We make mistakes because we’re human. How we choose to react to and handle these mistakes, however, builds our character and our relationships for better or for worse. I do not claim to know what is best for all multicultural relationships but the advice I give below are the lessons I have learned over time through my own personal experiences.
Don’t always assume you know what your partner is “really” saying
Words can have many meanings culturally as well as personally. The language we choose to communicate with should be considerate of the other person and sometimes, especially in multicultural relationships, you will have no idea beforehand that something you said, which you thought was harmless, could cause such a negative reaction. People can often be quick to react or feel hurt by certain words or phrases that evoke past negative experiences or feelings. We then cling to those specific elements and forget to listen to understand. We’d rather only listen to respond. This communication breakdown fails to resolve the issue. Without open and clear communication, we stay lost in translation and without compassion, we often fail to give our partners the benefit of the doubt.
As an American woman, I feel the English word “sensitive” can be very loaded and is often negatively used to belittle or to make others appear as weak. However, when my partner once used the Finnish word “herkkä” to describe me, which loosely translate to sensitive in English, my response was unnecessarily explosive because in that moment I could not consider how that word could be anything other than negative or even seen as a positive trait in Finnish language. We both had to exercise a lot of patience and compassion to overcome our misunderstandings and better understand one another.
If you feel upset by what your partner has said to you, it is important to explain how you feel but to also patiently and compassionately listen to their explanation. Maybe they meant something else entirely or even misused a word, particularly in a language that is not their native tongue. The best advice is to assume less and communicate more.
Don’t be unwilling to compromise
All relationships require compromise. In our romanticized modern societies, compromise is often seen as the antithesis to romance. However, as Alain de Botton, a modern philosopher, insists (somewhat tragically) that “choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would like to sacrifice ourselves for.” We, as humans, all have our complexities and we only fully start to understand them when we try to love and live with another complex individual. Often these complexities can be polar opposites.
Compromise is about learning to negotiate inevitable differences with a more kind, forgiving, and even humorous perspective. If we are not flexible in such a way, relationships will eventually break rather than learn to bend.
Don’t lose your curiosity (in your partner)
This advice will apply more to couples who have been together for a long time. Our culture, our upbringing is second nature to us and more often in multicultural relationships we frequently learn what is completely normal to us is often entirely foreign to our partner. In the beginning of any relationship we eagerly listen to our partners stories and want to learn everything about them. However, at some point in the relationship we wrongly assume we have done enough “homework.” We believe we have figured out our partner and have very little more to learn. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are always learning, and people change over time. The person you know and love now is not the same person you met years ago. This reality is so easy to forget but vital to remember.
After nearly six years together, my partner and I have certainly made our fair share of mistakes, but we always try to follow the advice above. We continuously recommit ourselves to building a relationship we both want to last.
De Botton, A. (2016, May 28). Why you will marry the wrong person. The New York Times. Retrieved from: nytimes.com/2016/05/29/opinion/sunday/why-you-will-marry-the-wrong-person
I am an American and a recent graduate from the University of Helsinki currently living in Helsinki with my Finnish partner and our lovely dog, Luna.
Toiset asiat elämässä ovat vakioita. Monikulttuurisissa perheissä ja -parisuhteissa nämä vakiot voivat toisinaan olla toisten mielestä erikoisiakin — ja joskus niitä täysin tavallisia asioita. Sellaisia, joita esimerkiksi kahden samassa maassa kasvaneen ihmisen parisuhteessa ei ikinä käsiteltäisi.
Sillä aivan kuten voi kuuluu leivälle ja maa kiertää aurinkoa, kuuluu monikulttuuriseen parisuhteeseen kuin -perheeseenkin kokonainen tunteiden kirjo iloa, kaipausta, riemua, turhautumista ja syyllisyyttä.
Monikulttuurisuuden positiiviset puolet ovat monesti esillä, eivätkä syyttä. Onhan minunkin puolisoni antanut minulle paljon, niin monella eri tavalla! Olen päässyt tutustumaan aitiopaikalta aivan erilaiseen maahan; sen tapoihin ja kulttuuriin. Mutta asioilla on myös nurja puolensa — on syyllisyys. Jos minua ei olisi tai emme mieheni kanssa olisi tavanneet, asuisi mies todennäköisesti tälläkin hetkellä Utahissa, kotonaan. Lähellä kaikkea itselleen tuttua — perhettään, ystäviään, tuttuja maisemia ja ruokia — kaikkea sitä, mikä on lähtemätön osa hänen identiteettiään ja käsitystään tavallisesta.
