"Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope."
"I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort where we overlap.”
"Rainbows introduce us to reflections of different beautiful possibilities, so we never forget that pain and grief are not the final options in life.”
"An intercultural relationships is more about 'hello' and 'nice to meet you' than 'goodbye' and 'farewell'. It's about gaining another country, another culture, another language and another family."
"Diversity is the magic. It is the first manifestation, the first beginning of the differentiation of a thing and of simple identity. The greater the diversity, the greater the perfection."
"I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."
The poem above reminded me of myself. My life and my experiences.
For what was has it been like to be me?
How has it felt to be like me?
I was born in a country far away from Finland and brought up in a country a lot closer to Finland.
As a child, as a teenager, and as an adult I have been from here and there, and from neither there or here. I was once a child of two cultures and now I am an adult with roots in two continents and three countries.
I guess I have never felt truly at home anywhere and the same goes for my two brothers. Having said that, I also feel at home everywhere, and, because of my experiences, it has been easy for me to adjust to new situations and new locations.
I may have lost my sense of belonging to a particular country and culture, but I have also gained a lot. For example, I speak three languages which I occasionally get mixed up. Once, having been to Finland for several years, I went to visit my parents who now lived in the country I was born in. I wanted to get a local SIM card for my mobile phone and marched into a shop explaining my need in length to the salesperson… in Finnish. The salesperson stared at me with utter puzzlement and it was my father who finally said: “What an earth are you talking about, and more importantly, what language are you speaking?”
And why do I speak Finnish? What had brought me to Finland?
I was in Finland and I speak Finnish because of love. Because I had met and fell in love with a girl from that tiny country on the edge of Europe. Met, fell in love and decided to move with her to Finland all those years ago.
My parents were not happy about my decision, they were aghast. My parents had had plans for me to continue my studies in an English-speaking country, the US, UK or Canada. They had never heard of anyone going to Finland for an academic education and didn’t know a thing about Finland’s universities.
I kept my decision though, moved to Finland, and started my studies and my new life with my Finnish girlfriend. I must admit I had moments of doubt and slight regret during my first year in Finland, but after a while, I settled in, integrated and found my own place. I also learned Finnish and many other things like riding bike in snow and freezing cold (I preferred using ladies thick stockings for insulation instead of those ugly and horrible “pitkät kalsarit”), enjoying joulutorttu and hillomunkki (or “hiilomunkki”, like I always said), being comfortable in a relative silence, ignoring the stares I drew in smaller towns, and loving the reliable and high hot water pressure.
It has now been a long time since my last hot shower in Finland, but my experiences and memories remain fresh and intact. Finland makes a part of me, Finland is a part of me and a part of me is a Finn.
As children, most of us are taught: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.
And so, whenever possible we silence the voice inside when it has something to say which does not sound so nice. But in some situations, despite the noblest efforts, it doesn't work. The not-so-nice voice which is suppressed seldom disappears, but on the contrary, has tendency to develop into some other unpleasant symptom - tension, bitterness, or frustration
Some time after settling in Finland, I began to notice something about myself, and in many friends of mine from various countries. We had a tendency to complain. Sometimes a lot. The subject of our criticism: Finns and Finland.
"All they know are forms."
The lack of communication!!
"I said hello to my neighbour and they just ignored me completely."
The shops that close too early!!!
"Where in the world are we?"
And something one friend of mine had a particular frustration about:
"CAN'T THEY MARINATE THEIR OWN CHICKEN!!??"
(At which point I understood that there might have been otherwise a certain amount of stress involved.)
Of course one can try to take such complaints with a bit of humour (especially the latter). However, when it is one's spouse who is frequently complaining, it can become a sensitive issue in the relationship. The one who has to endure the complaints may take the criticism personally, and become upset.
When I became aware that my Finnish family and friends were sometimes sensitive to my criticism, I first tried to stop it completely. When that didn't work, I then tried keeping it within the circles of my foreigner friends. Sometimes when I was just fed up with some situation, I admit, I didn't try so much.
Being one who can "see through a brick wall in time", it eventually dawned on me that I had seen this kind of behaviour before coming to Finland. I remembered my experience with some very good Russian friends back home. I recalled that they were very often criticizing something about Canada, or Canadians.
The educational system!
"What? You never learned this in school?"
The work life!!
"They really have no clue what they are doing..."
"Apples and potatoes here taste like grass."
Despite having a great love for Canada, I was somewhat aware also of its many defects and deficiencies, and so I never took such comments much to heart. Rather, I remember just feeling a bit confused.
Was their educational system really so much better than ours? (Likely.)
Were their professionals more efficient in their work life? (Possibly.)
Could their apples and potatoes really taste so good? (Hmmm... I really must visit Russia one day.)
My experience was the same with other friends who immigrated to Canada from different parts of the world. Though they had some good things to say about their new country, there was also frequent criticism.
Only after moving my life from Canada to Finland was I really able to understand. (The brick wall, remember?)
