What to do about Facebook…

How different my life might have been …

* * *

The other evening I was filling in my ‘hometown’ on Facebook and found it surprisingly difficult.

I am born in Finland of Finnish parents, but my family belongs to a 5% linguistic minority who speak Swedish.

We’re known as “Finlandssvenskar” or “Finnish-Swedish.”

Traditionally the Finnish-Swedish community has had a strong, albeit diminishing presence with schools, churches, universities and a political party — all in our own language (i.e. Swedish.)

When I was about 3 years old my family moved from Finland to Sweden and so I never learnt to speak the Finnish language, which roughly 95% of Finns speak. I still hold the passport of the country where I was born, but I can’t speak the mother tongue.

Recently I went on a date and after explaining where I’m from, the man hit it right on the head: “Oh, so you’re one of those who doesn’t belong anywhere. The Swedes don’t like you because you’re Finnish and the Finns don’t like you because you’re Swedish.”  He was right. He was also a British expat. We were out to dinner in Switzerland which is where I live today.

I first arrived here in my early teens after my parents left Sweden. Since making Switzerland my home I’ve left it and returned four times. I live in the French speaking area of this quadri-lingual country but go to work at an American multinational and speak English all day. I listen to English-speaking Swiss radio and 90% of the books I read are in English (the rest in Swedish or French.)

One of my brothers took US nationality a few years back. My other brother sought Swedish citizenship as soon as he turned 18. Lately my mother has said she might take Swedish nationality as well. That would leave me the only Finn in our family, which adds an interesting dimension to my quandaries.

So what to do about Facebook.

At first I didn’t put my place of birth (Helsinki). Instead I put Viggbyholm which is the suburb of Stockholm where I lived for 7 of my childhood years. The next day I decided to change my entry, as in fact I was born in Finland after all! As soon as I logged on, a Swedish friend sent a message saying that I should be proud of my origins. By which she meant Finland. And I am proud, it’s just that I don’t remember my first years — those in Helsinki … my earliest memories come from Sweden.

Perhaps the difference between Sweden and Finland and Switzerland may seem minimal to you. “You’re all blond and blue-eyed aren’t you?” (Actually, I have brown eyes.) But that’s the beauty of Europe. Drive a few hundred kilometers and you’re in another country with different architecture, culinary preferences, language and cultural traditions. Finland and Sweden are like France and Belgium, or England and Ireland. Similar, but absolutely not interchangeable, as the complex histories between these countries show. And Finland is actually from another European ‘tribe’ than the Scandinavians, the ‘Finno-Ugric’ tribe.

The other day I reading marketing theory and was struck by the statement:

Transient people are less loyal

The author was talking about brand loyalty, but it made my think about my own loyalties in life. It reminded me of a letter my grandfather, a retired clergyman, sent my parents when they left Sweden for Switzerland. In it he asks my parents to handover raising me to them – as such a nomadic life would not be healthy for me.

I wonder how my life would have turned out if I had been sent to live with my grandparents and grew up in Finland.

I might have married at 25? Might I even be a young grandmother now? Instead of going on dates with other expats, still single, regretting that I never had children, wondering if that’s got something to do with my transience and sense of loyalty, trying to decide if I should move back to Sweden … and making it such a long story to explain where I’m from. 🙂



Filed under Guest blogger, Identity, Not in London

15 responses to “What to do about Facebook…



  2. This chimed with me. I kept moving between Wales and England. And whenever I moved they gave me a hassle about being from the other country. Although in my English primary school they mistook the north wales accent as Scottish or Irish! In both countries I was an outsider. But even though I was relentlessly bullied in secondary school I still lived the majority of my teenage years in Cardiff (in Wales by the way non-Brits). This made me ultimately connect the most with Wales. That feels like my home country. But I am still a stranger in it because I live in London and have lost my Cardiff accent. But it comes back, like a ghost from my past, when I speak to Welsh friends or when I say Cardiff. I always say that city in its own accent. And I always say it with love.

    Great blog. Thanks.

    • K.L.

      Thanks for your comments Dave. Accents are so important for creating a sense of belonging. Perhaps the more globalized the world becomes, the more we want to connect with a place or a community. Thanks for sharing. Kat

  3. Barbara

    I love your story! As mom to two kids with a Finnish dad one born in Sweden and the other in New York and both lived in Sweden and Finland though now being raised in New York well I can relate very much to your story! I enjoyed, thanks!!

