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Myths surrounding immigration to Finland

September 2, 2008

Reading posts and getting information on immigration in general in dynamic multicultural societies, one can pick out the myths that some Finns still use to claim that immigration is a bad thing.

Myths

1) Immigration takes away jobs from Finns.
2) Immigrants come to Finland to take advantage of the welfare system.
3) Immigrants have to abandon their culture and become Finns. This is what I would call “integration by perkele.”
4) Multiculturalism fuels ghettos.
5) Finns will disappear when more foreigners come to the country.

Answers

1) Some studies point that immigrants take low- and high-end jobs. Moreover, they become consumers and create services through increased productivity. This argument that jobs will be snatched by foreigners was common in the early 1990s. It is no longer an argument used in official circles.
2) The motives for an immigrant is usually to secure a better life somewhere else. Living off KELA or unemployment benefits just doesn’t cut the grade. The best and fastest way to secure a better standard of living for some immigrants is through work.
3) This form of integration is not possible because people cannot turn their culture “on and off” like a switch. When people move to other countries, they learn new habits and customs. They integrate in order to function effectively in society.
4) What has fueled racial ghettos is discrimination and suspicion. If society is open to diversity and there is respect for each others cultures, it undermines the creation of ghettos and cultural marginalization.
5) Nobody will disappear. Culture changes and takes on new values that help it to survive. The English language, which has received influences from over 300 languages, has not disappeared. It has become stronger. Diversity will strengthen and make Finnish culture more resilient. If multicultural Karelia would be part of Finland today, surely we’d understand the strength that diversity brings.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. DeTant Blomhat permalink
    September 2, 2008 3:21 pm

    Maybe we should look at Finland and not at your other countries. And maybe you should include some realities and facts and not give such a bright-eyed view. I can dismiss your points as myths as well as they are the other end of the spectrum and as untrue as the original claims.

    1. Depends on the job. For example now there are professions where they rather do hire a foreigner, as the Finn applying for such a job would be more prone to say go on a drunken binge after payday. Or you can get an adult willing to work for such a salary you could only hire a bit unseasoned teenager. But is it then the Finns’ problem they are unemployable? The only profession where foreigners have taken work from the Finns is the building industry, but that is because of the competition in the EU price structure. If people are brought to work into Finland to work say Romanian salaries – of course the Finns nor Romanians living in Finland as residents won’t get hired.

    2. So what are these people then doing on the welfare if they ought to be working? You yourself say that there is over 20% unemployment and with some nationalities 80% – they’re not living on their savings are they? Again – the fact is that these people should be employed and employable – but in the case of refugees they also need a shelter and really you can’t expect invalids and children to work?

    3. I don’t think anyone needs to abandon their culture. But like the roma in Finland have a very interesting cultural mannerism of “giving way”. In the case of a potential conflict – to avoid a conflict, the newcomers “give way” to the established ones.

    4. Exactly – so the immigrants should integrate instead of closing themselves up into their own communities where you can live without the knowledge of the outside world. Nobody in Finland is placing immigrants to live in some town or one block – they try their utmost to prevent that from happening – its the immigrants themselves that flock together abnd start excluding the native population and other immigrant populations.

    5. No we won’t disappear. But we do have a right to demand our language unless we want to go sit in a multicultural ghetto of our own. They have them in many countries built on immigration – they’re called native reservations.

    – The English language, which has received influences from over 300 languages, has not disappeared. It has become stronger.

    Tell that to the Irish.

    – If multicultural Karelia would be part of Finland today, surely we’d understand the strength that diversity brings.

    Just like Georgia does? There is a flipside to every coin.