Arvokkain lahja, jonka voit antaa on aikasi
Aika on kuitenkin maailman arvokkain asia annettavaksi, eihän sitä koskaan saa takaisin. Mies on tehnyt valinnan antaa aikaansa minulle — asuuhan hän nyt pysyvästi Suomessa, minun takiani.
Hänen vanhempansa eivät tästä enää nuorru, eivät sisaruksetkaan. Perhepiiri ja ystävät juhlivat syntymäpäiviään, itselle tärkeät ihmiset menevät naimisiin, ystävät pohtivat tuomisiaan illanistujaisiin ja suvun nuorimmaiset täyttävät vuosia. Yksi kuitenkin puuttuu joukosta — siksi, että mies valitsi minut.
Puhelut ja viestit ovat kelpo korvike, mutta läsnäoloa ei korvaa mikään
Erityisesti kriisitilanteissa olo on avuton. Toki, olemme monessa suhteessa tavallaan onnekkaita — kun vain tilin saldo on riittävä, pääsee jopa pallon toisellekin puolelle vuorokauden lentorupeaman päätteeksi. Olemme kuitenkin vain niin... Kaukana. Kun jotain tapahtuu, me emme ole paikalla ensimmäisinä. Huonoimmassa mahdollisessa tapauksessa kuulemme kaikesta vasta tunteja myöhemmin. Tästä käy kiittäminen kymmenen tunnin aikaeroa Kaliforniaan, jossa valtaosa mieheni perheestä asuu.
Ajassa taaksepäin menemällä voi kuitenkin alkaa asettaa asioita paremmin perspektiiviin. Kun siirtolaiset lähtivät Euroopasta kohti Amerikkaa, heillä oli edessään pitkä laivamatka ja määränpää oli lähestulkoon tuntematon. Kirjeet tulivat ja menivät — hitaasti. Kun kotipuolesta lähetettiin tieto vaikkapa läheisen sairastumisesta, tieto saattoi saavuttaa kuulijansa vasta aivan liian myöhään. Toisaalla taustalla jäyti varmasti myös tieto siitä, että paluu omaan kotimaahan ei välttämättä koskaan olisi todellinen vaihtoehto.
Vaikka olemmekin fyysisesti kaukana, on meidän nykyään helppo pitää yhteyttä miehen perheeseen, pitkästä välimatkasta huolimatta. On ilmaisia nettipuheluita äänen kuin videonkin kanssa, tekstareita, kirjeitä ja valokuvia. Niin, ja ne sujuvat lentoyhteydet! Maailma on kutistunut jo sadassa vuodessa enemmän, kuin kukaan olisi voinut varmasti edes kuvitellakaan.
Uhraukset ja kompromissit ovat monikulttuurisen parisuhteen kulmakiviä
Silti, en voi olla potematta syyllisyyttä — mieheni valitsi minut, eikä tämän valinnan hinta ollut halpa. Hän asetti minut, meidät ja parisuhteemme tärkeysjärjestyksensä kärkisijalle.
Erityisesti niinä synkempinä päivinä olen usein punninnut asioita mielessäni. Miettinyt sitä hetkeä, kun halasin miestä Helsinki-Vantaan tuloaulassa kesäkuussa 2015 — kuinka se hetki oli monella tavalla käännekohta meidän molempien elämissä. Aina siitä hetkestä eteenpäin aloin kantaa sisälläni syyllisyyttä siitä, että olin repinyt niin monelle tärkeän ihmisen luokseni monien tuhansien kilometrien päähän. Useimpina päivinä olen asian kanssa sinut, sillä tiedostan, etten pakottanut miestä Suomeen. Ja sitten taas, toisinaan... Toisinaan syyllisyyden tuska on todella raastavaa.
Monikulttuuriset parisuhteet vaativat uhrauksia, aina. Ja toisaalta, ehkä juuri näissä lukuisissa uhrauksissa ja kompromisseissa on monikulttuuristen parisuhteiden liima — oman puolisonsa läsnäolo ei ole koskaan ollut itsestään selvää.
Asta Buchanan on suomalais-amerikkalaisen perheen äiti, matkalla tasapainoon kahden kotimaan kuin -kulttuurinkin välillä. Koti sijaitsee nyt Suomessa, kaipuun Kalliovuorten kupeeseen kulkiessa rinnalla. 'Kahden maan kansalaisia' -blogissaan Asta kirjoittaa arjen monikulttuurisuudesta ja siihen liittyvistä ilmiöistä sinivalkoisten lasien lävitse — mutta alkaako joukkoon sekoittua myös punaisen sävyjä tähtineen ja raitoineen?
