First of all congratulations on your new book "A year in South Karelia"
Thank you. It has been a lot more work than I expected to publish a book, but I’m very pleased with the result and the reception so far. Even though the title indicates that the subject is just one year, the whole project involves experiences that go back many years. In many ways this is a summary of my life in Finland so far.
Would you please tell us a bit about your background: who you are, when and why did you move to Finland
I am a Canadian who has lived in Finland since 1998 with my wife who has Finnish roots. We came here then with the intention of staying about a year, which is the real irony of the title of the book. Our motivation to come here came from taking Finnish language classes at the University of Toronto, where there is a wonderful Finnish Studies Program. At that time I was also making the transition towards becoming an English language teacher. These things were combined with the fact that my wife has a lot of extended family in Finland that she had not had a great deal of contact with (she was born in Canada to Finnish parents who still reside there). It was a great opportunity to put all those things together and create what has become the adventure of our lives. Thirteen years later we have two children, excellent jobs, a house of our own and a solid network of friends and family.
Did you have any "culture schok" when you moved to Finland, if yes would you please tell a bit more.
Cultural differences became obvious the moment I got on the boat to Finland (we came via Stockholm) and have continued to this day. The first thing I noticed was that nobody actually speaks the language that was presented in a standard textbook. Spoken Finnish is full of regional slang and other colloquial forms that students of Finnish as a second language are just not taught. Another thing I saw on our first day that still makes my head spin was a KKK market. It seemed impossible to me that there was a place in the world that didn’t associate that acronym with the Ku Klux Klan, but there you go. But I tried not to let the culture shock me. I tried to understand it without bringing too many of my own North American values into the analysis. So, KKK means Kalle Kuronen ja Kumpp – the name of a popular chain of supermarkets. Here in Finland it has no other meaning. It was my job to change my way of understanding, not the other way around. At another level we were on an adventure, so we wanted life to be different. We still welcome those everyday oddities. They make life interesting. A Year In South Karelia is full of other examples.
Finns always want to know what other people think about them, so your opinion :-)
I’d like to finish this journey with a joke that one of my colleagues likes to tell on the last day of school. One day a Finn took two visiting foreigners on a hunting trip. Within just a few hours, the group managed to shoot a very large male moose. Impressed with the size of the creature, one foreigner said, “Look at the size of those antlers. I can sell those for a fortune in my country”. Equally impressed, the other foreigner said, “That moose is huge. The meat would feed my entire village for a week”. The Finn also gazed with great interest at the creature. After a long pause he said, “I wonder what it thought of Finland”.
Wondering what people think of their country is almost a national obsession for Finns. It is also something I have never really understood. So, let me just state in the clearest and most concise prose I can, in case there was any lingering doubt. I love it here.
Are you happy here
Incredibly. I’ve found a person that I always knew who I was, but didn’t quite know how to be. I doubt I will ever leave.
A good deal of this happiness is due to how well we were received in this country. We have had an endless number of ‘guardian angels’, as we call them, who have helped us integrate into the culture. This hasn’t just involved family and neighbours. Sometimes it involved complete strangers. I am fully aware that the happiness of my family has involved kind and generous efforts of others. I am very grateful.
What are the things you miss most from your home country and the opposite.
I miss my family, of course. I’ve been absent from their lives for a very long time. Luckily we have Facebook, email and text messaging. But it’s not always the same as a face-to-face visit and those are far too infrequent.
I also miss Tim Horton’s, a chain of coffee and doughnut stores that is more a part of me than I realized. You can get coffee and doughnuts anyway, naturally. But Timmy’s is all Canadian (despite their recent expansion into the USA) and has had a special place in my heart since I was a kid sitting with my grandfather, sipping on a chocolate milk and decorating my chin with the crumbs of a chocolate doughnut. Whoever picks me up at a Canadian airport knows that it’ll be our first stop upon leaving the airplane. It’ll also be the last before I leave again.
What I don’t miss about life in North America is the almost constant fear that something bad might happen. It took many years to get rid of a lot of background paranoia, but it happened. You can trust people here in a way that I’ve never experienced anywhere. I also think Europeans in general place a higher emphasis on enjoying life, they are less worried about money (making and spending) and they treat the environment with greater respect.
Thank you for your interview Michael