  2. September 2, 2008 7:42 pm

    re: pt. 3. and the argument of leaving one’s culture behind and ‘becoming Finnish’. It is interesting to think about what “Becoming Finnish” actually means. In general the concept of “being Finnish” is tied to being white, Christian (heritage, whether or not one actually practices the religion) and European and this entails constructing the Self in opposition to how one has constructed the Other. So, “being Finnish” cannot escape racialization, gendering, etc. For those who support this sort of exclusionary conception of Finnish identity and culture fail to see that its base stems from notions of racialization, exoticizing the Other (just take a look at old Raul Roine’s fairy tale books and/or ones illustrated by Rudolf Koivu). Orientalism has been part of growing up Finnish. So, why should new immigrants be asked to integrate to a flawed, racist, culture? The problem is that many people do not see the culture and institutions of a society as embedded with racism. The racism is not usually intentional, but it’s there. Very evident to those on the outside of the lines.

  3. Enrique permalink
    September 2, 2008 8:06 pm

    Hi Taina, welcome to Migrant Tales and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. You hit one of the biggest questions regarding integration: How do we define Finnish culture and how do we become more receptive for people to be part of our culture. In my opinion, nobody has a clear idea. I think it is very simple: You are where you think you are from. Becoming Finnish cannot hinge only on being white, Lutheran etc.. It has to be a wider concept. I mentioned a while back of an tragic-comic Italian movie in the 1960s, where the man changed his hair color white so he could speed the integration process into Swiss society. It was, as you can expect, a failure. Yes, it is true what you say about what some think about integration. Why would they want to integrate into a society if that society does not accept them and discriminates? I sure wouldn’t. Racism is an illness of societies. It can be slain because it survives on fear and ignorance.

  4. Enrique permalink
    September 2, 2008 8:20 pm

    DeTant, regarding question 2, some of the foreigners that have come to Finland have moved for humanitarian reasons because they are refugees. Moreover, Finland’s high education system is another factor. Some are not qualified to work in a specific job. We talked before out Finland’s labor market that is not too conducive to hiring people since we still have about 6% unemployment after years of high growth. These are some reasons, apart from discrimination, which as you said, was the “icing on the cake.” Foreigners and Finns should compete equally for jobs. Hire the best man.
    Good point about about the Roma.
    I believe in integration so they can function in society. Even so, they have to have the chance to retain their identity and culture.
    The Finnish language, like any other, is a valuable asset. But think for a moment how Finnish language will change and incorporate new words. It is already doing this without a significant amount of foreigners. Missasin heitto/kori! Wow! What a verb!

  5. Tiwaz permalink
    September 3, 2008 5:20 am

    Why they have to retain their culture and ways in Finland? Why should I, Finn, respect, in my native country, behavior that from my cultural and traditional point of view is not acceptable?

    Answer to that. I do not like rude people. Not Finns, not foreigners.
    And rude to me is defined by Finnish culture. So either learn to behave according to this culture, or get out. Because we do not need more rude immigrants.

    Finnish culture is not about being white and lutheran. Hell, I am not lutheran. Most Finns could not actually care less about religion.

    Finnish culture is about how things are done. How to behave in certain situations. How to interact with other people.

    For example, rough generalisations follow, distance. My (Finnish) personal space is around 1 meter or more. Down to around half a meter when discussing things with someone.

    I like silence. Thinking before you talk is often gift not given to foreign cultures. They speak, speak, speak and say NOTHING of use. Chitchat has it’s place, but if 90% of your discourse is chitchat…

    Befriending and excessive terms. You are not my friend 5 minutes after we meet, I do not love you 5 minutes after meeting you. You are most likely not my friend days, even weeks after we meet regularily. You are someone I know.

    And that is scrape on the top.

    There is nothing wrong with Finnish culture. It is ours, it has grown to fit us, our society and our nation. It is supreme in Finland. If you want to live in Finland, learn to abide by it.

  6. DeTant Blomhat permalink
    September 3, 2008 6:33 am

    – But think for a moment how Finnish language will change and incorporate new words. It is already doing this without a significant amount of foreigners.