Voit tutustua Astan blogiin 'Kahden maan kansalaisia' täältä!
My Spanish-Catalan-Finnish-Colombian combo has now been living in Finland for about half a year. We moved from a town near Barcelona to a town in southern Finland, close to my parents. We’re enjoying the snow and the reasonably mild winter weather. We have had our ups and downs, but mostly it has been smooth sailing. Our children seem to be adapting to their new environment with relative ease. They miss Spain but life in Finland doesn’t seem so bad either - not for now, anyway. Our lives are somewhat uneventful but right now we’re happy that way.
Perhaps the biggest event for us in the past few months was Christmas. Our son got a set of collectable football cards for Christmas. Each card has a picture of a player, their skillset, team and home country. The other day, as we talked about where each football player was from, I asked our 6- and 7-year-old children where they themselves were from. My question in Finnish was “Minkä maalainen sinä olet?” which literally refers to nationality and country rather than origin. Still, their answer was clear as day: both said they were Spanish.
Now, here’s the thing: our children don’t have a Spanish passport. They were born and, until half a year ago, raised in Catalonia, Spain, but officially they are not Spanish. Even in Spain, they were foreigners, born to a Colombian father and a Finnish mother. Did that matter to them? No. Home as they know it is in Spain, so that’s where they’re from.
In saying they were Spanish, my children made me both delighted and a little bit sad. Delighted because clearly they have an idea of self, home and roots. Sad because I feel that our transition and integration to Finland has gone well, that the children’s Finnish is improving in leaps and bounds, and that they have made friends. This winter they have even started to learn all the seasonal quirks Finnish children have to deal with - how to slip almost effortlessly into a snowsuit (“Äiti, I look like an astronaut!”), how to stay up on skates and skis, how to sing more than one or two Finnish Christmas carols. Surely these experiences are proof that they are starting to feel at home in Finland? I held onto these small victories as justifications that we had done the right thing in moving countries.
I was also a little bit sad about my children’s answer because I too have felt that home is somewhere other than where I live, and I know it’s not always easy to deal with such a complex feeling. I badly want them to feel at home where they are. But 6 months is a very short time in a new place - it can take years to start feeling at home in a place, even for children who we tend to think adapt to change quickly. I should know - I lived abroad as a child and I’m still unsure of where home is.
Your home is often defined by a document saying where you are from. These documents may give you certain freedoms, or restrict where you can travel. For many official purposes, these documents do matter. They also matter in politics, whether you want them to or not. A passport can also give you a sense of belonging - an idea of where home is. But right now, and perhaps for the rest of their lives, what defines home for my children is the place they first knew as home, even if they were born foreigners to that place. It’s not a new phenomenon and it’s not unique to my family. People have moved across borders throughout history. Diasporas, refugee camps and multilingual families like ours provide continuous proof of that.
How, then, can we support our children who have left their home behind? I wish I knew. In our case, we are trying to keep up their Spanish language skills, stay in touch with their friends and, when the time is right, we'll visit our former hometown. But will that be enough for them to feel like they are connected to their Spanish home? I don’t know. Fortunately, my daughter has a backup plan: she says we could transport our old home in Spain to Finland. So if push comes to shove, maybe we’ll just have to do that.
“Is there anything in particular you would like us to know about your children?”
We had recently moved to Finland, and were visiting our children’s new school, both excited and anxious about having them start in the prestigious Finnish school system. The teachers were giving us a tour of the state-of-the-art facilities, when they asked us the question. There were plenty of things I wanted the teachers to know about our 6- and 7-year-old children and about our family. But I hardly knew where to begin.
We had left our home, friends and life in the Mediterranean for new opportunities and closeness to family in southern Finland. Our honeymoon period in Finland was just ending after a couple of months of enjoying an unusually warm Finnish summer. We had eaten copious amounts of ice-cream and strawberries, swum daily in the nearby lake, and we were even getting used to the sound of Finnish silence.
When we first started to seriously consider moving to Finland, it seemed like a no-brainer: the Finnish education system is possibly the best in the world, Finland is a safe country - we adopted many of the usual arguments that families use to convince themselves to moving to Finland. We had visited Finland regularly enough that, although our children and my husband had never lived here, settling in to a town we knew from our holidays didn’t seem like too dramatic a change. Of course, the thought of leaving our friends and the Mediterranean way of life made us sad and occasionally even doubt our decision. But we found ourselves reasonably content in Finland from day one, largely thanks to my parents who helped us settle in.
