Mittwoch, 21. November 2012

The Travelogue, Part XL - So you wanna move to Finland?

Moving to Finland is a decision one should only undertake well-informed. This little post was written to give you a small overview what to expect and what to look out for. It is by no means comprehensive, but it covers the major issues that most expats will have to deal with, and is not just based on a single opinion.

Whatever your reasons for contemplating a move to Finland might be, I would like to make an educated guess that it is either of those two: work or woman. Finnish women have a strange tendency to acquire foreign boyfriends abroad and then import them to Finland. But more on that later. First you should know a bit about the place.

What to expect...and what not


Much to the dismay of the Finns, most people don't have a clue about Finland. Apart from Mika Hakkinnen, Nokia and the Moomins, people rarely know of anything Finnish, so they are left with assumptions. Here are some common ones.

Finland is "another one of the Skandinavian countries"

While Sweden has been sitting on it long enough to warrant that assumption, Finland shares only some of the cultural associations with its western neighbours. For the most part though, Finland always has been, and still is, its very own thing. Its border location, harsh climate and unkind history have shaped it to be something entirely different from the pretty chilled out "Skandis" of Sweden and Denmark. Expect Finns to be a lot less light-hearted.

Finland is "another European state"

Just like it isn't quite Skandinavia, Finland isn't quite Europe. It feels strangely disconnected, at times more Russian than European. Culturally and geographically it is Europe's borderlands, its untamed wilds. It's not cosmopolitan, despite having many foreigners (in Helsinki). It's not very refined, despite many cultural achievements. It simply hasn't been an integral part of Europe's history, and lacks the connection to the overall European context that permeates and resonates with the rest of the landmass, from France to Poland and from Sweden to Italy.

Helsinki is "like Copenhagen or Stockholm"

It might look like a big place on the map and even Wikipedia, but in fact Helsinki feels like an overgrown village (for better or worse). Always being considered to be an outpost (or a holiday retreat, as far as Alexander II goes), Helsinki lacks a substantial amount of history and amenities to be on par with the other northern cities, and while it can be very pretty in places it's definitely not as cosmopolitan. Also mind that Finland hasn't been a modern economy for that long, so it lacks in services and established big name shopping options (again, for better or worse).

I'm heading there now permanently, anything I should know?

Once you have made your decision and you're moving, here's some details you might trip over. This list is non-exhaustive, so if you want to contribute, please let me know.

General Stuff 



Where to live

Finland is big. Thankfully, the only thing you need to do is follow the Finns. With one in five Finnish people living in the same area, the choice is easy: Helsinki. Yes, Finns will tell you there are other cities. Don't believe them. There is only one city in Finland, and you don't really want to live anywhere else.
Now that we have established that, you should know something about Helsinki. It's a bit a mirror of Finland as a whole: there is only on place you want to live at and that is on the southern coast. You don't want to live in Espoo or Vantaa. You even barely want to live in Tölöö, to be honest. Central Helsinki including Kallio are where you want to be, and if you don't you will end up regretting it at some point. At the latest when you are queueing an hour for a Taxi at -20 degrees trying to get home.


A common problem among foreign professionals seems to be their lack of money. Many people get attracted by high salaries, and even if you run them through a tax calculator, they still seem substantial. And at the end of the month, they find themselves broke. Here is how I believe this happens: Finns are not spoiled by consumerist society yet. One of the reasons they often come up high in happiness polls is because they are simply content with less. For example, going out to eat is still not a very casual thing to do. If you don't fancy cooking a lot, you will find that you have to fork out a lot more for food than elsewhere. The same goes for clothes shopping, non-seasonal and foreign food and events, all of which are (relatively to your budget) more expensive compared to, say, Britain or Germany. Another big drain will be housing. Finding a flatshare is not easy, especially when you are a foreigner. Living by yourself (if you didn't before) in the central areas can easily double your expected monthly costs. Having a Finn handy to help you find a cheap place or share is not just useful, but essential. Often the landlords will prefer to have a Finnish speaker, as they are often older and not confident in their English.
Drinking in center is also expensive: at the time of writing, 7 Euro for a beer is not a rarity. Prices get progressively cheaper as you move to the outskirts. Head to Kallio if you are looking for cheaper booze still within party range. Tipping is unknown or only practiced in places frequented mostly by tourists.

