Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Restaurant Day

Next Saturday, on February 4th delicious things are happening: It's Restaurant Day.

On Restaurant Day anyone can set up a restaurant for a day. You can figure out the theme, menu, target group, location and dish price yourself - only the imagination sets you the limits! And then just sign up for the event with your restaurant, and you'll get your restaurant on the event site and into official map. So if you have always dreamed about the restaurant of your own, this is your chance to try it out for one day as the first step. The food can and should taste and look like self-made.

Or, if you're not keen on cooking for others, go and take a tour on pop-up restaurants at the event. Take some cash with you, print the map, plan your tour and go go go! In the past events the portions have usually been bigger than snack but smaller than a feast, so what comes to the volume of your stomach, you can afford to visit several restaurants. The atmosphere of the event is lovely, and in fact the Restaurant Day was recently awarded as a "cultural act of the year". This is simply one of the must experiences.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The menu of the 80's

In the past 25 years Finnish food culture has taken a giant leap. The wealth of the people has increased, EU has accelerated the import, folks have been traveling also in other places than Sweden, hence learnt to eat more exotic delicacy than shrimps from the ferry buffet. Leap of 25 years is clearly visible on the lunch table. At the 80's we didn't have McDonald's. We had not tasted sushi, tapas, kebab nor wok.

Then what did we eat in the 80's? This list gives some idea (I'm sorry for the translations. My culinary vocabulary originates from Top Chef and the English translation of Sodexho Metsänpoika menu. And I don't remember spotting these cuisines in Top Chef...)
Have we gotten into better or worse direction? Well, it's a matter of taste.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The naked truth

In Finnish culture nudity is not as big issue as it is in some other cultures. We're not exactly running around naked, but let's say that nudity doesn't necessarily have sexual or shameful tension. Sauna must have something to do with our mindset.

It's ok and normal to be naked in sauna, including public saunas. Naked in the company of strangers, that is. You don't need to wear towel or bathing suit in sauna. In fact, usually swimming halls recommend not to wear bathing suits in sauna, I guess because the chlorine and other additions in the swimming pool water would get vaporized, and that's toxic. And public saunas and swimming hall saunas are really for bathing, they are not sensual spas with happy ending or anything like that. In 99% of the cases swimming halls have separate saunas for men and women. But please bear in mind, that sauna and shower sections are the only areas in swimming halls where it's ok to be naked - in the pool section you are supposed to wear bathing suit. Except at Yrjönkatu swimming hall.

So sauna is one place where to be neutrally naked. Other occasions are more or less related to sauna too: it's ok to pop out from sauna to your backyard and roll in the snow naked (assuming that you don't have a shared backyard). It's ok to pop out from sauna at your mökki and jump into lake to swim naked. But in addition to sauna-related context it's difficult to think other places where it would be socially 100% ok to be naked. Making spells in mid summer night or bridal spells at bachelorette parties are probably the only additions. But spells and magic deserve a post of their own later on.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Talk to my hand? Talking with my hands?

Typically Finnish people are communicating in quite minimalistic way. The sound of our language is monotonic, there are practically no variations in the pitching. The stress is almost always on the first syllable, which probably makes Finnish sound like a bit angry language. I believe the static tone and stiff rhythm of our native language reflects to our non-verbal communication as well: We don't talk with our hands like Italian. We don't make as rich gestures as Spanish while talking. We don't have a culture of debating like in US, so using tone of voice and little nuances in strategic way is nowhere near to our backbone.

Where should I put my hands? I'm pretty sure that is the question that has been going around in the presidential candidates' mind - even though they are trained and experienced in this field. In my opinion Haavisto is more fluent in his communication. He also uses his hands more when he speaks. On the other hand (pun intended), it's also easier to see from Haavisto's gestures if he's nervous or tense. Niinistö is using more facial expressions when he speaks. In a live appearance Niinistö is usually bit stiffer and quite traditional with his body language, including hands.