So, although I was a little disappointed that my son hadn’t immediately fallen in love with the taste of blueberries yet or that my daughter didn’t love red currant juice (all those vitamins!), I could deal with the small cultural glitches. We had discovered that people weren’t as cold and distant as everyone claimed they were - we had already had several lovely encounters with strangers on the beach and in the park, which reaffirmed my belief that we would all find friends eventually. Nobody seemed too taken aback by my husband’s dark beard and loud (by Finnish standards) voice. Even though most people still responded with a blank stare when I greeted them on my morning walks in the forest, it wasn’t a problem - I’d made it my mission to make them eventually come around. Even the tedious task of sending out numerous job applications and the prospect of perhaps having to start my career from scratch didn’t seem too daunting.
What I was concerned about was language. Before moving to Finland, our children already spoke reasonably good Finnish, considering they had never lived in Finland and had no Finnish-speaking friends in Spain. Only days after moving to Finland, they started absorbing funny little expressions like tavallaan (“in a way”) and toki (“certainly”) from those around them. However, their strongest languages in Spain were Spanish, their father’s first language, and Catalan, the community language. Also, they were exposed to English at home every day as it was the language my husband and I spoke to each other. How were they going to keep up all the languages? How were they going to keep up their Catalan when even their Spanish was slipping only after a few weeks? And what about their English - we didn’t want them to lose what they already knew, but my husband also needed to start learning Finnish - how were we going to juggle the potpourri of languages? Was it even worth it?
There were plenty of things I wanted to tell the teachers about my children’s language skills and cultural influences, but what exactly?
Should I tell them about the language thing - that our children were - for lack of a better expression - trilingual and a half? Or perhaps bilingualish?
Should I tell them that so far they had been growing up between at least four or five different cultures - Finnish, Colombian, Spanish, Catalan and that of an international immigrant community?
Should I tell them that they knew the song “Sata salamaa” almost word for word but they didn’t know if Vesa and Aino were a boy or a girl’s name, or that I had to explain what välkkäri and lukkari were? Or that they knew how to use the expression sikahyvä but also struggled to correctly conjugate everyday verbs like tykätä and lukea? How was I to tell the teachers about the mishmash of languages and cultures that constituted our family without putting them to sleep?
I didn’t know, so to keep it simple, I just told them that they were bilingual and said we would love for them to do extracurricular Spanish, and if they needed to do S2 instead of the usual äidinkieli, that was fine. I don’t know if omitting the details really mattered in the context of a Finnish school. It mattered to us, but it seemed too complicated to get into. I decided that I could always bring up the language-thing during our first official parent-teacher chat later on.
Language is complex. Even though people often say that children are sponges and learn languages immediately through immersion, even they have to readjust. Our children are still learning to differentiate between kärpänen, ampiainen and hyttynen. Their go-to language when they play together is still Spanish - at least for now. As a multicultural and multilingual family, we’ve only just begun the process of adapting our communication as we settle into our new lives in Finland. We still don’t know how our children’s relationship to their various languages will evolve over time.
So, yes, it’s complicated. But for now, I take comfort in the caption under our 6-year-old’s self-portrait on his eskari wall. His teacher interviewed him and wrote down what he wanted to tell others about himself. The caption states our current language situation perfectly. It says: “In my family, we speak Finnish, Spanish and English - tavallaan.”
“Olen turhautunut”. How many foreigners want to answer that every time someone asks them, politely, how things are going in Finland?
I am frustrated.
Hear me out. I am not frustrated by the impossibly long integration process. I am not frustrated by the bureaucracy. Not by the cold, the darkness or the job market situation. And not even by the mämmi that my Finnish partner stocks up in the fridge and tries to make me eat.
I am facing the worst frustration you can imagine. The one that so many foreigners, immigrants, intercultural family members feels. The hardest one to tackle because it is so personal and challenging. And yet, the one that everyone, immigrants, partners, NGO’s and government should invest time and attention in: being frustrated with yourself.
First, when it comes to do and observe the basic things of life.
That Finnish mechanism, that makes it impossible for you to open the window as you would like to. The bus machine. How the weather changes and you never know if you should wear two coats or not. How you wont find wine in the supermarkets. Or how, really, you can’t use your sauna as a drying place.
All those little things, that you don’t even think about when you live in your own country become a real hassle here and endanger your own well being and self-esteem. It may sound odd, but I promise that a daily struggle with a simple window does make you feel really helpless.
Second, by your inability to actually know and understand people.
In your home country, you know at what time it is the smartest to send an email. You know if you can call again without being rude. Whether or not to smile, answer with words or body language. You know when to tell your joke, the topics that are off limits with strangers and close ones.
