A common worry is that Finnish people don’t like foreigners. In this blog, I will share five insights to help you understand the people of Finland better and why they might be hesitant towards foreigners.
Let’s go check it out.
1. The late start of immigration
In Finland, the more giant waves of immigration started as late as the 1990s and the early two thousand. That means that there weren’t really any foreigners around here when the older generation was growing up. For example, my parents were born in the fifties, and there were adults in the seventies and eighties. There still weren’t many foreigners around.
The late start of immigration is one of the reasons why the older generation might be a little bit, still, a little bit hesitant and grumpy towards foreigners, because it’s just a fact that they haven’t seen them that much during their life. For example, if you compare to the middle of Europe or even America, the immigration started in the fifties, the sixties, and seventies: much earlier than in Finland.
2. Not many foreigners around
Finland has mostly Finnish people, and only a tiny fraction of the population is foreigners. There was one statistic that in 2017, people with foreign residents (non-Finns) was only 4.5% of the total population. In other words, we don’t actually have that many foreigners here. Finnish people still need a little more time to get used to the fact that the number of international and multi-cultural will grow.
Helsinki is a good example. We have a lot of internationals here. You can see them everywhere in the streets, at work, in banks, shops. But in the other cities, it might still take a little more time to have similar status as Helsinki does because the number of foreigners is even smaller. So that’s good to keep in mind.
3. Finns are being Finns
Finnish people getting to know other people, it’s not really one of the strongest traits. We are just grumpy, don’t really speak that much, and don’t always say what we think. So even we Finnish people sometimes have problems getting to know new people or dealing with each other. So you as a foreigner, you’re not alone with this challenge.
Often, the Finnish neutral face resembles are resting bitch-face. That’s just like how Finns are: a little bit reserved to any strangers whatsoever. So if you get these kinds of bad looks or these reactions, keep in mind that Finns are Finns. They are not bad people necessarily. And that also doesn’t mean if they have this kind of reaction that they might think you are a bad person, they react to you because you are a new person for them.
A quick story: When I’ve been doing street interview videos every once in a while, and when I have approached, the Finns might have been thinking:
“Who is this tall, weird-looking Finnish, with the camera approaching me?”
The Finns have been a bit cautious at first. In the end, each interaction has turned out well when I have been friendly and openly explained why I had the camera. That’s all it needs.
4. Big media coverage of crimes committed by internationals in Finland
Next, I want to talk about the big crimes that internationals have committed in Finland. This, of course, is very unfortunate, but I’m going to mention a few huge examples of what we’ve had in recent years.
In 2016, there was a gang rape from the Cuba national volleyball team. They had a game here in Tampere, and later they went to a party in this nightclub located in a hotel. One of the players got to know this Finnish girl, and they left together in a hotel room where a few other team members came in, and they basically raped her. This got huge media coverage in the news, obviously.
Another one where even bigger case what’s a terrorist act done in Turku. A guy from Morocco stabbed 10 people, and two of them died, and eight were injured severely. That was actually the first terrorist act ever in Finland, which was actually officially judged in the court. In 2018, there was this huge group of sexual offenses against under-aged children in Oulu by foreign guys. I think there were guys from Afghanistan and Iraq. They groomed and Lord and sexually abused underaged Finnish girls, which was very much covered in the news as well.
As you can imagine, this kind of incident affects the attitude towards foreigners from Finns which is very unfortunate. Sometimes Finns forget that if a small group of internationals does something bad, it doesn’t mean that all internationals are bad. However, this kind of terrorist act from a foreigner can cause Finns to be a little more cautious towards foreigners. Luckily, a police officer interviewed about the crimes committed by international commented that hopefully, these don’t increase racism because not all foreign not all people with foreign backgrounds are bad.
5. Despite all of this, Finland needs foreigners more than ever before
There is also some good news. First of all, Finland actually needs immigrants because the birth rates are going down, and immigration is the only reason the total population is growing. So we actually need people and, we definitely need work-based immigration more because if this keeps up, we won’t have enough people to work in the future. Finns can’t just think: “Let’s, oh, let’s have sex and kids!” because that’s going take like 20 years for that to affect, even if we took action now.
So immigration is one of the things we actually need, and that means we have to become more open to having internationals around us because otherwise, we won’t survive. And of course, as I said, Helsinki has already become quite international and open to people and cultures around the world. So if you move to Helsinki, I think the attitudes are much more open here in the other cities (but slowly improving).
Even the government wants more foreigners to Finland
The current government has a goal to double the work-based immigration. According to this article (use Google Translate if necessary), Finland needs both specialists and regular workers. In addition, Finland wants those international students to find a job more easily after graduation. The Minister of Finance, Annika Saarikko, commented that this also needs an attitude of change from Finnish employers.
The government has four methods to achieve this goal:
- Speeding up the permit processing times
- Fast lane for growth startups, specalists and their family members
- Attracting specialists from New Delhi and Silicion Valley
- A new diversity program including services that strengthen the diversity and internationalization of working life in business and employer services
As I said, if we take an average Finnish person, they are not a bad person. They are just a little shy, reserved, maybe not, let’s say cultured and aware of other cultures, and they don’t know about people from the other cultures. But on the other hand, there are a lot of foreign-friendly Finns, too. I personally like hanging out with foreigners because foreign people are more often fun and talkative (note: some Finns can be, too)
What kind of experiences do you have with Finns? Let me know in the comments below!