Both of the campaign teams have clearly thought through the hand issue in the campaign posters. I think neither of the candidates are exactly hitting the nail, but not failing miserably either. In this case Haavisto takes the safe, traditional and a bit boring approach. I appreciate Niinistö's attempt on doing something different, despite the slightly artificial end result. But I'm very, very happy that the candidates do not fall on the classic cliches: hanging your jacket on the shoulder or touching your chin - thank you!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Under construction, under control

In general I'm concerned about the construction quality in Finland. I don't want to get too philosophic about the quality issues (at least not in this post), but I want to list some things that are in quite good shape in the Finnish construction practices:
  • 3-layer windows. One additional layer of glass increases energy efficiency and soundproofing.
  • Doors opening outwards. In case of fire it's easier to open the door outwards. Just lean onto door handle and you're in the fresh air.
  • Taps with built-in mixer. You can adjust the suitable water temperature and pressure quickly with one hand only. UK, feel free to adopt this idea.
  • Insulation. The warm air stays in, that's why houses in Finland are warmer than in Middle Europe. Again, energy efficiency.
  • Lack of wall-to-wall carpeting. One bio hazard less to inhale.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It's blue and it hurts

When you move into a new place (no matter whether you rented or owned the place) one of the first things you need to do is to sign a contract with electricity supplier. Potential suppliers could be e.g. Fortum, Vattenfall, E On, Helen, Kraft&Kultur or some smaller local supplier. It's worth asking for an offer from couple of places at least.

The consumer price of the electricity consists of several components: transfer, taxes and of course the price per consumption. In practice the transfer charge and taxes are fixed, the only part you can negotiate is the price per consumption. If euros are not the only thing that matters, you can also choose between the production method: nuclear, fossil or water.

P.S. Our wall sockets are of European style (C and F types). The voltage is 230 V and frequency 50 Hz. You can get adapters for example from Clas Ohlson.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Waiting for Feb 5th

Hooray, we will have the second round in the election! We will have two smart guys against to each other. Both rely on argumentation instead of populism: now shoot the arguments, I'm waiting for them! The next election is in two weeks, February 5th.

February 5th is worth waiting for another reason too. That's the day when we are celebrating Runeberg's day. Our national poet Johan Ludwig Runeberg lived in the 19th century, and he has written the lyrics of the national anthem. But the real reason why Runeberg's day is so special lies in his wife's cook book: the delicious pastries named after Runeberg.


Runeberg's tortes are the best pastries there are. They are available only once a year, which is probably part of the secret, but the other half of the secret is the spongy structure, delicious almond and sweet punsch. There are many variations of the torte, on the commercial selection I can recommend a take away torte from Café Ekberg or Kaisa's Café.

Get ready in time. On the 6th of February it's too late - to vote and to chase Runebergs.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Learning the latte

Finland scores high in the coffee consumption per capita, only Luxembourg consumes more coffee than us. The weirdest thing is that in general we prefer really light and bitter roasts that corrode stomach - and yet many people drink several cups a day. Some even smuggle Finnish bitter roast to other side of the globe to comfort and to scorch in the home sickness.

Coffee has a ceremonial role in our culture. On working days two o'clock is a usual coffee break time, in the same way that British have their biological clock ringing for tea (or was it gin) at five o'clock. Coffee is essential part of both celebration and sorrow: it's impossible to imagine a wedding or a funeral without coffee. I'm pretty sure many are having "election coffee" today after they have given their vote.

Finnish coffee culture is not stuck, it's adapting along the time. Darker roasts and "special coffees" (i.e. european style coffee selection) are becoming more and more popular. My generation drinks coffee from a mug. In my parents' generation everybody owns a set of small coffee cups, a dozen at least. And my grandmother's generation may even drink the coffee from a plate, zipping through a sugar cube, which is cool but a bit hard core.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

It's not about the Corleones

In evangelical lutheran church kids are assigned to have godparents at the baptism ceremony. In 2000 85% of Finns were members of evangelical lutheran church, which explains the popularity of the godparent-godchild tradition - even though today the number of church members has dropped into 77%. Many of those who are not members of any church are still nurturing the tradition: there are "civil godparents" or "goodparents".

For some reason godparents tend to give a spoon as a gift to the godchild 
at the baptism ceremony - here's one girly variation.

