Pour une fois, je tente l’aventure de raconter cette aventure en anglais! For once I’ll try the adventure of writing my adventure in English! Whether you’re a French-speaking person or not please, comment it if you like it better that way (or not), and let me know if I should keep going in English!
The adventure of going to… Finland!!
Finland. Who knows what about Finland? Seen from the plane of my imagination, Finland looks like a forest with naked people running in and out of wooden houses to dive in a lake. Was there anything more I could learn about it? In French, “Finlande” sounds like “End-land” (“fin” meaning “end”), but what’s ending there? Europe? Urban civilization? Or simply the sun?
While flying to Helsinki, I did learn some more about it, thanks to my beloved “Guide du Routard” (when it comes to cultural pages), that I hate so much (when it comes to practical pages).
From a historical point of view, Finland has to be seen, it said, as a brand new country, recently independent from Russia (1917).m
Funny. I didn’t think about it that way. I’m not used to as a French, meaning someone who didn’t have to fear for his national identity for a while… To me, the Finnish culture was a solid and long-lasting one, and its existence couldn’t be questioned.
From a Finnish point of view, this reality looks more fragile. They first had to gain their independence from the Swedish kingdom, then from Russia, and despite the different minorities (Swedish-speaking Finnish, Lapland people, French tourists), find a way to gather around some strong cultural symbols.
I have tried to figure out what makes the Finnish people stick together, and came across the Kalevala, saunas, the sisu, berries, Afrikan Tähti, and more than anything else, the Moomins.
The Kalevala & Helsinki
The Kalevala, I had never heard about it before but it seems to be the number one thing I should have known and YOU should know about Finland.
Some years (but not too long) ago, some guy (you don’t like approximations? Go wik’ yourself! – it feels good, believe me -) went to travel through the countryside of Finland (basically: forests and lakes) to gather traditional songs which had never been written down before (my dream job). He put them all together in a book that he named “Kalevala” which could be translated as “The story of the kingdom of Kaleva”. This story starts with an old-wise-man making a guitar-like instrument out of a dead fish (as far as I’ve understood) and counting numerous stories (the different songs) that have inspired so many Finnish artists, in particular metal bands, abundant and popular in Finland, though they don’t use fish as guitars anymore.
References to Kalevala can be found everywhere and even though the book was made pretty recently (183~), its impact on Finnish people is huge! Some of them even pretend that their first, second and family name obey an eight syllabic rule on the model of the Kalevala verses: so that their name could be integrated to the song or something… (only one Finnish person actually came up with this explanation, but true or false, that’s a pleasant story).
Kalevala, though a book, is still sung, and it sounds good, although it might as well sound long (1.000 pages…?) if you don’t understand a word of Finnish… I just listened to the introduction; you can read more about it there!
My trip to Finland was a bit unexpected. I had to go to Riga (Latvia), to achieve my duty, as a friend, by giving support to one of my mate through the hard times of a professionally organized bachelor party. I took it as a chance to discover, not only Riga’s strip-clubs, but other nearby countries.
Coincidentally, I was just back from Australia (where I had worked as a group leader with teenagers for a month) and had made a Finnish friend there, who was extremely enthusiastic at the idea of welcoming me:
- Honestly you shouldn’t come; august is the worst month ever to visit. It’s going to be raining all the time.
She said. It didn’t discourage me as Finnish people are not known to be too expressive and the prices of train and flight connections were advantageous. Not a bad choice considering the fact it was sunny every day. Even though my friend kept insisting that it should snow soon, if I rely on my sole experience, Finland could easily be located on the Mediterranean shore.
This said, if I rely on my sole experience about everything I’ve been through in Finland, Finnish people are (mostly) super expressive people who speak French like their mother tongue… Therefore it might be time to put things into perspective: I’m a particular person who’s been meeting particular people and generalities that could be made out from this encounter are just made for fun… I don’t have the means to write a reliable culturo-social study on Finland and Finnish people, but I can tell you about my trip there and what I’ve learnt.