    Actually, Finnish language is a very conservative one, so that scholars can find words from disappeared languages that have been loaned into the Finnish language thousands of years ago… say like “kuningas” which is from proto-germanic “kuningaz”… the spoken language changes, you look at the 1910’s and 20’s Helsinki slang and you see a heavy infliction of Russian and Swedish… you look at the slang today and the new strata is English, but nobody much speaks the “slang” that phased out in the 50’s and 60’s. However using a slang word like “missasin” won’t much enhance ones chances in the academic world. The Finnish literary language evolves quite slowly, but learning how to read the newspaper is one advancement – Finland being full of dialects then you need to learn how to speak local as well. But thats not different from any language with a set “written standard” and then variants of the spoken language… for an immigrant to the UK would it have been better to learn RP or “BBC English” or Glaswegian… and then move to Manchester?

  7. DeTant Blomhat permalink
    September 3, 2008 7:02 am

    Well for what Tiwaz is saying in the very blunt manner. I think re. 3. the “Finnish Culture” is defined best by “the things everybody knows but nobody tells you”. Which can be explained in etiquette books but really need perception to realize what it is that is different. It can be small things that are cultural shibboleths. BTW if anyone thinks Tiwaz is being “rude” that is then again “by Finnish standards” he is being “slightly direct”. – And it is I think the point there – “who defines”.

    And Taina, there is nothing flawed in the Finnish culture as compared to other cultures. I find claiming racism a quite usual argument with Finns married or wishing to marry exotic foreigners as they themselves see the Other as a better option of the local. Their problem is they love the Other and the Otherness – and as love blinds so they fail to see that everyone else thinks these Others aren’t anything that special. And instead of pushing the Other to integrate they protect them and entitle them to sit and cry racism instead of looking into the mirror admitting to their shortcomings say needing to learn some new skills and thus getting a grip of themselves. So as it is impossible for that Finn to admit that the Other has any flaws – its always the society that is flawed and racist. Until it happens like with summer kittens that the reality of the Other being an Other hits and then there comes a split and a divorce. And we get all these embittered foreigners then crying racism because after 2 years of sitting on the sofa the spouse finally got fed up. So really I don’t buy that argument at face value – I’ve seen this happen in so many multicultural couples. And it can be a white protestant so its got nothing to do with race, creed nor color specifically.

  8. DeTant Blomhat permalink
    September 3, 2008 7:44 am

    – Why would they want to integrate into a society if that society does not accept them and discriminates?

    Ah, but that is from the premonition that they are from a society that *wants* to integrate in the first place. A Cosmopolitan can integrate into a Cosmopolitan society. A Cosmopolitan can try and integrate into s Discriminatory society. But if you have a Discriminate, he can live in a Cosmopolitan society but he cannot integrate into another Discriminate society. Lets say people who have religious reasons they think everyone else is impure and cannot share a meal? Is that a person who wants to integrate? No, they want to live like at home and be separated from the rest of the population themselves. So why would the rest give them the time of day?

  9. Enrique permalink
    September 3, 2008 10:59 am

    Integration, in my opinion, means that you make the effort to understand the ways of the country in order to function effectively. It does not mean throwing away your identity but learning to balance two worlds or more. A society like the Finnish one teaches new values to those you claim cannot share a meal with you because you are impure. Children of foreigners learn probably more readily the ways of a society. But like there are rules against racism in Finland, it works both ways. And if you don’t want to have a meal with me because of who I am, that is YOUR problem not mine. My world is not going to fall.
    ONe of the biggest challenges of Finnish society when more foreigners move to Finland is being a society that can accept them and make them feel that they are part of this grand project we call Suomi.
    Let cultural bygones be bygones.
    One last matter, DeTant. Etiquette is a written set of “rules” on perceived behavior in some circles. These books you talk about probably have to do with business meetings and social gatherings. Remember the books that described Finns incorrectly in the early 20th century as being Mongols, that is a typical example of a book that is a bit like one that describes etiquette. Statements such as “The Trobianders are nice but if you hit them they will show their temper” are very simplistic unscientific explanations of a culture of a group. They are not based on empirical studies.