Company Life

Working in a Finnish company can be quite puzzling (or even frustrating) at times. Obviously the culture varies from place to place, and this is just my own resume, with added experiences of others.


Okay, this one is as weird as it is important: Make sure you broker additional holidays for the year you are starting in. Otherwise your holiday allowance is determined by state law, not company policy. You gather holidays for your next year from April to April, at a rate of 2 days per month. So if you happen to start in February, you will get 4 days worth of holidays for this year. Read this twice to make sure you understand this, or you will hate yourself (or finnish legislation). Now here's the second punch: you will be gently forced to take your holidays in summer. Yes, it makes no sense, just accept that it's tradition and companies will want all their employees to be gone at the same time. It's not a hard law, just be prepared that that's what will be expected. After all, why would you want to follow common sense and flee to a warm place during the cold winter months?
There is a holiday bonus when you go on holiday, which is awesome. Holidays you don't take have to get paid out, which is also awesome. To put a bit of a unique Finnish twist on the awesomeness, if you don't take your holidays and have them paid out, your holiday bonus is deducted from that money. Don't ask.


This might be a (commonly accepted) English glitch, but the Finnish definition of a work benefit is what in other countries would be called a tax refund. For example, many Finnish companies issue so-called "lunch vouchers" which are accepted in most restaurants, canteens and some supermarkets. They are not actual free vouchers though. Their value is taken from your salary, with the employer paying the tax (usually around 30 %). Most benefits seem to work that way. So when you calculate your budget or prospective salary, be aware that benefits are not free giveaways in Finland.


Work culture is heavily influenced by social culture, and consequently Finnish workplaces are quiet places. It is not customary to respond to email if you don't feel the need to, so expect no confirmations or replies unless they are really, really needed (and often not even then). Also expect to be the person talking in meetings - there's a reason why most of the PR jobs are taken up by foreigners. Finns would produce the cure for cancer and then hand you the details in the elevator, saying: "Here." and walk away. Also remember that you need to be twice as proactive connecting with people, as it will likely be a one-sided affair.


Being proactive is not necessarily seen as a positive thing in Finland. Being the person who upsets the slow and steady going of things, even for good reasons, will not earn you much credit. You will realize that at the latest when it is time for promotion. Being promoted on merit seems to be seen as sort of...unfair and competitive. Loyalty and long-term employment tend to be a lot bigger factors when being considered for a higher position. But don't fret. In five years time it might be your turn to scoot up the ladder, so don't exhaust yourself, and deal with the fact that Pekka just has been here for longer.
Also, Finns are quite reluctant to praise, and that includes you. So if you feel under-appreciated, just remind yourself that if people were unhappy with your performance you'd definitely know.

Daily Troubles


Let's face it, every place on earth has its benefits and shortcomings. No place is completely bad or good. This is a little list of troubles you might encounter while living in Finland, and knowing about them beforehand might dampen the impact, so you can enjoy the good things even more.

Social Distance

The Finnish definition of "being close" does not necessarily match your own. Even with people who are good friends you might experience you are still missing that "extra step" towards sharing emotions and thoughts. When Finns say you are a friend, they really do mean it. But to get to the stage where they let their guard down might take you years (four on average, I hear) and it might well never happen. They will likely not be seeing things that way, as they have grown up in a culture where "close" is still quite far by other nations' standards.
This is especially true for brief encounters of physical nature: do not expect more than just the mechanics, or you might be disappointed. On the other hand, if you do give signals that you are interested in more than that, you will find yourself in a marriage quicker that you'd think.


It might not be a nice thing to say, but Finns are on average pretty racist people. Sometimes they might not even notice. The range goes from open insult on the street ("Fucking Arab!") to the "little joke" ("Haha, you sound like an bloody immigrant!") or the downright bizarre ("Southerners like you don't know how to behave around women."). This is obviously to be understood knowing that we Germans are known to be hot-blooded womanizers the world over.
If you point out the issue, expect to be met with ignorance. Political correctness just isn't here yet, and is often seen as some "American bullshit fit for gay people and hippies". I don't think you would have to expect physical hostility, but the more foreign you look the more you will be met with


Whether you want to blame the perpetual darkness, the alcohol abuse or the coldness of the social culture, depression is a real issue in Finland. Although the statistics have become better, Finland is still a country with low mood rates. Remember that Finns are a proud and stubborn people and would not easily say they are being in a low mood. It was not even considered a medical condition for a long time.
If you find yourself wondering why you are doing all this (especially after a couple of drinks), make sure you get out somewhere sunny, at least for a while.


