Finnish woman in latin america

I’ve been on this continent for 16 months now and during this time, I’ve often struggled with being a Finnish woman in Latin America. There are things that time after time annoy me big time and there are things I’ll probably never learn to understand or accept, having grown up in Northern Europe – the cradle of democracy and gender equality.

Some of the things that make me sad or angry are connected to me being a Finn. As a person from Northern Europe, I often face the stereotypes connected to the part of the world where I’m from. A splendid place where there are no problems at all, right? And sometimes the things are in my head: although I’ve lived in different realities on three continents, there are things I’ll just never be able to thoroughly accept.

Some of the things are connected to me being a woman. Latin American cultures are led by men and it shows. Women are simply not seen as equals, and although I don’t mind gender roles to some extent, I’ll never understand a person being treated as inferior or with disrespect for the sole reason of not having a dick between her legs. And I’ll also never be able to understand the amount of incest and femicides going on here.

And when you combine being a Finn and a woman in Latin America, that’s when the splendour of cultural differences really lifts its head. I never thought differences wouldn’t exist and they have not exactly come as a surprise to me, but these 10 things still keep annoying me time after time. Especially at times like today when, for one reason or another, I feel that I’m again just that Finnish woman in Latin America.

1. Rubia…tssss tssss!

In Latin America, I’ll always be considered a rubia (blonde). That means when there are men around, it’s highly likely that I hear cat calls like “tssss tssss, rubia!” when I pass them by. I’ll never get mistaken for a local, but what I’ll often get mistaken for is a whore. It seems like me being rubia immediately gives men the permission to ask me for paid sex, all because I happen to have lighter hair than local women and thus seem like an exotic object.

2. This is not Europe

Coming from Europe, locals often think you don’t have any self preservation instincts or street wisdom concerning anything. No matter how much you’ve travelled or how many different realities you’ve lived in during your lifetime, you’ll always be warned with sentences like: “This is not Europe.” First of all, there is poverty and crime also in Europe, but more importantly, when coming to Latin America, you know you should be careful.

3. I can never understand corruption

According to statistics, Finland is one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Although there’s corruption, I’ll never be able to fully understand how it feels like to live in a country where you just simply have no say in anything. Where votes are bought and laws changed illegally. (Like in Paraguay at the moment.) I’ll never know how it feels to totally lose faith in democracy and a just society. I just haven’t grown up in such a reality.

4. European women are seen as free

This is a stereotype I particularly hate. “Free” in Latin America equals sexually loose equals easy equals bitchy. We Europeans are seen as liberal (free spirited), which to Latin men seems to mean we’re ready to have sex with anyone. Although we’re not catholic and may thus have more liberal views on sexual relations in theory, doesn’t mean we apply them ourselves. Just a note to all men, Northern Europeans especially hate to be treated as idiotic objects.

5. I have feelings

Decisive = stubborn = obsessive. Sometimes my characteristics make me do great things (like cycle across a continent), sometimes they make me despair. Being seen as a free spirited European woman, it’s not once that I notice my feelings of anger, hatred, affection or whatever to come as a surprise to locals — to women as well as men. Of course, being “a traveller” also adds up to this. Sometimes it seems I shouldn’t feel anything than the joy of riding a bicycle.

6. No one ever speaks their mind

As a Northerner, I hate omission and don’t understand people who don’t speak their mind. Phrases like “I’d like to hear about your travels” meaning “I want sex”, or “I’d like to help you” meaning “I want sex”, are really on the list of things I don’t get. If you’re interested in someone, why not just ask her out? And if you do, just note that when a European woman agrees to go out with a Latin man, it’s not a promise of sex. And when you get bored, just say so.

7. I can’t fake “buena onda”

As a Finnish woman, I’m just not able to hide or put bad feelings aside. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t bring myself to it. I can’t listen to samba and just forget about feeling bad. When something bothers me, I need to say it. When I’m not happy, I show it. I need to let it out, speak about what’s wrong in all honesty and then move on. But that’s not buena onda, it’s not cool in collective happiness seeking countries.

8. I’m Finnish = I’m rich

Finland is a rich country, which means it’s also an expensive country. But because of our taxation system, you’ll never find such filthy rich people there as you find in Latin America. However, Latin Americans will always think you’re filled with cash – although you’ve never even had a permanent job. No matter if you’re a cyclist who is working during her trip, you’ll be the gringa with money.

9. People don’t respect relationships

This is tied to speaking your mind. I personally hate it when married men or boyfriends hit on me, in any part of the world. I also get annoyed when saying “I’m married”, “I have a boyfriend” or “not interested” doesn’t mean anything at all. I’ll never understand the point of being in a “closed relationship” and lying, if you feel the need to be with other people. Have some integrity and suggest an open relationship to your partner.

10. I’ll never be a local

This is the one that particularly hurts. I’ll always be seen as the outsider, the European, the traveller. The free one. The rich one. The foreigner. I’ll never fully be seen as a part of a local society. Although this may, in some parts be true, it often sucks. Why? Because sometimes you, even a Finnish woman, feel at home in some Latin American environment. And then, out of the blue, you’re reminded you’re not. That’s when it’s time to let go.


NOTE: A while ago there was a Facebook message going around on local women’s walls which said: Nunca confundas mi educación y simpatia con libertad! (Never confuse my good manners and niceness for freedom!) I was quite upset about it, as the message was that freedom is the same as being open for sex. I commented on those posts that women are doing themselves harm with confusing such terminology…

Written by Sissi Korhonen
Exploring, interpreting and understanding cultures through local languages and people. An advocate for intercultural communication as a basis for diversity acceptance and human equality.