finding your roots

Keeping Your Finnish Identity with Jesse Karjalainen

Keeping Your Finnish Identity with Jesse Karjalainen

Talking with Jesse Karjalainen, author of Sisu: Resilience and Belonging. Jesse has lived in several countries but he has maintained his Finnish(ness) although he lived in Australian until his teens. Having Finnish roots and Finnish identity but living in Sweden. I was excited to interview Jesse and talk more about his life as an author and how his identity has shifted throughout time. Jesse talks about how some of the characteristics of Nordic people are imprinted on him but how living in different countries have affected his life.

How did you end up in Sweden, when you were born in Finland and lived your early life in Australia?

Yeah, I guess it’s quite an interesting story. I will caveat by saying that my mom was a hippie, so I blame her but I grew up a  single-parent household so we were able to travel a lot. So the short version I usually tell is I was born in Sweden and grew up in Australia, Finnish parents, and I’ve lived in the UK and now living currently in Sweden.

I grew up in Australia but when I was 23, after having done my national service in Finland, I then moved to Finland for what I thought would be a short period and I’ve never gone back.

Now, do you identify yourself as a Swede or an Aussie or an Englishman?

Effectively, I saw myself as a Finnish Australian because my passport was always Finnish. But having since left I mean I’ve now lived in Europe for longer than I lived in Australia. So I definitely don’t feel Australian anymore.

So I don’t really know where I’m from but British Finnish possibly is made up of Swedish and Australian. I do have my Australian side. I’m a bit cheeky, I like to ask the question why, which is not very Finnish and not very Swedish or not very British. I’m a bit of a mixed bag.

 So do you find that you have different personas for different countries?

That is an easy question to answer. I would actually say no, because possibly,  those formative years were Australia and I have never technically lived in Finland, perhaps in the way that you have where you’ve grown up with those families. So I’m, I’ve kind of been inoculated if you want to call it from that aspect. No, yeah, no, I definitely don’t find that. But you could turn it the other way around. Perhaps now that I live back in Scandinavia, I will have to learn some of those things

What makes the Scandinavian countries a happy place to live?

Europe mapI think it’s a question of what is what do you mean by happiness? I think what a lot of the media around the world have misunderstood about this report is it’s not happiness as laughing, it’s actually quality of life and life satisfaction.

It’s knowing that you’ve got know you’ve got choices, you’ve got options, you’ve got community support you’re not on your own. And I think that that is very much the common denominator across Scandinavia, I think, and not in a socialistic way.

That’s the other misconception that a lot of North Americans, you know, they think Scandinavia, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, that they’re all socialist states but are often quite unaware that Finland fight two wars to keep itself from being socialist, they are some of the most capitalist countries in the world actually.

And I also find it is they are content with smaller things in life. But you don’t actually need that much to be happy in life in general. I think definitely coming here is that less is more.

Is there anything that differentiates Finland and Finns from the rest of the Nordic countries?

Okay. One of the things I will say actually, I’m having lived in Australia, I’ve lived in the UK and Finland and other places work did lots of Germans. My previous company was half German, and I think every country thinks they’re special. So definitely while you might say that, you know, the Brits definitely think they’re special.

The German of course definitely think they’re special. And I think even now in this Coronavirus,  the Swedes definitely think they’re special because they’re not locking down due covid.

So, in terms of Finns being special, they are different Nordic life. The thing I tend to say is if you draw if you look at the map of Scandinavia in terms of differences, you go from right to left. So the more you go, Finland, Sweden, Norway, the more conservative you get.

So definitely having known lots of Norwegians and Swedes. Norwegians are definitely more conservative than the Finns, the Swedes less so. And the Finns are probably quite a lot more liberal and not in the American sense. A lot more open-minded, less reserved. And then you got the Danes who, although they sit across this paradigm of being quite conservative on some levels, but ultra liberal in many other regards when it comes to many things.