After all these warnings, you might ask yourself: why the hell would I want to live there? Finland has lots of perks, but whether they are worth the trouble is of course your decision.


Finland just runs at half the pace of other Western countries. No one's in a hurry. Most things (except buses) run steadily and reliably. People speak quietly in public places. No one, not even the beggars, is gonna bother you. People just let you be. If you enjoy solitude and only deliberately connect with select people, it's great.


Finland has some of the most pristine and unspoilt nature in Europe, and even better, it's never far away. Even "big" cities like Tampere feel like they are still in the middle of the forest. The air is clean and fresh. There are plenty of lakes around, and wild berries, mushrooms just waiting to be plucked from the ground.


Finland (despite some other claims made by more konservative Finns) is probably one of the safest countries on earth. No one's gonna wait to mug you at -20 degrees in winter.
Aside from that, you get free healthcare, free daycare and free education, all on a high level. Talking about social security.

No fuss culture

While it can sometimes be a bit tiring, the Finnish no-fuss-approach to life can also be really refreshing and make your life a lot easier. You don't need to (in fact, shouldn't) package criticism or desires to be more palatable. Just say what you want, for god's sake. Especially when you come from a traditionally more "polite" culture, such as England or Japan, give it a try. It will be quite liberating.
I find it especially pleasant with Finnish women, who have none of that helpless girl attitude so ubiquitous in other countries. a Finnish woman will probably never ask you to set up her stereo (to borrow an old gender cliche). Chance are she will do it for you.

So should you move?

In case you actually do have a choice (rarely the case if you move for a man or woman), ask yourself these questions:
Do you already have stable social surroundings (partner or good friends) in Finland?
Do you value security very highly?
Do you have kids?
Are you happy with spending a lot of time by yourself and/or inside?
Can you cope with long winters and total (read: day-long) darkness?
Are you happy about social interaction between strangers being kept to a bare minimum?
Are you happy about social interaction between sexual partners being kept to a bare minimum?
Do you enjoy quietness and being away from it all, including the rest of Europe?
Do you rarely feel like going out for good food or cultural events?
Do you love unspoilt outdoors?
Do you like to drink?


Are you happy with frequent casual sex without emotional attachment and large quantities of beer and/or Australian?

If you can answer the majority of these questions with "yes", then Finland might be just the place for you. If you find yourself answering most of them with "no", reconsider. I mean, seriously do. Many people who move make themselves miserable in the process.


Finland is a peculiar place, and just like Marmite or strong cheese it will find its lovers and its haters. You can easily have a good time there, especially if you just stay for Summer, but I have not met too many people (including Finns!) who can cope with permanent residence there for too long. It tends to make people weird.

As far as I am concerned, it has been a revealing experience in many ways, and while I met some great people, I have found that my nature does not resonate with the Finnish mindset at all. Make sure you think yours will, so that you can enjoy Finland to the fullest it has to offer.

Freitag, 14. September 2012

The Travelogue, Part XXXIV - Finland: Patina Value

Sometimes Finland reminds me of how the Germany of the 50's was described to me. High social security, mostly locally run businesses where the owner was a father figure and employees were loyal, where economy and national identity formed a romantic alliance. Stuff was re-used, not thrown away, because it was made of quality. While Finland gradually becomes more globalized and Finns do not work in the same company for 25 years anymore or can count on even finding a job within Finland, attitudes seem to be slower to change. Finnish corporations have long adapted to "international" methods of hire and fire and cheap labour, but still Finns seem to reward them with the same amount of loyalty (both as workers and as customers) as in the old days. Not few of my friends buy Nokia phones out of principle, and will not quit whatever job they have "because they have been there so long already". Company loyalty is also often the deciding factor in progressing in the ranks of the company, rather than skill or expertise, much to the dismay of my more ambitious expat friends.

The same recognition of perseverance is given to objects. Helsinki must have as many vintage shops and antiques dealers as it has bars. Where the majority of the Western world moved away from collecting old oaken furniture and pocelain vases in favour of flashy new designs in plastic and steel, Finland still is willing to fork out a premium for all things old and sturdy. This extends well beyond furniture. Military paraphernalia and vintage cars are also very popular, and people can regularly be seen parading their acquisitions around town. According to a Russian antiques dealer I met, Finns are the most avid collectors of 20th century warfare remains before even the Americans. The biggest supplier of military paraphernalia (both old and new) in Europe has its home in Helsinki and makes very good profit.

