Learning about Finland: the Swedish speakers

About 8% of the Finnish population speak Swedish as their first language. They all speak Finnish, but a doctor described to me his irritation with a patient who insisted on the consultation being in Swedish even though he spoke perfect Finnish and the doctor struggled with Swedish: “it’s my human right,” the man insisted. The story reflects mild, only mild, irritation with the Swedish speakers by the Finnish speakers.

Finland was once part of Sweden as it was once part of Russia. Sandwiched uncomfortably between two powerful and warlike peoples Finland makes me think of Poland between Germany and Russia. Perhaps the sense that the Swedish speakers are somehow superior persists, rather as the English ruling classes once spoke French. And they do seem in some ways to be superior: Swedish-speaking men live 10 years longer than Finnish speaking men (and are probably a little taller); and Swedish-speakers make up a higher proportion than 8% of doctors and an even higher proportion of academic doctors.

The Swedish-speakers do not look different in any discernible way, and many live in Helsinki, although they are concentrated in the West of the country, along the coast. Is there any drive for them to be independent, I ask, wondering if they are like the Scots. Not at all, I’m told; and there is anyway no clear line that could be drawn be Swedish and Finnish speaking areas.

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