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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