Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Saudi experiencing Finland

I've been quite a lazy blogger recently due to the fact that I've been on holiday and haven't been online much. We've just returned to Riyadh after a relaxing summer vacation in Finland. My husband and I spent most of our time at my families summerhouse by the sea in Southern Finland. It's a wonderful and peaceful place to unwind surrounded by my family. This was his third visit to Finland.

I´ve been a bit surprised at how much my husband genuinely enjoys my home country. KSA and Finland are so different weather wise, when it comes to the food, the nature and of course culture and traditions. Despite all the differences my Saudi really loves Finland and that just makes me love him more.
What surprised me mostly is how well my husband has adapted to the Finnish custom of spending the summer at our summerplaces. Most people will move to their summer houses, villas, or cottages for the time of their summer vacation. Life at the summer place differs quite alot from city life but that is exactly why people go there.
Like most Finns, we don´t have running water at the summer house. This itself naturally creates some "problems" and inconviniences. We haven't connected the electricity to our sauna which is from the 19th century in order to keep it as original as possible. The idea is to leave the luxuries of the city behind and to . In short Finns like to keep it nice and simple and feel close to nature. Kind of like bedouins actually!
I asked my husband what are his favorite things about Finland. He replied the presence of water, the vast amount of it surrounding you wherever you go; in the rivers, the lakes (Finland has over 100,00 of them!)and the sea. One activity we enjoy is going out to the sea, either sailing or boating to surrounding islands. He also likes the lush green nature, that is so versatile and very easily accessible. 
He loves being able to get so many things to eat by just stepping outside like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peas, salad, potatoes, mushrooms, spring onions, rhubarb, black and red currants, apples, tomatoes..the list is endless and the majority can be found a few steps from the house.

Despite hating the summer heat in Saudi, my husband loves going to sauna. He knows how to chop the trees so they are just right and how to heat the perfect old-fashioned wood sauna. He will actually stay in longer than me sometimes and be the one adding more 'löyly" (steam)! The only thing he won't likely do (without peer pressure) is go for a long swim in the +22C seawater, which for us is very warm but for him it's freezing!

Naturally my husband prefers the summer climate when the weather is not too hot or cold (if we are having a good summer!)This sumer was really hot and the record highest temperature ever of 37.6 celcius was set in eastern Finland.

He also likes that everything is so well organised and easily available, that technology is very advanced and at hand everywhere.

One of the only things my husband doesn't like about Finland (except the cold water) is when we go out people stare at him like he's an alien. Especially when accompanied by Finnish women Arab and dark skinned men will get some long glares. Outside the capital Helsinki it's not common to see many foreigners around and some Finns are unfortunately quite wary when it comes to dark skinned people. I've noted that the worst gawkers seem to be the Finnish men. I wouldn´t say they're racist, but at least very suspicious and possibly a bit jealous that the Finnish woman has chosen a foreign spouse?

Speaking of which, we were going through some old stuff and stumbled upon this ABC from the 50's. On the first page there is a picture of an indian and a black woman washing herself. The text in the pictures says "A Red Indian sneaks searching for tracks" and "A Nigger washes her face but does not get white". Quite harsh to put in a children's book. Perhaps this attitude partially explains deeply rooted prejudices toward dark skinned people? For Finns it's unfortunately quite common to make fun of colored people. Only a few years back we used to have chocolate sweets named "Nigger's Kisses". On the wrapper there was a black skinned huge lippedcouple dressed in hula skirts kissing.Thank God they recently changed the name to Kisses but the picture remains ther same.

Actually racial caricatures of African black children were quite common topic in Finnish children's literature. A common joke almost a theme, in these stories was that these little kids were dirty because of the colour of their skin. In Helga Sjödtedt's story book "Afrikan veitikoita" (Little African Rascals) the author writes: "...and Grandma Jumbina was very pleased to see that little niggers' skin was turning to a more beautiful (lighter)color every day."
Check out more on the subject:
In any case we had a fantastic time and can't wait to go back next year inshallah!


E said...

Aww, it looks so nice! I would like to go to Finland one day. I have been living in Sweden for almost 30 years and still not been there. It is a shame! :)

Soile said...

Beautiful pics!
I'm glad your husband loves Finland :-)
Am a bit chocked about those childrens books, knew of some things, but those were just waaaaay too raisist, even in those times, in my opinion!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the pics and observations! Vacations in Finland- sounds cool! I hope I'll have a chance to go there one day.
I come from the Urals in Russia. The climate and nature of that region is similar to that in Finland. Even the people look a bit similar to the Finnish people. I also remember as a child going to the old style wooden hut- something like a sauna. There were big basins with hot water and brooms from tree branches with leafs.

Great your husband loves Finland. I can't imagine anyone who would not enjoy the beautiful nature.

Layla said...

@ Rondellhunden

Youare welcome to visit Finland,I recommend doing so during the summer months though! Just take a ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki or Turku its very easy:)

Layla said...

Wow Alice we might be distant relatives then :)
Finnish language originates from Ural area!

Layla said...

Thanks Soile!

yes I was also quite shocked athow blunt they are using the N word!!

B.R. said...

Hello there,

I just want to remark that 'neekeri' is like 'negro' in English. If a Finn means to say 'nigger', he or she would choose to say 'nekru'. 'Neekeri' doesn't have any bad connotations as itself. At least that's how it used to be.

DB said...


Saw your entry about your marriage ceremony and had to read all your stories. I am loving them so far. The cultural differences are so interesting.

I am glad your husband loves Finland and I understand why he would. I am a black woman from the Caribbean living in Helsinki and I love living in Finland(except for the winter). I also understand how great it feels when your spouse loves and adapts to your own culture as my Finnish husband does in the Caribbean. In fact in some ways he is more well adapted to the Caribbean than I am nowadays.

I have a theory about those very racist children's reading books etc. I think it comes from ignorance. In the 60's and earlier there weren't any black people in Finland. There weren't really any "other" people in general. Everyone was Finnish. The only information Finnish people got about black and other people was racist information (which was the norm)from the European colonial powers of the time. Hence the racist outlook on "others".

As for the stares your husband gets, I have heard that men of colour have problems here. I personally haven't had any problems except at Vapu when people are so drunk they go crazy. I think men of colour have it harder than women of colour. I think it is this idea that the men are stealing their Finnish women. On the other hand when Finnish men see my husband and I, I think they wonder what he must be experiencing being with a black woman. In the countryside I am even more of an attraction than in Helsinki. At countryside bars many men come up to me to talk or ask for a dance. In Helsinki bars men hardly ever approach me.

Best wishes.