Actually, writing this article, the first one in English, is extremely difficult to me, not only because of the language, but because I might (who knows!?) also be read by people from different cultures who don’t share a common French sense of humor and a common French knowledge about Finland. And when I say “French”, I could better use “personal” for one can legitimately question how nationally spread is my background…
Some difficulties started arising on that matter when I showed the first version of this article to my Finnish friends, who reacted kind of like:
- But, you’re making fun of our culture!
- People will think that we live in the woods!
…if only they knew how few I’m being read! XD
I didn’t really understand their worries, because I had never pictured Finland as an under-developed country, though not necessarily as urban as mine, which, to my criteria, isn’t a bad thing in terms of well-being and modernity. As a matter of fact, the Finnish society can largely be considered ahead of the French one in terms of education and social rights (first country in Europe to grant women the right to vote!!). Saunas are something very luxurious to a French mind and the worst that I’ve ever heard in a French mouth, regarding Finnish people or Finland could be summarized as:
“Finland is a country with little sun, lots of drinking and too many suicides.”
Ok, ok, not that flattering. But that is NORMAL regarding the WORST you could say about a country (think about the USA, France or China!!!), and that really is the worst I’ve ever heard. In addition I got 100% of excellent feedbacks about Finland by people who had been visiting it. I NEVER heard Finnish people being mentioned as “backward” in my whole life, and maybe Finnish people shouldn’t worry that way regarding their reputation…
That’s the reason why I got so surprised that my friends had this kind of fears. At some point I even felt like I would have to list everything “modern” that could be found in Finland (just like anywest else), to avoid offending my Finnish friends! But I don’t want to talk about Helsinki’s monuments, tram or airport, as what really is fascinating about Finnish culture is its relation to nature… and that, my friends, is so walrusing* more modern to me than junk-building everywhere around.
* You’ll notice that I’ve replaced the F-word by “walrus” as this is what “phoque” means in French and how we learn to pronounce it correctly. You can now share our national feeling of referring to that friendly mammal when it comes to swearing in Shakespeare’s language – welcome to my French mind!
So let’s close that parenthesis and go back to my “adventure”…
To help you getting the big picture about the people I’ve been hanging around in Finland: they are in the middle of their 20s; they’ve been traveling quite a bit (Africa in particular); they’ve been studying as well and speak at least three languages with ease, including French, as already mentioned, since it seems to be a popular language choice after English. They do also speak a bit of Finland-Swedish, the second official language of their country and, mostly, not a word of Russian.
I’ve been extremely well-welcomed in their country, and was hosted everywhere I went, on a round-trip from Helsinki to Turku, Naantali, Tampere, Forgot-the-name, Jyvaslyka and back to Helsinki. I’ve been introduced to family and friends, including some visiting Spanish buddies: Finland fans coming back to their favorite country a few years after their Erasmus experience.
Such context was dream-like for me to discover the Finnish culture that I’ve been curious about since I first read Arto Paasilinna’s novels in my younger years… But I’ll come back to that point.
After a night in Helsinki, the modern, Russian-made, capital, I headed to the former Swedish capital of Finland: the city of Turku where I could keep on learning about Finnish culture and its iconic components.
Turku & Berries
Finland, brimming with lakes and forests (not a joke, check on Google-maps) is the country of berries. It had never crossed my mind before that such national culinary culture would exist and that was out of many good surprises from that trip. Finnish people probably “looooove” berries (also it’s hard to say since they generally express few). What’s for sure at least, is that they eat them and sell them in massive quantities, like on the marketplace of Turku, a quiet little town, to my criteria (I’ve been living in Mumbai and Delhi for ten months).
But who the walrus do fetch all those berries…? Well, you just have to ask! Answer from my Finnish friend: mostly Thai and Russian people. You can sell berries for a good price and it seems to attract workers from far-far away… a bit like the French “vendanges”, though I never heard of Thai people picking up grapes in the Bordelais.
