The Council of Ethics in Advertising: A positive step in the right direction against racism and stereotyping in Finland

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

It’s funny how still some in this country like to tell the rest what is acceptable when it comes to labeling different ethnic groups.  The term ryssä, a derogatory term to place Russians in a negative context in the Finnish language is one of many examples. The Council of Ethics in Advertising  ruled  that using the term ryssimme as a verb from the noun ryssä on one of its cider beverages was unethical.*

The label ryssä is used by Finns as a derogatory term for Russians.

Even if some Finns like to constantly warn and remind us about the “Russian threat” to Finland and that of other groups as well, the truth is that the only ones that are a threat to this country are such people. They don’t build with their racist comments anything constructive but feed an old ogre of to Finns called hatred and suspicion of outsiders.

Another degrading label that we have brought attention to on Migrant Tales is the term mamu, the shortened word for maahanmuuttaja, or immigrant.

Stand-up comedian Ali Jahangiri mentions in the following video clip why his blood boils every time he hears the term mamu used by Finns.  Warning: The video clip uses quite offensive language and is recommended for viewers who are over 18 years old.

On a number of occasions we have debated on Migrant Tales about the use of the term neekeri  by Finns, which is highly offensive to blacks.

As a person with a Latin American background, I personally find it incredible how Mexicans  are portrayed, sometimes as toothless unshaven desperados outside of Mexican restaurants.  The Amarillo restaurant chain portrays a Mexican in a pretty suspicious manner.  Isn’t it funny that cowboys from the U.S. are never portrayed as Mexicans, who don’t even look human.

dating website shows subjectively and even in a racist fashion how sexy women are portrayed in Finland. If the picture is anything to go by, the ideally beautiful woman in Finland has platinum-blonde hair, blue eyes and enjoys holding a red strawberry between her teeth.

Despite the racism and sexism we see in advertising in this country every day, the Council of Ethics in Advertising ruling on the usage of the term ryssä is a positive step in the right direction.

*Mainostoimisto Kingin suunnittelemassa mainoksessa oli kuva Otto Greippi Lime -tölkistä, jossa sana greippi oli tavutettu virheellisesti grei-ppi. Mainoksessa luki ”Uudistimme maun, mutta ryssimme tavutuksen!”. 

Thank you Minun Suomeni on kansainvälinen – My Finland is International for the heads up!

  1. Jaakko

    There has been lately lot’s of discussion what is acceptable language and what is not.

    I think “ryssä”, “neekeri”, “manne”, “rättipää”, “hintti” and “vinosilmä” are offensive words and should never be used. Even “neekeri” wasn’t an offensive word 20-30 years ago, I can accept the word might change it’s meaning when the language develops. “Mamu” is something I’m not certain; it is quite new slang word in a way, but not sure if it is a negative one. I don’t use the word, but I guess some people might find it offensive.

    However, this discussion about a verb “ryssiä” is ridiculous. I have never in my life thought that it could come from the word “ryssä” or have anything to do with Russians. It sounds almost as stupid as changing the name of “kuka pelkää mustaa miestä”- game. The other word what seems to be an offensive word nowadays is “mustalainen” which I can’t agree either.

  2. Yossie

    “A dating website shows subjectively and even in a racist fashion how sexy women are portrayed in Finland. If the picture is anything to go by, the ideally beautiful woman in Finland has platinum-blonde hair, blue eyes and enjoys holding a red strawberry between her teeth.”

    Oh my god! A nordic dating website has a picture of a blond, blue eyed girl! Oh the racism!

    Are you serious? If that qualifies as racism then you really has some very distorted view of racism.

    • Enrique

      Yossie, can you show me a reliable study where it shows that most of the people in the Nordic region are blonde and blue eyed? These dating sites like the “top-50-most-beautiful-women” stories of 2011 are not only racist but sexist. They are giving us a subjective view of what is beauty. Why so few blacks or representatives from other ethnicities? In the same way you portray what is beauty subjectively you are giving a distorted view of our society’s ethnic makeup. That was my point.

      One more point: In Latin America, “beauty in a woman” can be sometimes portrayed as somebody who is “blonde and white (European background).” Check out the soap operas. The star role is usually played by a white woman instead of an Ameridian, black or other “mixed” ethnicity. Why? The answer to that question would be a study in history, historicity, colonialist legacy and racism.

  3. Tiwaz

    So are you foreign whiners prepared to change your languages so that you cannot use ANY word we Finns might find offensive?

    What? No?

    Then STFU!

  4. Seppo

    “They are giving us a subjective view of what is beauty.”

    Views on beauty are always subjective, aren’t they? What I find attractive in a women is different than what many of my friends do. That’s normal.

    If a Finnish (Nordic) dating site sets the image of one women on their websites, I think it is quite normal that the woman happens to be a blue-eyed blonde, just like most Finnish (Nordic) women are. If they would put five women there, then it would make sense the show the diversity, something that they would most probably do.

    Finland got its first black Miss Finland in 1996, no reason to worry that people here could not appreciate all kinds of beauty.

  5. Yossie

    Seppo got it right. Beaty is always subjective and thats why I dont like beaty competitions. they are really ridiculous concept.

    It doesnt matter if most finns and blonds or not. What matters is that people find the combination attractive. Thats why they have the blond girl picture up there. They want to attract people.

    Since vast majority of nordic people are white and many(but not all) are attracted to blond-blue combination, you just have to live with it. Dont enforce your own opinions on us and call it racism when others dont agree.

    • Enrique

      Mark, my point is that these types of sites create subjective expectations of what is beautiful and what is not. In Finland there are women and even Finns of different color. By giving expectations of what is beautiful you exclude others. I wonder what black people in Finland feel when they are underrepresented and faintly acknowledged at such websites. The diversity of people should be seen on these websites. That was my point.

  6. Mark


    – “So are you foreign whiners prepared to change your languages so that you cannot use ANY word we Finns might find offensive?”

    Yep, create an absolute (ANY), that’s easy to defend. I love it that you call people who stand up against discrimination as ‘whiners’. Fucking hiliarious you are. If it was for people standing up for rights, your rights, my rights, the rights of vulnerable groups in society, then this society in Finland that you so cherish wouldn’t be so admired.

    Shame that you are prepared to betray the values that have built up Finland’s reputation in the world. I guess you just don’t appreciate the work your fellow Finns present and past have done to advance human rights and the eradication of discrimination. But hey, feel free to feed of the glory of other people’s work while at the same time spitting on it!

  7. Allan

    Such fast this degregation of language. I think the “mamu” abbreviation was coined by officials around the turn of the century. Kielitoimisto registered it in 2000, Suomen Kuvalehti wrote of a mamuluokka in 2001 and it was in MMM as the “word of the year” 2003…

    Maybe some “yön Timo” (popularised by the movie Vares 2004) prefers instead to be called a “kultamuna” – (thats off the Ministry of Labor “Erilaisuus on rikkaus” multiculturalism brochure)

  8. Allan

    Enrique, we are not in Latin America, so what some macho latino cultural hangups its all this “racism” in your own head. Finns look at the advert and see a woman, nothing more, nothing less. You have a problem, not anyone else.

  9. Allan

    Maybe if the quality control in Russia was not “big country big tolerances” then there would not be such a negative stereotype? Let me introduce you to a high-tech rocket factory that supplies rocket engines to the spacecraft. Oh, its not an abandoned factory, they just dont have money to mend the fences or pay security guards.