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A while ago i read this article (in Finnish) about who is worth of being a Finn. The main point of the article was that not everybody is worth to be Finnish because of various reasons: place of birth, outer look (skin, hair, eye color for example), name or accent. At least the most accepted person to be a Finn, as i understood, is ideally if you have Finnish parents or relatives and if you look typically like a Finn, blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin. Which in my opinion is so strict and narrow-minded. I say that because usually excluding somebody from a group, you basically give this strong message that you are different, you are not one of us and you are not welcomed here. When a society makes it clear that you are different and points out those differences, they are basically putting you in a special category, you are the other not one of them.

The person interviewing immigrants from Western countries, which are thought to be more desirable, got answers of the kind that there will always be something, outer look, accent or name that will make one not Finnish enough.

This happened to me several times when people pointed out my outer look (dark hair and nose(!!!)) and my accent. The fact that people ask me where i am from is not a problem but when you get this question several times (a day even!) it becomes very annoying. And then, the most irritating is when people point out your outer look.

It happened to me several times when an older man approached me, started staring and analyzing my eyes and hair and said: “Yes, you have dark eyes and hair but you are too white for a Romanian!”. A girl told me at a conference: “Your nose is so different from Finns.” And once, this one i found it really threatening, a guy interrupted me out of nowhere while i was writing work mails in the university computer room. He asked me in a high-pitched and quite annoyed voice where i am from. I said Finland. He replied you cannot be because you have dark hair. I said i might have dyed it. He insisted that i have an accent and therefore i’m not a real Finn. In the end i told him i want to write my emails in peace and i don’t see the point of this conversation which was quite threatening because he sounded annoyed like i was disturbing him with my mere presence. He then had the audacity to say: “Sorry if i offended you!” on a tone suggesting that i was the nasty one for pretending i’m an intruder in his sacred land.

And one other time, my friend’s neighbor told us: “I can see you girls are from another race.” Yeah, we are White-Caucasian just like you, great you showed some huge ignorance here. I also overheard one neighbor say: “Hope the kids will have blue eyes and blond hair.”

If there are not people being assholes then i don’t know what it is.

If i am Finnish enough? That’s a hard question but there are some points i want to make. For me this question is not as simple because there three aspects i regard here: 1. my DNA 2. my (cultural) personality and 3. my legal status (citizenship).

If i take the first one, DNA, i’m not Finnish because i wasn’t born here and my parents and grandparents are not Finnish, further than that i don’t know, i need a complex DNA test. About the legal status, yes, i’m Finnish. I have Finnish citizenship and i’m completely integrated. My personality, mentality and cultural inclination, i would say is strongly Finnish. Growing up and living in Romania, it was very hard to adapt to their mentality and live by their standards because my personality is very different. I don’t know if being an introvert has to do with that but i felt i didn’t belong into a culture which is very extroverted. I’m not saying that there is something wrong with a culture but sometimes we can’t do anything about it if our personalities just don’t fit there.

Am i Finnish enough? Yes and no. Do i care? Not an ounce. Do i care about these attitudes? I do because they are damaging.

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When i was younger, i used to get respiratory tract infections very often which usually resulted in long periods of unpleasant symptoms, medicines and doctor visits. Then my mom and aunt started to go almost every summer at the seaside and they took me along with them. I remember being so excited, not sleeping the whole night on the train journey from our town to the Black Sea and the next day going immediately to the beach although mom and aunt were so tired. I loved the evening walks by the sea and that typical sea smell.

But it was not only the enjoyment of being there that helped. I noticed, and my parents noticed that respiratory infections became a thing of the past. I wasn’t plagued by them anymore and from then on we continued to go to the seaside for about 2 weeks per year. I enjoyed it so much, i wanted to move there. I was so jealous on the people who were living near the sea.

Years have gone and i moved to a city from Central Finland – Jyväskylä. I lived there for 8 years and i gathered the best memories and met the best people. Until circumstances forced me to move away. You imagine that it’s not easy to move from a place where you have lived for 8 years. I got very attached to the city and i had friends there, too. At least what was left of them as most of my friends moved around the world after their studies were completed. But little did i know that in a very short time i would accommodate myself in the new town, so fast it seemed unreal.

