I'm writing in English, which is strange in itself since I really love my own language, Finnish, and since I detest the power position that the English language has in global communucation... but I'd get way too many complaints from American friends if I didn't write in a language comprehensible to them.

Dec 17, 2010

Language minorities

Sometimes I think we people are not very generous. Take the position of minority languages. In most countries minority languages have difficulties even existing. Russia is a great example. Even in a western country like the UK, Welsh and Gaelic are seriously struggling, and nobody knows how many generations will speak those languages fluently.

Then there's Finland and Canada. Finland has some struggling official minority languages (the Same languages in Lapland) and one official minority language that's not struggling in the same way, Swedish. Besides these there are of course several unofficial ones. The problem in the language majority's eyes seems to be the Swedish. Their situation in Finland is apparently very much like the French language situation in Canada. It's a second official language of the country, so anyone should get service in any government offices in Swedish. Also, as Swedish speaking Finns have to study Finnish at school, Finnish speaking Finns have to study Swedish. And they hate it so much! In fact, this hatred sometimes envelopes all the Swedish speaking Finns too. They are happier than Finns, they seem to be richer than Finns (this is only true about a small part of Swedish speaking Finns, but since those are the very visible ones...) and they sing better and even write better than Finns (well, at least Tove Jansson, Bo Carpelan and Kjell Westö do in my opinion)!

People hate minorities that do as well, or sometimes better in their eyes, as the majority. Minorities should suffer. Minorities should content themselves with speaking the majority language.

Only, as majority language speakers we have no clue how hard minority languages are to maintain. At school cool kids sometimes speak Finnish on breaks. If they didn't have their own schools - or were in the same complex even as Finnish speakers - how long until Swedish would only be spoken during lessons? And how many of those kids would eventually speak Finnish to their kids?

I was raised in a Swedish speaking village and went to a Swedish speaking school. Obviously, I'm partial. But I'm partial for the rights of other minority languages too. And, incidentally, I think Spanish should be compulsory at school in America!

(Image of Moomin troll from Skolverkets modersmål pages. Oy Moomin Characters Ltd. All of the Moominvalley characters are globally registered trademarks.)

Dec 15, 2010

non-holiday post

Sorry, today I thought, once more, about skin color. Oh, I thought about Christmas too, a bit, but that wouldn't make much of a post.

The question of today was: what will we teach our child about this skin color issue?

My decision was (and husband might agree) that we will first teach him that skin color doesn't matter. This teaching should mostly be done non-verbally, only if there is an issue should it be discussed. Issue could be child asking, or situation seen.

However, a couple of years later we will also teach our child that skin color has always mattered. Hopefully at this point he will already take people as they are. I don't want him to become one of us whites who thinks black people are making an issue out of nothing - I want my child to understand how privileges define his world, and above all, that being a white male he can't get an idea of what it is like to be in America, or Finland, as black or as female.

Maybe this will eventually help him to create a world where people in fact aren't defined as white or black and skin color is pinkish-yellowish, or brownish beigeish, or deep brown, or copper-toned with slight tinge of yellow... and all of these are admirable.

How to teach this and when this should be taught is another matter. I have no clue. Any ideas?

Dec 6, 2010

Does Christmas translate to joulu?

A week ago was the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is something I learned at school. My teacher taught me it is waiting for Christ (Finnish schools were definitively more Christian and more Lutheran when I was a kid). On the first Sunday (actually the Monday, of course, no school on Sunday) in Swedish-speaking schools we lit up one candle from a four-candle holder and sang Hosanna David's Son and talked about Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

I was so sad this year that nobody even realized it was First Sunday of Advent.

There's an irony in all this. In Finland I had just started liking Christmas again. I had been suffering from a serious Bridget Jones syndrome ("once again I am humiliatingly spending Christmas Eve alone in my parents' house in a single bed") but then along came Current Husband, who, not prone to depression anyway, loved all kinds of Christmases, Finnish or American. So I spent two nice Christmases with him in Finland, enjoying how I enjoyed Christmas again, and then moved to America. Now I'm wondering whether I'll ever have joulu again.

Joulu is, for me, a Christmas tree (always a fir tree or spruce, whatever the difference between those two, never a pine tree) with a star on top, loads of Christmas presents and huge Christmas meal consisting of traditional Finnish foods and lots and lots of fish, all on Christmas Eve. All of this (except maybe the presents) I hated for several years, feeling it underlined my singleton status... but now I'd like it. Only, now I have a Christmas tree at my in-laws, and it might be a pine tree and it might have an angel, not a star on top. I have more presents than ever, but some of them come by mail to my own address and are opened once we leave for the holidays or once we come back, and are always opened on Christmas Day. I have loads of food, but random American Christmas food, so no knowing really what will come up except for jello salad (this is in Utah). I can't blame my in-laws since they really try to encourage me to cook Finnish Christmas foods and sometimes even open up the presents on Christmas Eve. I think my mother-in-law guesses that Christmas is a time of home sickness. But what's the point if everything is just a bit off anyway? Besides, Finnish Christmas foods are about the weirdest Finnish foods in people's eyes here (they're the most traditional ones, that's why.)

Did I start liking joulu again only to notice there is no more joulu? Will I just learn to like the American version of Christmas in itself, without attaching any childhood memories to it? But isn't Christmas very much about childhood memories?