My integration experience.

Gary Jules & Michael Andrews cover Mad World. The original by Tears for Fears is here. Gary Lambert also sounds very good. You pick the version you want to hear! Or listen to them all and tell me which is your favourite! ***

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: If you are planning on moving to Finland in a permanent capacity DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT attempt to do it this way. It’s wrong and you’ll just cause yourself a whole heap of stress and grief.

One of the Finnish blogs I read on fairly regular basis is Migrant Tales – I don’t always agree with what he says and sometimes the conversation threads that follow the postings get very heated. There’s also a heap of swearing, and while I’m no prude and the eff word (or the vee word in Finnish) has slipped through my lips on the odd occasion, I really don’t see the point of swearing at fellow commenters. I’d be hard pressed to do it in person, unless they were really really really good friends. Even then I doubt that I’d get into it so much. My mum did a good job!

Back to Migrant Tales. Two posts have grabbed my attention lately. The first was about integration, the second was an earlier post about jokes.  Now I wasn’t going to write about politics on this blog, then I put up my two bits about the Finnish Presidential Election. The Beader also reminded me a while back that this blog is about me and my life in Finland. So,  I think that means politics are on the menu. (You’ll have to wait a while for me to post about sex and religion, I have a total lack of one in my life and the other is none of your business!)

Right now immigration is a very hot potato in Finland. There has been a rise in popularity for the right-wing, nationalist party. Australians will remember the rise and rise of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. Well, we have The Finns, better known as the True Finns. They’re not huge fans of immigration, even less keen on being a part of the EU. They object to Finland’s role in the Euro-zone bailout of Greece. The list goes on. Large pockets of support come from rural areas that are suffering from high youth unemployment figures, or reeling from lay-offs in manufacturing. Or they live in urban areas with large immigrant populations.

I overheard this in the pub the other night: young girl, early twenties was very excited about her upcoming trip to Italy. She was obviously going there to work and for a long time, based on her questions about tax etc. … blah blah … I’m so excited, next week I’ll be in Venice! Will you visit me there? … blah blah, the conversation continues and then turns quite sharply… oh it’s so terrible what the EU makes Finland do. No wonder everybody goes to Estonia and Germany to buy their cars. I think it’s time Finland left the EU. Obviously, she did not get the irony of her statement. The EU has removed many border restrictions when it comes to labour. Had Finland not been in the EU, perhaps her stint in Italy would have non-existent… 

The crux of the integration article is that perhaps the integration should come from both sides, rather than just those moving to Finland. Now, before you say, ‘the immigrant is the one that has to integrate!’ please read on. This is my story. Every immigrant that comes to Finland has their own story and no two will ever be the same.

Finland has an official integration program. Please, just don’t ask me how it works. Even though I’ve never been integrated, I’m a tax-paying, mortgage holding citizen. I suspect I am not alone in this way. First, however let’s go back to the beginning.

September 2001. For those of you aware of (very) recent history, there was a major event that turned everybody’s world up-side-down. Timing is everything as they say. Mr 2.25 and I were staying with MIL, enjoying warm autumn and looking forward to flying to Florida where The Engineer was living at the time. We were scheduled to leave within a matter of days. That plan was off the table. A New Plan was required. I was in the country on a visitors visa, valid for 3 months at a time. Our three months were running out and it’s never a good idea to over-stay your visa. They might get upset and not let you back.

Off to the local police station we went. * We were ummed and ahhed over, then finally a heap of papers passed through the hatch with the instruction to complete and return with fee, passports and passport photos. Okay, no problem, we can do that. Some of the questions were a little odd. Surprisingly (at the time), we’d been given residency application forms. Okay, so you can visit Finland for three months or apply to live here due to having Finnish spouse. At this stage The Engineer and I had been doing the long distance thing and quite frankly, neither of us really know which country we would end up living in…

Forms deposited, passports submitted, fee paid. Little did I know that it be NINE months later before we would see our passports again. It was great opportunity to get to know Finland. Despite my persona non grata status (okay that’s a little harsh – I was a status-less person for those nine months though), I enrolled in the local adult education course Finnish For Foreigners. I helped out the Old Rauma Society, I enrolled Mr. 2.5 into a Finnish kindergarten / play park, where I was befriended by the truly generous A, pretty simply I started living like a normal (passportless) person. I started learning to make Finnish dishes. Sauna quickly became a regular and anticipated part of the week, and remains so today. I experienced my first ever White Christmas. Decent snow cover is the key!

