With a Finn – A relationship offers a different viewpoint into Finnish society
An increasing number of Finns are finding a foreign spouse for themselves. A relationship offers a different viewpoint into Finnish society and immigration. A relationship can be helpful in the integration process, but it does not solve all problems.
The beginning of Başak Yavuz Blomberg and Sami Blomberg’s relationship was exciting. In Turkey, relationships are constrained by religion and conservative values. Kissing in public could cause unwanted attention. Başak’s stepfather could not know of the relationship, so Sami visited Istanbul only as a friend and slept in a different room than Başak.
“Even my Turkish boyfriends didn’t spend the night at our house. I was wondering how on earth I would explain my parents that my ‘European friend’ would like to visit yet again”, Başak reminisces.
Sami had always been interested in foreign cultures and geography, and previously he had had a Slovakian girlfriend. In contrast, Başak’s family had always been very protective towards her, and had not allowed her to go even on school field trips. Başak had decided to remain unmarried and live in Istanbul, until she was admitted to study abroad in Hungary. There, she met Sami.
There, during a walk on the Géllert hill, they became infatuated with each other. When it was time for Başak to return home to Turkey but Sami’s exchange continued, a year filled with travelling began. When Başak visited her boyfriend in Finland for the first time, she was greeted by almost half a metre of snow, over 20 minus degrees, and a warm sauna. Sami’s mother had knitted Başak wool socks with patterns of aurora borealis on them.
The relationship was characterized by uncertainty, but neither of them wanted to quit. After 18 months of dating, Başak moved to Finland to live with Sami. After a year of living together, they married, and only then did they tell Başak’s stepfather of the relationship. Now, they have spent nearly five years in a Finnish apartment building with two turtles, and they have been married for almost four years.
Başak studied Russian at the university and was blessed with excellent language skills, which is why she learned Finnish astonishingly fast. Sometimes she also accidentally comes up with new words that sound like Finnish. She would like to get a degree in library studies. Sami, who works as a culture producer, cooks Turkish food better than he speaks the language, even though he has taken one course in Turkish. Güzel kahverengi gözler, beautiful brown eyes, were some of Sami’s first words in Turkish. At home, they speak Finnish and occasionally also English.
Başak has a fierce and fiery Turkish temperament, and sometimes she cannot understand Sami’s calmness. In Finland, everything else happens in an unhurried pace as well, from busses to queues at the local market. On her part, Başak has given Sami the courage to act how he wants, despite other people’s opinions.
As a couple they are a curiosity: in the majority of cases, you see a Finnish woman with a Turkish man she met during a holiday in the south. Başak and Sami have not been discriminated against. Başak works in customer service and has sometimes noticed that people are hesitant to ask her for help. Perhaps they are not sure whether Başak speaks Finnish.
“I look different and I speak in a funny way, but not all immigrants are here in the search for a better life”, Başak notes.
Bad news from Turkey often make Başak sad. Friction between the Kurd minority and the nationalists adds to the threat of terrorism especially in Eastern Turkey, and the attitude towards president Erdogan, who rules the country like a dictator, divides the people.
Since the attempted coup d’état in Turkey in July, Başak has found it hard to get sleep.
Sami has also been worried about the increasing number of arrests and discharges, as well as the discussion around restoring death penalty in Turkey. Complaining about Finnish politics seems trivial compared to the situation in Turkey.
“Shark” was the mysterious international Master’s degree student who would not reveal his home country to Finnish Satu. Gradually, his new friends found out that the young student of medicine had arrived to Finland from Kurdistan, Iraq. Related to his nickname “Shark”, his home country was also jokingly referred to as “Sharkland” among his friends.
After his Master’s studies, Shark first returned to Iraq to work and then, after two years, came back to Finland when he received a postgraduate position at the university. An Iraqi last name appeared on Satu’s letterbox this autumn. Satu and Shark have been dating for a year and a half.
