Admitting to loneliness is a taboo, especially for young people. But I admit I feel lonely. Having lived in Finland for half a decade, I have no female Finnish friends and no Finnish boyfriend.
Even though I have consciously tried not to wrap myself in an expat cocoon where I hang out only with immigrants and exchange students, speak English and trash the host culture, I haven`t formed trusted friendships with the local folk. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what`s wrong with me and why nobody likes me.
Then, I started thinking that it might be the hectic and hyper-stressed way of living in Helsinki that makes Finns prioritize their daily tasks. School, work, hobbies, walking the dog, rank top in their priority list, while friendships are lagging behind. When friends try to schedule a meeting, they all bring out their calendars on the table in an effort to figure out when a suitable 30-minute slot would be to fit their friends. When I first moved to Finland, I found this utterly offensive. I still do a bit.
It is understandable that most Finns in their twenties and early thirties have friends from junior high or plan activities with their workmates. Therefore, when a foreigner enters the circles of Finnish friends – even though he or she would speak Finnish- they wouldn`t get the inside jokes and would be left out. Or they would be the center of attention and a source of inquiries, which would leave the other guests feeling uncomfortable. For these reasons, foreigners would rarely be invited to social events again.
My Finnish female acquaintances rarely invite me to mingle with their Finnish friends. Maybe they see me – or foreign women in general – as a threat to the group dynamics, even as man-eaters.
Moreover, when it comes to relationships with the opposite sex, the rules of conduct are an enigma. Flirting etiquette and chivalry are terra incognita for most Finnish men. Those poor guys castrated by the strong, independent Finnish women don`t know how to treat a woman of another culture.
Foreigners in Finland are often faced with skepticism about their motives and intentions to be part of Finnish society. When I meet Finnish people for the first time, the first two questions that follow are predictable with 100% accuracy. First comes the “why”.
“Why on earth did you move to Finland?”, they ask me with a facial expression full of profound perplexity. When I explain that I moved to Finland to study, they ask, “Do you plan to stay in Finland?”
I am always baffled by this question, since I have lived here for five years already, I have obtained my master`s, studied both the official languages, pay taxes and have a permanent home address. If I have lived in France for half a decade, would French people question my motives behind my desire to stay in their country?
Finns` disbelief can be explained either as fishing for compliments for their country, since they are deeply patriotic, or honestly being puzzled why people come to Finland as they themselves want to go away! A third explanation could be the low self-esteem that lurks in the Finnish psyche. The admiration yet fear of the unknown – a paradoxical combo of xenomania and xenophobia -, jealousy, competition and insecurity are some of the factors hiding behind the issue.
As if relationships and friendships weren`t complicated enough, throwing language and cultural differences in the equation makes things even more complicated. Once, a Finnish schoolmate said that, “Finns fear the day that their foreign girlfriends or friends will leave and they will end up broken-hearted and depressed!” Assumptions and stereotypes prevent them from giving foreigners the chance to integrate fully into the society. By getting to know us and asking us out on a date, they might discover that appearances can be deceiving and we share much more in common.