I’ve been taking it (somewhat) easy on Finland in this blog, mainly because I haven’t been there recently. But the time has come, and so Finland takes its turn in the grand Analysis of the Treatment of Foreigners.
It is no secret that Finland has a lot to learn in this respect. Foreigners are still (somewhat of a novelty), and like everywhere else in the world, there is a system, a gradation if you will, of what constitutes a Good Foreigner (from a respectable, read White, country that evokes the desire to visit – perhaps even move there – thus rendering the country Desirable) and what constitutes a Bad Foreigner (none of the above, essentially someone with darker skin (unless they’re from Spain, in which case see above), who sees Finland as the Desirable Country.
Finns are extremely practical and like to make life easy, in themselves and on others. Where with their Magyar brethren this would mean cutting corners (and thus having nothing ever work), for Finns this merely means a Very Practical Approach. Case in point, The Foreigner.
Or rather Foreigners, as to most Finns they constitute a monolith. Which – if you look at it neutrally – is nothing if not practical. Foreigners are not Us, consequently they are Them. And all that is Them does not interest Us, so why worry about Them? In fact, why even differentiate between that monolith that is not Us?! And so all foreigners who are there longer than three months are lumped together under Immigrant, no matter their intent or heritage, because it just makes things so much easier. Why worry about / engage with something that doesn’t concern me, is the logical reasoning. Until the Problem starts to impact housing, the picture of the city, the newsfeed.
The sad thing is, this completely negates a richness that could potentially enhance the social fabric of the country. We all know that, for the simple reason that this, too, is a recap of a tried and tested cliche. But just for the sake of it, let’s look at the various types.
Expats – those on loan from their home country
Immigrants – those who decided to make Finland their permanent home
(Exchange) students – who just want to check out the country
Fans – who flock to Finland for their favorite band,
Tourists – who gave their own reasons for coming, though usually it’ll be nature).
But foreigners are not always bad. In fact, they enrich our lives. Be it with the things they bring with them (tangible stuff e.g. restaurants and cafes), or the things they gift us with (a bit more abstract e.g. artists, teachers, movers and shakers with a cross-cultural background. Google the heritage of some famous faces in any country, and you’ll be pretty surprised). In short, foreigners can bring money to your door, and you’d be stupid not to make good use of this.
The Helsinki Times seems to have this down to an art form. Geared towards non-Finnish speakers and those who want to practice their English alike, it periodically features a section of foreigners in Helsinki. They seem to come from all walks of life, and are meant to show how interesting Helsinki has become with their presence.
I’m not a fan of journalists. Even though I’ve written a few articles myself. But I got burned one too many times by their ilk, and – like Mods and Teds of yore – we simply don’t click. Which is putting it very nicely, and brings me to my next point, in which I would like to apologize to my few journo acquaintances in advance (who have been nothing but decent to me).
But even putting this dislike aside, one finds it a little extreme when one is asked to prove one’s skills by providing an informative little ditty (in written form) about oneself – unpaid of course – , which will determine future collaborations.
That part is fine, after all I’m all for proving oneself. What is less fine is the paper using you to fill space and not even informing you whether they will use it or not. Like a teenage boy negotiating puberty, once they’ve gotten what they want you’re of no more interest to them anymore. Though to be perfectly fair this is more a case of proving how well Finland has managed to adapt to international media practices rather than how the press treats its foreigners.