One in four marriages in Helsinki involve at least one foreigner
Proportion of international marriages grows
Wedding bells are increasingly ringing in Helsinki for foreign citizens. In 2007, at least one of the partners was the citizen of a foreign country in 26 per cent of marriages that were sealed in that year, and both were foreigners in 12 per cent of cases.
“It is a surprisingly large number”, says Tanja Leikas-Bottà .
Leikas-Bottà herself is one of the 457 Finnish women who said “I do” to a foreign spouse in Helsinki in 2007. At the same time 384 Finnish men married foreign women.
The Bottà family is one of the most typical examples of international love.
According to statistics, when Finnish women marry outside of their own nationality, the spouse is usually from Western Europe, while Finnish men who marry foreigners often find wives in Southeast or East Asia, or in Russia.
Leikas-Bottà met her Italian husband Giacomo Bottà seven years ago in Berlin, where they were both taking part in a student exchange programme. “We are results of this Erasmus movement, which unites Europe”, Leikas-Bottà laughs.
Giacomo, a researcher in urban studies, moved to Helsinki in 2005, and the two were married in St. Henry’s Catholic Church in August 2007.
Now the family includes two-month-old Joel.
The proportion of international unions among all marriages has grown from year to year, says Elli Heikkilä, head of research at the Institute of Migration.
“People are more mobile, they travel, and they meet”, she explains.
Couples are established in connection with student exchanges, international work projects, and on holidays. “Family considerations are one of the most important reasons for immigration”, Heikkilä says.
A foreign spouse can also be found in Finland.
In 2007, 6.5 per cent of Helsinki’s population was foreign. The proportion is much higher for those of marrying age - that is, young adults.
In other cultures the pressure to marry can be greater than in Finland, where lengthy cohabitation without marriage is the norm. This can partly explain the large proportion of foreigners in the marriage statistics.
Tanja Leikas-Bottà says that her Italian in-laws were a bit mystified at the couple’s decision to live together before the wedding. However, they were not very vocal about it, and the two cultures managed to get along quite well also in other respects.
“The situation is quite good. My parents only speak Italian and French. Tanja’s parents speak only Finnish and English, so our parents cannot argue with each other”, Giacomo Bottà laughs.
Giacomo speaks fluent Finnish with Tanja’s parents, and he says that he feels like a real Helsinkian in other respects as well.
A Finnish spouse is often a good incentive for immigrants to integrate, says Heikkilä of the Institute of Migration. “It is a bridge between cultures."
In some ways, Giacomo Bottà has adapted to Finland almost too well.
“Tanja has spoken about possible work abroad, but I have said ‘no’. Having come to Finland, and gone through the trouble of learning the language and culture, I also want to spend some time here.”
Previously in HS International Edition:
Arajärvi: early language education essential for integration of immigrants (30.1.2009)
More immigrants coming to Helsinki region from Asia (19.1.2009)
A third of Finland́s immigrants live in Helsinki (8.12.2008)