Russians are highly motivated berries-pickers according to my friend. When the Finnish pick berries for the fun of it, Russians run to gather as many kilos as possible (berry-picking isn’t a paid-per-hour job).
Interesting fact: berries (before they’re actually being sold at the market) originally and virtually belong to everyone since they are wild berries only (except for the rasps and the straws) and since Finnish law allows everyone to go and collect them everywhere, even on one’s property. You shouldn’t go there with a truck though, but you can, by law, walk through and even camp (one night only) anywhere you like in the forest, even on people’s land, as forest and lakes are considered common good… and that system works pretty well, in the sense that it gives to nature a feeling of “common area”, a place to relax or to gather, for everyone. I’ve been told that, in winter time, when waters freeze, lakes can turn into very social places, with bunch of youngsters ice-skating (and ice-dating) around.
You have to picture that, in Finland, nature is everywhere between cities and people. There actually are very few of those last two: only 9 cities counting more than 100.000 inhabitants, and the overall population of Finland being 5,5 millions of people. For 330.000.000 km (550.000 for metropolitan France with 65 millions of inhabitants), with 10% of lakes: that leaves space for berries to grow.
The idea with berries isn’t to eat them straight away but to freeze them and store them for winter, as they are one essential source of vitamins, especially before you could import oranges from Brazil.
Finnish generally eat their berries for breakfast (the main meal of the day) with yoghurt. I’ve also tasted a drink called (something like) “blueberry-milk”: you fill up a cup with frozen blueberries; add some milk and sugar on top of it; wait for one minute and slurp, yummy.
Among all the berries you find in Finland, the Queen of them all is called “cloudberry” and resembles a black or a rasp -berry minus the color: the cloudberry is yellow, full of vitamins, and freaking expensive!!! Five times the price of the other berries! It’s rare and you have to go deep in the swamp to fetch it, fight mosquitoes and survive the cold: some people even died on that quest! Or so I’ve been told.
As I was enjoying my first full-Finnish breakfast in good company, my attention was attracted by some peculiar cartoon characters sketched on a coffee cup (Finnish people are world-heavy coffee-drinkers) that, I realized it now, I had been able to spot here and there since my arrival on those northern and welcoming grounds… were they some weird snow-hippopotamus? Or what the walrus?
The Moomins & Naantali
Wildlife in Finland is still very diverse, compared to France. I mean that it doesn’t limit itself to cats, dogs, and pigeons. They’ve got foxes, lynxes, and bears in the woods; squirrels in the garden, and many more animals that I am unable to name… trying to understand what they approximately looked like was already a pain.
- Does it look like a cat ?
- A dog ?
- It’s a pigeon!
The most popular animals of Finland are the Moomins, some troll-hippopotamus-like creatures that exists surely in imagination and less surely in reality. The Moomins are very kawaï (cute), so Japanese people are crazy about them. They made animated cartoons out of their adventures and the Moomins have been responsible for dragging packs of Japanese tourists up north, to visit the Moomins village where I also went myself.
What should you know about the Moomins? There are not plenty of them, like the Smurfs, but one family and friends. They interact with humans and other fantastic creatures. The main character, Moomintroll, is probably gay, as was the author, and spends a reasonable amount of his time pushing away his female counterpart who appears as much girly as she is silly. Other female characters include a popular tiny-hyper-active-adventurous girl who causes plenty of troubles to her over-fecundated sister, that last one having already too much to do with her numerous children. Tove Janssons, an accomplished painter and writer, though writing for children, felt concerned to share her liberal values to her readers, and Moomins story can be read on different levels… also I haven’t read more than a chapter myself. But so I’ve been told.
Moomins’ village can’t compete with Disneyland. It is set on a charming island, in front of the charming city of Naantali. Wooden houses, forest, berries and lakes (or was it the sea? I get confused) make the place. After a fifteen minutes visit I’ve headed back to Turku to talk about Europe with the Finnish family that was hosting me for the night.
