Here in Finland people are forming their opinions on a hot matter: last night refugees at a Finnish refugee center demonstrated against the quality of food offered to them.
This is an interesting case of culture clashes, expectations and hidden norms.
First challenge: Finnish people, since their childhood, are taught not to complain about food and to finish what’s on their plates (not that this is reflected in our current food waste numbers). It gets even more sensitive if you are a foreigner. We might not necessarily write this in our country reports or tourist brochures, but man, if you complain about our foods, you are an ignorant fool and it will take us a long time to forgive you. That is Finland for you. This is a classic example of a hidden norm, a cultural nuance, which is cumbersome for an immigrant/refugee to read. My question is: are there people in these refugee centers helping newcomers to read clues about these vital cultural nuances?
Second challenge: Another taboo was crushed as these people, refugees, stood up for their rights. We do not expect victims to do this. Victims are expected to act nicely, quietly and humbly (a bit like Finnish children). When their human traits emerge, well then things just get really awkward. Does demonstrating against bad food in a foreign country show bad judgment? Yes, a bit. Do the people still have the right to protest? Of course.
Third challenge: Many people still seem to think of food as just food, something that is produced on big fields only to sustain our biological structures. This is not the case. Food is never just food, instead it is filled with ideologies, symbols, power, heritage and culture. If you don’t believe me, move to another country where you don’t have access to Finnish food culture staples, such as bread, cheese, butter, berries and meat. Would you lead a happy life on a daily diet of let’s say, Ethiopian injera (for an indefinite period)? Would you miss certain food items so bad it made you angry? I know I would. I think in a foreign setting, let alone in a refugee setting, food plays an even stronger role. It is your one connection to what used to be a normal life in your home country.
And what would our reaction be if the ones demonstrating for bad food were elders from our retirement homes? Would that be a more justified protest?
The photo is taken last week at a Finnish school. The meal was excellent, but according to today’s news the standard for the meals at the refugee centers hasn’t been the same as in our schools.