In response to a comment from Duluth in the USA, I am answering the following questions as this blog entry. I should state, that the responses are personal. In other words, they reflect my views. Another Swedish-speaking Finn might well give you a different reply.
What do Finland-Swedes think of Sweden?
It is hard to generalise and therefore the answer will depend partly upon who you ask. Perhaps, more especially it will depend on where you ask it. Here in southern Finland, Nyland, Sweden is most certainly more foreign than for those Swedish-speaking Finns living in Österbotten. For most of us, Sweden is a foreign country but perhaps the “least foreign” of foreign countries. We generally have a good idea of what is going on in Sweden as many of us watch Sweden’s television channels as well as those from Finland. In especially Österbotten, many people watch only Sweden’s television and barely, if ever, watch Finnish TV. This reflects the fact that the Finnish language has a much weaker presence in many areas of Österbotten, whereas in the south, almost all Swedish-speaking Finns live in areas that are at the very least bilingual if not very much dominated by Finnish. Of course, we all read books in Swedish, many of which are written in Sweden. The same is also true of magazines, many of us subscribe to Swedish magazines as the Swedish-language publishing market is naturally very limited in Finland due to the size of the market. Recently, of course, the internet brings a new dimension and perhaps for many has actually increased daily contact with Sweden as, of course, most Swedish language websites are from Sweden.
When it comes to sport or other competitive activities, we are like any other Finnish person. We prefer to see Finland winning.
What do Finland-Swedes think of the Finnish-speaking Finns?
Again, this will vary from person to person and possibly also from region to region. I can only really give you an answer from my personal viewpoint; they are just Finnish people who speak primarily a different language. They are perhaps also a little more quiet, but that is probably largely based upon stereotype. If you are interested to know whether they accept the Swedish language in Finland, then I would say that I notice a clear difference – at least in my home town, which is bilingual but has during the last few decades seen heavy inward Finnish-speaking migration. I would say that those Finnish speakers who have their roots in this area are generally very accepting of the fact that there are two languages. Those who do not like to think of Finland as a country with two languages and who hold more negative opinions of Swedish seem to be found disproportionately amongst those people who have more recently moved to the region. It is worth remembering that there are many relationships across the language barrier; not just the obvious, i.e. marriages, but work colleagues, friends etc also. It’s worth noting that just as there are Finnish-speakers who are intolerant of Swedish-speakers, there are some Swedish-speaking Finns who hold discriminative views of the Finnish language and Finnish-speaking Finns.
What do Finland-Swedes living in the mainland think of the Åland islands special status?
Interesting question. I suppose that some may be a little jealous that Åland is monolingual, simply because it would naturally be easier for anyone who has Swedish as their mother tongue to live their life entirely in Swedish. Others may think it is a little unfair that the people of Åland don’t have to do military service (an opinion probably shared by many Finnish speakers). Some may think it is unfair that Åland people do not need to learn Finnish etc. I think, however, that most people understand why Åland has a special status, due to history. Personally, I am glad that Åland is a legally monolingual part of Finland. It gives another reason to exert pressure upon the central government to supply resources and services in the Swedish language. Åland is probably also slightly disproportionately more popular as a tourist resort amongst Swedish-speaking Finns than Finnish-speaking Finns; it is however popular amongst all Finns.
How easy is it to get through a day using only Swedish and no Finnish?
This heavily depends on where you live – and also what you do. In many areas of Österbotten, it would be harder to get through your day using only Finnish than only Swedish. Whereas, if you were to find yourself in Helsingfors/Helsinki, the situation would be very much reversed. These days, it is often quite hard to find someone who will happily serve you in Swedish in the capital (aside from a few very “Swedish” companies). In my home town, it would be entirely possible. Most shop assistants are happy to speak at least some Swedish. Sometimes it goes quite well to speak Swedish to a Finnish-speaking assistant whilst they reply in Finnish. In the workplace, it really does depend where and what you do. For almost all jobs, you will require Finnish to some degree. But obviously, you might work in a Swedish-speaking school or all your colleagues might happen to be Swedish-speakers, in which case… you have it easy.
Do you learn Finnish at school?
Yes! In Finland, it is compulsory to learn what is called the “Other domestic language”, i.e. Finnish for children in Swedish language schools and Swedish in schools for Finnish language children. However, what is little known (at least to the Finnish speakers), is that Swedish schools devote many, many more hours to the Finnish language than Finnish schools devote to Finnish.
What do you think of the Finnish language?
I personally do not dislike the Finnish language. As with most languages, it can sound beautiful or absolutely disgusting depending on the speaker. It’s always of benefit to learn languages – the more, the better. It is important that Finland values its bilingual character. All of Finland’s languages are important.
Do Finland-Swedes ever face discrimination because they are from a minority group?
Not so much. But that is not to say that it does not happen. Most discrimination is of the infuriating or insulting nature rather than of the type that would actually hold you back from advancing in society. For instance, it’s extremely annoying if someone in state agency (lets say the tax office for an example) refuses to speak Swedish with you. It’s disgusting and offensive if someone tells you “In Finland, we speak Finnish” etc. But, such things very seldom cause you serious, real difficulties. However, that such discrimination does exist is sad and reflects only ill on those that harbour such attitudes.