in Helsinki in July 2015 (foto: Mia Seppo)
200 protesters against immigration in Helsinki in September of 2015 (foto: Markku Sandell/Yle)

Much more than Santa, snow and blondies

Finland is a curious country for many people all over the world.

It hasn´t been always like this, though. Before the mid 90´s boom nobody knew much or seemed to be interested in knowing this country. It was just a cold and far land, with polar bears, Viking descendants and Santa Claus. I remember traveling once to a foreign country and the customs officer asked me how could I have Finnish roots and be so blonde, without “those Chinese eyes”. Was he confusing it with Thailand because of the “land” ending? I don´t know, but anyways, for several times I had to show where the hell Finland was in the world map.

It´s very common to know many wrong things about countries. Some unforgivable mistakes for those who were born somewhere tend to become a “main truth” for those who have never been there. Fact.

Photo 7.9.2015 15.18.20

To start with, there are no polar bears in Finland and neither Finns descend from the Vikings. They are not even Scandinavians as many people think. Scandianavian countries are part of a historical and cultural-linguistic group which comprises Norway, Denmark and Sweden, those descend from the Vikings, not the Finns. Finnish language is totally different from those and the genetic group where the Finns belong to is also different.

Among the mentioned myths, the only real one is Santa Claus, who lives happily in Lapland with his helpers in a village called Korvatunturi.

As a Finnish descendant born in Brazil (you can know more about me here), the eagerness to start searching for my roots started in 1996, year I decided to spend a few months in Finland to know better my family and a very important part of my history. Finland had joined the European Union the year before and the economy was starting to really improve, among other things, as a result of policies adopted in the 70´s – such as the reform of the basic education system – and the rise of NOKIA, which helped Finnish economy to get its boom with the success achieved in the telecommunications area. After this point Finland left the old standard of being a poor, distant and unknown country, and started to become an example of growth and success to the world.

When I left Brazil people thought I was crazy, I would freeze or die of depression for being in the cold and dark Northern land. But for my surprise, when I went back in 1997, opinions were very different. I was coming from one of the coolest places in Earth, where everybody could have a cell phone, people were beautiful and wealthy, and of course, there were great heavy metal bands (this part only for a niche of people in Brazil who like the music style).

It is true that people don´t ask me about polar bears anymore and neither Finland is an unknown place nobody wants to go to. However, people still don´t know much and still seeing this country quite differently from how it is.

Finland is a fascinating country as any other would be if you are interested in history and culture. There is no uninteresting place in the world for those who pay attention to these things. It is, as many others, a country full of particularities, beauty, curious things, but it´s not perfect. There are good and bad things, wonderful and bad people, beautiful and ugly places, just like everywhere else. And yes, it is special, it is loved and reason of pride for many of its inhabitants (including me waving flags).

In this blog I intend to write about Finland not only for foreigners and curious people but also for Finns and all those who love it here as much as I do. I want to talk about important things, demystify, show things I´ve seen, read, liked and disliked, agreed and disagreed.

Let´s look at Finland and really see it!

See ya!