**Warning** This blog post might not be suitable for young children 🙂

Finnish Sunset

I can’t believe fall is almost over and I have not yet blogged about my “cultural experience” thus far in the land of the Finns (a.k.a Finland). I hope it is entertaining for you (both my Finnish and non-Finnish friends) – at least as entertaining as it has been for the people who hear me try to speak Finnish.

Today, for instance, I used my Finnish to ask someone’s name. She replied “sorry?” – and my mind was racing. I thought for sure I said the words right, so I repeated them a little more slowly and clearly (“Mikä sinun nimesi on?”), and she still replied “sorry.” I started to wonder if she really just didn’t want to give me her name but was trying to being polite, like there was some Finish tradition of not wanting to give your name to funny-looking strangers, or if I was just really mispronouncing the words that badly, or what? I asked her if she spoke English and it seemed almost to turn into an Abbott and Costello act:

– “What is your name?”
– “Sorry.”
– “What’s the matter?”
– “What do you mean?”
– “Why are you sorry?”
– “I just am.”

Well – it turned out her name was actually “Sari,” a fairly common name to Finns – so chalk up another embarrassing experience for me. 🙂

Moving on, these next three pictures I wanted to show are taken in a national park not far from Joensuu in NorthErkki and Paivi Karelia, Finland, called Koli. It is beautiful, especially as the leaves are changing colors. I hear that soon the Aurora Borealis are visible in the night sky here too. Many people here like just going to the woods so that they can escape into the silence (which is much more valued here – making the Finnish band Lordi that much more of an idiosyncrasy). Correct me if anyone knows better, but as I understand it the stereotypical Finnish man is one who drinks a lot (the national way to relax), spends free time in the sauna, lives alone in the woods and eats bear. The picture to your right is not your stereotypical Finnish man and woman, although they still enjoy a good sauna and trip to the woods. It is the legendary Erkki and Päivi Sutinen, some of my favorite people here. Erkki tells a joke about a Finnish wife who asks her husband after being married for 30 years, “Why don’t you tell me you love me?” The man’s response: “I already told you when we got married, I’ll let you know if the situation changes.” Erkki, on the other hand, tells his wife how jealous he is of her. “I tell her that am actually very jealous that she somehow managed to find a perfect spouse.” 🙂

Clint in Koli

They only told me after we arrived to forest that the real place they wanted me to experience was the Paha-Koli cliff and the court stones (Erkki is all about helping people experience new things). The story goes that the people who lived here anciently used this place to hold a court – and if they couldn’t agree if the person was guilty or innocent, they would put it in the hands of the gods to decide by throwing the accused off the cliff. If they died, they were obviously guilty, and if they lived that clearly meant they were innocent. It is not surprising that with that kind of ingenuity running in their ancestral lines that Finns have come up with things like Nokia (which, by the way, provides an entire 1/3rd of Finland’s GNP). In the end, despite Erkki’s encouraging words, I decided not to utilize the throw-me-off-the-cliff method of innocence detection. I did, however, participate in an activity that felt somewhat suicidal, which I will talk about shortly.

As a quick aside – I think walking in the woods and trying not to get lost is considered a sport here. And if you are isolated in the middle of the woods and happen to pass someone that completely ignores your existence – that is actually considered very polite (see previous blog entry about Finnish etiquette).

Of course, the fact that people aren’t paying attention to each other comes in handy when you are walking nakedSauna in Woods from the sauna (pictured here) to the freezing cold water for a quick and painful swim (the near-death experience I referred to) and then running back to the sauna. One of my foreigner friends here calls Finnish saunas a “sight-seeing” experience of its own. It’s amazing how much submerging your naked body (not pictured here) into icy water will do to clear your mind! They say it is healthy, but I’m not sure I buy it quite yet. Of course, maybe it is this kind of conditioning that has helped Finland produce so many champions in Formula One racing, High-speed downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, long-distance running, rowing, even tennis – basically good at any sport as long as you can do it alone and it almost kills you.



Nordic WalkingSpeaking of sports, this is another unique sight on the streets here – Nordic walking. It is like cross country skiing, but just no skis. I’m thinking of bringing it back to America and see if it catches on. What do you think?


Here is a picture of a few of the typical unique foods here: There are Karelian pies, rye bread, and somethiFinnish Foodsng else that I don’t remember the name of, but which is a type of bread thing with fish pieces inside of it. You can also see the cheese off to the upper right, which is really nice to put on all of it. There sure are a lot of hot drinks too – which I think is one of their strategies to keep warm.

Something not in this picture, but which is also pretty common is different types of berries and edible mushrooms. Either people go to the woods to pick their own, or more commonly these days, buy them at the store. After I got my first “moose fly” from picking berries in the woods I think the store is not that bad of an option. Other local favorite foods are Smoked Salmon, Pea Soup (always on Thursday, because a Swedish king hundreds of years ago made his troops eat it every Thursday to prevent deficiency disease, so why not continue?), Meat balls, and Salmiakki (a salt liquorice “treat” which is really a compound of ammonia and hydrochloric acid).

**This next part is where you might want to plug the ears of your young ones**

This might come as a shock to non-Finns, but did you know Santa Clause actually comes from Finland? You can still go and visit his house (I am thinking of trying to go there in early December). Certain Christmas traditions, however, are a little different here. The person I am renting my apartment from told me one of her family traditions at Christmas time is to have Reindeer Stew! We like to talk about Reindeer at Christmas time in the US, but generally don’t think about eating them. Maybe that is where the “rumors” began that Santa moved to the North Pole – to get away from the Finns eating his help.

**OK to unplug ears**

Cute Finnish Kids

There is not really any celebration of Halloween, but in April the children do dress up as witches and knock on your door to trade you a stick they decorated for money or candy. Seems like a lot more work than just saying “Trick or treat” but perhaps that was an intentional strategy from the government to limit sugar consumption.

OK – this entry is already getting a bit too long, so here is one last picture. Just kickin’ it in the leaves. Sleeping in Leaves

When people ask me why I love it here so much, it is sometimes hard for me to capture it in words. Finland has no real enemies, and nobody knows anything bad about Finland. Of course, nobody usually knows much anything about Finland. But I find that there is something just good about Finland. A book by Roman Schatz summed it up well: “Finns really are… they are… let’s say, they are a bit different than your common or garden variety of people. They’re wholesome, if you know what I mean, a bit like their dark bread, the one with the hole in the middle. They’re hard to digest, but very good for you.” 🙂

And who knows, maybe a little “sisu” is even rubbing off on me? (Sisu is an almost super-human Finnish characteristic of non-aggressive, passive, introverted stamina that gets stronger when the odds get worse.)

Suomen kesä on lyhyt, mutta vähäluminen.

Viva Finland!

Finnish Flag