I was severely bullied between ages 7 and 14. It was both racist bullying and sexual harassment: I grew up in Finland in the eighties and being of foreign descent, I was the first and only foreigner in my school and came from a very different culture (I'm white like the locals though). I was constantly abused by children because of the way I talked, thought and even moved. However, the local Swedish-speaking kids had no problem with foreigners...
So, after a great time with tolerant Finnish kids in the country and in two different kindergartens for Swedish-speaking kids and normal friendships, I was forced to attend a suburban Finnish school. The trouble began from day one. The other kids came from a neighborhood where the main pastimes were drinking, bullying and wife-beating. Those kids who had either been beaten by their drunken parents or witnessed domestic violence and also had their share of the good old Finnish inferiority complex in front of more accomplished foreigners were certainly not willing to accept an upper-class refugee who was not rich but whose parents were "normal" non-alcoholics, well-educated and totally unaware of what working-class social life was like in Finland. I was just as ignorant as my parents before going to school -- I never knew then that alcoholism and such things existed.
Like some misfits, I too thought school was for learning only. It's true I didn't really look forward to mingling with the others, but I couldn't really -- I knew absolutely nothing about them. I was totally unfamiliar with their customs, attitudes and to some extent even with their language.
From the beginning, the teachers didn't understand that I had no experience of their culture and could not always understand their expectations. So they yelled at me quite often without ever bothering to ask why I didn't do what they asked. They just took it for granted that I was being uncooperative on purpose. It never occurred to them I just didn't understand some of the words they used...
The kids abused me because of my foreign name, manners, the expressions I used, my unfashionable clothes, and not knowing their little "etiquette" and Finnish social phenomena, including sports, games and the like. I was never a walking encyclopedia-kind of kid, but thanks to my parents, I was much more open to other cultures than the locals -- I had always read children's stories from all cultures and thought it was normal and natural not to think my surroundings are the navel of the world. Well, I was about to have my views turned around... In Finland back then, it was only OK to be a Finnish jerk who sits at home drinking and swearing at Swedes because they're doing so much better. I too fell into the category of those who were doing a lot better than these suburban jerks. Maybe not financially, but I was certainly looking forward to a good education, university, and a marriage to an intellectual -- preferably foreign, not only a non-Finn but someone from some European country other than mine.
Well, these experiences were just stage one of the cultural shock. In elementary school, I was just the damned foreigner who eventually befriended the few Vietnamese refugees, Gipsy and Swedish kids. But the school I went to between ages 13 and 15 turned out to be a nightmare I had never imagined possible.
By age 13 I was sexually harassed and called even more disgusting by Finnish boys than ever before. It hurt, of course, but the good thing was I had never been interested in their attention anyway. How could I? They were nothing but dirty-minded, dumb future drunks and drug-addicts (and that's what they've become too). They were violent, abusive and unattractive. How could I possibly have anything in common with them?
I also learned some very interesting things in the new school. Apparently, I was supposed to start smoking, drinking heavily every week-end and hanging around in the town at night. None of these "activities" interested me. I started to wear more "mainstream" clothes just to shut the idiots up. That's what they were to me. Just plain idiots. The irony is I never would have despised them for being in a bad position -- poor, uneducated etc. -- if they hadn't abused me, which they probably did out of jealousy. So, to some extent I understand their behavior, but it doesn't justify it. I have never understood how it's possible to say to another person "you prick", "you idiot", "you f***ing Russian whore" (I'm not Russian and actually come from a country where Russians are not well-liked though I myself have nothing against them) etc. First of all, it never would have been possible in my country, particularly in the eighties. There you have the iron fist of the teacher who is willing to expel you at the smallest incident. Secondly, I believe that if you have a problem, you solve it. As I am solving my PTSD after the everyday bullying. I believe abusing innocent people that have nothing to do with your problems is no answer. Physical violence is even less natural to me and this is why I never resorted to it: I believe that if you don't like someone, you just deal with this person only when it's necessary. I never really told anyone about the bullying problem because I was too afraid of the consequences: my family had already spoken with the teachers when they saw I was not OK but the teachers simply told them I should learn how to live in Finland (as if that were the only possible future for me!). Some of them also participated in the bullying: for example, when I wanted to wait for the others before starting to run in gym class, my PE teacher declared to the whole class I was afraid to run alone. She was a total Mrs. Hitler Jugend though. The result of reporting the problem was a disaster in other ways too because I was bullied more and more. I personally never confided in any Finnish teachers because I didn't trust any of them.
After I was called "fat cow" for six years without ever being even slightly overweight, I developed anorexia. At thirteen, I starved myself until I had no period, but it scared the hell out of me and I started eating again until I reached a normal weight. It was relatively easy, because I never really had a problem with my body. It all came from the outside. I am glad I haven't done myself any permanent damage. I never thought of suicide or even cutting myself either -- such a thing just never occurred to me. I didn't have a problem with anything, the others did. They were the Finns, the enemy.
I made a few closer friends at the university. They were all foreign like me and often told me about similar experiences in Finland -- whether they had come there as children or later in life. Although there are more foreigners there today the racist bullying is still a serious issue in that country. Once I graduated, I left Finland for good. I just booked flight tickets, rented a flat abroad and found a job. I hope never to return to Finland and am trying to meet as many new people here. It isn't particularly hard, since I am now among us foreigners who actually behave normally and have no dumb prejudice. Socially there are still a few things that really infuriate me: if someone points out that I have an accent, for example. Back in Finland it meant: "You f***king foreign slut can't even speak Finnish properly. How the hell do you dare live in our country?" (By the way, Finland is one of the most boring countries in the world so I never considered it a privilege to live there anyway...) Here, it's just a sign of positive curiosity but if I haven't had a great day I usually have to count to ten to avoid screaming: "Well if you dumb prick have something against foreigners you can just go elsewhere!"
I still have many problems because of the constant abuse though: I have never had a boyfriend in my life because I am still too afraid of being abused and insulted because of my everyday behavior. I hope to recover but it has already taken about ten years and I am fed up with these problems. I'm trying to get rid of them slowly but surely because I don't intend to let some Finnish scum bags ruin my bright future. A pretty nice guy just asked me out a few days ago. Who knows...?
So I guess I can just say I don't recommend Finland to any foreigners with children. Sorry if there are non-racist Finns reading this -- foreigners just have a really hard time meeting any decent people in Finland.
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