How different my life might have been …
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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. 🙂