Shark has now a residence permit to be able to complete his postgraduate studies. They have not yet revealed their relationship to his family, who live in Kurdistan. They might think that Shark left Iraq for love and not for a doctoral hat. This is why we are using Shark’s nickname instead of his real one, and only Satu’s first name.
Iraqi citizenship has not exactly been a benefit for Shark, neither when applying for a visa nor when getting to know people. Shark tries to avoid a bad first impression, and in time he tries to prove that he is better than how people often imagine Iraqis. For example, religion is a cause for prejudice. Shark is an atheist.
“It’s sad that stereotypes exist, but if I arrive in a new country, it is my job to break them. I’d say that immigrants, including asylum seekers, are responsible for their integration”, Shark states.
Asylum seekers are one thing that causes friction between the couple. Shark, who has studied and travelled the world, does not identify with the refugees who come to Finland, and he criticizes them more than Satu. According to him, not all asylum seekers come from areas suffering from distress. He says that his home town Erbil is safer than Paris.
“Many of those who come here have not been able to integrate even in their home country. It’s no use to imagine it’d be any easier here”, Shark remarks.
In addition to the discussion on immigration, November is also a divisive issue for the couple. Shark loves the dark and cold, whereas Satu is yearning for the Southern heat she sees in her weather app. Satu would like to explore new cultures, whereas Shark is interested in everything else. Through Satu, Shark finds it easier to find Finnish friends than before.
They do agree on one thing: Finland is not a multicultural country, not yet. To be one would require more foreigners moving here to work and study. They should also be able to work without a perfect command of Finnish. According to Satu, the new, upcoming generation will have a say on how multicultural a country Finland will be.
For Shark and Satu, a relationship with a foreigner has always been an option. People who are cautious might be afraid of what would happen to the possible children if the couple does not stay together, but Satu thinks it is unnecessary to paint such threatening images.
“You shouldn’t decide to not get acquainted with someone just because they come from a different country.”
Are you from/in tre?
From the first short Tinder conversation Santeri and Ana Palkivaara had, it would have been impossible to predict that in two years, the couple would be married and the parents of a newborn daughter, Ansa.
Ana had arrived from Catalonia, Spain, to be an au pair in Finland, and she missed having a social life: friends, not particularly a boyfriend. The couple considered Tinder a good place to get in touch with other cultures. The carefree application allows for taking risks and meeting all kinds of people.
Even though they both were actually afraid to engage in a relationship, Santeri took the plunge and took the blue-haired girl’s hand on their first date, which took place on a festival gig.
“I believe I had always thought I’d have a foreign girlfriend one day – perhaps a French one, or someone whose mother tongue is English”, Santeri explains.
Getting to know Ana took Santeri in the middle of an exuberant Spanish culture. The amount of speech first shocked him. When he visited Ana’s family in Barcelona, Santeri sometimes had to flee to the streets to avoid the constant talking.
Ana, too, has become more quiet along the relationship. When she visits her home country, she notices that she is no longer like her friends who continue to live there.
From the beginning, Ana and Santeri’s relationship has been intense and things have progressed rapidly. Getting married was reasonable considering Ana’s residence permit.
Through Ana, Santeri has realised that the path of an immigrant through “regulated Finland” is full of pitfalls. As Ana took Santeri’s last name, she suddenly could not use her Spanish bank account that was registered with her maiden name. The mess with changing names caused the couple financial difficulties for months. The financial situation of a graphic designer and a musician was never easy anyway.
“No information is given without asking. You have to know the legislation yourself before being in contact with the authorities. You can’t rely on being understood in a difficult situation”, the couple notes.
Ana has plenty of Spanish friends in Finland, but she has only become acquainted with Finns through Santeri. On the other hand, the relationship can also be a drag when meeting new people.
“It’s easier to move around when you’re single. In a relationship, you often find yourself only spending time with your partner”, Ana remarks.