Even with so many very good things which come with living in Finland, still, for many, complaining, criticizing - yes, even whining at times is a way to deal with the stress and change that comes with moving one's life to another country.
To try look at it from this point of understanding may be helpful for those with a spouse, or friend, from another culture. That when he or she feels the need to complain about something, the listener is patient, and doesn't take the criticisms personally.
To understand that most people, when faced with such a big life change, may in some degree or another feel the need to unburden themselves through complaining about the differences of their new environment. If we give patience and understanding, it is more likely that in time the person will adapt well, and learn to love their new home.
It is my experience that when my husband and friends have been patient with my complaining, often what was born in my mind almost immediately, after the initial relief of "letting it all out", was an ability to see the other side of the issue - the positive things.
Of course, it is important to keep in mind that some grievances may not have any valid basis (the chicken remark comes to mind). However, many will have roots in a real problem, and every country has its own particular ailments.
Adapting to the ways of a new country is a process. For some it may be very quick, and for others it could take more time. I still have times when I feel the need to state my grievances. In these situations, I try to keep it within the circles of my foreigner friends, so as to spare any possible, and definitely unintended, hurt feelings.
Though my process has been long, and occasionally still some need to complain remains, there is an important addition to it - an appreciation and love for the good qualities of the people of the country, and their enriching influence on my own personality. And this is largely in thanks to a very patient husband and supportive friends, who have allowed me the process.
Did you know that intercultural couples in Finland have been found to have more conflicts than couples with the same cultural background, but at the same time intercultural couples are as same or even more satisfied with their relationship?
As can be seen there are two sides for every coin. Although it may be so that in general intercultural couples face more issues than partners who come from the same country, my own relationship with a Finnish man has shown many positive aspects which apply also to other intercultural couples. I believe that when partners keep an open mind, an intercultural relationship can be very enlightening.
You can get to know the values, traditions, customs, history, and ways of behaving of your partner’s culture and you can be exposed to new movies, music or food. While you learn about another culture, you gain knowledge also about your own. Wider perspective on another culture, new experiences and on ways of doing things differently gives a fresh look at the world and a more enriched life.
Another thing to consider is learning a new language. One does not learn a language without practice and having a foreign speaking partner at your side is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get more input and have more practice. It could be considered almost like having a personal tutor. Besides hearing your partner speak the other language, you most likely will hear it from his friends and family as well. As I know from I own experience, learning the other’s language can be very difficult at the beginning when the skills are just evolving. One can encounter feelings of exclusion, but always try to see the positive side – the more one is in an environment where people speak the language you are studying, the easier you will eventually learn it.
An intercultural relationship also gives you a chance to break stereotypes. You have learned that Finns are shy, reserved and quiet? By being in an intercultural relationship you will get new knowledge which will challenge your previous stereotypes. Also, you can introduce your own culture to your partner’s family and friends, and that is a good way to reduce any prejudice they might have. The relationship can show you that there is a lot of diversity within a culture and the preconceived notions are seldom accurate. This will give you a broader view on things and make you see life through many perspectives.
Moreover, by having a foreign partner you have the great experience to visit the other partner’s native country. It is easier to travel around in the other country because it is just like having a personal tour guide by your side. But it is not only about travelling – it is a way to connect with the partner’s family and cultural heritage.
When experiencing all this, one can indeed discover a lot of differences. But something that you have fought for so hard through such things as spending time in a long-distance relationship, waiting for resident permit or using hundreds of hours going to visit family back home, should not so be easily taken for granted. These differences could seem challenging, but they can actually create a beautiful mosaic with every piece being unique yet still somehow fitting together perfectly. And everything that does cause a conflict is just the spice in the relationship.
Though there are of course exceptions to every rule, each country has its own style and customs, norms and tendencies. At times these may be challenging for the newcomer to adapt to.
When a Latin American friend of mine first came from his home country to live with his Finnish wife, also a friend of mine, he had a little bit of difficulty adapting to the local norms. They were visiting some Finnish friends, and as was the common form of greeting where he came from, he would kiss the ladies on the cheeks upon meeting them. The result of this were some very red faces, with varying expressions ranging from surprise to shock. After a few of these instances, his wife told him exasperatedly, "Will you stop kissing the women!! They are not used to this kind of greeting!" They still have a good laugh remembering this situation.
Myself, coming from North America and with a South American background, had at times some difficulty adjusting to the differences in communication here in Finland. I was used to a more open, communicative atmosphere, where we can make "small talk" with others, exchange a few words, share a joke, on the bus, in the shop, etc. Though some may say that this sort of communication is artificial, it is my experience that there is a genuine friendliness and a desire to connect with others at the core of this habit, and the result of which creates a more collective feeling in the community.
On the other side, I have to say that my contact with Finnish people, and perhaps especially my Finnish husband and friends, have taught me to have more control and gravity of words, as well as more of an honesty with myself and others.
There is real value in the mixing of cultures, and something to learn from each one. But the heart and mind must be open to it.
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