How an isolated group of islands in the Arctic is embracing multiculturalism through internet dating.
Airdate: 
Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 21:30
Channel: 
SBS

Nothing grows here, it’s 15° Celsius in summer, there are only 3 traffic lights – would you move to the Faroe Islands for love?

My cameraman Clayton fell in love with Bjorn at first glance – and just to clarify, he’s married with a daughter and wife.

“He’s so dreamy, I’m not sure if I can focus,” Clayton whispered in my ear.

We met Bjorn shortly before his cousin’s wedding – he’d just returned home after spending 50 days at sea near Greenland. He’s in his 30s and single, but as he tells me later, “I’d rather be alone with my dog than with the wrong woman”.

Bjorn is one of the main characters in this week’s Dateline film ‘Love in a Strange Place’ – which explores the shortage of women living in the Faroe Islands, and the struggles of local men trying to find a partner – the story is an unusual alchemy of love, isolation and the internet. In the Faroe Islands, love and technology are irrevocably shifting the cultural make-up and ethnic identity of this haunting place.

For the past few decades, there has been a sort of women-drought in the Faroe. It’s the same in Iceland. Internet dating has allowed some of the men to start looking for love thousands of kilometres away – technology is bringing multiculturalism here for the first time. Several websites are already set up to connect Faroese men with women in both Asia and Africa.

All stories require research, but this is the first time ‘research’ has meant listing myself on a Faroese dating website. When the site asked for my bust size and gave me a drop-down menu for my best ‘feature’ – which included legs, chest and…smile – I certainly started to question the research methodology. Though to clarify, I never said I was single or looking for love, simply searching for single men to share their stories on TV about why foreign women held the answer to their lonely hearts.

It was on one of these dating websites that I met Bjorn. Without context, that small sentence sparks a large number of questions: where are the Faroe Islands? Why are you on a singles website for a Dateline story? And does your partner know this is happening?

I should also mention, Dateline hasn’t suddenly become a dating show – though the title would be easily transferrable!

The Faroe Islands are old Vikings territory – 18 rocky, volcanic islands now connected by road tunnels, ferries and bridges in the North Atlantic between Norway and Iceland.   As you fly in the landscape feels both threatening and mystical. You can see the sharp rises and falls of the terrain, as if it was once a wave suddenly turned into stone. A place where no trees grow, the locals say it rains 360 days of the year, with summer temperatures peaking at 15° Celsius. The crime rate is so low here we left our time lapse cameras on street corners and on bridges for hours at a time, knowing they would be safe.

But why are so many men looking for partners on the internet?

A guest at Bjorn’s cousin’s wedding puts it to me best. “Everyone knows everyone, so when you have a break-up or your heart gets stomped, and everyone knows about it and how it happened, it’s so hard to start again even though you need to.

“When you meet foreigners on the internet or you go overseas to meet someone you can do it freely without judgment”.

The first South East Asian women arrived around 20 years ago and now make up the second-largest ethnic group in the Faroe Islands.

Bjorn tells me there are five Asian women in his 500-strong village of Oidi and no one except a few of the older folk say anything critical out loud. He confesses a small handful will whisper that only a desperate man would seek an Asian women, but no one will tell us that on camera. Someone said that to a boyfriend of mine in my early 20s – it was me that felt the shame. I suspect a lot of the ex-pat women we interviewed have experienced some sort of racism but it’s a small place and even when pushed, no one wanted to say much about any difficulties they faced other than the climate and the isolation. I had family and friends around me, I can’t imagine how they deal with it on their own.

I know a lot of people will watch this film and question whether the women we met were genuinely in love. I found it to be a mixture – I met couples head over heels for each other and couples where maybe only one of them was emotionally attached, so not too dissimilar to anywhere else in the world. It’

Multiculturalism is one of the most positive forces in the modern world but identity is one of its biggest challenges. Self-identity constantly came up at my own kitchen table as a Malaysian-Chinese family living in New Zealand and is a constant passenger in my mind. People never fail to ask, “hang on, where are you really from?”