If you ask the church what is the main task of a godparent, they'd say it's all about taking care of the godchild's religious education. The closest to spiritual guiding I've gotten is consultation on the following questions: "From which hole does the soul sneak out in death? What if the heaven is crowded with Chinese and you can't fit in? How to make sure that mummy is really dead before wrapping it into shroud?"

If you ask me, being a godmother is all about being a trusted adult for the kid. Something cooler than the parents but still an adult. Being a godmother and a civil godmother is probably a greatest privilege I can think of: somebody wants me to be part of her or his child's life, officially. And that's a big thing.

Friday, January 20, 2012


We don't do hookah or chew khat. The number of Marlboro men is decreasing all the time. Snuff-stuffed upper lip is common only in the areas close to Sweden border. Alcohol is our national intoxicant and our favorite way of messing brains. Finland doesn't score very high on the average alcohol consumption per capita, but our expertise is being really deeply drunk.

In many cultures it's natural to drink wine or beer or grappa and what not, but it's disgraceful to be drunk. For us it's somewhat the opposite: Drinking may be considered as a bit shameful, but it's perfectly ok to vaunt with boy-was-I-drunk-stories. And yes, we even plan our hangovers to some extent. But at least we're open and homeland-oriented with our drinking: we don't need to travel to Ibiza to get wasted. Ok, the Tallin ferries are booze traveling, but cruising on Baltic Sea is not exactly international waters.

If you want to drink like a Finn, maybe these could be your 10 commandments:
  1.  Everyone should get really wasted at least once in a lifetime.
  2.  Always drink with your friends.
  3.  Try tuning up an intense and loud discussion on a grill queue at 4 AM.
  4.  Enjoy the hangover too.
  5.  Recall the missing pieces of past night with your friends.
  6.  Don't hurt yourself or others.
  7.  Don't drive drunk. Ever.
  8.  Don't leave your friends behind.
  9.  Don't pass out in the snow.
  10.  Don't drink too much too often.
And last but not least, rule number 11 for those who already know how to drink like a Finn:

   11.   It's also perfectly ok not to drink.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Restaurant Tori

If you're visiting Helsinki and want to eat where the locals eat, go for Tori. Tori is a cosy, laid-back and a bit shabby (in a charming way) place to eat and drink - juice. They don't serve alcohol at all. But on weekends they do serve breakfast throughout the day, which is genius.


The classic dish of Tori is meatballs in Jallu sauce. Juices are delicious, and so are the pastry. The staff is friendly and speaks really good English, and the price level is very affordable. Depending on the number of customers, the kitchen may be slowish - but the atmosphere usually compensates the slight slowness.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The things you do below -15 C

When the temperature drops below -15 centigrades, you should take advantage of the crispy weather:

Take your mattresses, pillows and blankets out to have some fresh air. Spank them and keep them out for a day - so long, dust mites!

Defrost your freezer. Take the frozen food out into balcony, plug off the freezer and let it thaw. Have a bowl and a cloth close by, you will need to wipe and collect the melt-water. Patience, you don't want to remove the ice by stabbing - violence breaks the freezer. After you've gotten rid of the ice, plug in the freezer, let it cool and restore the food. The whole process takes few hours.

Dust the carpets by beating them on snow. Rock away the excess snow and take the rags back in. Like dry cleaning, but free of charge.

Why below -15 C? Because the dust mites are able to survive up to -18 C. Because the frozen food is used to spend time around -15 C temperature. And because -15 C snow is fine enough and doesn't water the carpets.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Breaking the taboo

Alea iacta est - I gave my vote yesterday. Initially I was open for voting for almost any of the candidates, and that's why candidates' behavior during the campaign really mattered to me. I had my eye on five criterion: values, view on foreign politics, campaign attitude, self-perception and communication skills.

I mapped the candidates and the criterion based on the impression I have gotten during the campaign. I didn't judge the communication skills separately, because communication skills are striking through in the other four categories: if I have formed wrong impression or if I haven't been able to form any impression at all, then it's her/his lost in the communication.