European discussion with a Finnish family
I don’t really know about Europe politics at the moment, I’m just fond of the European project of a union, for all the advantages it may bring: peace, wealth, an unbeatable soccer team, etc. Also, the future without Europe sounds pretty foggy to me… What the walrus would we do on our own? I’ve friends all over Europe, and I’d be glad and proud to belong to the same country, without fearing about French identity for a minute… I was to understand that might not be the same for everyone.
To start with, my Finnish friends blame me for being too political because I talk about Europe “all the time” (let’s not push it!!!). But not being political, in that sense, means to me being enslaved… or not to exaggerate: being spectator, rather than actor of what the walrus is going on with our lives and countries, with our destiny. If not an actor, I, at least, wanna be an involved spectator, from shouting at the stage to whispering to my neighbors. Regarding Europe, I say: come on guys, uniting is beautiful… and once we’re done with Europe: a world union!!! With every culture being respected, protected and reinforced, but major ecological and economical problems being dealt by competent worldwide institutions, and not to mention: a truly unbeatable soccer team.
When I project myself one hundred years ahead in time, a world union appears to me as the obvious “good” option, compared to eradication or extreme inequalities. But my Finnish family-friends would stare at me, doubtful. The little brother, to my right, was to start his military service soon, still active in Finland, just in case Russia was to attack again… After all, they were claiming territories in Ukraine those days. And it struck me that Finnish people were living with such fear! Their parents or grandparents who fought during WWII didn’t fight for Dantzig; they fought to preserve their independence from Russia. That’s their main concern. And they don’t take for granted that EU would help them if threatened…
We actually all checked, together behind the computer, if a defense pact tightened EU members one to the others (cute moment). The answer is yes and if Finland is to be attacked, all the others are to defend it. I don’t know how reassuring they found that news… As I said before, though friendly, they don’t express their emotion the way I’m used to. That’s the moment when my 18 years old neighbor declared:
- I’m tired. Goodnight.
…while standing up and going to bed.
So blunt! I was shocked. So different from the French way to introduce the idea of you getting tired, before introducing the idea of you having to go to bed soon, before saying goodbye individually to every single person in the room while justifying why you need to sleep and why you have to wake up the day after (and the consequences if you don’t). My friend interpreted it as a proof of friendship: he was sparing me all that shit. Simple and efficient. In addition he was not that fluent in English and had showed interest for the conversation, that started as I picked up his schoolbook on “What does it mean to be a European citizen?”. I was glad to discover such book existed! People don’t realize it but a true Union is already on its way, and our laws are already overpowered by European rules. Not a big deal in my opinion, just the same way local rules are overpowered by national ones. Instead of fearing for minor changes, such as those regarding the law-voting-process – that most people don’t actually give a shoe about (Hello! Do you know the name of your deputy? Do you know what he voted last time?), they should look for the major benefits that unity brings: peace, wealth, and the world number one soccer team…
- But Greece!
Yes, people complain they had to pay for Greece. But they didn’t pay for Greece, they paid for stability in Europe. What else did you want to do? Kick out every not-so-rich country? I heard northern Italy was willing to separate from the southern part because the north is richer… Is that how it should work? Always separate from the poorer and get separated from the richer? For what results? A countries-club of the super rich, one Countries-club of the rich, another for the average, the poor and the beggar? With poverty bringing conflicts and emigration, letting down our neighbors is just asking for troubles. We didn’t pay for Greece, we paid to overcome a problem, we paid for tranquility and a better future. That was a wise expense in my opinion, even though Greek soccer players are not that renowned.
Before or after – I don’t remember – that I have bored my Finnish host-family to death with my European-talks, the father mentioned he was coming from the Finnish city of Nokia.
- Funny, I thought, a Finnish city wearing the name of a Japanese brand!