Varusteleka military supply interior

Aside from a appreciation of sturdiness it might be the country's very young history that prompts its inhabitants to collect objects laden with historic significance. There definitely is a desire to create some sense of national tradition and heritage, which even shows in Finland's very own architectural style.

Finnish Jugendstil

Helsinki National Theater

Commonly associated more with its lithographic examples, such as Alphonse Mucha's flowing female forms, Jugendstil (or "Art Nouveau") is perceived to be a playful and light art movement. In Finland it took a more nationalistic note. Finnish Jungendstil is still extravagant and expressive by Nordic standards, but takes much inspiration from traditionally Finnish ideals. Solid, sturdy shapes, ornamented with symbols of nature and characters from the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland. The style is reminiscent of fairy tale castles and idealized medieval architecture - just with a more bulky, rough twist of Finnish weather.

If continental art nouveau is a steed with flowing mane then Finnish Jugend is a venerable brown bear, maybe not as fluid and graceful but equally beautiful and impressive. This fusion of ornamental style and longing for a distinct national identity has created (in my humble opinion) the single most interesting historic attraction in Finland. I would even considering going as far as saying that this artistic movement and its remains are the most interesting thing to see in Helsinki, before Suomenlinna fortress or the Rock Church. If you are looking for something uniquely Finnish, a walk around town is all you need.

Eira, Helsinki

Recycling Culture


But the obsession with things old and time-honored is not one that passively dwells on the past. One of Finland's angles on the future is recombining the venerable into the modern. Sustainability is not just a buzzword here. Good quality items can be used by many and for a long time, and Finns are not afraid to buy second hand. There is a truly commendable ambition to recycle and reuse, and unlike more consumption-orientated societies such as Britain, there is no stigma attached to doing so. Even relatively well-to-do inhabitants have no qualms about finding their latest Sofa at a recycling center if they happen to fancy it. Helsinki's sports probably the world's classiest second hand shops, with high quality items all the way through, and I have completely lost count of the myriad of flea market events going on in this town.

UFF, one of the many second hand chains

Finding inventive ways to repurpose old items is something of a national sport, and some of Finland's most popular designers make the majority of their design from reused materials. The official pavillion of the Helsinki Design Capital 2012 is entirely made from recycled materials. If you want some more examples, have a look at my friend Outi's fashion recycling blog, which's high view counts show that this aspect of Finnish culture well hits the nerve of the time.

Helsinki design capital pavillion

Dienstag, 28. August 2012

The Travelogue, Part XXXVIII - Finland: Tom Sawyer's Apple

Sorry for the lack of people-pictures in this post, but I just haven't shot any good ones this summer. :(
Anyone remember the story about Tom Sawyer being told by his guardian that an apple tastes so much better when acquired by hard work rather than by coincidence? This is how summer works in Finland.

Summer holds a special place in Finnish hearts, more special than in any other country I have been to. Summer is constantly mentioned all across the dark winter days like a magical incantation without which the forces of cold will eternally cover the Finnish realm."Wait until summer!" is the enthusiastic advice given to all foreigners (and depending on situation, to fellow Finns) whenever reference is made to the coldness of the country. "Wait until summer!" is universal; it works for weather-based gripes as well as well as those sprung from emotional discontent. Immigrants disgruntled by Finnish social culture are regularly promised a complete change of mood come summer. And guess what: it's true.

Add caption

When temperatures rise, Finns start popping up in the normally empty streets like Snowdrops in the thawing meadows. First tentatively, then in their full mini-skirted and short-trousered glory. Actual temperatures matter little, it's almost like Finns believe they can conjure summer into being by behaving like it is already there. And they smile. Sometimes even at strangers. If you are lucky (and can hold your liquor) you might even get invited to a random person's barbeque while you pass by.

Due to the long winters, Finns seem to have the impression they have earned their summer and nothing in the world will stop them from having enjoying it. For starters, that means your office is going to be empty. Almost all Finns take (and often are even required to take) their holidays in summer, mostly to spend them in Finland. Or some other faraway place that happens to be hot  and sunny during that one short time it's actually hot and sunny in Finland as well. They head for their Mökkis (country houses) or parents' places to spend some time holed up with the people they spent the whole winter holed up with already.

