ACCORDING to Statistics Finland, in 2012 there have been 436 Austrian citizens living in Finland. The Network for Austrian expatriates estimates this number at “about 600”. The truth might be just somewhere in between. Taking a look at the other side of the coin – with more than 1,300 Finns living in Austria – one might get the impression that the love that Finns bring towards this small, mountainous country in the heart of Europe is only returned in a desultory way. But if one thinks that the only interest Austrians and Finns share is a passion for ski jumping, you might be surprised. There are many more occasions, in which Austrians and Finns come together and where the small but mighty Austrian population in Finland show that they’re alive and kicking.
Several organisations in Finland aim at maintaining a good relationship between the two countries, like the Finland-Austria Society (“Suomi-Itävalta Yhdistys / Finnland-Österreich Verein”) or the Austria Friends (“Itävallan Ystävät / Österreichfreunde”). Finland-Austria organisations can be found in bigger cities across the country, including Helsinki, Tampere or Rovaniemi, and although there are hundreds of members participating today, there have been already better times. “10-15 years ago, the number of members was between 400-500, but especially nowadays in the Internet age, the organisation with its initial goals has become a bit less important for younger people,” says Brigitte Linnokari, board member of the Finland-Austria Society.
With about 200 members, the Finland-Austria Society is probably the oldest and most active organisation for Austrians living in Finland and Finns connected with, or interested in, Austria. Founded in 1958 during a period where the interest among Finns in the German-speaking part of the world was on the decline, the society has since been actively involved in organising annual events.
Among those is the Advent party celebrating the Advent Christmas season and giving a foretaste of traditional Christmas festivities. Further traditional events include the “Faschingsfest” (carnival party) or the “Oktoberfest”, organised together with the German-Finnish Society and the Association for Friends of Switzerland in Finland. Lectures are held in cooperation with the German Library in Helsinki.
One quite special event targeting Finnish middle school pupils learning the German language is the annual, nationwide essay competition. The authors of the two best essays submitted may, for example, look forward to a language course in Salzburg, Austria.
But what are the reasons why Austrians choose to come to Finland? “Formerly, the main reason for moving to Finland was a Finnish partner, but nowadays other reasons such as a new job or simple curiosity might play a bigger role,” Linnokari says. Dealing with every day life in Finland as a foreigner of course unveils considerable differences in work processes and mentality. “Finns tend to plan a lot beforehand, while Austrians tend to be more flexible and spontaneous, but also less consequent. Also, people here like to talk about things as they are rather than read between lines.”
Despite Linnokari living in Finland for over 30 years, there are still certain things that she misses. “For the Austrian mountains, the Finnish nature and sea are more than just a substitute. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of spontaneous joy in conversation and joking about random stuff, which is so common in interaction with other people in Austria, is something that would be nice to have more in Finland as well.”