The Finns are a remarkably homogeneous nation. Just about everyone went to a similar kind of school, differences in income are relatively small, although growing, and no region is radically different from any other region. So 93% of the population have a great deal in common with each other.
On the other hand, the seven per cent who are of foreign origin are from an enormous variety of backgrounds. Some are indeed foreign: they have foreign citizenship. Others are of foreign origin: they now have Finnish citizenship. Many have dual citizenship. Some are married to Finns, others are married to people from their country of origin. Some speak Finnish at home, others a wide variety of languages, such as Estonian, Russian, English and Arabic. Over half are Christian, some are Muslim, some have no religion. Some have no residence permit yet, others are EU citizens with a limitless right to stay. Some are refugees from war-torn countries, others are westerners with a university background. Some migrants from the Third World are illiterate, others are from the upper class of their Third World country of origin.
It goes without saying that their ability to integrate varies considerably. Those who are married to a Finn have a huge advantage: they have a ready network of friends and relatives through marriage. Others simply don’t have any Finnish friends. A foreigner can be blissfully unaware of what is going on here: I wonder how many were aware that Matti Nykänen died earlier this week, or had even heard of him? Many foreigners do not follow the Finnish media.
We have a tendency to generalise. Generalising is a way of making sense of our complicated world. Media stories can give a false picture of the true situation. Most immigrants portrayed in the media are young men from the Third World. It is also widely believed that there are a lot of Somalis in Finland. In fact the largest immigrant group is the Russian community: four times as many people speak Russian as their mother tongue than Somali.
It is not wise to generalise too much about foreigners in Finland, or anywhere else for that matter. At the same time, we can at least generalise about a few of foreigners’ basic needs and wishes, because they are the needs and wishes of all mankind: the need to be accepted, to be treated fairly, to feel safe; the desire for a comfortable home, good food and good company and a useful occupation.
In my next blog (6th March), I shall suggest a way of speeding up immigrants’ integration into Finnish society.Chris Montgomery