But how does an immigrant get to know all these things in a new country? Having a Finnish spouse helps immensely. But even though, how do you grasp the nuances that will make you go from clueless and frustrated to fitting and at ease?
It’s only after having made a bad joke and smiled in the lift to your neighbour, spent 3 or 4 winters in Finland, that you can learn. That frustration, caused by your own limits has another source, often extremely difficult to face : time. Integrating and adapting takes time and accepting that you don’t have any power on it is frustrating.
Third, every time that you can’t communicate.
You dreamt about verbityypit yesterday and you don’t even bother anymore to answer when a Finn says “Finnish is so hard. Did you think about maybe learning Swedish?”. Because yes, of course you did. You downloaded Duolingo, and felt so empowered when you recognised immediately that “äpple” was apple and “banan” was banana. And yet, here you are, afraid to open your mouth at Alepa because you know the second the cashier hears you, he will switch to English.
It is frustrating. Because it takes so long. Because you don’t see any progress. Because you question wether you really need it or not. Because you constantly forget that one word that you use li Here you are, frustrated immigrant, unable to plan, kind of hating yourself more or less all the time. Sending application through the TE website without even believing it would work. Asking your Finnish friend to read your cover letter and seeing the anxiety in his eyes while he reads. Because he doesn’t know how to explain that there is a difference between “työ", “töissä", and “työssä”.
The most critical phase regarding frustration in the integration process is that moment towards adaptation, when you won’t feel clueless anymore in most of the situations. Until then, you might feel frustrated when you face a situation that feels new but that you have already faced before. You’re frustrated with yourself because you are not adapted but feel like you should be.
Therefore, to deconstruct self-frustration, here are my 5 advice:
And guess what? Frustration is a - healthy- sign that you are actually learning and going forward. Instead of the Finnish language, let's take my favorite example : the beloved Finnish window.
Here are briefly what the four stages of competence are:
Unconscious incompetence: I don’t know that I can’t do it. I move in my new home, I like my big windows and how they bring in so much light.
Conscious incompetence: I know that I can’t do it. The sun shines. I want to open them and get fresh air in. It is blocked. I spend 15 minutes trying to understand how that lock works. I fail pathetically and ask my Finnish partner to open it for me. Which he does, in 4 seconds.
Conscious competence: I know how to do it if I am focused. After having observed my spouse doing it a thousand times, I can open the window. If I take my time. And if I’m in a good mood. And if I move slowly.
Unconscious competence: I know how to do it and don’t even think about it. It’s warm - try to picture it for the sake of my demonstration-, I go to the window, open it, end of story.
Now, notice that frustration appears at stage 2. This is the critical moment where many people give up, don’t have the tools to keep observing and trying.
They drop it because they don’t take the time to understand that frustration is part of the whole process of integrating.
We are all, as immigrants, in the 4 stages of competence at the same time. Use these 5 tools, and let us know what are your frustrations and how you deal with them!
And until then, if you see me walking towards a window, get ready for a lot of swearing.
Worst part has been my last two years because my TE-office official is an immigrant as well. Our conversations have been mostly over the phone and in Finnish. She has a very strong accent that makes it very difficult for me to really understand all she says and the letters I have received from her have had some bad grammar mistakes. During the conversations I have had to ask her to repeat herself many time to make sure that I have understood what she had just said and that made her very impatient and she often had very vocal sighs of frustration.
During these two years I have studied myself a new profession here and I was expected to report the progress of my studies to the TE-office which I did. However I did have to keep asking if the official had received my reports to which she often replied with a delay of well over a week. Same thing was happening when I asked for help and clarification, I had to wait for a long time for an answer. I am not expecting them to answer to me right away, they do have hundreds of people to manage per person after all. I would appreciate some acknowledgement that my emails have been received.
Now that I have graduated there was time to update my plan of employment. Again, all I got was a phone call not a face to face meeting. During that phone call I was briefly interviewed and quickly asked what kind of work I would like to look for. I didn’t get a change to really express my wishes of what I would like and would not like to do because the occupation I studied qualifies me to do many very different kinds of work. All I was able to say was that I would like to do office work and that pretty much concluded the call. After that I started receiving the work offers that mostly had job description of customer service over phone. Exactly the kind that I do not like to do. The jobs seem to have almost always a requirement for fluent Finnish which I do not have.