After losing my job due to budget cuts, i started looking for another one all over the country with very few hopes. Given my circumstances, i wasn’t so optimistic about it but the best of luck made it to find a new job (and a great one!) on the seaside coast of Western Finland in Central Ostrobothnia. In Jakobstad or Pietarsaari. It’s a two language city which from the first i thought it was amazing because i found it very frustrating to forget my Swedish. But among the best things…it was near the sea! After all these years, i was moving near the sea!

The transition was made easier by my ability to adapt to a new place, not being bothered by the fact that the town was much smaller than Jyväskylä, the great work colleagues who were and are very helpful whenever i ask something, my will to learn as much as i can about the place’s history (afterall i work in a museum!), i genuinely wanted this workplace, no unemployment office forced me to apply for it, i did it because i really wanted it. The town has a really interesting history and…it’s placed by the sea. I could not have asked for more.

At first it was not easy to move away mostly because of getting used to a place, building a life there and being scared for the new. I didn’t know how it will be, the atmosphere, the people and the whole process of moving is itself really stressful, at least for me but in the end i don’t regret it a bit because as i can see it now it was for the best. At point we are so stuck in that old, safe routine that we don’t realize it is harmful for us because we don’t keep going forward. We are just kept into that same place. I would really love to remain here if it is possible as my contract is limited but that will be for the future to see. For the moment, i am enjoying the time here, do my work as best as i can and learn a lot.

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I remember reading a while ago an article about sanitary pads tax and how that should be lowered (from 24% to 12%), including tampons, absorbants and incontinence pads. In Finland, a pack of average absorbants (14 pack, normal size) is between 2.30-3.50 euros and here i don’t count in cheap brands which are an absolute disaster because of their low quality. Don’t ask me about tampon prices as i don’t use tampons (i did when i used to have periods but only when i was swimming and they were extremely uncomfortable). And before judging me why i don’t use a menstrual cup – i tried but it was a disaster and i guess because of endometriosis which suspicion was later confirmed by a specialist.

But, i’m writing this because it amused and somehow disgusted me the comments left by men who demanded that they should also get tax-free razors. Look, you just don’t compare sanitary pads with razors because if you take both genders into consideration, women also use razors. And quite a lot if you take into account that some of us are quite hairy. Add to that wax, hair removal creams, hair removal devices or hair bleaching. Because society sees us as disgusting monkeys if we dare to expose the smallest amount of hair in the places deemed by the almighty society not fit to show hair on. And to add to that razors for women are more expensive than men’s. I saw that with my own eyes in the grocery store one day when i compared the prices out of pure curiosity. As a guy you can go around with an unshaven face but dare to go out with hairy armpits as a woman (search for death threats that some women got because they dared to show their bushy armpits in public).

So both of us we need razors but only us need sanitary pads because well, damn biology. You can stop your period but then again you need money for the meds to stop it. And now i’m talking about lots of women who struggle with money and for whom 2.30 euros is a lot of money (not to mention women who have heavy or extended periods and they might need 3+ packs of absorbants per month). In this case about 10 euros per month is lots of money. Nobody said about giving sanitary pads for free although it might be a very good idea for the ones who live in poverty. But lowering the tax would be of great help. And whoever can stand a menstrual cup, i do advise them to buy it because even if it is a bit pricey, it will save a lot in the long run. I would use one if i could as most of sanitary pads are also manufactured from synthetic products which are not healthy for the body or environment. There are better sanitary pads namely cotton and organic pads but they are a bit more expensive than their synthetic counterparts.

In Finland the brand Vuokkoset sells organic bio-degradable and cotton absorbants and pads.

 

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If there would be just one department for the whole country, 40 places, entrance exam once in four years, would you have the courage to give it a try? I did and it was not just “give it a try”. It was: i studied very thoroughly for the entrance exams and familiarized myself with the profession years in advance.

I’m talking now about the conservation studies, an area i set my mind to go into six years before i attended the entrance exams in 2016. I didn’t write about it until now because as probably you might have guessed, i didn’t make it and i really didn’t need any judgement. The heartbreak after this very long process and the blame i took from myself were more than enough. And the feeling of failure made it even worse.