  10. Tiwaz permalink
    September 3, 2008 12:02 pm

    Except, if immigrants are permitted to segregate in name of “multiculturalism” like in France and Germany instead of trying to spread them amongst native population to force them to integrate…

    They will form ghetto where children are brought up with values and norms which do not fit into surrounding nation. That is the problem with for example Paris.

    Immigrants were permitted to form their own ghetto, keep doing their foreign stuff. Their children were brought up in alien culture, which they did not see anywhere but at home. But one they did not have clear connection to.

    They fell between cultures. They did not identify with national culture, because parents and ghetto made them grow into immigrant culture, but they did not really have full cultural connection to country of origin of their parents.

    In the end, they did not integrate either. Because they did not integrate they did not find work. And so came the riots. And crime.

    Now, if parents of those children had been forced one way or another NOT to segregate. Forced to adapt to native culture. Those children would have grown as french.

  11. Enrique permalink
    September 3, 2008 12:15 pm

    What is one institution that integrates children? Schools. So you are saying that these immigrant children don’t go to school? Wrong. They form part of a new culture that integrates both societies. Apart from going to school, they get bombarded by television, radio, celebrities etc.
    The word ghetto is a pretty strong word. In the US, ghettos strangely applied to mainly blacks. Hispanics lived in “Hispanic communities.” Strange, no?
    I have asked you many times how do you force people to integrate. One good start is respect, work, education and openness of the majority culture to ACCEPT others. That there is something positive in diversity. Your opinions on the matter gives me the impression that if a number of FInns like you moved to another country, there would be a Finnish “ghetto” (community?). Twenty percent of the population of Thunder Bay in Canada are Finns or descendants of Finns. Now, tell me, have there been riots and strife? No.
    The best way of not forcing people to segregate is to give them opportunities to take part in society through work, for example.

  12. Tiwaz permalink
    September 3, 2008 1:03 pm

    Except, they do not represent the society. NATIVES represent the society. Until you have marginalised natives into yet another minority position they determine how society is to be run.

    Thus, your “half and half” children are fall betweens. They do not fulfill requirements of native. They do not belong to nation of origin of their parents…
    They are… Nothing.

    They do not fit into either society because they do not embrace that society as whole, their youth years spent in society and culture alien to country they live in, they cannot effectively integrate into native society if the home still enforces this alien culture.

    They have to be immersed totally in native culture to learn to follow it’s rules, to be natives.

    Natives do NOT have to accept ANYTHING. They are AT HOME. It is their home, home of their parents, grandparents, greatgrandparents… THEY DEFINE WHAT IS ACCEPTED AND NOT. NOT IMMIGRANTS.

    Hispanic communities are just another word for ghetto.

    Immigrants have to accept that they have moved into country with culture, traditions and ways not like their native country. And accept that their ways are not ones that are followed. They have to accept that they must integrate into existing society on terms of SOCIETY.

    That means, if only way to be employed is to learn to speak Finnish… You learn Finnish, you do not bitch how Finns dare to demand Finnish in Finland.

    If group of Finns like me moved to another country, we would seek to integrate. I accept that rest of the world is not Finland, thus I cannot live in it like I would in Finland. I accept that as immigrant I must change to fit society around me.

    If I refuse to change, I do not move.

    Your kind refuses to accept norms of society you move into. Instead you want to introduce abomination called multiculturalism, to expect society to adapt to you. For society to accept the division caused by clashing cultures, increased violence, increased crime.

    As for Thunderbay. Those greatgrandchildren of Finns are nothing like Finns. They have integrated. They do not know anything of Finnish culture, nor do they follow it. Thus they are not Finns. They are americans.

    If you look at Sweden you will easily find out about problems caused by unintegrating Finnish immigrants. They became infamous for the social issues and problems they caused.