The situation for me is very frustrating and I am certain that I am not the only immigrant facing these issues. For me it would be very important and helpful if I would be able to have face to face meetings where to really go through the plan and where my hopes and wishes are listened. I would like to have an official who would acknowledge me and my questions in a reasonable time. Most of all I would like to have an TE-office relationship where at least one of us was fluent in Finnish. These decisions made in and with TE-office do have a big impact on my personal economy and wellbeing.
Different varieties of fresh seafood satisfy our daily craving. They are caught in our neighboring seas and sent to the market within one day. Because they are so fresh, we like them simply steamed or pan-fried with moderate amounts of spice; never too much spice or sauce, we love them the way they already are.
Maybe I got the impression from reading about Norway, that I imagined there must also be various seafood options in Finland. Only after a while, I realized fish are the clear favorite in the Finnish seafood culture. Here the word seafood is almost synonymous to fish, be that sea fish or lake fish. (By the way, I love muikku! The first Finnish word I remember how to spell and pronounce.) Fresh crustaceans and molluscs can only be found in the market occasionally, and are mostly unshelled or cut already. They don’t seem to be a very popular choice for Finns. My experience tells me not to buy frozen seafood. Also, I rarely purchase processed or prepared ones (like cooked, unshelled or cut). So I haven’t really got to taste too many varieties of seafood since I moved here.
One lucky day, I surprisingly found a bag of cockles in Ruoholahti Citymarket. I was excited and asked if the cockles had been purged of sand beforehand. The sales clerks at the seafood counter didn’t seem to understand my question, and finally admitted they have never cooked cockles, so they don’t know the process. Ok, maybe they don’t like them? Anyway, I still bought 1kg of those cockles. That bag of cockles looked still able to survive for a day or two, worth to give it a shot!
Back home, after purging the sand out of the cockles, I steamed them with white wine. I used the soup extracted from the white wine and cockle juice to stir rice, onion, garlic, some tomato paste, and surely the cockles. It was so delicious! My husband loves all kinds of seafood as much as I do, and we were delighted and content with the fresh taste of the cockles. This is not always the case though. Another time we bought cockles from Stockmann and thought the taste simply wasn’t good. So it really seems to be by pure chance whether you get good fresh seafood ingredients in Finland or not.
So we don’t always find fresh seafood (other than fish) as we hope, but we keep on looking. Do you know where to buy fresh shrimps, crabs, clams, squids, and cuttlefish in Helsinki? How did you cook them?
Isovanhemmuutta saksalaisittain - tyttären rakastuminen suomalaispoikaan ei yllättänyt Suomeen ihastunutta Kreutzin pariskuntaa
1970-luvulla saksalaiset Siglinde Hoffman-Kreutz ja Rolf Kreutz ottivat auton alleen ja matkasivat useasti laivalla Suomeen tutustuakseen maahan. Heille Suomi oli siis jo tuttu ja mieluisa maa, kun heidän tyttärensä vuosikymmeniä myöhemmin päätyi yhteen suomalaismiehen kanssa. ”Tyttäremme rakastuminen suomalaispoikaan ei yllättänyt meitä”, he naurahtavat.
Tytär on asunut Suomessa jo lähes 10 vuotta ja perustanut perheen Suomeen. Vanhemmat ovat vierailleet heidän luonaan muutamia kertoja. Tytär ja lapsenlapset pyrkivät vierailemaan Saksassa kerran tai kaksi vuodessa. Lasten synnyttyä jälleennäkemisten tärkeys on korostunut ja vierailuista tullut melko säännöllisiä. Kreutzit pitävät kovasti tyttären miehestä ja tämän vanhemmista, eikä tyttären Suomeen muutto ole ollut ongelma.
Pieni kielimuuri perheiden välillä on ollut. Tyttären miehen vanhemmat eivät puhu englantia tai saksaa, vain suomea. Silti Kreutzit viihtyivät oikein hyvin heidän luonaan Pohjois-Karjalan vierailulla. ”Yritimme tulkita, mitä toinen tarkoittaa ja otimme lopulta kädet ja jalat mukaan keskusteluun”. Myös parin häissä oli ihmisiä, jotka puhuivat vain saksaa tai vain suomea. ”Yllättävän hienosti kaikki kuitenkin pärjäsivät pienillä sanoilla ja yrittäen ymmärtää toista”.
Neljävuotiaan tyttärenpojan Oscarin kielitaito sen sijaan herättää ihastusta. ”Hän vaihtaa hetkessä kieltä saksasta suomeen ja toisin päin”, Kreutzit kuvailevat tyytyväisinä, ”hän puhuu molempia kieliä erinomaisesti”. Nuorempi lapsenlapsi Matilda on alle vuoden vanha ja hänen kommunikointinsa koostuu vielä pääosin kiljahtelusta ja jokeltelusta.
