Oh My God, I Live in Finland!

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Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Have you ever had that dream when you suddenly wake in a mild panic thinking to yourself, “Oh my god, I live in Finland!?” It’s not a voice that I hear, more a subconscious murmur that breaks the calm of my dreams and slumber. “I live in Finland!” Followed by the realisation I can’t have some casual banter in the pub with my mates whilst drinking pints any day soon.

“Finland,” the realisation that if I want to have a Sunday roast with my mum and dad, I need to plan it about three months in advance, check with work, buy flight tickets for me and the family, arrange a pick up from the airport. “Finland,” realising that I can’t wear a denim jacket all year round anymore.

Of course it is not specifically Finland that will make you have these thoughts, in fact I’m sure many Finns have woken up in the middle of the night after spending a year or so in England realising that they are stuck in a place where the nearest thing to a summer cottage is Centre Parcs, and how when they go to the pub they can no longer drink one of only three beers which all taste the same, served in measures of 0.5l in a pint glass that gives the impression the barman had a cheeky sip before asking seven euros for it.

I consider the absurdity of me living in a country that I had no real cognizance of until only a few years ago – I knew it was a country in Europe but I probably knew more about Narnia than I did Finland.

I consider the absurdity of me living in a country that I had no real cognizance of until only a few years ago – I knew it was a country in Europe but I probably knew more about Narnia than I did Finland.

In fact when I first met my girlfriend and she told me where she was from all I could reply was that I liked the Moomins and that I had a Finnish teapot.

And now I live here.

It is hard enough for anybody to try and figure out their place in the world, getting through all those awkward stages at school, college and university, getting a job, starting a family and then somewhere in your mid 30’s finally dropping the “young” out of “young adults” when referring to yourself and peers.

We travellers, immigrants and life relocators put ourselves through even more hell: not only do we have to move ourselves and family, but leave behind the one place in which we learned how to cope and survive and then pack up and prepare to do it all over again in a foreign land. Actually becoming an immigrant! That is crazy! We immigrants must be the most loathed demographic worldwide, even though we’re made up of every single variation of the human race possible.

In a way I have always thought of myself as a bit of an immigrant even in my country of birth, being a brown kid in the rural-ish south was not always an environment that I felt I belonged in, mostly due to the narrow minded attitude of some of those around me.

Nowadays I confidently refer to myself as English but with parents from Scotland and the Caribbean. Really I am as much a result of the British Empire as tea or Hong Kong pre-1997, so maybe British is more accurate. I would probably disagree to anybody who pointed it out, but admittedly I am very British in my personality, humour and general attitude (brash, sarcastic and always right), but like Hong Kong and tea, I’m a bit exotic too. This amalgamation has made me the person I am but I wish it would’ve prepared me more for coping as the “real” immigrant that I am today. Yes, for us immigrants we now must adopt a hybrid culture of retaining some of the elements of life in the old country whilst residing in the new.

We travellers, immigrants and life relocators put ourselves through even more hell: not only do we have to move ourselves and family, but leave behind the one place in which we learned how to cope and survive and then pack up and prepare to do it all over again in a foreign land.

At first, a lot of things that I learned about Finland I just assumed wouldn’t be for me. I remember my girlfriend explaining how saunas were relaxing and an enjoyable way to keep clean and socialise, I asked if it was the equivalent of inviting a friend over for a bath. She still teases me about this. Now I’m a saunaholic, gone is my Victorian British prudishness and in fact I would despair at the thought of not having at least one or two a week!

I’ve also found a lot of substitutes for the things I missed back home: lihapiirakka is my new pasty, A.Le Coq is my new Stella Artois and Nepalese restaurants are my new Indian restaurants.

Many of us immigrants will have social groups where we can meet with friends from the homeland who feel a bit homesick, and where we can discuss news and politics and indulge in cuisine and culture. There the youngsters can learn about where their roots are from and can carve themselves an identity which has foundations both here and over there.

For my family and me, we now have a wonderful balance; my sons will grow up to love and appreciate the outdoors and sauna (Finland), speak perfect English with Cambridge accents (England) and be terrible at football (England and Finland). Joking aside, it really is my family and extended family here, that has really made me feel like I have an identity in Finland and made me feel as though I have a place outside of just being an outsider. I have also found a comfortable niche within my Finnish extended family, I insist on only speaking English to my sons and their cousins so I’ll be the one that the children are a bit afraid of because of my deep voice and foreign tongue. This was a role undertaken very well by my two dear grandfathers whose accents from the Caribbean and Glasgow were borderline Greek to me as a child.

I’ve also found a lot of substitutes for the things I missed back home: lihapiirakka is my new pasty, A.Le Coq is my new Stella Artois and Nepalese restaurants are my new Indian restaurants.

I think I am getting used to the fact that I am not planning on returning to live in England and also coming to terms with the loss of those once regular features in my life; the acquaintances I may never see again, the deep fried foods that I can no longer eat all the time, the imperial pint.

What is most difficult is the letting go of the illusion that I am the same person I was when I lived there. It is like I have created a cut-off point where my normal life paused and I’m in some kind of parallel flux. From time to time I do still have these thoughts of when the flux is over, as if me and the family will appear one day back in England where I’ll live as a perpetual 25-year-old, playing computer games, sitting in pubs and living in bed-sits but with my family conveniently in tow.

I will always miss many aspects of home but I don’t feel entirely like I have moved home, I feel that I have moved onto another stage in my life, like when I first started getting facial hair or when I first started losing hair. It is an experience that I cannot unexperience. Becoming an immigrant was more like becoming 34 than just the simple process of moving from A to B. It is now that I realise that most of my sleeplessness, my pining and despair is probably just as much about getting old as it is being away from the land of my birth.

And to misquote the British writer L.P. Hartley, “We immigrants may be from far off lands but it is our pasts that are the most foreign countries: we did things differently there.”

 

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