Exposing white Finnish privilege #70: At the dentist’s and where are you from?

by , under Enrique Tessieri

There have been a number of social media posts about how health-care workers assume what is your cultural and linguistic background. Not only do they make the assumption, but label you in such a way.

While some of you may say that I am being hypersensative, what would a black USAmerican think if I asked him if he spoke English and where he was from?

I have lived most of my adult life in Finland and I still get asked by some health officials if I speak Finnish and where I’m from.

Here is a short dialogue of what happened this week at the dentist’s.

The dentist asks in English if I speak Finnish.

Me: “Yes I do” (responding in Finnish).

Dentist: “Oh, ok, but where are you from? You have a foreign name.”

At this moment I felt a bit uncomfortable. Why should I explain my background to the dentist? It’s my teeth that she should worry about.

Me: “I was born in Argentina, grew up in the States and my mother is Finnish.”

Even if I told her that “I grew up in the United States,” she determined that I was only from South American.

Dentist: “My husband is a foreigner and we have travelled in South American countries like Peru, Chile and Bolivia.”

Me: “Is your husband from South America?”

Dentist taken slighly aback: “No, he’s German.”

I told the dentist that in this day and age, there are a lot of Finns that don’t have Finnish-sounding names.


I hope that Finnish children are giving a different education about Finnish identity and Finns than what the middle-aged dentist received.

The dentist’s questions about my background felt like a rude example of white Finnish privilege.

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