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.

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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.