It also means you get to be outside a lot. Finland is suddenly bursting with festivals, concerts and other outdoor entertainment as if it was the national way of life. The Finnish festival site states that "The total aggregate national festival audience once again approached two million" - meaning almost every second Finn ended up going to a festival last year, not including independent ones. Parks are seamlessly tiled with picnic parties and sunbathers of all ages even during the weekday mornings. That is possible mainly by aforementioned feeling of entitlement to "your" summer: if you are indeed working during the summer holiday time you will find that your Finnish colleagues suddenly have exchanged their hard-headed work ethic for an almost southern laissez-faire. Half work-days to catch some sun on the roof? Absolutely. Beers during office hours? Why not. Business meetings at the beach? Entirely possible. Everyone just accepts that during summer, rules don't apply.

Speaking of rules, one great thing about Finland (and indeed most Skadinavian countries) is the Everyman's Right. True to its name, it allows all citizens the freedom to camp whereever they wish in the countryside, fish with a rod or collect berries and mushrooms to their heart's content. So if you like nature, wild camping or simply the taste of fresh blueberries and chantarelles you are allowed to enjoy all of that (almost) everywhere in Finland for free.This includes private property, by the way.


Summertime is also the best time to visit in Finland for more obvious reasons. It's warm, people are at their friendliest and there is lots of music festivals. If you are coming to live here for a while, however, I'd recommend you come in November. That way you have something to look forward to during the long winter nights rather than seeing it all go downhill. Because right now, it's already starting to be Autumn up here and it's "Wait until summer!" again.

Montag, 25. Juni 2012

The Travelogue, Part XXXVII - Sweden: Scandinavian Pole Dancing

Easter, Carnival, Pentecost, Chistmas - wherever you look, all of our former honestly Pagan festivities have been compromised by Chistendom. And although the church still struggles to explain what an egg-laying rabbit has got to do with the ressurection of Christ, it has managed to successfully re-brand all holy days of former competitors to its own liking. Only in a small country in the north of Europe a single bastion of family-friendly paganism still exists.

If you entered Stockholm around the 21st of June, you might well think it is a ghost town. Shops are mostly closed, and you will only encounter the lonely or over-worked staggering homewards along with the proverbial tumbleweed. What has happened? A Pandemia? Free booze cruises to Germany? Zombie Apocalypse? No, it's

Midsommar in Sweden

A typical Swedish country house
Simply known as summer solstice elsewhere, the longest period of daylight in the year is a major festivity notoriously gloomy Sweden. According to some people even bigger than Christmas, and understandably so: midsommar is warm, outside and a fertility festival. You can imagine what that means. And yes, all they say about Swedes is true.

But first things first. Midsommar is traditionally celebrated on the countryside, with friends and family. If you yourself do not own a countryside house, one of your friends will surely do and take you along. The actual celebration consists of people both young and old dancing around a giant phallic symbol that is thought to be impregnating the earth and bring a good harvest. Before you think of Japanese penis festivals, be told that Swedes are more classy and have decorated their phallus with fresh greenery and it thusly looks a lot less conspicuous than one would assume.

The Midsommar Pole

There are several songs that are traditionally danced to, but one of the most popular ones is "Små grodorna", which roughly goes: "Little frogs are funny to look at, they got no ears, they got no tails...croak-ak-ak, croak-ak-ak." Dancers are required to make the appropriate movements, using their hands to imitate ears and tails and frog-hop to the croaking. Although Swedish adults claim they only do that for the children, the barely disguised enjoyment on their faces gives away their true sentiments.

A Midsommar wreath (Krans)

A lot of Midsommar traditions involve flowers and shrubbery, such as making wreaths or collecting seven kinds of flower to put under your pillow to dream of your future husband. More memorable, at least from a purely physical perspective, are the food and drink rituals. And drink they do! Shots of liquor are raised at various intervals along the generous amounts of Swedish delicacies that pile up on the table. Unsuspecting foreigners have been known to be dead drunk before dinner even starts. Don't try to sing along to any of the drinking rhymes, you'll sound even drunker in Swedish than in your own language.

One of the many Snaps shots that await you. Skål!

