Monday, August 20, 2012

Finnish Racism #2 - More Comments on the Subject by Guest Author James Thompson

Leighton, here, to introduce another contribution from James Thompson.

For those of you not yet familiar with his work, Jim is a first-class writer of noir fiction - and the creator of a character I've grown very fond of, Inspector Vaara, a tough Finnish cop.

Jim lives and works in Helsinki and last contributed to Murder is Everywhere on the subject of Finnish racism back in March of this year.

If you missed that post, and would like to read it, please click here:

Here's Jim:

I recently attended the Semana Negra noir festival in Spain. I was interviewed many times, and a constant thread throughout those interviews was racism in Finland. I found myself explaining the great divide between Finns and foreigners over and over again.

In my latest novel, Helsinki White, in the back of the book, is a text called “Behind the Story.”

Some Spanish journalists had read it, and it sparked controversy. That text and my views on the politics of racism had enough impact that some of the interviews went to the European wire services.
When I came home, I googled “James Thompson Semana Negra” and up came 96,000 web hits, and I found that the media had dubbed me a “prophet of the European Union.” I’m no prophet, but the issue is that hot. Europe is that concerned with the effects of immigration across the continent, afraid immigration will destroy the EU. This false prophet says the EU needs no help with that; it’s destroying itself.
The failure of immigrants to assimilate was much discussed. What went unsaid is that I live in a neighborhood alongside black Muslims. And Turks. And Russians. And Estonians. I watch children from these diverse backgrounds play outside together in harmony. Generally, they speak a mixture of Finnish and Arabic together.
A boy of about nine in that group has taken a bit of a shine to me. He asked me if I would like to play soccer with them. I said I couldn’t just then, but would like to some other time (which was true). He asked where I was from. I said, “I’m American, where are you from?” He said, “I’m Finnish. Can you speak English?” I said in English, “Yes, can you?” He said he could, but reverted to Finnish out of shyness. Whenever I see him, I greet him in English, he answers in English, and we exchange a few words. He can indeed speak English.
When he said was Finnish, I thought it a bit odd, because although he’s white, his hair and skin color aren’t typical for a Finn. Then I heard him speak with his father in what I think was Turkish. So here we have a multilingual child, likely half-Finnish, his father an immigrant who can speak neither Finnish nor English (I tried). The boy’s self-identity is that he is a Finn. Perhaps many of the immigrants who arrived here have had difficulties assimilating to Finnish culture, but their children, that boy and his generation, are and will be Finns. The problem in Finland isn’t a failure to assimilate, but a matter of patience and of time. It will happen. As a supposed prophet, I promise you this.

Following up on the ones I gave you in my last post to Murder is Everywhere, here are some more experiences comments that immigrants have shared with me.

And that I would now like to share with you.

NOTE: This is all verbatim. You'll find some of the grammar flawed, and some of the references, and even the words, obscure, but I haven't corrected anything. Reading it in the original will, I hope, give you a better feel for the people who have done the writing.

Here we go:

When I moved to Finland 12 years ago, people always asked: "Are you accustomed to the Finnish culture?” 
Culture - where it is? Is it a man running down a woman at the door of a shop? Is it when the kids trample on the meal table? Is it a young man sitting in a bus and an old woman standing? Is it, as well as the adult does not know the words "Hello" and "Thank you"?
The main word is “V ! “ everywhere! 
Feast day is Saturday. Then have to drink to the memory loss. The main streets look like after urinary competitions. 
It’s a pity that Finnish nation do not have friends and they do not respect their parents.
Elderly make suicide every other day in Finland. The reason is loneliness and depression.

Finns are the coldest people on the planet and they are selffish and jealosy. They have very little knowlegde about other poleple and cultures and often assume they are superior to other peple. Eg they think an african cannot use anything with a switch, they have to first explain it to them. This way they make fools of themselves and expose their shallowness and lack of the real world outside the sauna. This way they never get to know peolple for what they are instead they either see someone who is pissed of with their behavior (and ll accuse you of not cooperating instead) or they ll see a bootlicker (in the reality someone who is desperate) and they ll take him for sub human.
Never expect a finn to have guilt or show compassion or simple good will eg look at the industries serving old people. They are just there to suck them dry.evn an ordinary finn ll never visit his bedridden father they just wait for the day he dies and claim his belongings.