"Who do you vote for" is some sort of a taboo in Finnish culture. But in the presidential election 2012 quite many have broken the taboo and expressed openly who they vote for. I believe some people have broken the silence because it's their way of fighting back to True Finns' success in the last parliament election. I'm sure some have broken the taboo just because it's so easy with Facebook and all. And for sure it's easier to be open since this is an election of a person, not that much of a party.

So I'm coming out of the closet too: based on my engineer-like Excel approach I voted for Pekka Haavisto. His values are ok for me. He's the only candidate who's view on foreign politics I'm able to a) understand and b) support. Haavisto is also the only one of the candidates who has been present on those arenas I'm following; I'm an internet consumer in my thirties. You can't win my vote by hanging around on the market square serving pea soup and giving out brochures. You can win my vote by being smart and active in both social and more conventional media. To summarize, he has earned my vote.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mind your ears

Music and lyrics are good way to learn language. I'm in great gratitude to New Kids On The Block about waking up my interest towards English language. If learning Finnish through lyrics is your cup of tea, go for it - but watch out these ones, they may cause permanent injuries:

Yö - A band who thinks they are interpreting the deepest feelings of the Finns, but they are taking it all a bit too seriously. Pompous misery.

Popeda - I guess Popeda tries to be a bit of a humor band, but the only problem is that they are not funny. Although I must admit that the lively and rich visualization of the video above made me laugh. Pate Mustajärvi, the vocalist of Popeda has been recording solo, so what's out for him as well.

Sakari Kuosmanen - Whenever there's a significant ice-hockey event, Sakari Kuosmanen crawls up from somewhere to sing Finlandia. He sings and acts as if he was touching people really deep. But. "Oh say can you see" may be the one and only way to start a baseball game in the States, but at least I'm having hard times with Sakari Kuosmanen, Finlandia and sports. Well, it's a matter of taste.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Espoo, the heart and brain of Finland

New York Times ranked Helsinki as the second most interesting places to visit in 2012. I'm happy for the ranking because I love Helsinki, and I think that among Berlin and London it's one of the nicest cities in Europe. But there is one thing I don't like in Helsinki: the attitude towards Espoo.

If Europeans want to act like an intellectual, the easiest way to do that is to mock Americans. The same applies to the intellectuals of Helsinki: the easiest (and the cheapest) way of underlining your own intelligence is to say something ironic and pitiful about Espoo. For example to claim that in Espoo there are no cafés, and to imply that cool people like writers and freelancers are unable to work in Espoo. Well, just for your information, Tuomas Kyrö has been spotted many times writing at Chico's Tapiola. And he's the Finnish writer with the largest amount of street credibility at the moment, isn't he.

The hipsters of Helsinki see Espoo as the incarnation of middle class life style. In Espoo everybody lives in suburbs. Everybody wears a helmet while biking. Everybody is an engineer or married with one. Everybody picks yellow foot chanterelles in the fall and skis in the winter.

Espoo may not have a history, but it sure has a future.

Dear Helsinki, loosen up. Espoo is not competing with you, Espoo is facilitating you. Espoo may not be a historical city with a lively center, but we don't care, we can borrow yours and make Helsinki history and downtown even more vivid. And yes, we are living in suburbs, but that's because Espoo has actually done something concrete regarding land-use for people to live in and for companies to run business, while Helsinki (and Laura Kolbe) has been just discussing about how to make "urban living rooms" for the citizen. And according the leaked secret plan, Espoo and Helsinki may be anyway merged into one city.

Helsinki wouldn't be as appealing as it is without Espoo. Helsinki may be the soul of Finland, but Espoo is the heart and brain. Espoo pumps life into Helsinki. Espoo acts logically and lets Helsinki be the decadent one. Soul is something mysterious and unique, something that nobody can completely chasten. But in order to nurture the soul you need both heart and brain for sure.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Party animal

Tomorrow, January 13th, is Nuutinpäivä, Knut's day. It's the end of the christmas. I'm not very familiar with the Knut's day tradition, so I decided to educate myself about this matter.

