The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

RANDOM NOMAD: Helena Halme, Book Seller, Fashion Addict & Writer

Born in: Tampere, Finland
Passport: Finnish (only, and proud of it!)
Countries lived in: Sweden (Stockholm): 1971-74; Finland (Turku): 1975; Finland (Helsinki): 1975-84; England (Portsmouth): 1984-86, 1988; England (Plymouth): 1987; England (Wiltshire): 1989-2010; England (London): 2011-present
Cyberspace coordinates: Helena’s London Life | A Nordic view on style, fashion, art, literature, food and love in the city (blog)

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I left Finland for the first time as a 10-year-old with my family due to my father’s work, then moved back again for the same reason. And then I left Finland for good to marry my English husband. I’ve written 48 blog posts — soon to be a Kindle book called The Englishman — about how I came to be in England.

Is anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
My father is the only member of the family who still lives in Finland. My mother lives in Stockholm (she is remarried), and my sister lives also in Sweden (she married a Swedish man). Oh dear, that makes it sound as though we are are very man-dependent women, but I can assure you we’re strong and independent — really.

Describe the moment when you felt most displaced over the course of your many displacements.
I felt most displaced when I moved back to Finland at the age of 14. I didn’t want to leave Stockholm and felt completely alien in my home country. Since then I haven’t really felt at home anywhere. Although the two countries are divided only by the Baltic Sea, Finland was — and still is to a certain extent — a very different country to Sweden. The Finnish language is notoriously difficult, and in those days the culture was heavily influenced by Finland’s proximity to Russia (then the Soviet Union). Having lived in the very Western European city of Stockholm for three years, I saw my home country as being part of the Eastern bloc (even though it most certainly wasn’t). The radio played little pop music, and the TV was full of political broadcasts and dark plays about the struggle of the working classes. Western films took longer to arrive, and most people seemed dull and depressing. Nobody smiled and they all dressed in old-fashioned clothes. There seemed to be nothing you could buy in the shops. My sister and I would take the ferry across to Stockholm for many years afterwards — and wow our friends with the H&M clothes we brought back.

Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
Once I had my children in the UK, I felt I belonged much more — although I took care to make sure they knew they were half-Finnish. To this day, we combine Finnish and English customs: have two Christmases, grow special grass for Easter called rairuoho, and so on… No particular moment stands out in my head where I’ve felt especially at home — yet! That said, the move to London last year has given me an even greater sense of belonging… Perhaps that’s it; perhaps it happened just this year, when we moved to Northwest London?

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve lived into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Finland (even though it’s my homeland, it remains somewhat foreign): A Finnish knife (puukko).
From Sweden: A slice of the traditional Swedish cake known as Prinsesstårta.
From England: BBC Radio 4.

You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
I love food and don’t think I’ve changed my tastes all that much since coming to the UK. Thus my menu for The Displaced Nation is mostly Scandinavian but with one concession to British tastes. (These days, of course, you can get almost any foodstuffs from Finland in London. Bless this multicultural city!)

You may add one word or expression from each of the countries you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation argot. What words do you loan us?
From Sweden: Fy fan (bloody hell), because it just sounds right for a sense of frustration.
From Finland: Kippis (cheers) — it sounds like “get pissed” to an Englishman’s ears.
From the UK: That’s very interesting… The person who utters these words is usually dying of boredom. (A typical English white lie…)

A statement on your blog’s Home Page strikes us as being very Alice-like: “Rye bread not toast, pickled herring not fish & chips, cinnamon buns not Victoria sponge, ice-hockey not football, wander in a forest not walk in a park, silence not polite conversation.” Does the Alice-in-Wonderland story speak to the life you’ve led in the UK?
In England I’ve always felt as if I were the largest person in the room, particularly against the slight “English roses” — just as Alice did when she entered Wonderland. When I first arrived in this country, I’d often recall the words of the Queen of Hearts to Alice at the trial: “All persons more than a mile high must leave the court.”

