Slightly over five million.
That, my friends is the population of Finland; though rather large in area and containing thousands of freshwater lakes and proudly preserved forest, it is still a very small country; and still quite a homogenous one at that
Finland is changing; slowly and somewhat reluctantly from my standpoint but globalization is becoming inevitable and summer after summer I see a more diverse populace as well as more international concepts seeping into Helsinki; however I also see the skepticism that comes with such foreign influence
Skepticism is in the Finnish genes; we are wary of anything different and sometimes it can take an ice age and a half to eventually warm up to it; but usually once that warmth is achieved we become wholeheartedly obsessed with whatever that “different” thing is (such as brunch to use a lighthearted example from my prior post).
Of course, I would like to add a caveat that I am not trying to generalize or stereotype the mentality of an entire ethnic group; but rather explain our “collective mentality.”
I won’t get political since this is not that type of blog; but I will say that as a half-Finn with a distinct ethnically ambiguous non-typical-Finnish skin tone, I still have some rather disheartening experiences when in Finland that leave me feeling ostracized. Immigration is a sensitive subject here and has increased dramatically in recent years due to Finland’s acceptance of many refugees from Somalia and there are still some (not all) citizens who are not particularly accepting of the increases in diversity and the impact of minorities with differing beliefs and traditions.
I am far used to getting stared at here by some members of the older generation; something I try to perceive as curiosity as opposed to hostility but I also on occurrence experience being ignored/cut in queues, having canvassers shun me (oh well, not that I’m complaining…but of course it’s the principle of it), and sometimes rudeness or “suspicion” from shopkeepers.
This particular trip I had an experience that left me a little shaken; there is almost no feeling more grimy than that of being treated like a lesser being; again I would like to reiterate that I am not bashing my fellow Finns or Finland, because like any place there are both close-minded individuals as well as an abundance of warm and welcoming people...
…I was at Stockmann, a massive department store, perusing some clothes on the racks in the Mango (the brand, not the fruit) section. Coats, skirts, woolen shift dresses, and even purses were dangling on the hangers; then at the end of one particular rack was a red leather purse with a chain link and naturally I assumed it was part of the display. I started to reach for the surface of the purse; you know to feel whether the leather was genuine and before even touching it; a woman marched out of nowhere and snapped at me in English, “That is mine! Don’t you dare even think you can do that!”
Startled, my heart jumped into my throat when I realised that the woman had left the purse hanging there as she wandered to another section to try on a coat and I immediately backed away.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I thought it was one of the bags in the collection.” She gave me a disgusted condescending look, grabbed her purse and marched off. And right then I felt like every ounce of moisture was sucked out of my skin.
Did she seriously think I was trying to STEAL her purse? Or steal something from it? Really? If I had been a white blonde (or fake dark-hair-dyed) more typical looking lady would she have snapped at me in such an accusatory manner? And why was she even speaking to me in English? Because I don’t look like I could possibly understand Finnish? It’s not like it was the way I was dressed either; i was wearing a sharp black blazer, a pair of black Cheap Mondays and my Burberry tote- quite a common ensemble on the streets of Helsinki; but even if I were dressed in something else that would still not make it okay. Again, I am not generalising the entire Finnish populace because most of the people here are wonderful and good-hearted (albeit initially poker-faced); but this particular experience left me shaken the rest of the day. It left me feeling like a pariah, like I had no chance at ever truly being seen as a member of my father-country. By looking at me it’s obvious I am not 100% Finnish, but I still get treated worlds differently when with my father or grandparents, or when the shopkeeper sees my surname on my credit card and hopefully doesn’t assume I am a mail-order bride.
So much I can say on this subject, but I don’t want to bore you all, so let’s get on to a side effect of increased diversity that Finland is DEFINITELY enthusiastic about:
Besides Koti Pizza (which I swear is the best pizza ‘chain’ in the world…or at least Northern Europe); my favourite Helsinki-based fast food chain has to be Namaskaar’s Indian Express; in the past several years they have blossomed to multiple locations throughout the city of quick, cheap, and delicious Indian food with rather enticing lunch specials. And they are ALWAYS busy with hungry, Hugo-Boss suited Finnish execs on their lunch break.
Speaking of the subcontinent, Nepalese food is ridiculously prevalent in Helsinki; I can only assume that we have a decent sized Nepali population by the massive number of “Nepalilainen Ravintolas,” but hey, I’m not complaining. In fact there is one called Everest across the street from my flat…can you say convenience?
Additionally, many of the new “modern” restaurants popping up around Helsinki have been experimenting with “ethnic” influences and ingredients in their dishes; while this concept is rather standard in the States and other parts of the world (fusion), it is quite new here, but Finland seems to be liking it
Case in point; a dinner at the hip restaurant/bar/lounge, Glöd (it used to be called Mecca, but they for some reason haven’t changed the website name yet)
This was actually delicious; the chicken was succulent and juicy (as most Finnish chickens are), and the lentils and veggies were draped in a spiced turmeric-enhanced sauce with a kick of mango chutney; not bad, not bad- I would certainly eat this dish again. Happily.
And a little curried something-something which has been mainstream “Finnish” cuisine for a while now? The tasty and hearty “Kanapatonki”…or curry chicken baguette:
Grainy photo; but my delicious patonki from Cafe Esplanade- rye baguette with chicken tenders, some sort of a “curry” sauce, cukes, tomato, greens. Curry sandwiches and salads are rather common nowadays, though don’t expect it to be your typical Indian/Thai/Japanese curry- it’s rather Finnish-ized and not spicy, but rather tangy.
I love this country dearly, and as both a Finn and a global minority I recognise both sides of the predicament of the changes in Finland’s societal scape; however a prevalence of discrimination and maltreatment based on assumption is only a detriment to a nation’ prosperity.
Have you ever faced discrimination? Been accused of stealing? Treated like a lesser person? How did you feel and react?
What is your favourite curry-enhanced dish/cuisine/meal?
And what’s your choice of fast food?