    • K.L.

      Hej Barbara ! Sounds like you know exactly where I’m coming from ! : ) I’ve lived in Montreal a few years as well. It will be interesting for you and your husband to see which country your kids will feel they belong to. Thanks for your comments. kind regards, Kat

  4. Stories like this really highlight all the different possible tracks our lives could have taken if this had been different or that had been different – particularly as it seems that your family have all answered it in different ways. Interesting post.

    • K.L.

      Yes, very true, the family has been dispersed as a result and taken a more ‘global’ approach to life. 🙂 It’s always interesting to see where the small decisions in life can lead to much bigger, new things. (i.e. I went on a yoga course, and as an indirect result have become a blogger!) 🙂 Thanks for your comments.

  5. Your origins, heritage and somewhat transient passing’s simply add up to make the rich tapestry that is you!
    Anyway, when someone next asks you where you are from, you could always say that you’re European. People like us to be a bit more specific. They like to put us in a box. It’s not good enough that I am from Ireland, or for that matter from Leinster or Dublin; no, they want to know if I am from the North side of Dublin or the South. I suppose this kind of questioning is all to do with social etiquette and the answers serve to put us (both) as ease.
    Naturally, some people will still pursue more detail but of those people, the gene pool could use a little more chlorine!

    • K.L.

      Thanks, I like the ‘rich tapestry that is me’ idea. Our origins help other people place us in some kind of ‘box’ which, yes, has a lot to do with social etiquette. But when I lived in Canada for a few years, I really felt that people weren’t really able to place me in a context.. and strangely that bothered me. But it could just be part of my own battle for defining my identity..? Anyway, thanks your comments Feargal – whichever side of Dublin you are from, it’s a great city !! 🙂

  6. Fred Schelbaum

    Being a hybrid myself I found that blog struck a chord with me… Actually, it may have played a small symphony. My family moved to Ireland in ’74 at a time when I would safely say that we were about the only non-Irish in the country, compounded only by being non-Catholic too which was a big no no in those days.

    I always felt alienated in my early years by having to live in a strange, cold foreign country after having spent my earlier years in a familiar warm sunny land. I found it even stranger after years of yearning to return home, that, when I did, France was no longer the home I had remembered and I now also felt alienated there.

    Life does take you in odd directions. If I hadn’t moved here, albeit unwillingly, I would never had met the love of my life. I would also not have met one of the most important people in my life, a gifted and highly patient Bostonian who remains my best friend.

    I did tackle the issue once with my mother. I asked why we had moved to Ireland of all places. She replied, ‘it was either Ireland or Australia, so obviously we chose ireland’… Obviously!

    • nathaliehourihan

      Flattery gets us everywhere in the end 😉

      • K.L.

        Fred – many thanks for the ‘symphony’ chord ! In fact, am flattered by all the comments to this blog – it’s a subject which many of us deal with I suppose !
        childhood nostalgia is a whole other chapter.. and it might be part of my quest for ‘belonging’..
        In any case you are lucky to have met the love of your life and to have generous a best friend like Nathalie ! 🙂

  7. allison

    such an interesting article and subsequent posts. would love to know what some of you think about the ant-immigration furore that seems to be so prevalent at the moment, and not only in the UK.

  8. It is so interesting that an apparently simple question on Facebook can be the catalyst for such significant reflections on identity. I love the way you have connected so many dots on this.

    For us global citizens or horizon explorers (much better terms than ‘not belonging anywhere’!) the challenge comes not in living our lives but in explain it to others. For starters, we could certainly benefit from a simple party line to easily answer the question ‘Where are you from?’ My usual response is a pause followed by ‘You mean geographically?’

    But what really matters is how we define ourselves at the core, how we connect with a community of like-minded people and how we find a place where we genuinely belong – one that is well beyond geography and indeed any other traditional category. In our case, maybe it’s with fellow horizon explorers?

    Your blog post, care of our dear Nathalie, has generated such a rich discussion. Identity seems to be a theme recently, which is probably why I’m more vocal than normal. I’m curious to know what your ‘thing’ is in life and to continue hearing what you have to say. You’re also welcome to visit my new personal project http://www.essenceseeker.com. It is all about identity and celebrating the unique and essential in all of us.

    I think that’s it for now. Thanks for reading…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s