Yet, they probably are the most feeling of superiority and specialness, actually, probably the Danes of all the Nordics, I would say, having had an ex-girlfriend from Denmark as well, and she’s told me a lot about Denmark, but they definitely the Danes are even more special than the Swedes. But there are definitely interesting parallels on many levels that cut across Scandinavia, but at the same time, big, big differences.

Why do you think this is a big fascination with Nordic life?

We’re all interested in looking at other ways of life, and we’re looking to take what we can, the best of other cultures. And I think in a world where we’ve gone through several recessions and you know, globalization and things like this, where the Scandinavians are doing something different, they are doing something while at the same time they are preserving ways of life.

Like in the UK we’ve forgotten about nature, we’ve forgotten about the simple things with you know, it’s all rat race and chase the money. And all that type of things, while less so here. And no Scandinavia’s not perfect, but I think it’s those aspects that people are interested in rediscovering if you want to call it.

Tell me about your journey as an author as you have written more than just Sisu Book?

Well, even since I was young, I wanted to write but that’s something that everyone thinks that I want to be a writer. I think the difference between the person who finishes a book and the one who doesn’t is the one who finishes and maybe that’s got to do with partly Sisu.

I was working in editorial and publishing in the UK, editing people’s texts day in day out and I kept seeing the same mistakes, the same corrections, I kept making the same corrections on people’s text. The idea was born, why don’t I write a book about the top hundred grammar mistakes if you want to call them actually I English usage. So I put together an idea and I wrote the book first.

I know a lot of people say, get the publisher first and then write it but I wrote the book first. Then I contact the publisher. I tried getting an agent that didn’t work. And then I thought I’ll skip the agent and contact publishers directly. I very quickly found a publisher for my books that was about English grammar, The Joy of English and that was published here in the UK and then sold sort of around the world.

After that, I discovered that actually by self-publishing, you do make better margins better money by doing it yourself and the processes are a lot faster

There weren’t actually any books about Sisu and I thought why not start putting that together. And during that process, two books were announced in on Sisu. There’s a race on and so it turned out by the time I finished my book, there were two other ones out as well. But all three books on Sisu came out in the same year 2018 on Finland’s hundredth anniversary of independence so that was how I did that one.

Jesse Karjalainen

Do you think that Sisu is something that we have to dig on deep to get through the coronavirus outbreak?

I definitely think so I don’t think Hygge is going to be the solution, although I just have a dig at the Danes, although who gets on the one aspect is a little bit about self-isolation.

The determination to persevere, it is to survive. We’re living in a global pandemic, we all now are tapping into our inner survival, aspect of ourselves. We all cope and manage in different ways

Some of us are trying to stay indoors and stay away. Obviously having you read about people going crazy with their kids. So we are all dealing with these things in different ways. And I think it is that that survival mode, it is that survival mode. That may be something we haven’t haven’t had to really think about before.

For some people that they need the gear to kind of, you know, put everything away from their mind and just push everything out so that they can just concentrate being on that self-isolation mode. And then for other people, for them not going crazy and that’s me with my homeschooling my children. I need sisu to survive so that I am not the shouting, screaming parent that my neighbors can hear.

What you’re really saying if you  don’t have kids go with Hygge if you do have kids turn to sisu.

How life in the lockdown in Sweden, where you are at the moment?

Well, it’s funny that you mentioned that because five weeks ago I was in Spain. My wife, was on a Swedish course for seven weeks from Christmas to mid Feb, and with my daughter finishing off a Swedish language completion course. I went there for the last 10 days and we got out of there, just as Corona was happening in Italy. We got back to England. And then we just got out of England probably two and a half weeks before the lockdown.

My mom was here in Sweden with us helping with the moving and looking after our cat. And then my mom went back to Finland, two days before Denmark and close the airports in the borders. Now the way to get from here actually from southern Sweden, it’s easier to fly from Denmark. So she made it out after two, two days before the lockdown. And now we’re living in Sweden where we seem to be the only country in Europe where life is as you say, is normal.

