When I was first introduced to Finland in its natural habitat, the country could not have left a better impression. Except for two cases of dishonesty both of whom were Finnish (one girl stating she bought a book she needed for an exam, read it and returned it ‘unread’ to get her money back and a woman giving me a sob story about how she needed to borrow 20e, which she refused to return), people were helpful, kind, welcoming, and their honesty went beyond a mere display of living up to the cliché. Sadly, that later changed, and while it pains me to write this for the sake of my Finnish friends – who have gone beyond anything imaginable in terms of kindness, encouragement, honesty, and just being a good person overall, not to mention getting me through some hard-core shit – this blog would not be honest if it didn’t also highlight the less palatable sides of this oft-glorified country. This list is entirely subjective, and for the sake of my friends, myself, fairness and honesty will be followed by a list of more positive aspects. Both lists are very likely to be updated periodically, as my attitude is bound to change.
10. White is right, Finnish is better. That self-deprecating, humble as pie cliché takes a back seat in a very subtle sneaky manner whereby all that is white and Western European is superior but anything Finnish – be it food, clothes, or a person – is even more superior. Of the foreigners I know who have succeeded in business, they all teamed up with a Finn. This is after all the country where in order to claim possession of your Finnish ID card (which foreigners are allowed, and in some cases is needed for residency), you can’t just have it mailed to you or even – gasp – pick it up in person (the horror and temerity of such a notion), you must ask a Finn to pick it up for you. But, at least the action is nothing if not honest and direct, attributes / values on which Finns pride themselves, sending a clear message of where you stand in the eyes of authority: a nitwit barely able to function because you are not Finnish.
9. Honesty. Yes, you will find super honest cases like the wallet experiment, but as a Finn pointed out to me, ‘people here are only honest so long as their face and name can be identified.’ I didn’t believe him when he told me, but I learned the hard way. I’d trust my Finnish friends with my life, and my most prized possessions, but in the past few weeks especially, I’ve had too many incidences of people being dishonest to let them go. Foreigners and tourists coming here are blinded by the cliché, so it’s good to tell the truth.
Only yesterday I was overcharged at a supermarket chain. The cashier added an extra 0, thus adding 10e. As Finns are quick to point out that only foreigners do this, it has to be added that she looked Finnish, and her name tag, also had a Finnish name, Sari. Only when I asked how it cane to be so high, did she check. Could be an honest mistake if you’ll pardon the pun. She did undertake the necessary steps to refund the amount, and as the manager explained, it would be refunded ‘overnight.’ Overnight came and went, and nothing, no money, no refund. Not very honest, and I know for a fact that if the roles had been reversed and the foreigner had committed this crime (which it would be, since the foreigner committed it, whereas if the perpetrator is a Finn it becomes an ‘honest mistake’), I’d be dealing with the cops in no time at all. And to be perfectly honest, that incident sparked this entire post.
8. Best health care. Private probably. Public, long way to go. Was sent in for regular blood work and apparently my thyroid was supposed to have been checked, but that didn’t happen. Ended up with a wonderful doctor, who was on loan from Sweden for three months, and she requested a thyroid test. Never happened. The old cliché of ‘take a painkiller’ is also extremely true. I’ve seen quite a few doctors, and while one specialist was very nice about me being nervous, for the most part I’ve found the doctors here to be working off a script. Other than the Swedish doctor, I had one doctor who was pretty good. I give Hungary a lot of flack, and the ‘tips’ doctors expect there are outrageous, but when you find a good one, they’re beyond good. Heard a Swedish doctor say somewhere that preventative health care is akin to a joke here. Had several Finnish friends state that treatment could often be rough.
7. Humble spirit. Americans brag, is how the cliché goes. Because we know our worth, and we’re not scared to say so. Obviously, I don’t see it as bragging, but I get where opinions might differ. I’m ok with people being humble, but not fake humble. There is an inherent notion of ‘everything homegrown is automatically better and therefore superior, be it food, fashion, our people, or the workforce in general Not to mention the lifestyle. The latter begs the question of why such a superior lifestyle brings with it such an alarmingly high suicide ride, but that’s a whole other post right there.
6. Conflict avoidant. My people mount the barricades, while the other part of my people will threaten to sue your ass off. While every part of my ethnicity is extremely reactive (and I’ll admit, sometimes really to our detriment), the tendancy I noticed here is to stick your head in the sand and hope if you don’t see it, it’ll blow over before you have to react. I’m all for cooling off, and I along with my people could take a much-needed lesson here, but hiding away until it is safe is really a coward’s way out.
