A Finn who found her way to the U.S. in 1980s recaps her story and first impressions of the United States. Ann Solorzano has observed plenty of unique habits and elements between both of the nations, and now shares a few cultural differences of through the eyes of a Finnish citizen residing in the U.S.
As a disconcerted 19-year-old with the remnants of an aching heart, I planned to test my wings and leave all that was dear in Finland, not realizing how severe this homesickness would eventually become. Having had independence since a mere 16-year-old, I naively assumed the big world would be a breeze. My Finnish godmother Jeanne-Marie traveled often during the impressionable years and brought back awe-inspiring souvenirs from fabulous destinations such as San Francisco.
Music has always been a massive influence, and in those laid-back teen years, I frivolously daydreamed of being a singer. I began to transcribe favorite lyrics convinced it enhanced my interest in English. During this time, I grew fascinated and curious about people from all over the world.
It was rare to meet non-natives in my hometown, so I contemplated traveling abroad. Instead of continuing with education to carve out a secure profession, I opted to expound on English conversational skills and stubbornly defended the hasty decision to take a year off to broaden my horizons.
That year has now become 33 years.
Still, I concluded the smartest way to learn a language was to immerse into the culture and integrate into an environment where I had no choice but to speak it.
In 1985, I arrived in Los Angeles, United States, also affectionately called "the Land of Opportunity”. After an arduous flight, walking out of the LAX building I recall the wall of heat, which immediately subdued me into a relaxed trance. Although the climate change was a true shock to my Nordic system, I had to venture out for all the sights.
Later, standing at the edge of this continent, I truly admired Pacific coast sunsets while playing footsie with the soft sand pebbles. Even though it was February, many locals wore the trendy 80's puffy coats while I was breaking in a new bikini and drawing some bewildered looks. A Finn had to get a tan as soon as the beach was reached!
Mouth agape, I did not think it was possible to navigate the death-defying 405 freeway intact but riding in a massive American car resembling a houseboat protected me from the speedsters racing in a handful of lanes.
I also remember being stunned by the neck-breaking skyscrapers and baffled by the endless concrete jungles while rubbing my itchy eyes which turned tomato-red for two weeks due to the well-known L.A. pollution.
I was a sight to see!
After settling down, I found most Americans quite approachable, friendly, and very confident. They seemed outspoken with strong opinions but kind enough to readily ask, "How are you doing?", "What's up?", "How's it going?”.
I soon discovered they did not actually expect an answer to those questions. When a Finn asks you questions, he or she actually wants an answer. So, asking how you are is oddly enough not a concern for your well-being, it’s just one way to say hello! Mastering the small-talk, Americans can be chatty but also capable of serious discussions and heavy debates.
The English language is truly expressive. There is a fitting word to describe each thought in detail. It has the potential to paint a vivid picture for the listener, offering numerous ways to clarify a point and providing countless methods to embellish an idea. It has endless sassy slogans, clever catchphrases, and memorable mottoes.
While visiting Finland in 2017, I rode the metro into Helsinki.
I blissfully sat there perusing the local paper while mindlessly resting the tips of my feet on the opposite bench. Although the bench was empty, a properly dressed mature lady reprimanded me from several benches away.
She sternly reminded me to keep feet on the floor as not to scuff up the nice new benches. I immediately blushed from shame and genuinely apologized for forgetting my manners.
My feet have remained firmly planted on the ground since that day, where appropriate.
Finland seems to still take pride in keeping public facilities nice and orderly. Finnish natives are mindful of preserving their pristine nature and respecting the incredible Everyman's Right! They leave a bus how they found it, they leave a park how they found it, they show mutual care for things that all can enjoy.
Taking in the scent of aromatic birch trees, heavenly wildflowers, clear blue lakes, and emerald green forests.
There are delicious berry-bushes waiting for the pickers with ample offerings! Bring a bucket to fill up with berries for baking, but exit the forest with a blue mouth from devouring endless blueberries. You can't help it if you are a Finn!
The four seasons are poignant, idyllic and magnificently beautiful. A wintry thick white blanket of snow sweeping across the land, bringing the ability to think and even hear your own thoughts.
The silent calm while rowing in solitude on a glassy lake, hearing only the gentle wake against the bow of my boat while breathing the scent of pine and blissfully sipping my steaming coffee.
Oh, how I long for it!
Adjusting to a new homeland can be tough, but attempting to speak the language with mistakes and all, is a definite sign of respect toward locals and will be received with warmth and open arms.
I believe a spirit of togetherness is always possible but requires accepting cultural differences better and showing more tolerance and unity in communities.
Also, breaking bread with any person from anywhere is rarely counterproductive.
Text by: Ann Solorzano, a Finn in California