Why did you come here? (1/4) “JL: Only hostility”

by , under All categories, Enrique

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.

                                                                                                                                   James Baldwin

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. 

  1. Mark

    That was you who co-wrote that book. 😀 I saw that book a few months after arriving in Finland nearly 10 years ago and it made me laugh – that that title could make it into publication showed suggested to me that it had a general level of resonance in the population. It really opened my eyes as to the general attitude to foreigners here.

    On the general point of how people react to racism – people tend to react negatively to negative stuff. It doesn’t surprise me that some foreigners responded to Finnish prejudice by developing their own prejudices against Finns.

  2. eyeopener

    @ Enrique.

    I like James Baldwin’s claim. It is so true for many other aspects of life. And for me it’s been the guide not to fall into the described trap. I must honestly admit that there have been many momnets in my life that I have thought about seeking comfort in the “destructive creativity of the human mind”.

    Fortunately I never did.

    There maybe a lot in the behavior of Finns I might not like or disagree with. So do they probably think about my behavior. I realize however that I am not the measure of things. In societies that respect themselves as “democracies” people know that the judgement about behavior lies first of all in their “treat people like you want to be treated by people”. When this fundamental part of human behavior called respect fails we have the law to judge over us. One ear hears one ear closes

    So, I trust my respect for other people who ever they are. If – if I ever fail- I don’t comply with my only principle I will not be angry at society to put me behind bars. That’s where I should belong.

    I live in Finland now for 10 years. Speak baby Finnish. But nobody cares. If I would not have had my wife’s and her kids’ support, my friends’ help “being here” would have been far more harder. I don’t even think I would be in Finland still. Lately somebody asked me how I felt about the Finland-Holland football game. One eye cries one eye laughs. That’s how it is for me. I believe that all these claims of assimilation and integration are nonsense concepts.

    Don’t get me wrong. I refuse to accept them anywhere in the world. And I am quite sure that the majority of Finnish immigrants wherever in the world think the same. There are many, many good examples of multiculturalism everywhere as well as bas ones and it is of all times. But that’s not the issue. Even in single culture societies like Finland was in the past civl war was the solution “to settle the matter”. Which matter was settled is not even known anymore.

    My friends come from all walks of life. From rich to poor, left or right etc. I know every corner of Mid-Finland and Lapland till the NorthCape, NorthWest Russia, North of Sweden and Norway. I have visited many companies, farms, tourist places, shops. Talked with as many people as I could find. Never every I have been treated as a foreigner in the above sense. Also I have never ever had a sense of being treated differently in the negative sense.
    One hand holds out one hand fills

    True!! Like I have said many times: in Finland silence belongs to the conversation. That’s not rudeness. For a person as talkative as I am that can be boring. I have learned to respect that behavior. One mouth speaks all other remain quite. Something wrong with that??

    Do I mind the differences with the country that I come from?? Not more than I would say to my kids when they act or do something that they can’t explain or reason or when there is no obvious reason for. I will talk with them and explain why I do not agree with them. Differences are there. So what??

    That’s why I like James Baldwin’s claim. It point at our own weakness. And we just don’t want to see.

    Ignorance is for many many people a joy forever. However, these people think and claim the right to judge other people. The only ground for that right seems to be nationality. But??? what does that means??

    My respect tells me to accept their opinion but discuss them according to the principles of respect. I do not always follow the perfect rules of the game. Sometimes I use words I better do not use here. That’s why I feel obliged to disagree with the Beatles: Let it Be!!

  3. Mary Mekko

    JL sounds like a very sorry case of an economic refugee, i.e. because of his work and income, he cannot afford to leave, but if he had a choice, he would. JL is an example of a “very unhappy immigrant”, similar to the Finnish friend I had here in California for three years, who let herself get more and more upset with how things were done in the USA. She would get angry if people didn’t eat at the proper meal times and snacked on take-away! Luckily, she was wise enough to pack herself up and back to Finland and its welfare payments. Perhaps she resented having to work for money here, but it was more than that. Perhaps JL should try to branch out to other more accepting nations, such as in Africa or Asia, where racism is practically unknown. Or at least, the “superracism” that’s angering him.

    Are Finnish men more racist than the Finnish women? That may be his perception, but Finnish men love foreign women and even marry them. He may mean, “dark-skinned foreign MEN” as what Finnish men don’t like. Finnish men have a strong sense of nationalism, as South African black men do. In both cases, they want “their own country”. Sharing control (power, money, women) with men of a different race is hard going anywhere in the world, for the average man. See how the AFrican males fight each other, to the death, tribe against tribe, over women!!! See how the North American “native” tribes were fighting each other, i.e. their men against other men. It’s something instinctive and natural.

    Why women do not fear the other race in their country: well, could it be that they resent the foreign women, not the men? Especially if those women “take” “their” men and marry them? Filipino women in California are notorious for looking for “white” males, even those married, in order to avoid their own men as partners. Non-Filipino females look with more than glance askance at any Filipino woman bringing her “white” partner to a gathering. Their men remain oblivious. But if the Filipino men had power and money and married “up”, then the white men would be angry, as would black men and Mexican men.