According the old Finnish law, the christmas peace, joulurauha, was declared on the christmas eve and it lasted for 20 days - which means that the peace period ended on Knut's day. That's why Knut's day was quite of a carnival: men were dressed as women, women were dressed as men, some were dressed as goat, Nuuttipukki, wearing a mask and fur coat inside out. People were going around from house to house, making tricks, drinking the leftovers of christmas beer, making noise and causing hassle.

A Nuuttipukki mask from the 19th century. Image by Museovirasto.

I've understood the Knut riots eventually died out around the second world war, and the tradition was more common in the western Finland. The east side was doing the same kind of goat riots on kekri, after the harvesting season; they were dressed as kekripukki. And in fact, joulupukki, "Christmas goat" (the real version of Santa Claus) belongs to the same goat family.

One thing still makes me wonder. Out of all the animals, why pukki, goat has had such a special role? Well, what ever the reason was, pukki seemed to be one hell of a party animal.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It's tax time!

Verokortti, tax deduction card is being delivered to you around these times.

Tax deduction card is valid from February 1st onwards, so you need to give it to your employer by then (or depending on which day they'll pay your February salary). But the bottom line is that you need to give the card to your employer, otherwise they will snip 60% off from your salary. You need to select whether you want the deduction to be calculated based on your monthly/biweekly/weekly/daily salary (option A), or based on your estimated total income from Feb to Dec 2012 (option B). Incase you end up paying too little amount of taxes, they'll send you a bill later on. And if you don't end up earning as much as expected and deducted, they'll pay you back next year.

After giving the card to employer, all you need to do is lay back and enjoy of what you'll get in return for your tax money: rather good health care, world class education, maintained roads, Länsimetro and Opera, to mention few.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Living next door to Alice? Not...

Let's make this clear:

Joulupukki, Santa Claus, Father Christmas - he lives in Finland, in Korvatunturi to be more precise. Not the North Pole. Not Canada. Neither in Sweden.

Jääkarhu, polar bear lives in North Pole. Not in Finland. Ranua Zoo doesn't count.

Lumimies, yeti. You can never tell with the yetis...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The long and winding road

About a week ago the Atlantic published an article about Finnish school system. The article highlighted that the goal of the Finnish school system is equity over excellence. The article praised the goal, but naturally many people also criticize it for holding back the talents and wasting intellectual resources. But as the goal of the compulsory school is to teach you to read, write and calculate, to give you a basic understanding of how things work, and to give you the keys to educate yourself further - regardless of your background - I think the noble goal has been achieved quite well. And let's remember that in this system the pupils and students are not customers, they are part of the system.

The article sheds light on the ideology behind the school system, but let's have a look at the structure:

I think the finest remark on this map is, that there are no dead ends in the system. In theory you can become a PhD no matter what you've chosen in your early days. Of course, it's not the intention that everybody achieves PhD and of course the road for PhD is longer with some choices compared to other. But the bottom line is that you don't close the doors for the rest of your life, even though you'd have a difficult teenage crisis. And in the end of the day, no matter which path do you take, you will (or you should) end up working.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Moomin conspiracy

Moomins are probably the best known Finnish fairytale figures (Angry Birds are not fairytale - yet). At least they are big in Japan. Not as big as Hello Kitty, but big enough to embrace our national self esteem. The original Moomin comic strips are a bit weird but they had edge. The Japanese animation version is much lighter and targeted for kids, but I must admit I sometimes watch the TV animation and I kind of like it.

President Tarja Halonen has been compared to Moominmamma in the media - mostly because of her purse style, not because of her personality. The current candidates obviously have some Moomin genes, too. I think Timo Soini (Stinky), Pekka Haavisto (Snufkin) and Paavo Lipponen (The Groke) hit the nail with the character also in terms of personality, but others are more or less artificial.

Speaking of Moomins, I have a theory. A conspiracy theory. Maybe raejuusto, cottage cheese, is not really cheese at all. I mean, it doesn't taste like cheese, you can't slice it, and it doesn't melt when you heat it. Maybe raejuusto is minced Moomin meat. Yummy?

Friday, January 6, 2012

The sock pimp

Some years ago there was an intense media discussion about a problem that presidential candidate Sauli Niinistö had: he was frustrated to spend time in finding the matching pair for the countless number of black socks after washing them. Sauli, may I introduce a Finnish innovation to simplify your laundry circus: Supi the sock holder.