  13. DeTant Blomhat permalink
    September 5, 2008 12:20 am

    – Remember the books that described Finns incorrectly in the early 20th century as being Mongols, that is a typical example of a book that is a bit like one that describes etiquette.

    I think that Mrs. Alex Tweedie describes Finns and Finland quite accurately in 1897 with her “through Finland in Carts”…

    The Finns, though intellectually most interesting, are not as a rule attractive in person. Generally small of stature, thickset with high cheek-bones, and eyes inherited from theri Tartar-Mongolian ancestors, they cannot be considered good-looking; while the peculiar manner in which the blonde male peasants cut their hair is not becoming to their sunburnt skins, which are generally a brilliant red, especially about the neck where it appears below the light, fluffy, downy locks. Fat men are not uncommon; and their fatness is too frequently of a kind to make one shudder, for it resembles dropsy, and is, as a rule, the outcome of liqueur drinking, a very pernicious habit, in which many Finlanders indulge to exess. There are men in Suomi -dozens of them- so fat that no healthy Englishman could attain such dimensions; one of them will completely occupy the seat of an isvoschtschik, while the amount of adipose tissue his wrists and cheeks seems absolutely incredible when seen for the first time, and one wonders how any chair or carriage bear such a weight. Inordinately fat men are certainly one of the least pleasing of Finland’s peculiarities.

    if she whines of it in 1897 and we still do it in 2007 that means the imperialists never won!

    Meanwhile we must feel sorry because all immigrants are brain surgeons
    http://www.hs.fi/kaupunki/artikkeli/Helsingin+kerj%C3%A4l%C3%A4isvauva+el%C3%A4%C3%A4+k%C3%B6yhyydess%C3%A4+Transilvaniassa/1135239177973

    Myths surrounding immigrants on your doorstep.

  14. Enrique permalink
    September 5, 2008 6:09 am

    Pretty incredible, DeTant. Thank you. Where do you get these “gems?” I think they offer an older version of stereotypes that masqueraded as “scientific knowledge.” Far from it!

    There you go again… The Roma issue in Eastern Europe is a very sad example of chronic racial discrimination. But admit it, DeTant, it takes a lot of guts to not give up your culture and identity in the face of so much discrimination. The other problem is, that they would have a lot of problems integrating because of the deep-rooted discrimination found in the countries they live in.

  15. DeTant Blomhat permalink
    September 6, 2008 8:57 am

    But thats the chicken & egg question as always isn’t it. Which is cause and which is effect and how can you get out of the catch-22?

    Oh, I have a bit of a library of old travel books – Acerbis travels and Ganivets letters and the Land of White Lilies and such. Anyhow’s Mrs. Tweedies very good book is available online at
    http://openlibrary.org/details/throughfinlandin00tweeuoft

    She reflects the ideals an morals of a Victorian Lady… it is sometimes fun from a modern viewpoint how she is amazed of the emancipation of women – riding bicycles, going to university and working on construction sites! Also she notices some “Finnish things” that she finds different from home – some of those you can notice even today – some sound totally bizzarre.

  16. Enrique permalink
    September 6, 2008 12:00 pm

    Thank you! Someone had said (Spinoza?) that a good book is one that can stand the test of time. The Bible is one of them. This book didn’t quite make it.

  17. DeTant Blomhat permalink
    September 12, 2008 2:07 am

    Oh, *which* Bible are you talking about? The one with or without the forbidden books? And whose forbidden books?

    Mrs. Tweedies books were the “Lonely Planet” guides of her time… and in her time there was already an inflation of books. Everybody remembers say John Mandeville or Marco Polo as they were the first people to write about certain distant lands and became famous as there were not much any other books even in existence at their time even they wrote urban legends and heresay hogwash to fill in the gaps. Who remembers Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin or Diego DeLanda unless they are interested in the matters of Yucatan. Or for example Pehr Kalm’s geographical book over North America in the 1700’s? Much less hogwash and more personal observations, but Marco Polo is known by all. So I think Spinoza concentrates on the fame rather than the content itself.

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