19 July 2007

1819) Finnish Ambassador Serenius: I Like The Idea Of Being Related To Turks

 This content mirrored from TurkishArmenians  Site ©  Finnish Ambassador to Turkey Maria Serenius and her husband, Tapio Serenius, are very happy in their very Finnish residence decorated in simple colors. . .

Finnish Ambassador to Turkey Maria Serenius and her husband, Tapio Serenius, say they like the idea of being related to the Turks as an unproved theory claims.

For them there are similarities between the languages too. The Serenius couple love hiking and skiing, but they wish there was more environmental protection in Turkey. Mr. Serenius admires the service mentality of the Turkish people, as well as some of the nation’s universities. The ambassador thinks that the best way to get to the heart of understanding the Turkish Republic is to ask a citizen where their grandparents come from. Within her work Mrs. Ambassador says her primary principle in diplomacy is trying to understand the reason behind the thought. And the Serenius couple has good news: Santa Claus does exist! He was spotted recently, swimming with children.

Santa Claus alive and well

“Santa Claus is fine. Recently he was swimming with children in Lapland,” Ambassador Serenius is happy to say. According to reports from her native country, Santa took off his red pants but kept his jacket on before diving right in.

On one of the hottest days in Ankara, Ambassador Serenius and her husband are happy to divulge the latest on Santa Claus in their very Finnish residence, decorated in simple colors. Around us are modern and pleasant drawings on the wall and light wooden furniture, indicating a minimalist approach. The ambassador strongly believes Santa Claus does exist. She does not want to discuss whether he was born in Demre, Antalya -- the historical hometown of 4th century Byzantine bishop Saint Nicholas -- but, she says, “for a fact, he lives in Finland.”

When it comes to how he can find time to reply to all the children around the world, Ambassador Serenius gives a hint: “Actually, it isn’t him. Santa Claus doesn’t have enough time to reply to everyone. But there are elves, little helpers, doing the job,” she says. Mr. Serenius chips in: “There are more than 500,000 letters he gets annually and he replies to all of them. He has his own post office.”

Maybe Santa Claus is one of the best diplomats that Finland has because, as Ambassador Serenius puts it, “he is contributing to the image of Finland in a very positive way.”

The ambassador has been contributing to Finnish diplomacy herself since 1975. After saying that, she laughs and continues: “It is a very long time. I was working in Sri Lanka for the UNDP [United Nations Development Program]. That was in 1979, and after that I worked in Egypt, Geneva, Tokyo, Los Angeles and now in Turkey.”

During this period the ambassador and her husband were able to be together because Mr. Serenius was always dealing with promoting Finnish exports, sometimes as a liaison officer. But in 1979, when the ambassador was serving in Sri Lanka, Mr. Serenius was in Iran when the Islamic revolution was taking place: “In those days we didn’t have mobile telephones. It was terrible. There was news in Sri Lanka saying that 30,000 people had been killed in Tehran. The phones were not working. He was in the middle of revolution,” she says. Her husband did not want to go into the details of his memories, but just says, “When you have a revolution around you, there are a lot of stories: some true, some not. Being there was very interesting indeed. I mean, being a political scientist; every political scientist must experience at least one revolution.”

Mrs. Ambassador, too, studied political science. The couple met, however, not at university but before that. “We have been together since we were 18 years old. We met in a dance hall. Actually we were not attending university at that time, but we were in the university dance hall. We were there illegally and we met there,” he says and his wife nods her head in agreement, saying, “That is destiny.” Then she elaborates: “In those days there weren’t any nightclubs. It was a long time ago, so we had dance halls. There is a system where the orchestra is playing and the boys are over here, the girls over there. When the song starts, the boys approach the girls, they pick up the girls and then go dancing and when the dance is over they go back to their places again.” Her husband adds: “Or they continue. That is the point. It gives the opportunity to say no.”

But according to Ambassador Serenius there is a negative side to this system: “If a girl is not picked up by boys, it is very humiliating.”

The ambassador married Mr. Serenius when they were 21. But nowadays in Finland people are waiting until they are 25 or 30 to get married. Finnish people are also less enthusiastic about having children. Mrs. Ambassador points out that the Finnish population is aging. It needs a labor force, but remains one of the European Union countries with a low number of foreign workers. The number of Turks there amounts to around 3,000. Compared to other Nordic countries, Sweden for example, this is quite a small number. Her husband adds that they have a Tatar minority: “Since the early 19th century we have had Tatars. They are a prominent, hard-working minority. They are not very many, less than 1,000. They are able to keep their identity, but have integrated very well and are highly respected. They are also highly educated. Most of them are businessmen.”