Tyttären lapset ovat vielä pieniä ja toisinaan Siglinde haluaisi olla lähempänä auttamassa häntä arjessa. ”Jos lapset vaikka sairastavat, toivoisin voivani olla enemmän avuksi”, Siglinde kertoo. Myös suomalaiset isovanhemmat asuvat etäällä lapsenlapsista ja lapsiperheen arkea on pyöritettävä ilman sukulaisverkostoa. ”Kaikki ovat kuitenkin hyväksyneet tilanteen ja olemme oikein tyytyväisiä näin”, Siglinde selventää, ”vaikka kaipaamme heitä, saamme helposti yhteyden WhatsAppissa tai Skypessä ja matkustaminenkin käy mutkattomammin kuin 70-luvulla”.
Suurimpia iloja isovanhemmille on, kun lapsenlapset ilahtuvat heidän näkemisestään. Jälleennäkemiset ovat yhtä juhlaa ja erityisesti Oscarille pyritään järjestämään paljon puuhaa isovanhempien kanssa. ”Ilahduin niin, kun Oscar viimeksi sanoi minun olevan hassu isoäiti”, Siglinde nauraa. Saksassa vieraillessaan Oscar maalaa ja leikkii mielellään isoäidin kanssa ja ulkoilee paljon metsässä isoisänsä ja perheen koiran kanssa. ”Vaikka emme näe heitä kuin muutaman kerran vuodessa, Oscar muistaa meidät heti, eikä ujostele ollenkaan.”
Ylirajainen isovanhemmuus ei ole aina helppoa ja kaipauksen hetkiä tulee. Nykyaikainen teknologia auttaa kuitenkin isovanhempia paljon. Kaipausta merkityksellisemmäksi nousee yhdessä vietetty aika, joka on mittaamattoman arvokasta. ”Olemme iloisia, että tyttäremme tuo lapsenlapsia vierailemaan luonamme Saksassa”, Siglinde toteaa, ”eikä Suomi ole loppujen lopuksi kovin kaukana.”
Lue lisää ylirajaisesta isovanhemmuudesta:
The air is so sweet! I can taste it.
That was the first thing my mother remembers from the time she arrived to Finland nearly 30 years ago. She could remember the humidity and heat when she left her country. But here in Finland, the air was fresh. She arrived at the airport wearing summer clothes and sporting a rather pleasing appearance overall. She met with her husband-to-be, my father, who brought her from the airport to the small town where they were to settle down in the beginning and start building a life together.
My mother had left her country with excitement and thrill. She studied books about Finland in an international library and attended a cultural event organised in her local community by the ambassador of Finland. She remembers being escorted to the airport by her friends and feeling like it was the beginning of an adventure.
On her arrival and during the bus trip from Helsinki-Vantaa airport, my mother recalls some of her first observations from Finland. She realised the bus had a lot of space inside and people tended to choose seats far away from each other. After arriving to their destination, she noticed how only few people were walking on the streets. Interaction between people appeared strange as everyone seemed distant from one another: people were somewhat cautious and very silent, and seemed to avoid direct eye contact with each other.
My mother noticed how having dark hair seemed to draw certain attention. Once she decided to go outside for a walk, but felt that everyone was staring at her wherever she went. This felt so unnerving that my mother felt discouraged to go outside alone.
It was tough in the beginning. Back in her home country, my mother had a respectable job, a college degree and plenty of social circles and friends. In Finland, she experienced a sense of captivity and isolation. She knew no one, didn't speak the language and every day, my dad left for work leaving my mother to figure out how to occupy her days sensibly.
Little by little, my mother started to challenge her mind to look at her situation from a wider perspective. Having her first child soon after moving to Finland kept her busy and filled her time. This gave her a sense of fulfilment. Yet, from time to time, she felt the need to connect to other people, especially her kind.
All these experiences and struggles took place nearly 30 years ago. Much has changed then, most importantly the increase of the number of immigrants in Finland and the arrival of internet and social media. I asked my mother to reflect on her coping strategies on being an immigrant in Finland. She provided me with the following:
Respect cultural differences
This means keeping an open mind. Being the stranger in a new country, you should introduce yourself to the culture and focus on the challenging tasks that lie ahead, such as mastering the language. In a different culture, it is important to acknowledge the limits of what is acceptable and expected social behaviour. Even it there is something you don't fully agree with, you can take it with humour.
