A Very Sad Record

In the debatt page of HBL there appeared on To 5.12. an I DAG column by the very appreciable Fritjof Sahlström. It was titled “Värst i världen på utanförskap?” and it referred to a Pisa result according to which “det bara är på Island det finns en lägre andel invandrarelever som trots att ha oddsen emot sig placerar sig bland den bästa fjärdedelen i läsning i sitt land. – När Pisa bad elever att ta ställning till att de inte känner sig som outsiders är Finland det land i världen där skillnaderna är allra störst mellan invandrar- och icke-invandrarelever. Värst i världen på invandrarelevers utanförskap?”

If so, why? It reminds me of an experience which I had rather many years ago: I had late one winter evening gone down to the south shore of Helsinki to look at the stars, and when I turned for home there happened to come a bus which would take me practically to my doorstep. So I took the bus and took a seat five rows from the only other passenger. What happened then was that this other passenger managed to get a conversation going on a distance of only three bus stops. He was a black African. And if I think of the impressions which I get nowadays in tram or bus … . It does happen that somebody offers me a seat, but such offers come usually from young women or from young men from the Middle East. As to Finnish adult men, they tend to stay sitting and concentrating on their cell phones even if there comes some REALLY old woman (who may even walk with the help of a stick) who does not see a free seat. I am then standing there and wondering whether I should suggest to some of those men that they could give a seat, but usually I do not do it – their unwillingness is too obvious … .

These are some impressions, but why are people like that? Over my decades in Finland I was arriving at the conclusion that one of the factors in this may well be the Finnish-Finnish matriarchal system: Finnish-Finnish men hear, while growing up, by far too much criticism from the side of the very much more talkative Finnish women – which may result in the permanent expectation that contact means unpleasantness and that it is safest to keep to oneself (if possible under the cover of, e.g., a cell phone). On top of which may have grown the Finnish idea of sisu, i.e. the ability to bear ANYthing without complaining and go on against all odds – type “if the harvest fails five times one just has to try a sixth time” (and a man who does not manage that is anyway ridiculous, or at least “un-Finnish”). And men who talk more (and even about their problems!) are then easily suspected not to be “real men” (even Swedish Finns, who are now REALLY “the enemy”?). Well, in a way it is impressive. In some other way it is in any modern society really not helpful (because a modern society is so complicated that one should better be able to ask for advice).

Where does this leave us? In a society where there are any number of courses on offer (which may save one the adventurousness of improvising, give one also a feeling of being reasonably safe – one has after all a certificate …) while the application of the thus-acquired knowledge is still only so-so. A system where one will never get a
reaction (especially not any encouraging one) if one sends a suggestion to some institution (or even a firm) – a German whom I know is diagnosing it as all-pervading defensiveness (making a suggestion would after all mean that something was less-than-perfect – which should not be admitted at any price). And of course a society where talkative and spontaneous foreigners are perceived as an un-Finnish nuisance (at least by men – while women can think it “interesting”, even attractive).

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