Mating rituals

Seeing as I’ve now somewhat come into terms (not really though) with the fact I’ll make Finland my country of residence permanently, I’ve also resigned to the fact I’ll probably need to snatch myself a Finnish guy (still, highly unlikely).

But how does one do it?

From all of my posts, it should be pretty apparent what I think of our social skills. If talking to strangers is seen as weird, there’s no small talk and your personal space is the size of a hockey field, how do we flirt or show interest?

Suffice to say internet dating is very successful in Finland.

But I for one don’t want to go down that route. I’ll do it the traditional way. I’ll scour through my entire social circle, pin down a candidate and do some prep work. No matter what’s your preferred method, it will always come down to two of you getting drunk.

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A budding romance in the making?

Alcohol works as a social lubricant. Without it we’re awkward, self-doubting and too critical.

I don’t think I could name a couple I know whose relationship hasn’t somehow involved getting drunk. Obviously it won’t be the story you tell your grandkids or even your friends, but we all know the truth.

People who don’t drink can bond over the fact they don’t so it’s still there.

A Finnish friend of mine read a book on how to marry a Finnish girl. Apparently the author’s advice is to get drunk. That’s the gist of it. And I agree.

In its simplicity it’s quite beautiful. Get intoxicated, find a partner et voilá!

The real problem for me lies in finding a guy. For whatever reason, I’ve never quite figured where all the men in Finland are. They all just suddenly turn up as my friends’ boyfriends.

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Love thy neighbour

Finland’s geographical situation is a curious one. Not only are we far up north, we share a large border with Russia. Then there’s the practically uninhabited part of Norway and a slither of Sweden. And across the Gulf of Finland, we have Estonia.

The Finnish maiden – the country is supposedly shaped like a woman. Except she lost one arm and parts of her skirt some 60 years ago.

We have a special relationship with each of these countries which perhaps reveals more about Finland than it does from our neighbours..

Given our somewhat problematic history with our Eastern neighbour, there’s always a certain tone we use when talking about Russia. It’s either a scared whisper or a demeaning remark. Finnish military still practices for a possible attack from the East.

From a young age we’re taught to be skeptical about Russia and the influence they’ve had on us if often ignored. Our food culture is surprisingly similar to theirs and we’ve even been influenced by the language. Finland is, after all, in north east of Europe but somehow people always forget the eastern part.

Russians on the other hand have too many neighbours to remember we exist. But we do!

Then there’s Sweden. The neighbour we love to hate and have a complicated inferiority-complex over. It always seem they do everything better than us. When we triumph over something it’s a cause for national celebration. Not least when it’s in ice hockey.

Being under the Swedish rule for 700 years left it marks, most noticeably in the fact that Swedish is an official language in Finland.

The Swedes on the other hand think of us as slightly pathetic drunks.

Now, Estonia is all kinds of awesome. They speak a cute language that sounds like a Finnish dialect but isn’t. They have similar words which mean completely different things; the word for mother in law in Estonian means ghost in Finnish. The word for mother in Estonian sounds like a mother pig in Finnish. And so on.

Furthermore, Estonia is cheaper than Finland so every year hundreds of thousands of Finns flock to visit Viro to buy cheap alcohol. You have not experienced true Finland unless you’ve been on a ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn.

The Estonian migrant workers keep our construction business going. So we have nothing but good things to say when it comes to Estonia.

Now, the Norwegians. Nobody really knows much about them. We like them because they share a similar twisted relationship with Sweden. But then when you visit the northern border of Finland you realise they stole all the mountains. Conveniently enough the Norwegian border is right where the mountains start. Damn those sneaky oil-rich Norwegians…

But in the end we shower them with points at the Eurovision Song Contest every year. This year we might even give some points to Russia since their representatives, Buranovskiye Babushki, speak Udmurt, a language related to Finnish. And as everyone already knows, Eurovision is the true measure of neighbourly relations.

Practically related

There are 5 389 170 people in Finland (1/11/2011). There’s also a theory that most people are connected through six degrees of separation; meaning that if you’d name a random person anywhere in the world, there’s only a six people separation between you.

Well for Finland that’s more like two.

Whenever I meet a new Finn abroad, I’m almost certain we have mutual acquintances – especially as they’re likely to have lived abroad for a while, hung out with a similar group of people and studied a similar subject.

When I meet Finn in Finland it’s still a similar case. Except there’s a higher chance we’re actually related since my dad has like a 100 cousins, me and my sister have probably hundreds of second cousins we know nothing about.

Whenever there’s a new celebrity in Finland, there’s always someone saying: “Yeah, I went to school with her” or “He’s my cousin’s teacher.”

I’ve met a Finnish girl in Newcastle who happened to be from the same (relatively) small town as I am and who was friends with my cousin. Some Finnish guys got kidnapped in East-Timor years ago, one of them was my classmate’s dad’s boss. One popular artist when we were kids was my friend’s teacher’s husband.

The list goes on forever really. There’s always a connection.