Modern technology and the information age bring us closer together, but it also distributes isolation and confusion. And that’s what is at the heart of this story; whether it’s immigration due to internet dating in the Faroe or whole families moving for a shot at something else in life, these opportunities for families bring a hard balancing act between cultural preservation and assimilation.

But it’s Valentine’s Day, so back to the love. For those who are wondering our single guy Bjorn is - still single. He says he’s taken up kickboxing and music lessons since we met – he’s still looking for love on the internet and is keeping an eye out, but you’ll have to be prepared to move to the Faroe.

He’ll kill me for revealing this but his favourite movie is Love Actually. I think my next email should be to the executive producer of The Bachelor.

Watch Dateline, Tuesday 9.30pm on SBS

More

What you didn’t know about the Faroe Islands
Life in a country where there are no prisons, barely any traffic lights and it’s either always light or always dark.
Online dating can make society less segregated
The number of interracial marriages started growing at a much faster rate following the popularisation of online dating.

Credits

Reporter: Bernadine Lim

Producer: Kasper Astrup Schröder, Georgina Davies

Camera: Clayton Carpinter

Associate Producer: Hannah Berzins

Drone and Additional Camera: Kasper Astrup Schröder

Story Editor: Simon Phegan

Transcript

REPORTER:  It must be harder to meet someone when you live on the Faroe Islands, in a small village.

BJORN KALLSOY, SINGLE:  Yeah, and for a picky guy like me, it's impossible.

REPORTER:  Do you want to get married?

BJORN KALLSOY:  Yes, I do. But that's a big step. But I'm pretty sure if I find a wife, it will be somewhere else.

REPORTER:  What are you doing to find your foreign woman?

BJORN KALLSOY:  Mmm, just, uh, just waiting and keeping my ears and eyes open.

Bjorn has an air of something old world about him. He's polite but doesn’t always look you in the eye, which he describes as a typical Faroese trait. Somehow he knows, his future partner is not here in the Faroes.

REPORTER:  So what is this?

BJORN KALLSOY:  This is supposed to be a rhubarb garden. Now everybody's got their hobbies, this is one of mine.

REPORTER:  How long have you been working on this?

BJORN KALLSOY:  Three years, three years.  I will be finishing this year, this is actually the finishing touch.

Single men in the Faroes face a challenge – a shortage of women. And for centuries many, like Bjorn, have worked out at sea, making the search for love even more difficult.

BJORN KALLSOY:  I'm a fisherman. It's like half of the year I'm gone. So it- it's never easy being a fisherman's wife. And usually when you are home there is a lot to do. Things get broken while you are gone you have to fix, and now it is summer, there is a lot to do like painting of the house, renovating, and building my wall.  We have a saying in Faroe Islands – “A crow doesn’t shit in it’s own nest.”  Sorry, it just means you go dating outside your area.  Stay away from your village.

The Faroes are made up of 18 islands - an old Viking settlement, now part of Denmark. The landscape is both breathtaking and brutal. Nothing grows here, not even trees. Men were traditionally fishermen and women homemakers, but women starting leaving the island in search of a better life.

WOMAN (Translation): I needed an education. There are different types of jobs in the bigger cities. The companies are larger and you find your playing field opens up. But there is a shortage of women,

2000 more men at one point. 

WOMAN 2 (Translation): I don’t remember. That number is a bit smaller now, they talk about there being more foreign women here, simply because we need women. 

REPORTER:  Is there anyone in your village that you would date?

BJORN KALLSOY:  Nah.

REPORTER:  Are you open to meeting someone on the internet?

BJORN KALLSOY:  Yeah, I think so. Maybe you meet an interesting person on Facebook, that would be actually a possibility. You have a lot in common, then maybe you want to meet sometime... maybe if she lives in another country, just meet, say hi, you go travelling in her country and you just find, like, sparks fly. That actually could work.