The way they manage it in Sweden is different to rest of the countries and rest of the world to be honest. And if you compare it to US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, for example, it is different. The thing I heard they lack the legal mechanism in Sweden to actually do the equivalent of a lockdown.

What do you think is going to be the long term impact for the societies?

sisu bookDefinitely globally as well, as you know, for the Nordics, I think I think the world is gonna change. Just an interesting anecdote. People don’t realize Finland went through the period after the Second World War paying reparations. I mean, Finland was a poor country where you know, having an apple was a treat, you know?

It sounds glib, but you know, that was the reality. If you go back even further 1920s, Sweden, they had a famine, where something like 20 to 30% of the population died of famine. I think it shows how far we’ve progressed and how the world has changed. And obviously, and I think this virus will bring about a new chapter in many, many respects. At all levels, it will be a new world.

I think I think definitely given the economic changes as well that are happening with people losing their jobs and I’m very, very pessimistic about what’s actually going to happen in the next five to 10 years. I think that the other trend more countries are going to start looking in to themselves and to be more self sufficient?

So maybe the Brexit wasn’t such a bad thing for England end of the day then?

No, Brexit is a bad idea for England because they haven’t been actually done any preparations. On these very two topics, I was speaking to my mom this morning from Helsinki just before the call, finding out what they’re doing in Finland and asking about the Coronavirus and this relates to all of this.

And she says that the mood in Finland was at the moment as according to her anecdotally, there’s no panic. And the main thing is that the Finns are slowly putting together all the things they need, they’re building morgues and cold storage.

They’re looking at getting supplies and just quietly beavering away, but on the individual level as well, people are doing, preparing what they can and doing and it’s that self-sufficiency that I think is also part of that Nordic aspect of that we haven’t managed to maintain that self-sufficient knowledge of what do I need to do?

Are we Finns becoming more like the Swedes talkative with our neighbors?

Finland has changed a lot in that regard. I moved to Finland in 1996 and that was only a few years after the EU. All of that coffee culture was not there. It was either you go to the pub or you go to conditory three were the only two options.

Finland since becoming an EU member has really opened up in that respect they’ve definitely become more talkative you know even thing I used to joke in the early days, there’s no such thing is finished stand up, you know, Australia UK Britain in all of these you know there’s the stand-up comedy culture is everywhere in Finland.

There’s no such thing but even now in Finland, there is like comedy stand up,  comedians and,  not just a slapstick TV comedy, but actually stand up, you know, and that’s great. So I think Finns have become a lot more open and if you want to call it more Swedish, possibly in that regard, they’ve definitely you know, gone in that direction for the better.

Do you need to be present to be able to hold on to your culture inheritance?

Yes. There was 10 000 thousand Finns in Australia prior Nokia. There was Suomi-news paper and Suomi / Finnish society which were the place to keep up your cultural inheritance for the immigrants in Australia. Prior internet it was your social connections that kept up the cultural inheritance.

When you move to a country you live your new life and you are part of that country and society and it is very hard to maintain your culture. Having some normal food that is everyday thing in Finland when someone has that mammi, it becomes a whole big thing.

When talking about national service that is compulsory in Finland and for Finnish male from abroad it is voluntary Jesse had a word of caution.

Jesse did military service as a volunteer in Finland. He had a picture of playing pool, having fun in the military service. He arrived with all his gear in a large suitcase thinking he would be having fun. Jesse described that time in the national service very different to the picture that was painted to him. He did learn some commands in Finnish but he had misconceptions about the military service. It was not for him and he said he would not do it again.

When talking about what is happening in the future?

Jesse says he is writing four books at the same time. He says it is harder to write when you have smaller children in the house. But he says even when there is only half an hour to write if that is what you do every day it will add up. He has also taken up illustrating Jugend buildings from Helsinki as a new project.

Let me know what your thoughts about this episode.

You can find Jesse on:

Buy Sisu Book in Amazon: Sisu: Resilience Belonging Purpose 

Webpage: Sisu Mindset 
Instagram: Sisu_Mindset
Instagram: My Swedish Town
Twitter: SisuMindset


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