It is customary in my mother's home country to go to church every Sunday. Throughout her difficulties my mother found strength through her faith. She also found new connections through church. This leads to another very important factor that helps you to cope with daily life: peer support.
Relating with other foreigners and sharing their own respective experiences makes it easier to deal with the day to day challenges in life. When you are lonely, your friends provide you with emotional security and support. My mother's new friends knew other people in the community, and soon her friendship circles started growing.
So, after nearly 30 years, what has my mother got to say from her journey in Finland? Now, she feels like at home here. She has noticed how there is more multicultural openness in Finland in comparison to the times when she first arrived here. My mother also mentioned this about Finland: ”I admire the bureaucracy here. It works. The law applies to everyone. It doesn't make any exceptions to the offenders based on their social status. There is no corruption.” My mother also thinks that the Finnish government takes care of its citizens. Finns can openly criticize politicians, unlike in her home country where people are afraid to voice out their real opinions because the country has known to have a heavy history with dictatorship. In Finland, people know about their civil rights and hold on to them.
In the end, my mother states, it is all about your attitude and the mindset you choose. You need to be ready to consider your goals and adjust your mentality to cope. Today, my mother looks back at these years with pride of what she has accomplished. She looks forward to the future when she can embrace more free time to explore life's opportunities. After all, life is full of blessings when you know how to focus on noticing them.
Autumn 2012 I moved to Finland because I married a Finnish man. Before I moved here I didn’t know much about my future home because I had just travelled to Finland two times. I thought I knew how to use English to communicate with in Finland and I knew some Taiwanese people here already so I though it wouldn’t be that difficult to settle down here. However, after being married here for a week or two, I had the feeling that I wanted to go back to Taiwan. Little by little I got to know that the life wasn’t going to be the same I thought it was like when I travelled here. I knew I was going to be here for long time or even for the rest of my life.
Not just only the weather, food, the way of transportation and the people are different here also the culture shock reduced my self-confidence. When I went out to talk with people or when I tried to do anything, looking back now, I used the Taiwanese way of thinking and doing. That limited my own behaviour, and doing things that were normal and accepted here made me think that I had done something wrong and I felt guilty. That made me avoid social contact and interaction, I just stayed home for almost a month in the hands of one sort of a culture shock. All the communication around me was in Finnish and I wasn’t quite able to follow what is happening around me as completely as back home in Taiwan. Eventually my reducing self-confidence prevented me from going out and I started to close down into my own shell.
When the winter started to set in and the darkness got to be all around, I started to have depression symptoms and that reduced my ability to function even more. This made my husband to spend more time and energy to take care of me and I was feeling more of a burden and I felt guilty for that, even though he didn’t say anything of the like. I was worried if this situation would be getting worse, and how would this influence my marriage. I was afraid that it would go to the worse.
One day when I was staying home sitting during the daytime not really knowing what I can do here I was reflecting about what is going on in my life. Was I regretting to marry into here? What can I do here? Can I talk about my feelings with anyone, even with my husband? In the end I knew that all of the situation was because of the different country, different culture, different environment, different people. All that I didn’t know well enough and how I was still using the Taiwanese way of thinking. I decided to give up a little of the way I had been used to think and start little by little to care less about what the people are thinking about me and what I do. This for me was the first big revelation on how to overcome the culture shock for me. If I could be more openly me, showing my feelings and emotions, being able to talk about what I am, then I knew I would settle down better and I would start to feel more at home here.
Now that I have lived here in Finland for 4 years I have learned to be more open and I dare to talk more about my own ideas and stand by them. I can share my opinions with my husband, my friends, in school and even at work. I have more courage and confidence to overcome and face the difficulties that might lay ahead in the future. I have been able to give up the part of my Taiwanese thinking that limits me and have acquired the part of the Finnish way of thinking that whatever lies up can be faced and overcome with friends and family.
What I would like to say to someone facing these difficulties in their new home country is that do not close your mind but try to figure out what the actual problem is and do not think too complicated. Try to find someone you trust and do not be shy to talk with them, and try find the way for yourself to sort out the issue in a way that you are comfortable with. Do not run away from the problem but instead face it and tell yourself and believe in yourself that you can solve the situation. That gives you the positive energy to get through. Remember, if it could be, just let it be and it will be.
My advice to the Finnish spouses is: be patient, be present, be there for the spouse. Find the way you can comfort and give support. For me it was my husband being patient, listening to me and hugging me every day to make me feel good and loved. Try to find a way to make your culture shocked immigrant spouse feel safe, loved and understood. Give them stability, predictability and do your best to help them get involved with the everyday Finnish way life.
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