Being the most Swedish of all celebrations (it was even proposed to be the national day), Midsommar food consists of everything traditionally Swedish (unless you ask Danes): Kötbullar (Meatballs), herring (pickled or in cream sauce), new potatoes, salmon and rye bread are usually part of the menu. The year's first strawberries are served as a dessert.

A selection of Swedish (and not-so-Swedish) foods

Finally, Midsommar is a fertility festival. While that does not necessarily mean you need to make kids, the procreational pressure seems to translate at least into an increased amorous activity amongst the Swedes - never have I seen so many fresh couples in one place. As March (Midsommar + 9 months) still has the highest birth rate throughout the Swedish year, I'm lead to the assumption that these relationships are not purely platonic however...

All pictures are mine to use and copy, so please don't take them without permission (has happened).

Freitag, 11. Mai 2012

The Travelogue, Part XXXVI - A Finnish Dictionary

The Finnish Maiden

When you live in a foreign country and both you and the inhabitants are forced to communicate in an alien language, misunderstandings abound. This is of course equally true in Finland, where the English word used might reflect something entirely different than you would normally assume. To prevent you from falling into some of the many pitfalls if you ever venture here, I have collated some of the more common words so you know the subtle differences in meaning between Finland and the rest of the world.

My Finns - I know some of you won't respond kindly to this, so just see it as a test of humour. :)


Finland and surroundings

"An American, a Russian and a Finn watch their neighbour drive by in his new sports car. The American shouts: 'Awesome car dude, you're really doing well for yourself!'. The Russian mutters between his teeth: 'Man, I'd really like a car like this.' The Finn quietly thinks to himself: 'I hate the fucker. Who does he think he is? I hope he just crashes and dies.'"

- common Finnish joke 

Finland: The glorious maiden-shaped Duchy of Finland who achieved independence from Russia and Sweden, won the Winter War despite inferior forces, home of Nokia and Mika Haekinnen and best country to live in (apart from during winter). Not "The little country up there where Sweden is."
Helsinki: ->capital
Russia: neighbouring country that lusts for Finland's rich natural resources and innumerable work force. Built all pretty buildings in Helsinki and now apparently wants them back.
Sweden: Imperialist neighbour hated for 800 years of cultural hegemony and forcing Finns to learn Swedish in school.
Stockholm: town you sleep in to cure the hangover of the cruise from -> Finland before you head back the next day 
Swede - snob, arrogant prick, or faggot
Swedish Finn - half-snob, half-prick or half-gay
Thailand: hot place you go to meet other Finns on summer vacation when it's hot in Finland anyway
Tampere: Wannabe ->capital
Turku: Former ->capital for people who haven't made it to Helsinki yet
Jyväskylä: Hillbillie town meets star architect
Lappland: where Santa lives, in his own amusement park for Japanese people.
Karelia: stretch of land in lost to ->Russia that Finland needs back to solve its overpopulation problem


Finnish Independence Monument

"Depression in Finland is a bit like the Football world cup in Germany - everyone does their best to excite everyone to join in."  

Holidays - Government-alloted amount of workdays including Saturdays you have accumulated from April to April at a rate of 2 days per month to be spend recreationally during the summer period in Finland instead of in winter when you would most want to leave.
Lottery - what you won when you are born and live in Finland. Kids learn this in school.
Fashion: what was hip in Sweden long enough ago that no one thinks you're Swedish
World War II: entertainment category between the "Comedy" and "Horror" shelves in the video rental store
Red light: an impregnable barrier that keeps you from crossing the road despite lack of cars
Lunch: late breakfast (~ 11:00)
Suicide: usually includes wife and kids
Army: first and last line of defense against ->Russia. Also only official certifier of your worth as Finnish man.
Complaining: Finns are allowed to complain about everything. Foreigners are limited to the following: weather, cold, taxes, Alko closing times, Swedes, darkness. Complaining about anything else will be considered ungrateful and impolite.
Hobby: diversion from ->depression
Sport: preferred ->hobby, as it is healthy, cheap and requires little talking to other people

Tradition and Culture 

Students in their uniform on Vappu

"Leuka rintaan ja kohti uusia pettymyksiä."
(Chin down and towards new dissapointments.)