Coming from a western EU state, Ana does not mentally identify as an immigrant. Nevertheless, she feels that when she, for example, visits the doctor, she is treated like she was stupid.
Occasionally, Ana has been verbally harassed in the street. She is of the opinion that Finns should travel more to notice that Finland is not the centre of the world.
Living far away from home has taught Ana to let go of the past and to concentrate on the present. Her childhood family has been replaced with her own, new family. The birth of Ansa has tied Santeri and Ana even more tightly together. Her Spanish friends think Ana is brave.
“I never thought I’d speak English with my husband and my child”, says Ana. “It’s a shame that people put so much weight on language and let that hold themselves back.”
Riccardo Pizzuti, who was working in Finland, was once again leaving to visit his home in Italy when he felt a strange, new feeling. After his last visit home, he had met Aino Kamaja in Finland. Now, for the first time, he felt a piece of him was left in Finland with Aino.
“Without Aino, I’d only have Finland, but no one to guide me there. It’s completely different to actually be with a Finn and not just work here. For me it’s a huge thing.”
Aino and Riccardo ended up working in the same fast food restaurant at just the right time. Aino had returned from her exchange in Sweden, and life in Helsinki felt bland. Freedom had vanished, and she felt anxious in her old relationships.
Nervous Riccardo was assigned to introduce the newcomer to the tasks of the restaurant. Riccardo had always been a fan of Japanese culture and to him, the tiny blonde girl looked exactly like a Japanese manga character.
At that time, Riccardo had a Spanish girlfriend, but later on he started dating Aino.
The relationship with Riccardo is the most serious Aino has ever had. For the first time, she is planning on moving together with her partner.
During the two years they have dated, they have either spent their time in the small shared apartment room of Aino’s, or made trips to the nearby forest located between the couple’s homes.
Even though geographically Finland and Italy are not that far away from each other, the couple considers the difference in cultures to be notable. Riccardo has never identified with the traditional Italian macho man. Aino still had trouble getting used to Riccardo wanting to carry the groceries.
Despite the relationship, Riccardo finds living abroad stressful at times. Because of the language barrier, Finnish culture seems one-sided.
An outsider to a society observes it as if from inside a bubble. When Aino visited Italy with Riccardo, she could also identify with this feeling. They speak English with each other.
To resolve the situation, Riccardo is now taking a course in Finnish for the first time. He has to pay for his studies himself, because the three-year integration period has already passed. Before, he had no time to attend the course because he had to work, and the course intake requirements favoured unemployed persons.
Now Riccardo has quit odd jobs and internships, and is concentrating on learning the language. He would like to find work in his own field of graphic 3D design and culture production.
While Aino was studying in Sweden, she noticed how multicultural Sweden is compared to Finland. The couple could easily imagine living in, for instance, Sweden or Denmark, because Aino is studying Nordic literature at the university.
Aino views Finns as a people of brief history of their own, which she considers to be the reason why we want to protect our culture from foreign influences. In Italy, regionalism is not as nationalist as in Finland.
“We are not very welcoming towards foreign people in Finland. It’s not just the True Finns, it’s the whole culture”, Aino concludes.
A MULTICULTURAL RELATIONSHIP
A multicultural, international, or bicultural relationship is one where one person is a Finnish citizen born in Finland and the other a foreign citizen born elsewhere.
In 2015, approximately 15 per cent of all marriages were established between a Finnish citizen and a foreign citizen. In 1995, only 5 per cent of all marriages were multicultural.
Compared to other European countries, Finland had the seventh least multicultural marriages in relation to population in 2010. Countries with even fewer multicultural marriages were Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania.
Finnish women married Turkish, American, and Russian men the most, whereas Finnish men married Thai and Russian women.
The portion of people of foreign origin in the Finnish population has steadily increased. Persons of foreign origin who were also born abroad composed 5.2 per cent of the Finnish population in 2015. Most of them are 25 to 44 years old.