Observations about encountering a global crisis abroad

Jan 29, 2015  · by

Je suis Charlie sign and candles

Topics: Crisis, Perception, Viewpoint

I moved to the south of France four months ago and it has been fascinating so far. I’ve brushed up on my français a little, got to know new people and experienced the tingling feeling of living abroad. I know there are many of you out there who adapt to new environments quickly and I really look up to people with that ability. The truth is I’m not like that. It takes me one to two months to establish my everyday life basics in a new country and culture. In Finland, my home country everything is familiar to me. When you move to another country you realise how your life has been on autopilot in the place you just left, and then again realise how refreshing, even though hard sometimes, the life is in a new place.

France suffered a terrible tragedy last week. An attack against the freedom of speech has been discussed ever since all over the world, and news channels have had in depth feature with analyses from all angles about the events. People have marched on the streets, posted #jesuischarlies on social media and shop owners have taped solidarity articles on their windows. Despite the fact that hunger, disease and war kills tens of thousands of people all over the world each day these terrifying events in Paris have moved us even more because of their symbolism.

When facing something this shocking in a country and culture that is not your own I realised my reaction was different than it probably would have been back at home. I observed that the two biggest factors for this were my language skills and cultural knowledge. My French is not yet fluent enough to absorb everything I hear on TV or read from tabloids while walking past a newsstand. Also, I don’t know the social norms and codes well enough to understand where and when the locals would want to discuss the terrors. Hence, thanks to my Finnish reserved nature, I’m silent which no doubt seems I don’t care. I do care a lot and the attacks have affected me deeply. It’s just contradictory how I think I would be even more emotional in my home country than what I am here, in the country that faced the tragedy.

There are differences in encountering a crisis. In Finland I would automatically read the tabloid covers by a newsstand and hear every word on talk shows and news. Also I would know which words to use at what time when discussing how devastating the attacks were and what the consequences of the tragedy are.

Tonight I will go and light a candle in a square where people commemorate the victims of the tragedy. Even though I am not familiar with the language or all the other behavioural codes and norms of this culture, I know one thing. Candles and their light speak a universal language of remembrance and solidarity.

Our thoughts are with the victims’ families and we hope France can emerge stronger and more united from these attacks,


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