QUESTION: Readers — yay or nay for letting Helena Halme into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Helena — find amusing.)

img: Helena Halme’s self-portrait on the number 13 bus. As Halme explained in a blog post last month, the No 13 featured in the British TV series On the Buses, which was broadcast on Finnish TV in the 1970s and was an early influence on her view of men in England. Also please note that Halme’s hair in this picture owes to her own efforts; she hadn’t yet discovered the Brazilian blow dry.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, who is debating whether Woodhaven, Massachusetts, is really the picture-perfect Wonderland it seemed at first sight. (She also meets a realtor who is most decidedly a Red Queen…)

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9 responses to “RANDOM NOMAD: Helena Halme, Book Seller, Fashion Addict & Writer

  1. ML Awanohara June 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Hi, Helena. Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. As a former UK resident myself, I’ve been enjoying your blog for some time… “Helena Halme” was also the place I discovered the expat novelist Shireen Jilla, who turned out to be a perfect Displaced Nation guest for our conversation about gothic expat tales. So thank you for that as well!

    Personally, I found it very hard to feel “at home” in the UK despite having married into the culture, so am highly attuned to clues of displacedness when talking to or reading about women with a similar profile to mine. (In my case, though, the marriage didn’t work…)

    One red flag for me in your TDN interview was your admission of feeling more at home now that you’re in London. Like you, I liked London best of all the places I lived in England — but I saw that as further evidence of my misfit status, since London as you say is an extremely multicultural city. Can you relate to that?

    Also, I don’t know if you noticed but we recently featured Finnish journalist Anu Partanen on the blog because of an op-ed she’d written for the New York Times about the recent Finnish election results.

    One litmus test for me as to how displaced one is from one’s “home” country is whether you still pay attention to its politics. Anu is now an expat in the U.S. but remains very involved in her home-country politics through her profession. How about you? Did you tune into the Finnish election — and if so, how did you read the rise of the True Finns? Were you as bemused as Anu was?

  2. Janet Brown June 15, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    Displaced Nation Citizen, yes indeed! If only because of introducing the fabulous expletive fy fan to the rest of the “country.” Off to read your blog now, Helena!

  3. Bird June 16, 2011 at 7:47 am

    Kyllä, ja, yes!

    Lovely interview and anyone with a slight Nordic obsession (of which I’m very guilty) should definitely read Helena’s blog and the wonderful “The Englishman” when it comes out on Kindle,

    Bird x

  4. Helena June 16, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Janet, thanks for visiting my blog and for wanting to let me into the Displaced Nation!

    ML, It’s funny you should mention the elections because I do indeed still keep an eye on the politics in Finland and made sure I voted in the latest elections. I also wrote a post about the True Finns…what else is a blogger to do?

    Helena xx

    • ML Awanohara June 16, 2011 at 9:24 am

      Ah yes, I see that you did blog about it — in a post concluding with the sentence: “I fear for the future.” In which case, you can have my vote as well — not only for entry into The Displaced Nation but also for any TDN office you decide to stand for subsequently, once ensconced inside our fair shores. You are most decidedly, most deliciously displaced. Welcome & kippis!

  5. awindram June 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    As long as On the Buses didn’t influence your view on British humour.

    • ML Awanohara June 16, 2011 at 2:19 pm

      Building on Anthony’s comment, I have another Q, Helena: Do you enjoy, or merely tolerate, British humor?

      This past week on TDN we’ve been discussing the difficulty of transplanting British sarcasm to other cultures. But what if one goes to England to live — does one pick it up eventually? (As new arrival Sabrina Hayes admitted in her comment on that post, as I know I did…)

      For that matter, what is Finnish humor like? You implied that Finns became rather humorless under Finlandization (I refer to Finland’s decision not to challenge Soviet influence). But surely they allowed themselves a few laughs even then — at the Soviets’ expense? (Or perhaps not…)

      • Kate Allison June 16, 2011 at 5:32 pm

        On The Buses…one of those excruciating 1970s sitcoms that Anthony and I are happy to forget existed.

        Helena – obviously, you’re a perfect candidate for residency in TDN. Apart from anything else, you’ll be bringing Radio 4 with you! Incidentally, I have just discovered the TuneIn Radio app for iPod – far easier than podcasts – where I can listen to Radio 4 ad nauseum. Hallelujah.

  6. Helena Halme June 16, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    I love British humour, it is actually very similar to the Finnish crazy sense for the comic…! It’s just that Finns can’t – or don’t – laugh so much at themselves. xx

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