3 things I learned after living for 3 years in Finland
I still cannot believe three years have gone by. It feels like a lot less.
The third year was a significant one. I learned some bits and pieces of Finnish language and culture. I repeatedly fell in love with many enviable aspects of Finland, especially the nature. I developed an obsession with Finnish music that made me brave enough to organise a Finnish karaoke show.
In the continuation of the articles of the previous two years, this is the third one where I discuss my experience of living in this North European land.
1. Finnish people are like any other people
Finns are not outlandish.
They are people. Just like us. Like any of us.
Everything else is an explanation given through the lens of culture and society.
No matter where we are from, we all are driven by some core human needs and wants and desires that dictate our decisions and actions.
We want safety and security. We want peace and comfort. We want to feel needed and honoured. We want to feel special. We want love, care and affection. We want intimacy. We want meaningful connections. We want sympathy and empathy. We want physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth. We want happiness.
Finns also want these. It does not matter if they are from Hanko or Utsjoki, or have blonde or brownish hair.
I met a 30-year-old Finnish girl who said she was scared of exploring Finnish forests alone.
“I do not feel safe. If no one accompanies me, at least I want my dog to be with me.”
She wanted security.
I met a Finnish man in his late 40s. He is divorced and was back to the dating market.
“I may not be the most social Finn but that does not mean I can live alone. I want to stay with someone.”
You think living alone or social exclusion is something that Finns consciously enjoy? Think again.
When we consider the inherent aspects of what make us humans, there is no 'otherness' about Finns. Apart from their social identity and geographical location, they are just like others living on Mother Earth.
2. Finnish language is like any other language
I know how complicated Finnish language is. It is one of the world’s most difficult languages to learn.
Finns say their language is beautiful. Its intricacies are said to be the very features that add to its linguistic beauty. Finnish is also said to be euphonious. When it is sung, it sounds pleasant.
However, much of what is said about Finnish language can be said about other languages too.
My mother tongue is Bengali, and it is one of the 10 most spoken languages in the world. In no way is it an easy language to learn. Even as native speakers, the grammar lessons in school drove us mad.
From the traditional flamenco to the rhythmic reggaeton, Spanish music is incredibly uplifting and widely popular. Bollywood music, which is sung in Hindi language, is loved by many globally.
Last year, I performed in the farewell of one of our restaurant bosses. Before my performance, I told him I was going to sing in Finnish.
He was taken aback. He knew I could not speak Finnish. I sang Ohikiitävää by Juha Tapio, leaving everyone emotional. Ohikiitävää still remains one of my most favourite Finnish songs.
Every language is beautiful according to different measurement criteria, and so is Finnish, but not in an unparalleled way.
3. Finland, however, is not like just any other country.
It is a great one.
There is a saying in our language that can be translated as this: “You do not realise the importance of your teeth until you lose a tooth.”
I would say the same about Finland. That you only realise what a great country Finland is once you leave Finland for a worse destination.
Finns should take great pride in their country, something I believe they do. They have transformed their largely agrarian society into one of the world’s most technologically-advanced nations.
Finland consistently stays at or near the top in many global rankings, including education, governance, prosperity, gender equality, human development and democracy. The Finnish welfare state is there to take care of its people.
Finland is one of the safest countries in the world. It is one of the best countries in the world to be a mother. Finns breathe one of the cleanest airs in the world.
What have you got to complain after all these?
The Finnish winter is cold and dark? You probably will also complain about a place where it is so hot that you feel like burning when you go out or work outside. Besides, Finland can do nothing to change its weather, which is a direct result of its position near the Arctic Circle.
Finns are withdrawn? If Spaniards or Australians or Americans were reserved in nature, you would start complaining against them too. So, the problem is reticence, not the Finnish identity. If reticence is a problem for you, Finns can do nothing to solve it. And they do not need to.
A Finnish travel blogger in my 2017 Finnishness interview series said she learned to appreciate the tranquility of Finland only after living in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong.
Another girl said she visited Oxford when she was 15 and there she missed her motherland so much that she sang aloud 'Oi maamme, Suomi, synnyinmaa' (Finnish national anthem) for the first time in her life.
For a South Asian like me, I will unhesitatingly choose to live in a country where people are educated and highly civilised, where equality is one of cornerstones of the society, and where everyone’s freedom of expression is guaranteed under a truly democratic rule.
For I know Finland is no paradise, but it is nevertheless a great land that brings me to life.