Jiří, Czech Republic
“There are things which annoy me, but I don’t think it’s from the difference of cultures. It’s the same things that annoy Finns too.”
The life is about the same everywhere so it’s difficult to say what belongs to Finland and what’s actually a common problem or common thing. It varies over time. When I came here my perception of Finland was totally different to what it is now. In the beginning you have to go with the information you get from public sources and you know it’s not the objective truth always. Then you live here a longer time and you have to face the normal life, especially with family. Then you can really see all the problems and things which really bother everyone here, not just foreigners.
My honeymoon time is already over I guess. I have been here since 2001, with about 9 months break when I was sent by my Finnish employer to Germany ten years ago.
When I got a family I could see the things which I could overlook before, that I didn’t have to care about: I had to care more about other people and of course around that time I also started to live in a more Finnish way, I started to speak Finnish, so I started to get information from other sources.
At the end of the nineties I was studying in Prague at the technical university and there were some possibilities to go abroad as an exchange student. At the time it wasn’t so common; students actually didn’t want to go anywhere and they pushed students quite a lot, they gave them money and some information to make them leave for some time.
These days it’s quite hard to go for a longer time than three months, but at that time they immediately offered 9 months exchange. During the 4th year of my studies in Prague I got really annoyed by the big city because I am originally from quite a small village – or town – and I didn’t like the life in the city. I got in a really bad mood and I said, ‘Well I can try at least, I can have a one-year holiday somewhere.’
JIŘÍ HOFMAN: “When you live here a longer time and you have to face the normal life, especially with family, then you can really see all the problems and things which really bother everyone here, not just foreigners.”
Then I read what’s available. I have to go as far as possible, I thought. There were actually 3 options in Europe where you could go as far as possible: Portugal, Greece and Finland. Portugal I didn’t consider for some reason at all, I don’t remember why, but then there was a university on Crete – a nine-month holiday in Crete, I thought. I came home and said I would be going for a nine-month holiday to Greece… ‘Are you an idiot?’ my parents said.
Actually I have a friend who went to that university about 2 years later and he said it was a horrible experience. It was a holiday but from the point of studying the university was not good.
So, I said I won’t go to Crete, ‘no sun no fun’. I will go to Finland. There were 2 options in Finland: Helsinki and Tampere. ‘What the fuck is Tampere!’ [laughing]
You know here in Tampere there was an old bus station, it’s rebuilt now. And you know the architecture there at the time. On one side some horrible gas station, then some brutalist architecture of a police station, Russian Orthodox church, and then some building that I know nowadays is Koskikeskus, the shopping centre. Really quite awful weather and I was waiting there for somebody to pick me up.
Then I came to the dorm and I got a very nice flatmate. I’m really good friends with him still, our families meet relatively often. Still one of my best friends. Wow, I dont think it’s normal, that really was an exceptional guy.
JIŘÍ HOFMAN: “There are a lot of small things I like but I don’t think they are really important for staying here. I like sauna, that’s completely fine. I like when people shut up. So I’m okay with Finland and generally with Finns. I am not a prisoner here.”
For the next year I arranged that I somehow interrupt my studies in Prague and continue studying here, making some credits – then we arranged that I could finish my studies in Finland. It took 4 years, but at that time – student life – I didn’t have much reason to be in a hurry. In 2005 I graduated from here with a Master’s of science in engineering.
When I started to look for work it didn’t go so well at first, so I started to learn Finnish. I had learnt some words of Finnish already in the university to be able to go shopping, but at that point I began to learn Finnish to be able to speak. In March the following year I got a job in one of the companies and I started to work and that’s actually the start of my Finnish life. I switched several companies, some of them disappeared. Nowadays I’m in Nokia. Mostly I was working for Nokia as a contractor, but for the last four years I’ve been employed by Nokia directly.
Nowadays Nokia doesn’t have very much good sound among engineers. That’s my feeling. Of course people think of it as a really big company and everything that entails, slow processes and so on. And actually it’s still quite true even though it’s much smaller now in Tampere than it was before. For example, Nokia completely left Hervanta. Many buildings in Hervanta belonged to Nokia, now nothing there. We have now just one left that we share with many other companies. So it’s really actually quite small nowadays.
Of course there are many people who have worked for Nokia for something like 20 years so they remember all those times. I guess mostly they are happy they can work there still, that they weren’t fired. It’s more about current everyday problems, it’s not about the past. Of course, it doesn’t feel well to see the company shrinking.
JIŘÍ HOFMAN: “I got a job in one of the companies and I started to work and that’s actually the start of my Finnish life. I switched several companies, some of them disappeared. Nowadays I’m in Nokia.”
I’ve been here almost 20 years, but no way do I consider myself Finnish. No way. I will never be Finnish. I will be always a foreigner. I would say that’s a mindset based on the facts. I can see it every day. I am a foreigner. I don’t understand everything even when I think that I understand quite much, I don’t understand everything. People don’t understand me that’s another thing. Making jokes here, it’s not for everybody. I don’t identify myself as a Finn ever. I didn’t find the need for that. Why would I do that? No, I will not become a Finn ever sorry. Sorry to all Finns [laughing].
Of course there are a lot of small things I like but I don’t think they are really important for staying here. I like sauna, that’s completely fine. I like when people shut up. So I’m okay with Finland and generally with Finns. I am not a prisoner here. There are things which annoy me of course, but I don’t think it’s from the difference of cultures. It’s the same things that annoy Finns too. I have a family so that’s the primary goal.
One really big difference: Flags. In Czech Republic you would see flags on some days, but they are on offices, schools, official places. You will never see a flag in someone’s backyard. Quite quickly I realised Finns are nationalistic, not in a bad sense but of course it somehow has negative feelings or connotations or connections. That’s the difference. In Czech Republic no one would put a flag in the backyard. ‘What an idiot’ I would think if someone put a flag in their backyard. I wouldn’t think they were far-right or something, just ‘what an idiot.’ Not even people from the far-right would put it in their backyard. Expressing something like this is unacceptable.
When Finns say to me, ‘I visited Prague’ I say ‘I left Prague because I hated the city.’ First I never know what to answer; it depends on my mood. Maybe ‘yeah, that’s great’ or ‘I left, because I didn’t like the city.’ It depends on my mood how I react to this.
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Interview by Peter Seenan recorded in Tampere, Finland. If you wish to support our work in projecting the voices and achievements of immigrants in Finland please like our Facebook page and share Jiří Hofman’s story.