Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Encounter with Big Brother

Originally uploaded by 1541
"What does työttömyysturvamaksu mean?"
"What does Ulkomaalaiseksi työnhakijaksi katsotaan mean..."

Understanding Finnish social security system is difficult as it is but it gets on the level of an Amazing Race challenge when your task is to simultaneously interpret non-native pronounciation of administrative Finnish consisting of sentences sometimes three lines long. I realised that grammatically many of the sentences were correct but their meaning had been lost in translation to Bureaucratic. Sentences like "you are not entitled to benefits which you are not entitled to based on your status" are correct but very often rather empty in terms of content.

The decision letter from KELA - Finnish authority for social benefits and pensions - that I was asked to help out with was immensely complex to understand, even for a native speaker. The letter listed segments of legislation and multiple terms from social policy but did not really answer the obvious - what you get and don't get. It reminded me a bit of this test Finnish Broadcasting Company once had on their website where you needed to explain phrases you hear constantly on the news only to realise that you are not entirely sure about the goals of Hamas or the way employer and employee organisations negotiate salary levels. I had no idea what all the benefits meant even after I have seen the phrases in my every single Finnish salary slip.

I do understand that decisions on social benefits need legal basis but the way the explanation is done needs serious improvement. Once again, we need a system starting from individual needs. In the letter format used now it sounds like someone is reciting the law rather than answering the citizen's inquiry on his or her personal situation. The letter on your rights as it stands now would be next to impossible to comprehend for an immigrant taking his/her first steps in Finnish language.

Tervetuloa Suomeen/Welcome to Finland. Perkele.

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