And it is working, bringing cultural diversity along with it for the first time. In Australia, multiculturalism arrived after war. In the Faroes, it's here because of internet dating. Pat and her husband met online, but she lied to her parents about their first meeting. She told them she was going to Australia with a girlfriend, but secretly flew to the Faroes.

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE (Translation):  At first I had no idea where Faroe was, when my husband told me where he came from, from Faroe, I thought he was Egyptian.

REPORTER:  I hear the Faroese men are very good at looking after babies and changing nappies

BIOJI HENTZE: Yeah of course

REPORTER:  Would you say that is true?

BIOJI HENTZE: Yeah definitely, definitely. We try to follow everything and the equal right and so on, so yeah of course. 

REPORTER:  WHAT Faroese things from your culture will you make sure that he has?

BIOJI HENTZE:  That he will go on with the Faroese tradition about food. So, some dry lamb and…whale meat and…Yeah, everything that is with the Faroese culture with food. That’s very important.  What are you cooking today?

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE:  It’s a pork soup, you want to try?

BIOJI HENTZE:  Definitely not.

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE:   Yeah, please try. There’s no sause, spicy.

BIOJI HENTZE:  Definitely not.

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE:   You never try the Thai food.

BIOJI HENTZE:  Not good.

After two years of getting to know each other online and a secret one week visit, they decided to marry, which upset her parents.

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE: Erik will not eat whale.

BIOJI HENTZE:  Yes, he will.

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE:  no.

Pat left a job in Bangkok as an assistant manager and now works as a supermarket cleaner. She's his second wife and Erik, their baby, his second son. Bioji was married before to an Indonesian woman.

BIOJI HENTZE: So, this is my family. My older son, Carl and Erik and my missus.

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE (Translation):  My parents didn’t want me to marry a foreigner because the culture is so different. At home they are very strict in their ways.  You have to respect the elders, that kind of thing but Westerners don’t have this culture, so they were afraid that I’d forget about that. And also, it’s far away, so they didn’t want me to come and live here.  These days they still don’t approve. But what can they do? Their child has made her choice.

For me, I have problem about my …my looks. I’m not the nice people or beautiful woman. But he said “You are beautiful inside.”

BIOJI HENTZE:  You are beautiful.

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE:   Actually, “You are beautiful”, he said. I said “Aw, maybe…this man is good for me.” At the beginning.

REPORTER:  What was the hardest thing to get used to?

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE (Translation):  The language is really difficult. I’ve tried to learn it twice already. I can understand it, about 70%, but if I have tospeak it, it’s difficult. The hardest part was when he joined in with his family, I couldn’t follow the conversation so it was boring to be in the group. Sometimes I didn’t want to go, I just wanted to stay home. 

REPORTER:  Bioji, why didn’t you date a Faroese woman? What is it about the Asian women that you prefer?

BIOJI HENTZE: Actually…it’s nothing about Asian or whatever, I was just actually on the internet, we were talking about sport, football and so on and I meet her and… yeah, we just meet like that. It was not about Asian or whatever, it was just that we fit together by talking, so that’s why.

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE (Translation):  I had heard that Westerners don’t play around. Thai men play around. Another thing, a half-Thai child would probably be really cute.

BIOJI HENTZE:  this is part of the whale’s blubber, this is actually the outside skin of the pilot whale.

She has no regrets and bought their house using her cleaner salary. But she knows, not everyone who comes to the Faroes is here for love.

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE (Translation):  There are people who get married to suit their own interests, in order to live and work here. I think it’s terrible. It’s different in my case. But I believe there are probably a lot of people who think like that. 

REPORTER:  If she tries one whale blubber, will you try one spring roll? 

BIOJI HENTZE:  Yep. 

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE:  A small one. 

BIOJI HENTZE:  no, if I have to eat a whole one there, then you have to eat a whole one here. 

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE:  No, no, no, no, this one. 

BIOJI HENTZE:  Okay.  Eat it. 

REPORTER:   How was it?  

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE:  I don’t know, I just swallow it. 