I think Finland is so negative and cold place to be in. So much racism, hate, prejudgice and inequality. If you say hello to a random stranger, you will be considered as little weird or a foreigner. And the most common response is a blank amazed gaze and some grumbling. Of course there are some exceptions and thank god to that. 
People aren´t well mentally but still it´s very difficult to get proper treatment. Also the healthcare system doesn´t work at the moment, especially in smaller cities. And they say that it´s like winning in the lottory to be born in Finland. It´s far from it. Oh, and the law system. It´s totally off. You can do basically everything and still get away with it. Beat someone up, rape a little kid or kill someone and you´ll probably just get the minimum sentence. Except when you try to avoid taxes or something else that is associated with money. That´s a totally different chapter. Then you´re definately going to jail for a ridiculously long time compared to the action. I would say that Finland´s almost completely rotten. If I would have said this someone in person, I probably would have get beaten up and left on the ground because everyone thinks that it´s not their business. I don´t know if this negativity and things being bad part of finnish character or an epidemic that is all over the world. 
In the end I have to say that not everything´s so fucked up. We have a beautiful nature (in some places). There´s enough food and fresh water for everyone. 
But hey, at least we have an awesome summer...

I'm sad about the Finnish culture and never was happy there. I'm not a teenager, nor a dropout, not stupid. I had work in Finland and am working in my new country, happily. I left because I wasn't happy in Finland. I'm staying put here because this is a good place to be. Returning to Finland would be a step backwards, and I have no reason to return. I look forward. I am a well functioning member of this society. Lonely, perhaps, and still don't feel perfectly at home, but living alone here is a lot better than living in my old familiar circumstances in Finland. I watched the movie "Being There" in which Peter Sellers portrays how an autistic person can be lucky in life. Perhaps Finnish people, in all their autistic tendencies, have been very lucky to make a success of their country, at least in material sense, if not spiritual. We are such oddballs that other peoples think we must be better than them, as nobody can really be as stupid as a Finn appears. And why not? Let's have them keep their illusions.

I have many more comments of this nature, and it you, the readers of Murder is Everywhere, would like me to share additional ones with you, you have only to ask.

And I would be most happy to do so at some future date.

For now, though, let me close with a few comments, not from immigrants, but from Finns: 

You describe us Finns quite accurately, I think. Many of us, yes, perhaps the more educated ones, and those who have lived elsewhere, have no problem with foreigners, but there is a visible minority who are racist. Like racists everywhere, Finnish racists try to cover their insecurity by bravado and bullying and blaming those who look different. 
I feel that there is a section of 'humanity' missing in our society. This is difficult to explain, and I'm not even sure if this is true about the majority or just some people I've met. I've lived in two other countries, and will never return to Finland to live (I hope), and can say I have not met such simpletons anywhere else as so many of us Finns are. It's as if many of us were living some bad farce with few lines and only in a minor role. We are not a fully functioning human being, we are actors not quite familiar with the script, and certainly not able to write the script. Some kind of automatic robots going about our routine actions, saying routine phrases, reacting, not thinking. This is not being human. Being a human is to exprerience life fully, find a connection with others, creating one's life instead of reacting to events like a rag doll. 
I respect many things about the Finnish culture, and admit that we have many good qualities, such as the ability to work hard, and persistence, 'sisu'. I'm glad you are living in Finland. People like you wil eventually bring some light into darkness, even against the will of some of the population. Stay positive, keep smiling. 
One memory from my past. I was living in a small town before I emigrated. I found most people difficult to get along, and rather narrow minded. The only one I was able to talk with as a human being talks to another, was a black man. He was working as a doctor. He was wonderful, but I got the impression that many didn't appreciate him. 