Being related to Turks

They say that they like the idea of being related to Turks. “I like the idea of Finns and Turks as relatives. I heard the theory that we were together in the Asian steppes. Then we started to go, crossing Siberia, to Finland. You came down to Turkey. It was 30,000 years ago and this is when we parted ways. There is no proof of it but I like the notion,” Mrs. Ambassador says. Her husband adds: “A couple of months ago, there was an exhibition on Genghis Khan. It was very good. You have to see it. We wanted to see more evidence.”

Mrs. Ambassador thinks that it is a very interesting exhibition. “Ten years ago there was research on the blood of Finnish people. They found Mongolian elements in it, we were proud of that,” she says. Mr. Serenius says cheerfully, “If we are descendants of Genghis Khan, no problem for us.”

How about the Turkish and the Finnish languages: Could they be proof of being related?

Mrs. Ambassador says that when she heard Turkish the first time, she had the feeling that people were speaking in Finnish. “The grammatical structure is the same,” she says.

“There is one thing we noticed: Your words have the same structure, one consonant followed by one vowel. It gives some familiarity,” Mr. Serenius says. His wife gives another example of grammatical similarity between Turkish and Finnish: “In the house, from the house, at the house... We do it with endings, too. But it doesn’t help too much in learning Turkish, because all the words are different,” she says.

Sauna and hamam

When we are comparing another similarity, namely the Turkish “hamam” and its Finnish equivalent the “sauna,” the Serenius couple surprises me by saying that hamam is a cold word. But then they say that both the hamam and sauna are a fantastic experience. “You cannot compare them truly, even without being diplomatic. Both are fantastic,” Mrs. Ambassador says.

“A sauna is a place for peace and quiet. You just lie down and enjoy it. It is a whole ceremony and ritual. So is the hamam. When we experience hamam, it is fantastic and the feeling afterwards is the same. Totally relaxing for your mind and body. I really enjoy it very much. We go quite often to Cappadocia. There is one cave hotel that has hamams in the rooms. Private hamams. That is wonderful. We first went to Cappadocia to go hiking. We like hiking very much. Then you come back and you take your private hamam... You lie on the hot marble. Heaven!” she says.

Mr. Serenius says he has one thing to add: “Finnish saunas are very often next to a lake or by the sea. So we have the chance to go straight from a hot sauna into cold water for swimming. This is one difference.”

Another favorite place of theirs in Turkey is Gerede, because, of course, as Finnish people, they like skiing. They say that it is close to Ankara and there is a small diplomatic group who often go there. “It is really nice. It’s in the middle of a forest, with nobody around. The smell of the snow! We like it. We are snow people,” the ambassador says.

She thinks that Turkey is a beautiful country with fantastic nature, but she wishes there was a little bit more attention spent protecting it. “I would love to see more environmental protection in Turkey. According to a report, 70 billion euros are needed in Turkey to upgrade its environmental standards,” she says. When she is asked about contrasts between Finland and Turkey, the answer comes from Mr. Serenius: “The service mentality of the Turkish people. This is a hospitable society. When you go somewhere there is this friendliness. It isn’t only our observation, our friends also notice it. They are always surprised by it. It is everywhere, in the cities, in the countryside. People are always smiling.”

Mrs. Ambassador adds that they wish they had the sunshine Turkey has, but there is a solution for it, she says, as they are expecting 100,000 tourists from Finland to Turkey this year. Her husband comments that the profile of Finnish tourists is a little bit different from other European countries: They spend more money, they play golf and take boat trips.

Between our two countries not only tourism, but also bilateral trade is developing. Ambassador Serenius says that Turkey is exporting cars, refrigerators, textiles and ceramics to Finland. The trade volume has increased by 20 percent, compared to last year. She says that she is very happy about the situation, but there is an imbalance in the trade as they need more Turkish exports to Finland.

With the job of Mr. Serenius being promoting trade relations between the two countries, his main advice to Finnish business is, “Come in, open your eyes!”

The Serenius couple note that Nokia’s first foreign partner was in Turkey even before the invention of cell phones. They say that Nokia became partners with a local company in Izmit in 1962. The Finnish firm was a cable company at the time, and when it left the cable business the Izmit firm was sold.

Where are your grandparents from?

Mr. Serenius thinks that one of the biggest positive surprises for him in Turkey is the universities: “It is a great positive surprise to see how many universities you have. Some of them have very good levels and are very dynamic,” he says.

Ambassador Serenius -- whose main principle in diplomacy is trying to understand without taking sides or being judgmental -- thinks that asking Turks where their “grandparents” came from is an eye-opener: “I always ask Turks I meet where their grandparents are from. The answers show an amazing variety. Their answers include such places as the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East. It shows the happy mixture of so many people. It is fantastic. It has been very revealing in understanding what Turkey is,” she says.



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