I have a confession to make, and it’s going to sound silly… Here goes… (dramatic pause!)
I love watching MasterChef Australia. (There, I said it! Phew!)
It’s a show that feels so uplifting to me. It’s addictive in its cheerfulness and camaraderie. The competitors are friendly and helpful towards each other.
Completely unlike its American version, which seems sadly competitive in comparison and at times even mean-spirited (no offense!). And certainly nothing like its Finnish counterpart, where the format has been adjusted so much that you can barely recognize it, and there are only a handful of competitors to start with.
While in the Australian version the competitors are full of life, joy and energy, jumping and screaming because they are so happy to be on the show, the Finnish contestants had to be called several times by the judges to step forward, and only then did they make a slow, unenthusiastic approach. I only watched half of the first episode and it was enough for me.
You see, it’s not so much about the cooking or the competition for me. (I’m a lazy and reluctant cook, but I do love to eat! Takeaway, mostly. Though I must admit that all the fresh produce in the Australian show’s pantry does look delicious and it makes me wonder what I could do with it. Besides just stuffing it in my mouth. Which is what I probably would do.)
But really, it’s about the energy and passion.
The narration in MasterChef Australia repeatedly emphasizes that all the contestants are going for their ultimate dream, “food dream”, as they keep saying. Many of them had to leave their jobs to compete. I can relate with that because the employers over here rarely let you take personal leave when you want it. I’ve actually quit my job several times in order to travel. (Before it became an embarrassing social media cliché. Three years of blogging and this is the first time I mention it!)
On the show, many of the contestants speak of their heritage, being first or second generation Aussies, and they cook what their grandmother taught them. This is also interesting to me, because looking at all these children of immigrants, I can’t help but wonder how I probably would have been just like them if my family had stayed there, instead of moving back to my parents’ home country. (Except nope, I still wouldn’t be a good cook!)
But what I really wanted to write about in this blog post was pride. Is it okay in your part of the world, your culture, to be proud of yourself?
Because here in Finland, it’s frowned upon. Even despised. Being proud of yourself, and openly expressing it, is not something that will make you popular over here.
In MasterChef Australia, every contestant invariably says how proud they are of themselves at some point of the show. It’s only a figure of speech, in some cases, but even that is enough to get people gossiping behind your back around here.
I often wonder why that is. What’s so wrong with feeling proud of yourself? To me, it seems like healthy, balanced behavior. If you have accomplished something – anything – that you are proud of, whether it’s big or small, why is it so wrong to say it out loud or to let it show in your radiantly beaming smile? Why do people here interpret it as smug, egoistic, stuck-up behavior?
As far as I can tell, the national level of self-esteem in Finland is probably way lower than in Australia, just based on how Finns generally speak of themselves. Headlines in a newspaper can, for example, exclaim that Finland was mentioned in a conversation in the US! Or that some famous foreign person had a great-grandparent who was Finnish! Or that someone from another country visited Finland and this is what they thought! (read on to find out!)
People seem to eat those stories up, so I guess they must relate to their inner selves somehow. It might be a small-country-thing.
Nevertheless, the resentment towards people who are happy with themselves (or successful, in which case they are presumably proud) is something that I still haven’t been able to understand, culturally. For me, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of yourself or even just saying something nice about yourself.
Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that even neutral statements can easily be interpreted as the person being too proud, bragging, trying to show off.
For instance, merely the fact that I used to live in another country as a child is something I can usually never tell a Finn. They will always take it the wrong way. When they ask me where I’m from, I just say Helsinki because I don’t want them to hate me. (Though it’s not really true, and it’s a pity they’ll never know the real me, the full version.)
Many of you, my readers, have lived in several countries, so you will understand me, I’m sure. It’s just a neutral statement, a fact. It’s not bragging. But at the same time, it reveals something of who I am. If you want to hear it.
Some of you might think I’m generalizing too hastily, but I’ve been here long enough to know what I’m talking about. Not to sound disrespectful (again, no offense!), but I’ve had this conversation over and over again: every time I start a new job or meet new people. Eventually, after many misunderstandings, I’ve had to try out different answers, until I’ve finally figured out what works. What the answer is that they are looking for. (Downplaying it is important, too.)
This reminds me of a story from one time I had just started a new office job. During my interview I’d said I’d already booked a one week holiday to Japan, so they promised I could go there even though I didn’t have any accumulated holidays and employees weren’t normally given extra time off. But I had negotiated it upon entry, so off to Japan I went. When I came back to work, I brought some sweets from my trip, as is the custom here. They were crazily colorful and had Japanese text all over.
My co-workers were all too happy to gobble up the sweets, but no one – no one – except my closest work buddy, asked me how the trip was! No one was curious about Tokyo, the most curiousest of places on the planet.
Then, the next month, a girl (who never spoke to me or said hi) went to Tokyo for a week, too, and I heard from my buddy that visiting Tokyo had always been her dream and she had been so jealous of my trip that she’d finally booked a trip herself. (Well, I guess I’m just an inspiration, aren’t I!)
What’s funny is that in her place, I would have come to me for tips and just to get into a nice, expecting travel mood. I mean, come on, isn’t it just the best feeling when you are about to travel somewhere and you can talk about the destination with someone else who’s also interested in it?! But no, she was furious with envy and couldn’t even look my way.
That job wasn’t in the travel industry and I didn’t stay there for long. I went back to my roots in aviation, where I could tell colleagues about my travels and they wouldn’t be jealous. But I still couldn’t tell them about living in Australia as a kid, or speaking English as my second native language.
Watching those MasterChef contestants beam with excitement and congratulate each other, as well as themselves, feels so refreshing to me. That’s how it should be. Nothing wrong with being happy with yourself, I say! Let’s all give ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back, right now!