I'm an immigrant. I live the life of an immigrant, which is, for obvious reasons, rather different to the one I led in my dear old Finland.
Or is it really?
I've reached a point where I feel like my integration to the local society has come to a pretty comfortable state: I have a job, a bank account, a phone number, a bus card, a fidelity card for my nearby grocery store, I even do volunteer work for the local cultural centre every other weekend. I take the same bus 800 to work every day at the same time, at 7:33 from St-C.-Garnier to Univ. du Québec, work 8-16.30 from Monday to Friday, life has gotten really ordinary. There's a certain kind of excitement in living an ordinary life in an unfamiliar place, where your every ordinary day still feels like yet another adventure to the unknown. I step into the bus 800 at 07:33 and say "Bonjour!" to the driver, and everytime I open my mouth I'm afraid of how it will sound this time. Is my pronounciation of my nemesis, the letter "R", even slightly in place? What if my bus card has ran out of trips and I don't have 3,25 dollars to pay for my journey? What if today, when I'm going to the pharmacy to buy myself a new bus card, I forget how to speak French, or what if the cashier tries to small-talk with me again and I'll just look and feel stupid like I do everytime I don't understand the immensely difficult quebecois accent?
But outside of all these questions of my everyday life's little struggles, the life is really ordinary. I've gotten a few frequently repeated questions from people on the other side of the Atlantic, and instead of always answering something short and general to everyone, I'll do my best in answering these questions with a great attention to detail.
1. How's your French? Do you even speak it? I thought you studied Russian.
I've come to terms with l'accent quebecois. I can handle the jaw that seems to be moving in ways that shouldn't be possible for the human physiology. I listen to them speak and I understand 50% of the things I hear if the said person speaks with a clear voice and loudly enough (i.e. mumbling to your stereotypically Canadian beard is not cool, guys). I'm able to make sentences if forced. I'm more afraid of speaking than actually not being able to speak, and it's impossible to say whether it's because of my own strive for perfection or my prejudice against French-speaking people being compassionate about foreigners trying to rape their language. At this very moment I'm still a little bit afraid to go to the pharmacy and tell the cashier "bonjour, je vais prendre une carte de bus, douze fois s'il te plaît". I often amuse people with my perfect pronounciation of the famous swear "tabarnak", while I still struggle with my favourite word, "aspirateur".
Dear French, I know you're not like Russian and you'll never be, but I want to get to know you. You sound nice but you're a shitty thing to pronounce. Give me some time.
2. Have you found work?
|Photo from Activision.com|
3. Are you still with Alex?
My life with you is a travel. You take me to an excursion to myself, you make me discover parts of me I didn’t know exist. I might have sat next to you on the rocky wall of that fort in Marseille, staring at the horizon of the Mediterranean Sea, the southern wind in my hair and salt on my skin, but of all the places I have seen with you, the things I find when I stare into your eyes are the most breathtaking of all.
The answer to this question is Yes, Yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes like Molly on the last page of James Joyce's Ulysses. Yes, I am still with him.
4. Do you miss Finland?
The picture above would suggest that balancing in the nature is what Finland is to me. What Finland is to me, though, is a country that brought me up. I was raised in the Finnish cultural context, I've assimilated Finnish customs, I am a Finn. English might be the language that has been titled as my mother tongue more than once since I arrived to Québec, but I still, regardless of the situation, always count in Finnish in my head.
Before Leicester I thought Finland is boring. The culture is boring, the people are a bit boring too, the weather sucks and there's too much Iittala in every home. I wanted to get out really badly, swearing I'd never miss anything I left behind.
That was, of course, very naive of me. I enjoy the fact that I don't live there at this time, and I don't have any intentions in doing so in the near future. But moving abroad to broaden your own understanding of cultures, customs, people and life in general has never been the binary opposite of appreciating where you come from. I'll share a little concrete example here in the form of a discussion between two approx. 13-year old Finnish girls I once overheard in a tram in Helsinki (I assume they were students from the nearby international secondary school) after I had just returned to Finland from my 8 months in Leicester:
Girl A: So uhh, are you like completely a Finn or are you from somewhere else...?
Girl B: No, I'm not a Finn. I'm 1/16 Finnish-Swedish.
Girl A: Really? That's so cool! So like, do you speak any Swedish?
Girl B: Yeah, I can say "Jag heter...", it's like "My name is". and I can say "Hej!" and "Tack!"
Girl A: That's so awesome!
Girl B: How about you, are you a Finn?
Girl A: No, I'm also 1/16 Estonian.
Girl B: Oh wow! Hey, say something in Estonian!
Girl A: I don't know any Estonian....
My grandfather is a Swedish-speaking Finn. My great aunt is Russian. But I happen to be a Finn and it's cool. It's cool to come from a country with a good reputation abroad - it's a sign of good education, possibly a great skill in languages, awesome "Scandinavian" culture that becomes more and more trendy all the time. Finland has given me enough in this life for me to be able to leave it, knowing that if I ever fall and need a cave to crawl into, Finland is waiting for me with open arms and free healthcare.
I miss Finland at times. I miss the silence. I miss how I can maintain my resting bitchface without getting asked if I'm alright dear. I miss the absolutely amazing public transportation system of Helsinki (there are still things to develop for sure, but in here it's no surprise if the bus is 25 minutes late on a daily basis). I miss my weird-ass language with its weird-ass expressions. But at this very moment of time and space, Finland is not the place for me to be.
5. Do you plan on staying in Canada for good?
Canada is absolutely breathtaking. The nature leaves me in awe everytime I put my foot out of the city and the people are as polite as all the stereotypes make you think. Despite the non-European atmosphere from architecture to city structures I've taken for granted all my life, I feel like I've settled in here rather well. Actually, I'd like to share this piece of artwork with you as a way to sum up my feelings about Canada. (side note: quebeckers don't like the Canadian national anthem. They have their own unofficial anthem "Gens du Pays" by Gilles Vigneault and Gaston Rochon. Listen to it HERE)
But no, I don't intend to stay in here for good. Why? Because I'm participating a mobility program called SWAP Working Holidays, aimed for university students and newly graduates to go and work around the world for a year with a work permit. My SWAP Canada visa is valid until the 23rd of June 2016, after which I'll have to return to Finland at least as a courtesy. My better half has also expressed his desires to leave the country, so who am I to disagree.
Instead I plan on applying for several MA programs for September 2016. Right now my destination seems to be Ireland instead of the UK due to their new, conservative-lead immigration policy which makes it almost impossible for my Canadian companion to study in the country. Besides, we're both in love with Dublin. Sláinte!