Just before midsummer last year, I became a naturalized citizen of Finland. Pretty exciting, but now that it’s 2017, I feel like it’s time to review my first six months of being a Finn. And not just the regular kind of Finn, but a Swedish-speaker.
Becoming a citizen of Finland was pretty unlikely to begin with, much less as part of a group that makes up about 5% of the population. I was born in Canada to two parents of British descent, visited Europe for the first time when I was 15, and met my first Finns as a 20-year old exchange student in France. Two years later, I got a job in Helsinki, and once I arrived I spent a lot of time and energy learning the language, taking four Finnish language courses at the University of Helsinki. Nearly all of my local friends were Finnish speakers, and I identified with the majority – a natural thing, for someone who had spent his whole life up to that point as part of the linguistic majority in a bilingual country.
Then, in 2014, on the recommendation of my one Swedish-speaking friend, I started my graduate studies at Hanken, the Swedish School of Economics in Helsinki. Everything began to move quickly at that point, and after taking two courses in Swedish, I was making some progress. I liked speaking Swedish, I liked the people at Hanken, and I started to feel like I was part of the community. I decided to test my own skills, and signed up for the National Language Examination in Swedish. I left thinking I had probably failed, and so was pretty surprised when I found out a while later that I had passed. The morning after I got the news in the mail, I went to the police station in Pasila to submit my application. Six months later, I got a text message from the Finnish Immigration Service, and I was a citizen.
It was more than just an administrative formality, though. I had already started to identify with the Swedish speakers before I heard the news. Suddenly, many of the people closest to me were Swedish-speaking Finns, I was reading Hufvudsstadsbladet (the Swedish-language newspaper), and I was spending a surprising amount of time singing drinking songs and eating crayfish. Almost overnight, I had been recruited to join the minority, and I’m pretty happy about it, even if it was that one friend’s evil plan all along.
With the background out of the way, on to the review. I’m the only person I’m aware of who’s gone this route, and Risto said the same thing when I asked him about it. Should you become a Swedish-speaking Finn, or recommend that your foreign friends do? Becoming finlandssvensk has its benefits and drawbacks, and I will attempt to list them here for your reading pleasure.
- The language. Swedish is much easier to learn than Finnish, if you’re a native speaker of English (or a similar language). Once you know it, it’s really nice to use it in your personal life, and you can connect to Finland better once you can read all the news in a language you understand.
- The parties. Swedish speakers are really into celebrating things. There are few situations that don’t call for dressing up and drinking sparkling wine, and I am okay with that.
- Socializing. It feels surprisingly nice to be in a little bubble within an island, and people in this group tend to look out for each other. Lots of clubs and associations, too. It really does feel like a community, which might not be for everyone.
- General attitudes. On average, I think Swedish speakers tend to be a bit more open to foreign things. As a foreign thing myself, this benefits me. There could be a lot of reasons for this (proximity to the coast, existing feelings of being different, higher proportions being from cities, etc.). I could also simply be wrong.
- Also, it just feels nice.
- The language. There aren’t so many chances to use it in professional life, and in practice, English is probably more useful. I probably won’t ever get a job in Finland because of my Swedish skills (unless I also learn fluent Finnish).
- Everybody sails. Obviously, not everybody, but it sure seems that way sometimes. I don’t sail, but if you do, I suggest moving this to the Pros column.
- Housing. If you want to live near other Swedish speakers, you don’t have a ton of options. In the capital region, you have Kauniainen, and then you need to go farther out, while staying along the coast.
- Attitudes. Occasionally, you meet people who don’t like Swedish speakers. This happens. Not a big deal.
All in all, I give becoming a Swedish-speaking Finn 4 out of 5 pairs of bright red pants.
Join me in the duck pond. The water is warm.