|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.|
Coming from a developed Western country, it is sometimes easy to take Finland’s many pleasures for granted. Sure, it’s safe. But safety is relative, and if the cities we come from aren’t exactly death zones, we aren’t likely to really give a lot of thought to the topic. Yes, it’s clean. But then so are Singapore, Oslo and Edinburgh.
But every so often I come into contact with people who have moved here from far less salubrious places, and their impressions of Finland tend to be radically different from my own.
The other day I talked to a young woman who had moved to Finland from Bulgaria, and some of her comments served to remind me of quite how lucky we are to live here. “Every day,” she told me, “I thank God for this country.” Her reasoning was hard to fault: as a child at school she had been physically assaulted by teachers; when her mother was hospitalised with cancer she was forced to buy not only medicines but medical equipment for use in the operation; and she had once been fired after disagreeing with her (male) manager.
In her new life, she feels not only safe, but free. Her son can walk to school along Espoo’s quiet footpaths without being bothered by either wild dogs or wild teenagers. Her workmates respect her skills and her neighbours her privacy. It is, she told me, all she ever really wanted.
A Colombian friend told me another story. She had once gone on a date with her guy who had showed her his handgun over the dinner table. “That’s Colombian men for you,” she sniffed. After that I understood a little more the qualities she admired in her current, Finnish husband.
Hearing these stories has shown me a new side of this country, and that is Finland’s ability to provide us with safe haven. We are free to live and work wherever we want and with whomever we want, to worship at whatever church we choose, and to do all of these things in peace. We are not cajoled, threatened or oppressed when we disagree with local habits. We can express ourselves and continue our own cultural norms essentially without compromise.
Furthermore, Finns aren’t generally the ones to force their own cultural traditions down our throats – hence we are not forced to eat mämmi, to think Moomin dolls are cute or even to watch ice hockey. We aren’t forced to join the Lutheran Church or to attend mass rallies supporting local politicians.
Best of all, we aren’t forced to deal with corruption, violence or prejudice on a daily basis. Yes, there can be instances of racism, just as there can be in every country, and certainly the laws on homosexuality here are a decade behind most Western countries. By and large, though, we live here in peace.
So this summer while we are hiking in the forests, sunbathing at Aurinkolahti or sailing in the Turku Archipelago, let us also keep in mind that we are lucky to be here. We are lucky to be safe and free in a world where many, many people are not.
Enjoy the summer.