Store the sock pins close to the place you collect the dirty laundry.

Unite the socks with the pin before you dump the socks into the laundry basket. Throw the pinned socks into washing machine. Let it roll.

Use the little hook on top of the pin to hang them drying.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Meet the weathermen

I must continue the weather theme. If you're talking about weather, you must know the people behind the weather: the meteorologists. These are the most powerful people in the Finnish society, as they are the ones who decide which topics people are talking about. Politicians must be envious.

Pekka Pouta. Nomen est omen - his last name means "sunny weather" in Finnish.

Petri Takala. In the end of his forecast he usually approaches the camera and tries to come through the TV screen into your living room (check out the 5 last seconds of the video). I'm not sure if approachaphobia is a real diagnosis, but I'm sure he's causing the phobia. In the video he's younger and thinner than today, but for recognizing him today: he looks just like the comic book guy in the Simpsons.

Mette Mannonen. Mette has grown from an insecure weather girl to one of the most professional meteorologist. She has the best weathers, and she can find the silver lining of clouds.

Anssi Vähämäki. Watch out this guy. He doesn't look harmful at all, but he knows how to mess the weather! You can tell by looking out the window if he's been forecasting: it's raining cats and dogs and it takes at least a week from his colleagues to fix the weather back to good.

It's raining ___________

We don't do small talk in Finland. We don't even have a Finnish word for small talk - jutustelu is probably quite close, but not exactly the same. For us it's perfectly normal to be quiet in company - for example at a lunch table. The only chit chat topic that we master is the weather. That's what we do, in Facebook too: snow <3

My colleague moved to Finland in the beginning of November, and he said that on the first two weeks the Finns were mostly apologizing the weather. But honestly, that's what you can expect from people whose native language has a three-digit number of words for different weather phenomena - and no word for "please". So if you really want to master the Finnish language in your everyday life, you should focus into the weather terminology and phrases. You can start by sneaking the following into your lunch table discussion (it's impossible to translate these into English, but I'll try):
  • On ilmoja pidellyt - It's been keeping weathers. The mother of all starter phrases.
  • Tulee vettä kuin Esterin perseestä - Water is coming from Esteri's ass. Ideal for emphasizing the volume of the rain.
  • Alavilla mailla hallan vaaraa - There's a danger of night frost on the flat nether lands. That's when the strawberry farmers in Pohjanmaa get angry. 
  • Talvi yllätti autoilijat - The car drivers were surprised by the winter. A news that is reported every year after the first real snow storm and the consequent car crashes. At the headlines tomorrow.
I think I just realized what's the touché translation for small talk: lätinä! The primary meaning of lätinä is a jolly good continuous splashing sound on asphalt. The secondary meaning of lätinä refers to kind of empty talk, you know, lots of talk with no real content or message. How conveniently weather related is that!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy 2012

Celebrating the New Year between the last of December and first of January is more or less newish tradition in Finland. Originally the New Year was celebrated in autumn, at Kekri, after the harvesting season. That may sound quite rural, but let's bear in mind that it's not much more than one generation ago when most of the Finns were still living in the countryside. And come on, Chinese are not celebrating their new year on the switch of Dec and Jan either, the year of the rabbit is still going strong!

But despite the shortish history of the  New Year at this point of year, there are still some distinctive items that belong to the Finnish new year:
  • Sparkling wine, nakki and potato salad. Who said cava doesn't go with cold sausage?
  • Fireworks. It's not difficult to guess what's statistically the most probable day of getting an eye injury.
  • Melting and re-casting tin horse shoes in order to forecast your future. Well, they're not really made out of tin but lead, which means that your future is based on toxic waste.
  • New Year speech by the president of Finland: "Kansalaiset, medborgare..." Tarja, you could have been a bit more radical with your last speech.
  • Ski jumping on TV. The men with the mullet and mustache!
  • Tipaton tammikuu, dropless January. No alcohol in January (Lonkero doesn't count).

In any case, have a good 2012 (and enjoy the remaining year of the rabbit)!