As a paperless foreigner, there were a few things we couldn’t do: open bank accounts, take a Finnish mobile, utilise the neuvola **. Luckily we were in good health and Mr. 2.5 was up-to-date with his vaccinations.

Eventually our passports were returned, complete with residency permits. Mr. 2.5 received 2 years, while I received 1 year. Reason, it would not have been fair to the child not to have granted my residency. Fair enough, although a little odd. We travel to Florida and stay three months, returning at the end of summer to start our new life together. That particular set of hows and whys I’ll save for another day. It’s not relevant to the integration.

Now I’m officially a resident of FInland. We receive our personal identity number and life can begin! I think a couple of politicians sent me a letter welcoming me to the city. I opened bank accounts for myself and Mr. 3. I got my first library card, my first bus pass (I say first because I have lost at least two of each of these – foolish as it costs every time you take a replacement). I’m not on any unemployment register. I cook, clean, drive to and from the airport more times than I care to remember. Mr. 4 and I have a routine, play in the morning, park in the afternoon, other stuff in between.

Eventually I get motivated enough and sign myself up for anther Finnish for Foreigners course. Teacher is nice, although I’m a bit frustrated by the lack of speaking practice. I pass and sign up for the 2nd level. Then stuff gets in the way. I get a job. We go back to Australia. I sign up again, and again stuff gets in the way.

Life goes on. I pay my taxes, have my 5 (yes you read that correctly) five weeks of holiday per year (not counting ‘public’ or pyhä- sacred holidays). Actually, true to form,  I work hard and don’t always get to have the full-time. I can work short days sometimes or disappear during the day to do some stuff at school. Still no integration program or plan for me.

Despite not formalising my language training, I scrape through on the official language test. I apply for citizenship. In the meantime, we’ve bought an apartment. All the time I’m here just living. Nothing special. Not being particularly outwardly Australian. Not being particularly Finnish either. Citizenship is approved. The very first thing I do is cancel my resident permit and apply for my Finnish passport.

So 10 years on, here I am. My integration was driven by me. If I had to go through this all again there is NOT one thing I would do differently. Not even register myself as unemployed and get free Finnish lessons. THe major debate on the migrant tales post seems to focus on how long an immigrant is a drain on society. In my case, I think I was neutral until I started working, at which time I became a contributor back to society.

Now Finland has value added tax, yet people don’t seem to see this as tax or a contribution to society. In all honestly, I’m not sure what people think it is. Yet the more you consume, the more tax you pay! Some things are VAT free (health care for one). Yet, food is taxed (13% or 23%), alcohol is taxed at purchase (23%), and there’s a heap of duty inflicted before it even hit’s the shelves. Any sort of public transport includes 9%. So I was contributing back even before I rejoined the workforce.

Yes, there is probably small percentage of the native population who need integrating back. These are the same people who wildly throw ALL immigrants into the one basket. We’re not all the same, and I for one refuse to accept the label that all immigrants are drain on Finnish society. (Rant over!) One important fact to remember is that immigration into Finland is a relatively recent phenomenon, and society as a whole is only just catching up. We have a very long way to go still.

Personally, I think that the integration is a two-way street. The immigrant should be willing to take on the new country and important aspects that are unique, without losing the essence of their own culture; the citizens should be willing to acknowledge that there are other cultures, and that those two should be able to sit side by side in a person. Asking an immigrant to forsake a major part of themselves and their self-image and then expect them to behave like a Finn is a situation that will never end well. I’m a Tasmanian Finn and proud of it. 

This is the abridged version obviously. It’s super late and I really felt the need to get this published today. So if there are any really bad errors (grammar, spelling etc), please be kind enough to point them out.

* Immigration issues in the first instance are handled by one department of the police force.

** Finnish child care / mothercraft nurses. Look after mother and baby from pregnancy to school age.

*** If I want to dance it has to be Tears for Fears, just for the beauty of the voice I’ll put on Gary Jules and I’d much rather hear Adam Lambert singing If I Had You.