- Finnish saying

Design Capital 2012: ->Helsinki
Aalto - one of the two designers, famous for the Aalto Vase
Maija Isola - the other of the two designers, created the famous Marimekko flower print
Alko: national liquor store with monoploy. Opens when you're at work and closes before you get home. Used to be called "Oy Alkoholiliike", but similarity to "Oi, Alcoholic!" caused a re-branding.
Vappu (May Day): excuse to get drunk (wearing a university overall)
Johanus (Midsummer): excuse to get drunk (around a bonfire)
Joulu (Christmas): excuse to get drunk (next to a fir tree)
Itkuvirsi: folk music, literally meaning crying psalm
Spring: season created through Finnish force of will by wearing shorter clothing despite nature's lack of thermic compliance
Summer - the greatest thing about Finland and the only reason why Finnish people make it through the winter
Vittu: meaning pussy, roughly equals the use of fuck!/fucking in English. Uses include "Haista Vittu!" - Fuck off (lit. "Go smell pussy") or "Voi Vittu!" - Oh shit (lit. "Butter pussy!").
Jallu(vina): the devil in glasses
Salmiakki: the devils younger equally evil sister
Lonkero: alcopops on tab
Mökki: countryside hut where Finns traditionally go in summer to greet the newborn mosquitoes

Social Interaction 

"Kellä onni on, se onnen kätkeköön." 
 (Let the one possessed by happiness conceal his happiness.)

- Finnish saying

Compliment: elsewhere: an expression of praise, commendation, or admiration which might or might not be sincere. Finland: a sincere expression of sexual interest by insincere means
Troll (m./f.): what Finns become under the influence of too much alcohol. It's like full moon for werewolves.
Trollsex: what you will be getting when you take a -> Troll home after a night out.
Staying overnight: Social fauxpas that will make the bed's owner assume you either are too drunk to walk home or that you desire a relationship.
Smalltalk: talking about anything else than your most immediate needs. Anything concerning topics above tier 2 on the Maslow's Pyramid is small talk.
Silence: socially perfectly acceptable answer to any asked ->question
Extrovert: talks to friends of friends without introduction
Question: sign of lack of self-reliance and perseverance in solving your own problems
Fuss: what you are causing when addressing a problem
Bragging: what a Finnish professor in francophone literature does when he claims he "picked up a little French along the way."

More Commonly Confused Words

2012 Presidential election poster

"How to turn a death sentence into lifelong imprisonment: ask to learn Finnish for your last wish." 

- Finnish joke

Pop: metal
Fridge: closet that keeps food warm in winter
Spice: Salt 
Affair: impending marriage
Sociable: slutty just without the sex part
sarcasm: a lie or insult in the assumption that either will automatically include wit and humour.
dating: laborious American way of getting laid
Tango: Polka
Capital: over-sized village
Flirting: free drinks
Shy: socially inept 
Doing well: being hated
Ice Hockey: football 

Sonntag, 12. Februar 2012

The Travelogue, Part XXXV - Finland: Land of Comfortable Silence


Some of you might know I recently moved to Finland. Many of you have been asking me what it is like. Now that I have been here for a month I will share my first tentative observations. Currently I am making these from the safe location of Helsinki, but I expect to be a bit more intrepid in the near future.

Helsinki itself is a medium sized town on the southern Finnish coast, sprawling across a scattering of beautiful islands. This coastal location makes it much warmer then the rest of Finland, so you might be surprised to hear that is actually not 'that cold'. In fact it's often warmer then, for example, Berlin and gets the same leisurely 30 degrees in summer. It has a lovely Russian classicist center and the sea is never far.

So what have my experiences with Finns been so far? I just want to mention two subjects that I repeatedly find myself confronted with.

Finnish Identity

Sandwiched between Russia and Sweden, always under hegemony from either of the two, Finland only became a nation as late 1917. Apart from language, Finland has little unique cultural definitions of its own, as I had to learn visiting the national museum. This is probably why Finns are exceptionally keen on pointing out the multitude of Finland's achievements over the course of its short history. To do my part and pass on the glory of Finnish ingenuity I shall introduce you to some of the most important Finnish contributions to human history.

 The Dish-Drying Cupboard

Probably the most Finnish of inventions, the Dish-Drying Cupboard is simple, understated and practical. Washed dishes are put over the sink to dry, conveniently hidden in the cupboard. I don't know why it's so rare outside Finland, as it is pretty ingenious.