BIOJI HENTZE:   Nope, this is not me. 

PHATCHARIAYA HENTZE:  Did I choose the wrong husband? 

In the year 2000, there were only 30 South-East Asian women living in the Faroes, now the number is estimated to be 300, but mixing cultures isn't always easy.

REPORTER:  At school, I was the only Chinese girl in my class. Actually, I was the only Chinese kid in school. And one of the things I fought a lot with my parents about was how to integrate into the community. You want to do it in a way that's respectful to the culture that you're from, but also, you kinda want to fit and blend into the community that you live in and it's difficult, you now, there's no easy solutions.

REPORTER:  Why is everyone here?

MARYANNE:  Because we married a Faroese men here, that's why. Yeah. We found our…love of our life.

REPORTER:  How long have you been here?

WOMAN:  I’ve been here for 10 years now. Some people are nice and some people are rude, some people are racist. So… different people.  Different cultures.

Though no-one says it out loud, I hear a small handful of locals use cruel labels such as “Ebay wives”. The women working at this salmon factory say they learn Faroese and knitting to help fit in. But on the weekends, you'll find them together with their husbands, enjoying their favourite Filipino past time.

JAN:  About Maryanne, just like I like everything, but she is very good to cook.

MARYANNE: He’s very cute.

MAN: I went there and then 21 days later we were married. And if you believe there would be no problems, if you do that, you are of course wrong and I knew that. But you can take the problems as they come. I like Asian women, of course, yeah. They’re pretty, they are beautiful, they are sweet.

REPORTER:  The Faroese women are not pretty and beautiful?

MAN: Some are, of course but there is much more to choose between there and Asia. 

WOMAN:  When I came here we were only about 50 Filipino women and now I think we are already 150 or more.

I learn some women are living in villages with less than 20 residents. Bjorn's village has 700 people, with five Asian women calling it home.

BJORN KALLSOY:  It’s like …150 years old, this house. It’s kind of the old way that people used to live. In this house, in the old days, there was serious many children usually. It’s like I have two grandfathers, one of them was like, 18 children, the other one was 14. Poor woman…poor women.

REPORTER:  Do you ever think about the foreign women that have come to your village and have married Faroese men, do you ever think about how difficult it is for them to adjust to this hard life on this isolated island?

BJORN KALLSOY:  Yeah, I do actually. Coming from a country where there live like several millions, hundreds of millions into a country where there live 50 000, and completely strange, different climate, minus 10 degrees in winter, never warmer than 18-20 degrees in summer... I think a lot of them must have thought about going back to Asia.

Lena's mum came here from Thailand 25 years ago and never looked back - making Lena one of the first mixed race children born on the island. She's incredibly proud of her hand-knitted national Faroese costume that she wears together with a special Thai scarf. I have a lot in common with Lena. We were both the only children in our schools with Asian heritage. Lena says she's never had the chance to share similar experiences, and I’m keen to hear what it was like for her.

REPORTER:  Where are you taking us?

LENA JACOBSEN: We're going to Strendur, which is my home town, to visit my aunt's restaurant. We're going to have a family dinner later tonight.

REPORTER:  Are there any other restaurants in Strendur?

LENA JACOBSEN: No, just one, which is my aunt's, just Thai food.

REPORTER:  Are you looking for a Faroese man or a Thai man?

LENA JACOBSEN: That's hard to say but no, I would like to have a Faroese man, I think.

REPORTER:  What was it like for you growing up?

LENA JACOBSEN: You think you’re just like the other children and then someone comes to you and says, “No, you’re different and your mother's not from here”. And then you just wake up and see that you’re not like the other kids, then who are you? You’re growing up with Faroese culture saying one thing and your mother’s culture saying something else. And you are caught in the middle, not wanting to disappoint anyone, so sometimes it can get confusing.

Lena's parents married in the early 90s, introduced together by Lena's aunt, who also married a Faroese man. There were never any other nationalities in her life, not even at university. For me, at that age, I moved to a big city and got a chance to meet people from around the world. For Lena, the only like her were her family.

