By Enrique Tessieri
Migrant Tales will begin to publish a few short biographies that appeared in an English reader called Why did you come here? The book, which was published by WSOY in 1994, was authored by Russell Snyder and myself.
Back then when the book was published, there were so few foreigners living in Finland [55,587 or 1.1% of the total population] that one of the most common questions some Finns asked was: Why did you come here?
There is one part in the interview blow that bothers me. It states that JL’s resentment towards Finnish society derives from his attitude. JL disagrees with the statement because he blames Finnish society for his unhappiness.
If I’d write that paragraph again today, I’d state that racism affects people differently. For some it is a “killer” while others can handle it better.
Like any social disease, racism is one of the worst that leaves a trail of suffering that is very difficult for many to see.
One of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they seem to sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.
This quote by a well-known twentieth century writer explains well the feelings that JL has about Finland. To many, JL is a successful foreigner. He has a well-paying job and has finished the mortgage payments on his downtown Helsinki apartment.
But JL is very separated from Finnish society. He rarely likes to walk outside his home alone. If he has to, hwe wears sunglasses, which protect him from the people’s hostile stares.
JL’s deep sense of resentment and anger towards Finnish society derives [in part] from his attitude. JL disagrees with this statement. He blames Finnish society for his unhappiness.
We are sitting around a kitchen table. JL is drinking a cup of tea and I am having coffee. He takes out a cigarette, lights it , takes a deep puff and exhales the smoke slowly. We begin to talk.
What do you think about this country?
Finnish society is very closed to outsiders. Finns don’t even communicate with each other. If I enter a pharmacy in Germany, I am greeted by the owner and by all the customers. Most Finns lack good manners which is why they don’t know how to greet you.
Do you like to go out in the evening?
I only pay house visits to friends with my car. I never go to nightclubs or any public places in the evenings. Especially in these difficult economic times [early 1990s recession when unemployment hit almost 20%], this society has become more hostile to foreigners. You just don’t add up to anything in this country unless you wear jeans, have blonde hair and blue eyes.
How racist are the Finns?
Finns are not just racist, they are super racist. Racial discrimination can be seen in the country’s laws and in everyday life. Finnish men are terribly racist while Finnish women are more tolerant.
I don’t know why so many Finnish men despise foreign men. They only see something negative in us. Not all are like that, however. A few do make an effort to get to know you.
Finnish women drink too much. I believe it is a great shame that so many get drunk in public. It’s because of the Finnish man. He does not know how to treat a woman sensually. He should take lessons from the French and Italians.
If Finland your home?
Finland will never be my home. I could never be accepted by this society. I once applied for a job at Yleisradio. They did not accept me because I am a foreigner.
How do you feel about living for over ten years in Finland?
It has affected me negatively. I feel very marginal. My home is my refuge and protects me from the outside world. During my free time I listen to music, my medicine. It relieves much of my pain.