I lived abroad for 9 years as a kid, and in those years, I never really paid specific attention to the fact that I am Finnish. I was probably too young to care about such a thing, and nationality, origin and questions about where I belong came only later, when I started to be in my teenage years. And even then, as I lived in Paris and had spent a big part of my life in a French environment, I actually felt more French than Finnish, Finland being a country I hadn’t lived in since I was six. I returned to Finland at the age of 15 and started getting a stronger feeling about the importance of my origin there, somehow retying links with the culture that was until then transmitted to me only through my parents at home and a few weeks a year there during summer vacations. Still, since then, I’ve always felt pulled back abroad, which makes quite a lot of sense, after spending crucial years of my childhood away and “on the move”.
So now I am back in Paris, which is amazing because France has a special place in my heart that I need to maintain the connection to. They say that your sense of patriotism shows more when living abroad than it does in your home country. I did not agree with that as a kid (which also created a certain décalage or gap between my parents and I and where we had a hard time understanding each other at times), but funnily, now I feel more Finnish than ever.
Partly, this must be due to the fact that people see me differently now. As a kid, I was at a normal French school, and nobody really even knew that I wasn’t French. It was natural for everyone to think of me as a local, which made me feel as a local as well. In Bulgaria before that, I was one of those expat kids at the French school, which also put me kind of in the “French” category. Now that I am not at a local school, things are different. I work in an international environment, where I am seen through my nationality. When meeting new people, the fact that I am here only for a while comes up pretty quickly, after which it becomes obvious that I am a foreigner, and no matter how well I speak French, at that point, I am no longer French to them. Online or in administrative things, it becomes obvious already from my name that I am most probably not French. And when as a kid everybody took it for granted that I speak perfect French because I am French, now I constantly get the “oh, you speak French so well”-treatment, which feels weird because for me, nothing has changed about that.
Still, some things have probably changed over the years. When earlier I did not feel the need to have anything to do with Finnish people abroad, that has, funnily enough, become quite important for me now. I am very interested in events organized by Finnish societies, for Finns living in Paris, traditional Christmas events this season, over all tying with other Finns living here feels pretty natural. And of course, the fact that most of my colleagues are also Finnish, makes me fall easily in this sort of Finnish bubble. Now, I actually feel like an expat (or ulkosuomalainen as we say in Finland), which I did not before, and that is interesting to notice.
The fact of being Nordic also comes up in a different way now. We are in many ways culturally very close to other Nordic countries, with Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Norway. While living in Finland, it is often the differences between us that are highlighted, but being all out of the comfort of our own countries, it is what unites us that often comes up and brings Nordic expats closer together. And there are actually quite a lot of possibilities here in Paris to tie with other Finnish or Nordic people including all sorts of events, places and happenings.
When, as a kid, I almost despised those expat communities that I didn’t felt too comfortable in because I didn’t feel it mattered to come from away, I now feel drawn to them, and see them as possibilities. Today I feel probably more like a Finn and a Nordic than ever before. It’s a strange feeling, because I have always seen the part of me that is international, especially French, but struggled to see the place my nationality and origins have in my life. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s always a good feeling to belong somewhere, it brings comfort. And as I’ve already seen, where you feel you belong can change numerous times. And for me, I think it’s meant to change. Although I definitely do still feel more French than people usually give me credit for, I see myself in a different light now than last time in Paris six years ago. Where living in Helsinki I always felt like a Parisian at heart, now I am more like a Finn in Paris. Maybe I’ll settle for a Finnish Parisian, I like the sound of that.