LENA JACOBSEN: This is my father, my little sister, my little brother and my mum.

KIT JACOBSEN, LENA’S MOTHER (Translation): And I teach my children two cultures, Thai culture and the Culture here. Whatever’s good about this culture, I teach my children, and I use Thai culture also, together.

LENA JACOBSEN:  This is my aunt, she just served in festivals, like in her carriage…like a booth, and that is how it started and now she’s here in her own restaurant which is amazing.

AUNT (Translation):  Lena, do you want to fry it?

LENA JACOBSEN:  Oh, okay.

It's not easy to keep up with the Jacobsen family dinner conversation. Occasionally, they use Google to translate words with each other.

REPORTER:  What language do you speak when you're all together?

LENA JACOBSEN: Faroese, first.

KIT JACOBSEN: And sometimes Thai. English.

JACOB MATHIAS JACOBSEN, FATHER:  We have been mixing it since I met her. So English and a little bit of Thai mixed together and then she learned Faroese.

REPORTER:  Were you worried growing up for your children, about how well they would be accepted?

JACOB MATHIAS JACOBSEN: No, not when they were small, I never thought about that. But sometimes when they grew up because then they were so few and they were growing up there was not so many. Then there are getting more and more. It's more easy to notice them. And some people always will call other people names. 

REPORTER:  And as a father, how does that make you feel? 

JACOB MATHIAS JACOBSEN: It makes me sorry because they are my kids, so if somebody hurts them, I get hurt as well. 

LENA JACOBSEN (Translation): It was good to hear my father speak about these things even though we never spoke about it as a family. We never felt different, so we just accepted that we are this way and hoped that other people would accept us for who we are.  

LENA JACOBSEN (Translation): Hey hi, so are you guys ready to barbecue? This is Bernadine.

REPORTER:  Hi, hi, nice to meet you.

GIRL:  Nice to meet you.

Lena tells me I can't leave the Faroes without visitng Saksun Beach. She arranges a barbeque with friends and despite feeling isolated as a child, it strikes me how comfortable she is now in Faroese culture. During summer, it's light here nearly 24 hours, and as we walk from the carpark, it looks like mid-afternoon, but right now, it's already nine o'clock at night.

LENA JACOBSEN (Translation): Got the lighter? We’re not used to barbecuing.

REPORTER:  Has she ever talked about it with you guys, about what it’s like to be part Thai and part Faroese? What did she say?

WOMAN (Translation): Well, that it was a bit tough in school.

LENA JACOBSEN (Translation):  I know that Faroese people are not that accustomed to foreigners and people…I don’t know… they stare and it feels like I’m something else than Faroese.

MAN:  But you said that you felt that people didn’t see you as a Faroese people when you walked out in the city, but I’ve never thought about it like that.

Lena and her friends will only see more diversity in the Faroes as they get older. There are now 117 nationalities here. A new generation of Faroese in this old world place.

LENA JACOBSEN (Translation): I know people talk about me here in the Faroes, which they wouldn’t do in Copenhagen or London. They are more multicultural, so it would probably be ideal to live there. The Faroe Islands is my home and I enjoy living here. So I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying here.

In case you're wondering, Bjorn is still single, but Lena found love.

GROUP COMMENTS:  Love is unconditional. It is when you understand each other, it is when you respect each other, your differences. Love is a decision. Yeah, it is a decision also to love. It is character. Love is the beauty of different colours. Trust, faith, honesty. Love your children, love your husband, yeah, it is different. To be loved and the love is not the same thing. And there is no other feeling better than when another person loves your cooking.

 

reporter 

bernadine lim  

 

story producer

kasper astrup schröder,  

georgina davies 

 

camera

clayton carpinter 

 

associate producer 

hannah berzins 

 

story editor 

simon phegan 

 

translations 

hanus johannessen  

mariam nekoodast  

bruce evans  

maria thuesen bleeg  

 

13th February 2018