Door 6: Finland

A long time ago, yes, back in the 1980s, somebody told me that I was one of those people who wouldn’t live in Finland for the rest of his life. I don’t remember how we got to that topic, but I think it came totally out of the blue. The fact that I still remember it tells you how surprised I was to hear someone say something like that.

Naturally, I was pleasantly surprised, in case you’re wondering.In Finland – like many other, especially small countries – making it out of there is a small sign of success.

I’m not sure of that’s what my friend meant and I don’t remember us having a big debate on what it meant to be Finnish, or whether I’d leave the country voluntarily or not.

We probably just went back to talking about Springsteen or the latest James Bond movie, or something similar.

Turned out that my friend was right. I didn’t live in Finland for the rest of my life. I got a job in Sweden and moved to Stockholm.

During the first year, I went back at least once a month to hang out with my old buddies and when I didn’t go back, I was on the phone with them (which is why I didn’t have a lot of money back then).

That’s when my Finnishness peaked. I read Finnish papers every day, I watched Finnish TV,I went through numerous Finnish classics I hadn’t read before, I watched Finnish movies, and even at work, I embraced my role as the token Finn, who was brought out whenever a Finn was needed. Obviously, not to speak, but to sigh in a melancholic way, or just blurt out stuff nobody else wanted to say.

I even traveled to hockey world championships with my Finnish buddies, as a fan. We made signs and everything.

Then I met Wife, and I even started to learn not only Swedish, but also Swedish celebrities, which I had used as my yardstick of having landed in the country. When I recognized the names on the papers, I had arrived.

I took Wife to Finland, first to visit, and then to live for a couple of years. I was going to do all those things I had dreamed of doing when I lived in Sweden. We got a nice apartment in downtown Helsinki, Son was born, and I subscribed to Aku Ankka (Donald Duck in Finnish) but none of the other magical things I had thought I’d do once I moved back home.

Finland hadn’t waited for me. Finland moved on. Life, of course, moved on.

We moved back to Sweden, Daughter was born. When I picked Son and Daughter from daycare, I rushed home so we could watch the children’s show on TV Finland. I traveled back to Finland regularly, for work, and but I didn’t subscribe to the daily anymore. I did subscribe to Aku Ankka, though, so I always came back from Finland with Finnish candy and a pile of comics.

But even if I didn’t watch Finnish movies as much, or read the Unknown Soldier every year, I still kept up with what was happening in Finland. At the same time, I learned to really enjoy fika, and the fact that Swedes verbalize “an uncomfortable atmosphere” whereas Finns just plough through one. I liked the Finnish modesty but admired the Swedes’ confidence.

And yet, I realize that I do enjoy silence a little bit more than an average Swede, that I still blurt out stuff at old moments in meetings, and that I think people should keep to their right on sidewalks.

A few years ago, a college buddy of mine asked me, over fika, if I planned to stay in Sweden. Except, it wasn’t as much of a question, more of a statement.

“So, you’re staying in Sweden,” he said.

“Well, no, you never know,” I said because I couldn’t betray Finland. I couldn’t bring myself to saying that I’d never move back there although, for what it’s worth, I don’t subscribe to Aku Ankka anymore.

After nineteen years in Sweden, I still have my Finnish citizenship, even though I could easily have a dual Finnish and Swedish citizenship. There’s no rational reason for that, and if anything, it would be smart to get one and be eligible to vote in Sweden. I confess that I don’t know all the Finnish celebrities anymore.

However, just last week I was at a meeting and as we went around the table introducing ourselves, as Swedes do, I did begin my introduction by saying my name, followed by “… and I’m Finnish.”

Then there was a silence. And I was fine with that.


This is the From The Desk of Risto Pakarinen 2017 advent calendar. Behind every door, you’ll find something related to the 1980s

How does that make you feel?