5. Sense of superiority. There is, in addition to what has been mentioned above, a sense of talking down to foreigners. From unfounded assumptions made, to outright discrimination. Foreigners being paid way less than their Finnish counterparts is more the norm than society would have you believe. That humble spirit mentioned above also brings with it a sense of understanding that the country and its people are greater than anything else on God’s green earth. But one must not draw attention to this. I’d much rather have an honest ‘yes, we do believe we are superior and will treat others as second or third class citizens’ than this fake humble brag. I can’t co-sign this, as I’ve only gotten it second and third hand, but there are too many posts to ignore of spouses losing to their Finnish counterparts when it comes to rights. And the same goes for the work environment, where a foreigner’s word can easily count as ⅛ of a Finnish worker’s assertions.
4. Best educational system. This really depends where. I’ve seen and experienced this firsthand, and again, there are nuances. When the teaching is good, it is almost out of this world. But expectation and reality can be miles apart, and all too often I’ve been in situations where I really had to wonder how that notion came to be, other than test scores. I’ve attended too many language classes to count, and I’ve taught in too many places to count, both on an international scale. And I, too, fell into the trap of expecting high quality service when it came to teaching Finnish. In fact, I looked forward to these classes in the beginning. I’ve yet to find a Finnish class where adult students are not infantilized, and treated based on clichés. Even language books have the clichés in ways any cosmopolitan would find cringe-worthy at best. Even German books were better, and lord knows, I am not a fan of that country and its people until they managed to prove themselves to me as deserving of positive feelings towards them. I’ve also witnessed a lot of discrimination against students who do not have a Finnish surname in secondary education.
3. Direct communication. For a country that prides itself on directness and honesty, this is actually pretty funny. Notes that can border on the passive-aggressive seem to take preference over verbal communication. Especially when it comes to neighbors. A neighbor using a drill on a Sunday afternoon for less than 15 minutes, resulted in a pissy note posted publicly. But the jerk blasting his music well after 11pm and yelling his conversations got nothing. Both are Finnish though, so your guess is as good as mine why that happened.
2. Emotions. They’re really hard to come by in these parts of the world. It’s like talking to a wall. I’m not talking about relationships, since I made a promise to myself and others to keep those I deem close out of any blog I write (because these conversations are private, and also because I really don’t want conversations with my loved ones to become fodder for a blog post, occasionally the rule gets broken, but I’d like to think that this involves cases of those who, like me, want to bring attention to certain issues, chiefly human interactions and rights). Complain to someone, or mention anything negative, and you get the wall. Which does f*** all to appease you, and actually only serves one purpose, to get you even madder than you already were.
1. Do. Not. Criticize. Do not even dare. You are living in the greatest country on earth, and as such you should be eternally grateful.
Bonus. Zero, and I mean absolutely zero mental elasticity. People are cast into various molds prefabricated for certain situations. And nothing will deviate from that notion set in stone. You are either here because of work, or because you are involved with a Finnish person. Or because of education. Years ago it used to be music, but I’ve drifted away from that, so can’t weigh in on that anymore. Because of certain places I liked to be at, I got a front row seat to the shenanigans of various fandoms. While it made you face-palm more often than not, I really miss those days of observation. Cases like mine are unheard of and defy the capabilities of most imagination. Yes, there are super creative things coming out of Finland, so hopefully the next generation will prove to be more elastic. Though when I look at my friends, who cover a wide and vast demographic, that statement becomes a blatant lie. Hence why it pains me to write this list.
Update. I contacted the supermarket in question, and they actually replied, explaining that the money could take up to three days to be refunded, instead of one, and they apologize for the misinformation. Even if the planets (looking at you, Mercury) align in a manner that prevents the money from showing up in my account, I have the email as proof, and I have no doubts that they did in fact refund the money. Saying overnight, when it takes 1-3 days is not the best move, but I’m guilty of that as well, wanting to appease someone and saying an earlier date / time. I am officially humbled, and I just wanted to add this in the spirit of fairness. To me that is very decent customer service, and I’ve experienced far worse in other countries, namely Hungary, which is world-famous for what can best be described as a f***-and-die attitude. And again, I’m being very polite here. To the point where if you find decent customer service there, you stick to that place like super glue.