  4. Jaakko

    I think JL has a serious attitude problem. He says how things are done in somewhere else and expect things to be same in Finland.

    – 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.

    I can agree that Finland is closed society. I would say Finns do communicate with each others, but only if you are a friend/family. The privacy is very important thing in Finland and this also shows by “ignoring” the people who you don’t know. I would feel very uncomfortable if all people in the pharmacy would greet me :S I just want to buy my mediciation and leave. But actually pharmacist says Hi/Bye when you buy something. This is not about manners, this is more of a cultural behaviour.

    – 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.

    Probably depends where you leave, but JL is leaving in Helsinki so I wouldn’t say this is a problem. I have several foreigners friends, all shapes and colours, and they go to partying every weekend (without harrashments). You don’t add up to anything in this country if you are not useful for the society (meaning, working or studying). Same things goes to native 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.

    I can sort of agree with this, but I wouldn’t say we are “super racist”. It is weird that he didn’t give any examples how this “super racism” shows in laws or in his life. Some(!) Finnish men don’t like African men, but I wouldn’t say that is the majority. Foreigner women are usually liked by Finnish men.

    – Finnish women drink too much.

    Again, “this is how things are done somewhere else and so it should be in Finland”. But I would just say “Finns drink too much”, not just women.

    – I believe it is a great shame that so many get drunk in public.

    Agree. There are many better activities what you can do than being wasted.

    – 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.

    Wow, this is so insulting/racist comment that I can’t even believe it. Generalizing much?

    – Finland will never be my home. I could never be accepted by this society.

    Depends about the person’s mentality. Many foreigners are integrated and accepted in Finland without problems (even they might not look like native Finns), but if you are bitching about everyting like JL, of course you are not accepted.

    – I once applied for a job at Yleisradio. They did not accept me because I am a foreigner.

    I would like to hear more about this. How he knows that they didn’t accept him because he was a foreigner? Did they say it? Is he sure it is not because of his lack of skills (including Finnish skills)?

  5. eyeopener

    @Mari Mekko.

    Dear Mari. You are missing a market!! Earning money. Don’t you see?? All Blue Ocean, and you don’t see. Is your “mind-set” clouding your eyes??

    Blame and shame on you to criticize you friend whereas you are let money flow by like the Mississippi. Boeh!!

    Pissing on someone shoes is one but complaining the river washed your shoes away is childish.

    CHILDISH!!

  6. Mary Mekko

    Eyeopener, I don’t get your comments. I am always earning money, have done for years, never took welfare. My poor friend was not able to cope with American society due to a sad inflexibility, which flummoxed the best of us. We couldn’t understand that with all the acceptance she got from us (my family and friends, the many people she met) that she couldnt’ accept the American way of life – it was too free, too chaotic, too multicultural and unpredictable.

    My friend had two diplomas back in Helsinki, including an MBA. She never got a job. She has become a strange woman indeed, hard to remain friends with a person who had such potential when I knew her in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. I miss the person she was, so bright and determined, so well educated, we all had high hopes for her future.

    Something in her turned her against foreign cultures, including the USA’s after three years. This is exactly the topic of this forum: why some foreigners cannot adopt to Finland, and why some Finns cannot accept foreigners in their midst. Since I have seen a Finn become upset with California’s life, I can understand how a Finn would be upset with a foreigner condemning his own country.

    The only interpretation I can get out of your comment: you think of welfare money as a Mississippi of cash flowing by? Are you dreaming?

  7. eyeopener

    @ MM

    I am not surprised you didn’t get the point.

    “Sharing control (power, money, women) with men of a different race is hard going anywhere in the world, for the average man. See how the AFrican males fight each other, to the death, tribe against tribe, over women!!! See how the North American “native” tribes were fighting each other, i.e. their men against other men. It’s something instinctive and natural”

    You exclude “whites” don’t you. Let’s begin with “sharing CONTROL (power, money, women)with men……” You as Irish should know far more better than your filthy suggestion following the line!!

    Ever been in Finnish, Dutch, Irish etc bars where white men fight over women?? Never occurred to you??

    You, yourself look very much at “intellectual non-white”, don’t you?? Maybe your friend recognize the hypocracy of US and especially you. But…….

    Maybe she realized that because the US have not the welfare schemes of Finland people have to fight each other like a “wolf-pack” on a kill. Never occured to you??

    Maybe …….. she was and still is far more smarter than you are.

    Maybe……… she saw the Mississippi metaphor far earlier than you did…..

    You know what???………… She was clever!! Never occurred to you??

    Keep on dreaming of your “wonderful white world” where men don’t fight about women, don’t argue about money and share power voluntarily. Brave New World or Shades of Gray. Wonderful pieces of literature to wake you up.

    Maybe never occurred to you!!

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