Well, actually, once and for all, Nokia is a Finnish company. I’m sure you knew it, I’m just writing it down as a post-it. :p
Nokia was initiated in the city of Nokia and produced quantity of different products (paper, ties…) before, while and after producing mobile phones. The symbol of the city is a small and black animal that is not Pépé Le Pew, though it looks alike, and that pretty much everything I’ve learnt about Nokia during my trip. I wanted to stop by on my way to Tampere but, I forgot. Dot.
The sauna, the sisu, Tampere & Kangasala
I didn’t spend much time in Tampere but, although it might break some Finnish hearts, this is the city of Finland that has been making the nicest impression on me. I just had a glance in reality: I was soon to be taken on a ride to a family cottage with a mixed group of enthusiastic Spanish and Finnish people.
What is the Finnish meaning of “cottage”?
“It’s a secondary house, equipped with a sauna, by a lake.”
It can be big, small, with or without electricity, this doesn’t matter: just stick to the definition.
The cottage I was taken to was of the simplest kind and it couldn’t have been better! There was barely a path in the grass to point at the smoking wooden house. Ten meters aside was a not so smaller cabin used as toilets and in front of them both: the lake, white, flat, fresh. A few minutes later I was considering my luck while sliding through the waters to cool down my burning skin. Thank you life, thank you Finland and thank you my Finnish hosts and guide… I’ve had some moments of bliss during my travels around the world and that counts as one of them.
I got out of the water, grabbed some corn and grilled vegetables from our vegetarian barbecue, went to the sauna again to get warmer, back to the water to get cooler, crossing on my way some of my fellow sauna-users complaining about the cold or the heat according to where they came from with a big bright smile on their face, nevertheless. Ô happy days!
The sauna itself doesn’t function much differently from what I have seen elsewhere, in French SPAs, except that you have to provide the fire with wood and pour some water on the burning stones to increase the heat… It then gets much hotter though, and the air burns your noise at it passes by. But that’s truly the lake that makes the difference, as well as the symbolism attached to the sauna by the Finnish culture. It is a place to talk and even negotiate, including important international treaties. Some of my friends pointed out that, if Finnish people were so obsessed with punctuality (I confirm) and so bad at greeting one another, it probably came from the fact that, when it’s minus 20°C outside, you don’t have time to waste. In such conditions, being 15 minutes late to a rendezvous with friends is basically trying to kill them, and Finnish people don’t stand that. Things go differently around a sauna, which is also a place where women used (and use?) to give birth as no bacteria would survive the temperature, making it a perfectly sterilized environment. Contrarily to what I had heard, people don’t go naked to the sauna, they use a swimming-suit (from what I’ve seen at least), and contrarily to a widely spread idea (at least in French-minds), it’s not a sexually connoted place at all, having sex in a sauna being probably the worst idea ever… Oh wait… I can find worst ideas! But still…
My time at the cottage provided me with a good example of how tricky the poor expressiveness of Finnish people can be. I was getting changed with my new friends, by the sauna, when two people popped into the “garden”: I mean the area next to the sauna place. They were a couple of an older generation, and looked like they were having a pleasant Sunday walk (it was on a Thursday but whatever) in the forest. My Finnish friend exchanged a few words with them and the couple walked on to the lake. I concluded they were surely some Finnish hikers, enjoying their Finnish freedom of roaming everywhere they pleased, even on others’ property. But as they went away, my friend turned to me, surprised that I hadn’t had the decency and the politeness to introduce myself to the parents of her friend and the owner of the cottage! What the walrus?!
I answered I had no idea, that they looked like strangers to me and that, as no one was greating them in cheerful manners, they were at best the neighbors or some annoying intruders!
Nevertheless, I finally went to introduce myself, and it sounded like:
- Sorry I didn’t introduce myself earlier but I didn’t know who you were…
Embarrassing. The three other persons I was with had last met them the day before (for two of them) and four years before (for one of them). I would have never guessed they knew each others.
I’m not sure about it, as it seems so hard to define, but that might be one side of the famous Finnish “Sisu”, a word that describes Finnish people constancy and steadiness. A national characteristic it seems, that has proven extremely useful against time, unwanted events, and expansive neighbors.