Yesterday it was announced that my awesome friend Anne is going to be the host of the Finnish national Eurovision selection. Today her brother wrote on her facebook-wall that one of the contestants is his boss’ daughter.

It’s a small world. And, by the way, now you all know Finnish celebrities by proxy as well.

But if you thought Finland is close-knit, it’s even worse in Estonia. There everyone really knows each other. Or that’s what it seemed like with my friend Triin.

Drinking culture

Ever been in a situation where you’re the only representative of your country, possibly among people who have never before met anyone from there? Well that happens to me a lot. Most often than not, this situation ends up with a drink in my hand and somebody saying: “Come on Mia, represent Finland!”

But how does one represent the Finnish drinking culture?

The drinking culture in Finland is a bizarre one. Mainly because we would not want to associate the world culture with it. It’s not a civilized thing.

Firstly, you need to be aware of three things:

1. It gets really cold and dark in Finland during winters. It can cause depression. Even if it’s not clinically diagnosed, most people simply aren’t as happy during winter as they are during summer.

2. Alcohol is really rather expensive in Finland. A can of beer is likely to be something along the lines of 2e in the shops and a pint will be closer to 5e in bars. Not any specialty beer, just the regular kind.

3. Only beers and ciders are sold in the shops. For anything above 4.7% you need to go to Alko, the Finnish government-owned and supervised shops with limited opening times. Also to buy anything above 20% you need to be over 20, for the rest the age limit is 18.

So when Finns drink, we tend to drink a lot. It is, in a way, a binge-drinking culture but unlike in the UK where this then means that people go out to the streets and clubs. In Finland this happens mainly in the confines of the house – most likely because of points 1 and 2.

We even have a word for drinking by yourself at your house in your underwear with no intention of going out: kalsarikännit.

It also takes a lot of effort to get drunk in Finland – meaning you need to go to Alko and pay a lot of money for it – so people tend to want to make the most of it.

And no self-respecting Finn would go to a club without first drinking at home. There’s always a pre-party to maximise the alcohol intake in order to lessen the impact on your wallet.

Would you call that a drinking culture?

Stay tuned for part two where I explain what we actually drink.

Christmas

Finns celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve, perhaps not wholly unrelated to my previous post about us being obsessed about being on time.

Cemetaries across Finland are lit up with candles

Nevertheless, the traditional thing to do is to first visit the cemetary to light a candle for family members no longer with us. This is indeed the one time of the year there are massive traffic jams outside the cemetary. There’s massive amounts of snow everywhere and candles lighting the night so it is actually quite pretty..

After this things get a bit weirder. Most people then go to the sauna. In the nude I might add – none of that shy towel-wrapping thing in Finland. Some of us choose to roll in the snow and then go back to sauna for an added thrill. (Now how many creepy stalkers did I gain by revealing that?)

Then there’s the Christmas dinner. Most dishes would have been prepared the night before because they’re about as peasant dishes as these things get – a massive piece of ham covered in mustard for example, accompanied by carrot casserole, potato casserole, liver casserole, swede casserole (the vegetable, not our neighbours) and so on which take a lot of time to prepare. Most people go all the way and have all these casseroles, not just one.

After stuffing yourself, there’s the time Christmas was invented for: presents.

The word joulu, meaning Christmas, is by the way, in the Germanic tradition and has no relation to the whole Christian thing like in English. So even naughty atheists  like me can gen enjoy the day.

I hope you too will have a lovely Christmas.

HYVÄÄ JOULUA!

Foreigner’s guide to Finland

Now I’m apparently not the only one talking about Finland. I’m rather shocked – here I thought I had a topic niche enough to be all exclusive and stuff.

The Foreigner’s Guide to Finland is a delightfully rude version of what I’m writing about. At least I still have my superior spelling and grammar to boast about…

It was posted on my facebook wall by a Greek person. Goes to show they really are stalking me. Creeps.

Finland – world’s best at self-validation

Did you know that Finland has the best schools in the world?

Or that we’re one of the few governments to have a long tradition of rainbow governments combined with economic stability?

No? Well you’re excused if you’re not Finnish.

The thing is, Finns are absolutely obsessed with all kinds of statistics which prove that people outside our borders know that we exist, something I touched upon in my first post.

This is why you’ve probably already seen the latest Newsweek rating of the best countries in the world if you have a Finnish friend on facebook. Finland came on top you see.

All tables and rankings like this are a source of national pride. Or a government plot to make us forget that the country is inhabitable during winters.

We even get excited when someone speaks Finnish in TV shows or movies. Did you know that they used Finnish as a secret language in Charlie’s Angels? Or that Jim Parsons’ character was learning Finnish in the Big Bang Theory?

Well all the Finns do, even if they’ve never seen it themself.

And of course, we all love Conan O’Brien. We’d probably elect him as our president if given the chance.

Conan loves Finland too

EDIT 7/1/2012: The latest internet fad about Finland going around in facebook is the New York Times’ article about places to visit in 2012. Finland is #2. It was top news on YLE and everyone’s putting it on their walls as a reason to visit Finland.

We should get paid for the amount of promotion we do…