De-cluttering part 1: The Flea Market

e-Bay, Huuto-net, flea market, garage sale, yard sale, swap meet, boot sale, net-cycler, free cycler… The list of outlets and ways for getting rid of stuff is endless.

We live in a 3 room apartment * 78 square metres. Limited storage space. One storage locker in the house cellar. The house does have common store rooms for bicycles and prams. Luckily.

In the past we’ve sold stuff at a weekend kirpputori (flea market). First step: find a date far enough in the future to allow decent collection time of things to sell. Step two: the table. Some markets operate on ‘first in best dressed’ basis. Our favourite lets us book a specific table. Location is everything, so close to the entrance is critical. My philosophy: get the buyers while they still have coins in their pockets! Pay the fee and wait for the big day.

Ah, the big day. Car packed the night before. Change rattling in the box. Nice plain dark fabric to cover the usually pretty ratty table. Thermos filled. Tea-bags and snacks packed. Alarm set for earlier than usual on a weekend morning. The trip there goes quickly, streets are quiet at 7:00 on a Saturday morning.

Then the fun starts: dragging the stuff from car to table – along with the 3 or 4 hundred other sellers. If you time it right there’ll be a trolley to help ease the load. Table covered and then goods displayed to their best – the trick is to make the table look inviting, show everything off yet at the same time not so overload the table that it scares people off or have so few items that the table looks, well pathetic 😉

Early birds do get the worm, and the flea market is no different. Collectors of Finnish glass and china ware will be asking already while you are unpacking “Onko Arabiaa?” “(do you have any Arabia?”) ** Similarly, music collectors and  book enthusiasts will be scrabbling through your stuff even as you unpack.

Then there are the bargain hunters who know that the best stuff goes really quickly. They pick up desired item, roll it around, examining from every angle, looking for the scratch or mark that will become the bargaining chip. Then they might put it down, feign indifference, walk away. A few steps from the table they take a pause, look back and get the look. Back to the table and it starts! Opening volley Paljonko? (How much?)  I never price things, I’d rather let the customer ask – makes the haggling more fun! Sometimes I throw something else from the table in to sweeten the deal. Sometimes I hold firm on the price. Depends very much on what it is – a pair of Mr. 12’s ice skates I can afford to be firm on the price. An English book or magazine might need something extra… Some people bargain quite hard, others are a bit more relaxed about it. My rule is that I don’t really want to take the stuff home again, so clothes, books toys etc, I’m ready to sell them at quite low price. It’s about emptying my cupboard, not making money.

After the early bird rush the day settles into a routine of sorts. Often if one person stops, a small crowd will gather. At some stage The Engineer and Mr. 12 will drop by to say hello, they’ll explore the rest of the market, hang with me, sell some stuff, spell me for a toilet break, and if I’m really lucky bring me a burger for lunch!

Mid afternoon things slow considerably and the neighbours often start packing. We usually take a table for the whole weekend, and while some of the faces on Sunday are the same, often it’s a totally new crowd: buying and selling. About 2:30 on Saturday afternoon we start packing up. The stuff stays with a cover thrown over the top. Any really valuable stuff (and the change tin) comes home for the night.

Sunday is a repeat, and hopefully by pack up time there’s not so much left. Recycling centres get the left overs.

I really enjoy the face-to-face aspect of the flea market. It’s great practice for my Finnish! A few will pick up that I’m not from ‘around here’ and then a conversation will continue… about Australia or the seasons or their mothers cousins ex-wife lives in Sydney! (you get those sort of comments a lot!).

So how do you get rid of your clutter? Throw it away, give it away, auction it, sell it or are you still waiting for the right opportunity?

To be honest, I could be a lot more pro-active in this area.

De-cluttering part 2 will examine the self-service flea market, and part 3 will delve into online auctions

* Finnish real-estate listings only count bedrooms and living room. Our place was listed as 3 rooms + k(itchen), b(athroom), 2(nd wc), s(auna) and b(alcony).
** Finnish tableware. Still manufactured today. Highly functional, collectible and very desirable.