Afrikan Tähti & Jyväskylä
My next destination would be Jyväskylä.
“Jyväs” means grain and “kylä” means village. How nice to know the origin of words! I have met more drinking students than harvesting farmers in Jyväskylä, where I learnt how to prepare the “Fisu” – a typical Finnish drink – from a Spanish guy, while a Finnish girl was making a sangria right next to him… Europe is beautiful.
So, to make some Fisu: you mix vodka and candies, put everything to the freezer and drink it the day after…
Ok, I might not have properly learnt how to make Fisu, but at least I’ve tasted it. And I prefer sangria. As a matter of fact, I had the occasion to drink plenty of it while playing my own version of the “werewolves” game (I’ll teach you one day) and a very typical Finnish board game known as “Afrikan Tähti”. The game is about traveling through Africa to find a lost diamond and bring it back home. The more money you have the faster you go… but you can be slowed down once you have spent it all or if you draw a “thief” token rather than a “diamond” one on your way south. The game provides some excitement but it’s an old game that would need some good nabolo-made additional rules!!! For those of you who don’t know about it I’ve already “reinvented” some famous board games such as “the little horses” (“Ludo” in english?!) turned into a Mario-kart-like game, and Monopoly and Risk that I have mixed one with the other to create the fabulously entertaining Monoporisk (or “Riskopoly”, as you wish). The rules can be read here and here, in French, although I’m not sure they’re up to date but they will be at some points (just click: everything gonna be alright).
To conclude, the very interest of Afrikan Tähti is to be Finnish and owned by most Finnish family, probably to replace Scrabble as I can’t think how you could play Scrabble using the Finnish language…
The Finnish language
To my French readers: Finnish language should be called “Finnish” and not “Finlandais”. Don’t worry; French-speaking Finnish people will immediately notify it to you if ever you make the mistake… which I found quite surprising considering the fact that the mistake is being made in a foreign language to them. Why do they bother? Let’s see… Would I be bothered if English people called my language “Francian” rather than “French”? Hmm… Ok, yes, maybe.
The Finnish language includes some looooong words, full of K, U, dots and double dots on its vowels. It’s quite pleasant to hear, I think, but I also like to hear German so I’m probably not a good reference.
Here are some particularities of the Finnish language:
- To say “thank you” – how cute!! – Finnish people wish each other a “baby cat!” by saying “kitty!”.
- When it comes to drinking however, they ask each other who will use the restroom first by asking “Qui pisse?” (in English: “who pisses?”).
- There is no future time for conjugations! You have to use the present and precise what day this or that will happen… It sounds surprising at first but it actually works!! Ex: “I go to the sauna tomorrow”; “I love to come to your party in a week”… Why the walrus do we bother having a future time in French?! Explanation is: Finnish language has just “recently” become a written language, and many conjugations times are actually not useful for daily life, but fancy stuff for the writing.
- There is no word to say “please”…and this is is one of the hardest concept the Finnish people have to deal with when they learn a foreign language!
- Last but not least, which doesn’t help with the lack of expressivity of the people, there are no intonation in Finnish!! A sentence stays flat, whatever you say: “I’ve won 5M at the lottery”; “I went to the supermarket” and “Your mother died in a car accident, we managed to save one ear and 30 cm of intestines, here you go” are to be said with the same intonation.
I could write books and books about the Finnish language, but it’s probably better I go to sleep, for now.
Cultural misunderstandings on an Island
The day after, we went on a journey to an island. Reaching half-way, people started wondering why I hadn’t taken my swimming-suit along. Like if it was a compulsory thing to do when going to an island!
- Why? Are we going to the beach as well?
- No but we are going to an island.
- Well, what else do you think we can do on an island than swimming or having a sauna? Therefore you need a swimming-suit!
- What do you mean?! There are plenty of other things you could do on an island!
- Like what?
