|David Brown is a language consultant and journalist, regularly covering stories in Africa, Asia & the Middle East. He has lived in Finland for 10 years.|
We don’t become entirely different people in Finland, but we do take on some very Finnish features.
While certain sectors of society obsesses about how immigrants impact Finland and Finnish culture; a less-discussed topic is how Finland and Finnishness impacts immigrants. For while it is tempting to believe that we are the same people here that we are in our countries of origin, I don’t actually believe that is the case. We don’t become entirely different people, but like air masses, most of us do tend to take on the features of the landscapes across which we pass.
One of the aspects I notice is social isolation. Finns socialise considerably less than New Zealanders, and certainly less than is the norm in the likes of Spain, the US or France. Whereas some of us began our working in lives in companies that lurched from after-work drinks to Saturday afternoon barbeques and Fridays at the local pub, we now work in an environment where the idea of socialising with colleagues at anytime except Xmas can be considered revolutionary.
While one impact of foreigners in a workplace might be a greater intensity of socialising, my experience is more the opposite; as foreigners we simply forget about the concept of socialising with colleagues and actually do very little of it – even with other foreigners.
Away from work, I sense the same trends. Friends who come from the same culture of endlessly rotating dinner invitations, kids play dates, brunches, barbeques and trips to the beach that I do, tend to work at it in Finland for a year or two before subsiding into a lifestyle in which walking the dog is the weekend’s social highlight. Social life is dominated by family, and the only new people we ever talk to work in the local Alko.
Work/life balance has long been one of the biggest differences I notice on my occasional commutes across the globe, but in this I have become as Finnish as the next man. I work indecent hours for minimal wages, and have ceased to notice anything unusual about it. So does everyone else I know. There is no question in my mind that Finns worker harder than most peoples – but maybe also too hard.
This raises the issue of the extent to which we, as foreigners, should try to adapt to the local culture. It’s much easier to live in a country if one can live in much the same way as local people live; much more difficult if every week brings the irritation of finding that life does not work in the way we think it should.
In some aspects of life, what we bring to Finland may also ultimately be good for it. A little extra socialising and a better balance between work and play might actually be something many Finns would welcome. Given the chance to try it, anyway.
But perhaps the unfortunate thing about becoming Finnish is that the negative traits are easier for us to acquire than the positive ones. Depression, overwork and social isolation are habits most of us can get used to; hyper-efficiency, reliability and classic Finnish sisu less so!