I'm a Finn also like some of these people who wrote in here. I have lived many years abroad and I now have moved back to Finland with my "foreign" family. Those years away from Finland shown me a different way of living,opened my eyes. I'm working with people daily and most Finns I have come a cross are so rude,no matters what so ever!! I find it very hard. They don't say excuse me,hello,please,thank you. What are they thinking? Nothing. My husband also thinks Finns are bad mannered when they don't say good morning but look away!! What is that all about? Even my little children were wondering what's the matter with people when they don't say "moi,hei,terve" to them? It is very upsetting. I have noticed that I have change too much to live here for rest of my life. People are very black&white,negative,rasist and not kind to each other. There is another way to live your lives. We only got one life so live it good,notice others,smile(it does not hurt!),treat others like you would like to be treated. Live your life happy. To finish this, all I can say that Finns are weird nation.

I am a Finnish woman, and not at all proud of it. Moved back here and it was a great shock really!
People are very self-centered, and rude. No smiles, no sorry, thank you, kiss my ass. Now, you could say that cold people do not HAVE to smile, but one would expect some sort of politeness, like when opening a door to a mother with a pushpram, no smile and thank you, only rude and strange comments.??
They think of being educated, but educated person is polite, and well mannered, so I would say Finnish people are metsalaiskansaa (from the forest). Peasants.
They have no drinking manners, really a big problem here (but then again the state makes good money from alcohol), you can smoke nowhere soon, not even outside.
There is no freedom (see above).
They are racists, even towards me, as do not possess any more the monotonous Finnish non-existing habits, but have travelled thus educating myself in different cultures. My foreign husband has been beaten and threatened several times (NB. he is NOT black).
Their outlook of world is very small.
Women are generally very easy (with opposite sex) and have no self-respect whatsoever.
Spontaneity is a word they do not know, everything runs like a clockwork, too much.
Now I must be off, to pack my suitcase to get far from here.


  1. Interesting, Jim, as always, but what struck me this time was your personal observation that assimilation of disparate immigrant cultures into Finnish will occur within a generation; a thought that seemed in distinct counterpoint to the tenor of the seven comments.

  2. One generation, maybe two. Those kids are already assimilating. The tenor of those seven comments is shrill and disillusioned. The voices of desperation and the emotionally distraught. Not the thoughts of someone with the cold, dispassionate eye of the observer.

  3. James, I comprehend and resonate with your earlier words about being an outsider and an observer. Your article explains some things about some Scandinavians I hadn't understood.

    I'm an American presently living in South Africa and I'm astonished how 'home-like' SA feels, not foreign at all. I love it here for the same reasons I couldn't live in Finland.

    I've loved living in other countries, but Finland has the same problems as any insular and parochial society, thinking their thinking is superior.

    1. Hi Leigh. Finland has been an insular country for a long time. Twenty years isn't much time for the acceptance of social diversity. There are a lot of wonderful things about Finland, else I wouldn't have made it home for 15 years. Globalization is quickly changing it, both for the good and bad.

  4. Much to the dismay of many people, we are one world, and many of the problems facing humans are the same everywhere, and effect all of us. These plaints can be heard, shrilly, on the airwaves here in the States. As you well know. It's a sad commentary on our times, but I think historically consistent. What's changed is the ability to communicate. Part of the effects of the internet is that young people may be more accepting than their elders. As you say, maybe hope is in future generations.

  5. Come stand on the platform of the subway station at 14th Street and Seventh Avenue in New York when the local high school kids get out. They pour down the stairs bringing a great noise of energy and excited conversation. They stand and wait for the train holding hands and kissing, in every possible combination of couples. Hispanic girl with Chinese boy. Black boy with white boy. Chinese girl with Hispanic girl. White girl with Hispanic boy. You name it. IMany of them have parents who would disapprove, I imagine, but with their generation, nature will take its course. I agree with Lil. The future is in better hands with them.

  6. Thank you for your wonderful book explanation.
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  7. Very insightful post, Jim. I'm learning a great deal from you about Finland and Fins - through your books and posts like this. Thanks!

    It makes me appreciate more living in a country like the UK, although we are not free of racism here. People, on the most part, are at least polite :)