- Like visiting the castle, the village or whatever there is to visit there…
- But there is only a sauna on this island!!
- How would I know if you don’t tell me!!!
As a matter of fact, Finnish islands can be rather small. Those you would hear about are mostly on lakes, to start with, meaning that they’re rarely wider than 20mx20m… and regarding the fact that one should bring his swimming-suit or not, Finnish people don’t bother: they’ve got their swimming-suit in their bag all year long, for a sauna is never far.
The boat to the island – or should we say the “isle” – was not a ferry; it was a rowing-boat for 8 people max. The isle was a Christian sanctuary owned by the church but opened to anyone with the complicity of a volunteering rower, who was working for the church as well, and necessarily in the woods or in an underground-rock-metal café according to his look.
The isle was very small indeed! With barely enough place for a house, a sauna, and a beach-ball pitch. There were religious quotes stuck to the trunk of some zebra-trees, those white with white trunks and black stripes that I can’t name in English but that we name “bouleau” in French, a word that sounds exactly the same than “boulot”, the equivalent of “job” in our language, thus leading to the following answer:
- It depends on your CV.
…when I stated:
- There are plenty of “zebra-trees” around.*
*Just checked on Wikipedia: I’m talking about “birch trees”.
The big red house in the middle of the isle had a chapel upstairs and, to my better concern, a living-room downstairs, with a chimney, rocking chairs, water boilers, tea, coffee and plenty of board games!!! The tea and coffee were not for free: we’d have to help ourselves and leave the required amount behind. But no one there would check on the money, for Finnish people still trust each others.
- And the money goes to a charity, added my friend, isn’t it cool?
- Well… depends. What charity?
- It finances religious missions.
A devilish grin popped up to my face as if I had just revealed a lethal trap in a Dungeon & Dragons’ corridor: muhuhuh!!!
…but my friend didn’t notice the awkwardnessity of her answer!!! I had to explain the trick: it wasn’t a REAL charity; it was the church financing its own promotional activities!
But even after I had exposed the cold truth, she remained convinced it was still a good thing.
- Religious missions are good things, they help children going to school here and then, throughout Finland…
The subject was to bring our chat to a bigger level and we soon realized my experience of the Roman-Catholic French Church and her experience of the Reformed Lutheran Finnish Church couldn’t be compared… Especially after I had came up with that subtle metaphor:
- Try to picture a military barrack of the Russian army; well, this is how I feel when I see a church.
It wasn’t too far from the truth though… I mean: not too too too far. From my experience, in France, Church is the place where gather (generally) the most intolerant people, the wealthier but the least generous, the most anti-gay; anti-abortion; anti-foreigners; anti-immigration; anti-Europe and anti-freedom.
I said generally. I must be wrong. All the French certainly don’t feel that way. You got one point of view out of 70M. But I personally can’t distinguish the beginning of modern republican French history from our liberation of the Church’s influence, back to the Revolution. In that way, I see churches as the strongholds of the former occupying power.
Though and again I can only express MY point of view, I take for sure that it is shared by many other French people, and religion in France is a sensitive subject that we generally learn not to talk about. France is a laic country, not secular but “laic”, meaning that public affairs and religion aren’t just two different things: religion should be kept private and citizens are forbidden to display any religious symbol in public, especially at school.
I could keep going for hours on that matter and explain, with personal experiences, known facts and studies, how the Roman Catholic Church has been, in France, during centuries, an instrument of power rather than a spiritual guide… But the point here is that what my Finnish friend would call “Church” is a totally different thing. According to her testimony, the Finnish Lutheran Church is generous, pro-freedom, etc. In other words, it tends to apply the teaching of its founder. Regarding homosexual rights, the Finnish priests have been arguing in favor of that cause, which came to me as a surprise… do some French priests have the same position? Probably yes, and the “Church” is too big of a thing, gathering to many ambitions, vocations and profiles to be judged as one block.