Pearls of wisdom


HelMet Card (regional library network)

Finns love word play and Finnish, despite its’ complexity and sometimes mind-boggling grammar is perfect for word play. Take my library card for instance.Front and centre you can see the words HelMet. Short for Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries. Helmet is also a proper word in Finnish (the plural form of helmi which means pearl in Finnish). What better place to find pearls of wisdom than a library!

This card has pride of place in the front of my wallet: I’ve used this to borrow books and cd’s regularly. Should I be so inclined I could also borrow movies. We have a perfectly good video shop (although really it should be called DVD shop these days) just around the corner which has a much more current selection than the library … so they get my movie business!

I am actually tempted to borrow some of the sports gear they have: boules anyone? or perhaps you’d like to try your hand (arms!) at Nordic stick walking? They had a great booklet that I took last summer that had all the cycling routes in southern Finland. It was quite nice reading the route notes and working out on the map where I might possibly end up after a couple of hours in the saddle.

If you are looking for value for money you can’t go past the library. For a fifty cent fee my book will be transferred from any branch to the library closest to me. If I was feeling really lazy I could wait for the bookmobile which parks at the end of the street twice a week! Late returns are 20 cents per day… I’ve had to pay my fair share of fines.

Book-Club are on Christmas break now and so we have two books to read, plus one maybe which I’ve grabbed from the library already. The library doesn’t always stock the books we read in all of the languages we could be reading in (we are native English, Finnish and Swedish readers), so sometime Book Depository (free delivery world-wide) or Amazon (say no more) have to come to the rescue. The two compulsory books are still in transit, stuck no doubt in the Christmas post rush.

Happy reading!

Sandwich makers and rescuing Sunday dinner

We have one of these nifty multi-tasking sandwich makers. We bought it maybe 4 years ago at about this time of the year. 3-in-1: waffles, toasted sandwiches (toasties) and then a grill plate for baguette or pieces of meat, vegetables etc.

When I was a student the sandwich maker was a kitchen essential. Perfect for quick snacks   in between finishing studies and work, or work and playing or lazy Sunday dinners when the thought of preparing food was just too hard. As a parent, I’m not entirely convinced of their usefulness in the kitchen.

Mr. 12 would be happy eating waffles breakfast every day! My husband rolls his eyes every time the word waffle is mentioned. I like eating toasties, although I always feel bloated and ugh afterwards. I’m thinking that large amounts of melted cheese probably has a lot to do with it.

Sad to say, we have never used the third grill plate option. I have a perfectly good oven to do that. The other two plates have had their fair share of use, so I’m prepared to go out on a limb here and say it probably has paid for itself by now.

Tonight I’m scouring the web for a neutral waffle mix recipe, not sweet, not savoury. Something that I can serve under baked beans or raspberry jam or honey and lemon.

Tonight it’s all about an easy dinner, it’s been a long week and the upcoming one is shaping up to be more of the same.

Enjoy your Sunday evening 😉

Hello readers!

My very first post!

Earlier I was thinking to post a few posts privately, just to get the hang of this blogging business. Now, after Christmas party # 2 and plenty of good food and wine, I’m thinking along the lines of Nike. You know. JUST DO IT!

So, if you are able to read this later in the day, you’ll know my hesitancy was blown out of the water so to speak.

It’s December 8th, 2011 and we are in the middle of the Christmas party season. From now until the 24th, it is for many people, a never-ending round of party,  work, party, work, party, work, and maybe some sleep thrown in! The most famous and feared of all is the WORK christmas party. It’s a bit like Vegas, what happens at pikkujoulu* stays at pikkujoulu. If you’re unlucky your employer will only settle for dinner and drinks somewhere, while luckier ones might get treated to a show, comedian, magician or if you are really lucky… you’ll get a cruise to a foreign country. To anyone who live outside the Baltic, that sounds extremely exotic. Those of us that live here know that the truth translates to a cruise to either Tallinn in Estonia, or Stockholm Sweden. Pretty routine really.


* Pikkujoulu quite literally translates to ‘little christmas’. There is generally not very much ‘little’ about it, and often the consequences of consuming large amounts of alcohol lead to some embarrassing moments. Hence the habit of holding work Christmas parties on Friday nights to allow the concerned parties some time to recover before facing their work colleagues again.