I fell in love with conservation after attending basic studies in museology while studying for my first masters’. We had a course in Museums and Collections which lasted a whole semester and we had lecturers who worked in conservation, one of them being the chief of the conservation center i volunteer at now. The field fascinated me because it is so complex and unique in the sense that it combines humanities and science in a very innovative way. Since i am a person interested in both but chose humanities because of reasons stated in an earlier post, i said to myself “this is it, i want to study this. How can i do that?”

The only place one can study conservation in Finland is at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki. There was a department for building conservation in Western Finland but it was shut down few years ago. There were only ten places for each specialization and the entrance exam once at four years, basically when one study program finished, new students were taken in. My main interest were artifacts, textile, paper or art conservation. The only problem was that the study program was only in Finnish and my language skills were not at all very good back then.

But in 2016, the university took in new students and i decided to go. That’s when the fun started with chemistry studies, as chemistry was on the exam list. Luckily, just basic chemistry was required and i was able to study that by myself while practicing color tests, drawing and folding paper. There was a color test, handicraft test, chemistry exam, interview and depending on the specialization, another exam testing your skills.

I sent my application papers in March and in May i was invited to the entrance exams which lasted for two days. I was very nervous about the chemistry exam but in the end that proved to be the easiest part. I found the handicraft exams to be so much more difficult especially the one we had in the first day where we were asked to make a coffee mug out of cardboard and paper. That was a complete disaster and i’m very sure that it was the main reason i failed. I still hate paper mugs to this very day. After the first day, we were informed who made it to the next day. My first choice was artifact conservation and failing to see my name on the list i just turned to leave barely keeping my tears. When i remembered that i put all the choices on my application list! And there i was admitted for textile conservation! Not bad but how could i manage? I mean i don’t know much about working with textiles and i was sure there were applicants who had seamstress studies behind. I was disappointed and angry but i decided to go to the final exam and interview. The exam wasn’t bad, we had to sew a small purse and we had one as a model so i did quite ok given the fact that i rarely practiced textile handicrafts.

The interview went fine until the last part when i couldn’t keep my mouth shut and i asked if one could actually transfer from textile to artifact conservation. Maybe you kind of grasped why this question might have proven to be fatal for my chances of getting in. I realized what i just done on my way back from the university and i thought i am the most stupid person on this planet. The whole experience left me with a bitter taste because i knew i could have done much better. The fact that i waited so much to attend this exam and study there, left me frozen; i got so stressed and excited that i couldn’t even focus properly on the exam. Another factor was the amount of applicants, i guess there were hundreds, which really intimidated me.

But to my surprise, i found out that i was the first on the reserve places at textile conservation. Unfortunately, nobody gave up their place so i didn’t make it. This kind of result brought two feelings: i was very glad to make it that far with so few places, with so many applicants and barely any experience in textiles (and studying chemistry on my own!) and second, it brought the huge disappointment of being so close but yet so far.

I tried not to take it as a complete failure but as an experience, learn from it and give it another try. I know that this field is very specialized, job are quite scarce and studies last for about four years full-time but i guess when you like something, you have to go after it. And be committed to it.

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Then he approached me so much, I could almost feel his breath on my face: “Yes, you have brown hair and eyes but you are way too white.” Said this dude after hearing where I am coming from.

“I can see you girls are of another race”, says my friend’s neighbor while we were walking together in the neighborhood. We are white Caucasian just like this neighbor.

“Are you Italian? You have brown hair and the shape of your nose is weird”. I hear at a seminar. No I’m not Italian, but close enough. I really don’t want to make conversation with you because you are rude. You just don’t comment on a random person’s outer appearance.

Plus the countless questions of where I am from and what I am doing here, some followed by suggestion to dye my hair blonde so I could be more like the locals. The fact that I speak the language fluently and I had no cultural shock whatsoever upon moving to Finland does not count. Now I should alter my looks. What next? Am I supposed to spend few thousands euros to get that weird nose fixed, too?