The Molotov Cocktail

Yes, that's right: the Molotov cocktail. During the Finnish war (1939-40) against Russia, the Finnish army found itself severely outnumbered and under-equipped. The valiant defense of the Finnish guerrilla gathered the Finns a lot of respect in Europe and serves as the prime example for the Finnish most defining character trait: sisu. Commonly translated as "gritty perseverance" it basically means you are a tough fucker. You know, the type of guy who will make a point by hacking a hole into the ice to take a swim, just because he can. The Molotov Cocktail is named after the Russian foreign minister of the time, which is pretty much his only claim to fame.

The Mumins

Created by Tove Janson, the Mumins have achieved international renown ever since they received feature film treatment in Japan. The Mumins are a family of troll-like creatures inhabiting the Finnish forest (and at times other places). The series is commonly considered kids entertainment, but includes dealing with sophisticated topics such as materialism and depression. The Mumins still remain bestsellers and have just recently spawned a new TV show.


The famous free open source software with the annoying penguin mascot now has an estimated 60 million users. The Finn Linus Torvalds created its base in 1991 and it has since steadily grown to become the world's largest free open source operating system.

Despite all these famous contraptions, some Finns seem to be on a veritable crusade to fight Finland's ever-looming descent into obscurity, producing what they believe to be a famous person or event in Finnish history for virtually every conversation subject you might broach. If necessary, even 1957 Miss World Marita Lindahl will be pulled from the depths of beauty pageant history to illustrate Finland's claim to international renown. If you preemptively present yourself to be knowledgeable in Finnish fame history you will avoid getting lectured and you might even win a smile.

Finnish social culture

In terms of social ambiance, Moving to Finland from the UK is a bit like moving from the green meadows into the desert. Let me illustrate. I went out with a friend of mine. On the table, we meet a lot of his other friends. As they are friends of my friend, I figured I should introduce myself. I walk up to the first person. "Hey, I'm Florian." and extend my hand. The person looks at me with an expression of utter indifference. After some seconds of unexpected silence, he says: "You know, in our culture you don't need to say anything if have got nothing to say." I stand there for another three or so awkward seconds before I try to retract my extended hand as naturally as possible.
As you can see, having a friendly chat with strangers is not exactly rooted in Finnish society. But I have gathered five preliminary rules to help you avoid similar situations of awkwardness when you go out to socialize in Finland.

Rule of the Drink
The secret to enjoyable conversation in Finland is being able to judge the individual drinking capabilities of the person you talk to. You want to catch your conversation partners at about 75% drunkenness. Before they lack the social lubricant to converse and past that they'll be too wasted to talk.

Rule of Physical Distance
My Finnish workmate calls it the rule of the fist. If you are within a (stretched-out) fist's range, you are to close. Don't touch, don't hug, don't kiss. Unless you are both correctly estimated to be past 75% drunkenness. This may sound limiting, but do not despair: with many Finns this is a daily occurrence.

Rule of Exact Information
Finland is a very information-efficient country. Say more than required and people will consider you a nuisance, say less than necessary, and things will go awry, as Finns will not make any assumptions on their own. So don't expect the bus driver (or anyone else on the bus) to tell you which station to get off just because you asked whether the bus is going there.

Rule of Self-reliance
While this principle transcends conversation, the ideal of sisu has a profound conversational effect. People will make you feel like an idiot if you ask questions. After all, you could have spend two hours figuring things out on your own now, couldn't you.

The Rule of Comfortable Silence
When there is nothing of importance being discussed, silence between two conversation partners is not anything to get uncomfortable about. Finns will not consider you a bad conversation partner if you say nothing.

Socializing with women is marginally easier, mainly because someone needs to take care of the procreation business when all the men have passed out. Finland is also supposed to be one of the most gender-neutral countries on earth. It was the first nation to establish full voting rights for women, and is still on the forefront of gender equality. Employment among women is as high as among men, and many of the state-run services, such as free daycare for children, make sure it stays that way. All this makes Finnish women refreshingly hands-on. Finnish women are the type of girl who will get her high heels off and help you carry your couch into your apartment right before she's about to go on a night out, as it happened to me three days ago. Flirting is an almost exclusively female domain in Finland, as Finnish men are usually either too shy to make a move or too drunk to be attractive. So don't be surprised when women are very explicit about their of my Italian colleagues was so frightened he asked me for protection the other day...