To summarize: you can only get wrong when holding to strongly to a preconceived idea, everybody is different, etc. Sticking to what you’ve learnt is a trap. You shouldn’t stick to it, you should grab it, put it in your bag, and keep on collecting. It’s ok to look inside the bag sometimes, in case of danger, to figure out what to do; but one should stay young, fresh, and flexible. I’ve learnt that lesson so many times by now… But you need to practice not to get rusty.
Sauna was great and diving in a not so frozen lake (23°C – I didn’t even dive: I used the plastic ladder -) was great just as much.
Our group came back home right after that, to prepare some crepes with spinach which, in a Finnish mind and surprisingly to me, doesn’t mean you put spinach on the crepes but that you mix them with the “pâte à crêpe” before cooking it… Cherry, or should I say “berry on top”: it ain’t cheese that you’ll spread on it, but a jolly spoon of sweet berry jam! Hyvä*! (*good; super)
I can’t bare berries anymore: we talked about that subject all the way back, trying to figure out if strawberries were fruits, tomatoes were berries, and so on… I’ve had similar talks on those matters 1000 of times, but the smartphones hand’t yet invaded our lives and Wikipedia came up with more detailed answers than my old French/Larousse dictionary, describing strawberries as “fake-fruits” and tomatoes as berries… this trip to Finland is becoming pretty traumatic.
Back to Helsinki, Suomenlinna Island out from Finland
As I had booked a boat to go to St Petersburg on Monday, time had come for me to travel back to Helsinki. There, I’ve been welcomed at the same friend’s place where I went through the conversations I’ve mentioned before, regarding how Finland would appear in my article. I’ll send it for validation first, before publication. :p
For my last two days, Helsinki was looking better than never: a bright sun and some cultural events had driven all the inhabitants in the streets. Lovely, though my friends kept on insisting it was exceptional, and that people were only that friendly because of the good weather. Maybe, but I haven’t experienced otherwise.
Sunday was “restaurant day”, an event that occurs not only in Finland but throughout Europe (if not the world? Check the page!).
People were cooking in the street or at their home where you’d be welcome to have lunch for a rather cheap price. That cheap price thing wasn’t true everywhere though, and the city was also invaded by pro or semi-pro willing to make a bonus.
On the esplanade, next to the marketplace and the port, people were running a marathon the day before. I also went to “Suomenlinna Island”, some fortified isles floating in Helsinki’s bay. From the boat I could see the market; a beautiful mushroom-like orthodox church; a scary-giant-Finnish copy of the Manneken-pis and the humble presidential palace, house to the humble Finnish president that you can share a coffee with in the nearby café on a lucky morning… or so, I’ve been told.
On Monday I embarked on a cruise to St Petersburg, and that’s about it regarding my seven days in Finland! It’s been a fantastic trip, thanks to my Finnish friends, as already mentioned… I don’t quote their names of course, to respect that blog policy which is, I’ll explain it again as it’s my first article in English: not to write about my personal life but only to share my traveling or cultural adventures.
Arto Paasilinna and Lapland
As I’m slowly cutting the blue and shiny napkin of the Baltic sea toward st Petersb… Erf. I don’t think I’m ready for lyrical sentences in English yet…
As the boat is moving forward – I meant to say -, I recon my Finnish experience is not complete. What about Arto Paasilinna? What about Lapland and Santa Claus?!?
Arto Paasilinna is a famous Finnish author that I used to read during my teenage years. I even made a presentation on one of his book in high school but found no way to make a connection with him or his work during my stay in his country… Probably because most of his novels I’ve read take place in Lapland, the northern region of Finland, where there are no trees anymore but tundra, snow and snow.
Lapland is also the homeland of Santa Claus – which is no surprise, considering the guy’s obsession to get people on his laps – and I’ve heard you can look for gold and amethysts in the eastern part of it!! How adventurous!!! Not to mention as well: there you can see reindeers; aurora borealis… and I’ve heard of a giant ice castle that you can sleep in being re-sculpted every winter…
In other words: I’ll come back.