I am well aware of the fact though that my skin complexion worked in my favor here because otherwise I would have got nastier remarks and I think even faced violence as some of people I know did. But was negatively amazed to see how far people’s ignorance and stupidity can go. If you have a problem with the simple fact that a person has brown hair and most of people around are blonde then you don’t deserve the slightest drop of attention. To me this mentality of “change your outer appearance to blend it” is the most obvious form of following the herd. And I’ve never been good with that. It never crosses my mind to ask people about their background when we first meet and it’s definitely out of the question to make comments on their outer appearance. There are plenty of other subjects to open a conversation with and saying one of the above denotes lack of imagination.

Yes, I heard the excuse “but we are a small country and blah, blah”. That excuse would have worked maybe 50 years ago. It’s 2017 so snap out of it. People are moving around and I really hate to hear somebody playing the naive card “but what are you doing here?”. There are very few reasons why a person would choose a country and I’m definitely not interested in any of them. If they mentioned it fine, but I wouldn’t ask. Because it’s not my business.

As for dyeing my hair blonde to “fit in” let me tell you something: I would definitely hate having blonde hair. First, I really love my natural brown hair and I rarely dye it because there is no need to. If I choose so, then I would choose a color which is close to my natural one because blonde doesn’t fit me at all. Second, dyeing my hair blonde would take a significant toll on it because of the bleaching treatment, not to mention that I need to do that every time my hair grows because it looks hideous to have it half of two colors. I really don’t want to pour chemicals on my head and destroy my hair because of some people’s ignorance.

 

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Yesterday, I had a brief talk with my flatmate about her study period in Finland and from one subject to another we started talking about things one hears hundreds of times while studying or moving here. I don’t take these things as an insult but after hearing them so many times, it gets tiring and at one point not all people have friendly intentions when they ask you about your background and motives for being here.

  1. Where are you from?

I hear this one almost all the time. In my first years here it was normal as I was studying in an international environment and met people from all over the world so we did ask each other a lot where are we from. Nowadays people ask me where am I from because of my accent. Sometimes they don’t even bother and take a wild guess: are you Russian or Estonian? Or some start talking to me in Russian all of a sudden which make me have a complete block because I don’t speak nor do I understand Russian. Other guesses regarding my nationality were Italian and Spanish. I think the closest is Italian.

I do not mind the question but given the nasty reputation that Romanians have (lots of thanks to Finnish media for that), I do have some hesitation when answering, also depending on whom is asking. The nastiest reactions I got were from older people when upon finding out where am I from they stopped talking to me and ignored me completely. I remember in particularly two cases, an older lady and a man, who looked at me so disgusted, if spitting was allowed, I think I would have gotten a phlegm on my face. Once an older guy, after hearing my country of birth, he got so close to me, started staring at my face analyzing every feature: “Yes, you have brown eyes but you are too white for a Romanian.” In fact, my eyes are hazel and yes, Romanians are white unless you don’t mean a certain minority and I guess he meant just that.

  1. Why did you come here? Why did you choose this country? What are you doing here?

It’s quite difficult to reply to these questions because, besides family ties, I do have other reasons I am here but I really don’t want to explain them to strangers, they wouldn’t listen anyway. My Romanian friend told me that some persons ask with a kind of annoyance in their voice which implies “oh no, again a foreigner, what the heck are they doing here?”. I didn’t really pay attention to it but it might be very well be. They usually shut up when I mention family ties.

  1. You speak Finnish so well!

I do take this as a compliment but sometimes it goes too far. For example, I barely manage to say “hello, nice to meet you” to a stranger and they immediately jump to the conclusion that I talk Finnish very well. I know they are trying to be polite but it’s just ridiculous. Wait until we talk about life’s deep philosophical matters and nuclear energy. Then tell me how god my Finnish is.

I do know though that I make mistakes and my language is not as good as some claim. There were at least three persons who criticized my language skills. One of them did it in a very constructive manner and I appreciated that a lot (she is a teacher afterall). The other two were just being assholes. One of them cannot speak anything else besides Finnish and the other just English but for him is perfectly ok to make fun of people who are trying to learn other languages than English.

  1. Do you like it here?

Of course, I do otherwise I wouldn’t be here.

  1. What do you think about Finland?

Again if I start a long endless discussion about things I like in Finland (and there are lots of them) my interlocutor would probably get bored so I just say “it’s nice”. End of story. If they want to know more, they can ask. I’ll gladly answer.

 

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