Saturday, 2 December 2017

35 Random Facts about Finland - My Contribution to #suomi100!



On December 6th 2017, Finland will have been an independent country for one hundred years. To celebrate Finland's Centennial, as well as my 35 years in the 100-year-old Finland, I decided to write a post of 35 random facts about my home country. So, without further ado, in no particular order...


1. Talviturkki
Talviturkki translates into "winter fur". It's the metaphorical coat that grows on you over the long and cold winter when the lakes are frozen and you cannot go for a swim (except that you can - more about that later!). When it's finally spring, the ice has melted, and the lakes are a nice freezing cold 10 C, you can finally plunge into the water again. Doing that for the first time every year is referred as throwing your winter coat away - talviturkin heittäminen. Here's me throwing mine away this year! I actually did it in June, so don't worry, I'm not bathing in ice cubes ;).





2. Expressing weather
Let's face it - it's mostly always cold in Finland. This has led to Finnish people expressing weather with the help of pluses and minuses - despite the season. Thus, a Finn reporting back from a holiday on the Canary Islands will say something along the lines of "I love it here, it's so hot! +30 C!". Because yes, in our world, -30 C is also a possibility.

3. YO-lakki*
This is the cap you get (=buy for yourself) when you graduate from high school. It will make you look like a sea captain and your relatives sigh out of pride. You finally did it! You've survived your matriculation exam and are ready to celebrate your graduation (and soon after, to become a poor university student).
My graduation picture from 2001.
(*YO = ylioppilas = high school graduate, lakki = cap)

4. Sweets and chocolate
There's lots of both in Finland! Personally, I'm more addicted to sweets than chocolate, though, and no wonder - supermarkets have looooooooong walls full of all kinds of amazing things like Pantteri Mix, Ässä Mix, Missä X, and many other things. If you can't choose between the different bags of sweets, you can create your own concoction -  irtokarkki is a crucial word in the Finnish language. The absolute ruler of all things sweet in Finland is Fazer, and I highly recommend visiting their candy factory in Vantaa!



5. Cold 
You'll need the aforementioned sweets and chocolate for comfort as it's cold. And dark. Always. Your eyelashes will freeze. The first green leaves of the spring will make you cry from happiness because you thought you'd never get to see them again (true story!). And even then, there's still a chance of the winter making a comeback - in May. This unfortunate event is known as takatalvi.




6. Winter Survival Skills
Because of our snowy conditions, we have developed excellent winter survival skills. We have compulsory winter tyres for our cars. We have snow plows to make sure our roads are always safe to drive on. We have triple-glazed windows to ensure our homes are warm when the weather outside is frightful. Despite the snow and ice, our schools always stay open, planes take off and land, and kids play outside in their winter overalls. Babies even sleep outside in -15 C! In other words, the cold never bothered us anyway.

7.  Sauna, vol I: General
Amidst the cold Finnish winter, the sauna is the best thing that could happen to you. Or at least to me - I know many Finns who don't like the sauna and that's perfectly fine. The need to warm up in the -20 C, however, is real, which is why almost all flats, blocks of flats and houses in Finland have saunas. Newer buildings have individual saunas in all the flats while older ones have a common sauna, usually in the basement. Altogether, there are more than two million saunas in Finland.

The buildings with a common sauna offer weekly sauna shifts for its inhabitants, and in addition to that, there is usually a weekly lenkkisauna (umm, jog sauna? Don't ask!) for women and men separately. Finns also tend to go to the sauna on Christmas Eve. This sauna session is called joulusauna (joulu = Christmas).

If you're unfortunate enough to live in a building with no sauna, or just enjoy meeting new people or belonging to a sauna-related community, there are many public saunas in various cities as well. Check out Rauhaniemen kansankylpylä and Rajaportin sauna (the oldest public sauna in Finland) in Tampere and for example Löyly in Helsinki.



8. Maternity Package
What you may have heard about Finnish babies sleeping in a box is true. The box in question is the maternity package that every family gets from our social security institution, Kela, upon the birth of their child. The box is like a starting kit, and it contains around 50 products including clothes, bed linen, and bottles for your baby. Read more about the maternity package: here.

Here's me sleeping in my box back in 1982.



9. Silence
Silence is considered natural in Finland. This doesn't mean that Finnish people don't talk at all, but rather that if there's nothing to say, we don't say anything. Silence is not embarrassing or meant to be rude - though a visitor to Finland might experience it that way. I'll give you some examples:

  • People don't talk to strangers on the bus or in the lift (elevator).
  • If a stranger talks to you, it's a bit weird and you instantly draw the conclusion that they must be either crazy or drunk.
  • Our front doors have a little eye you can peep through to make sure that you don't bump into your neighbour when you leave your home.
  • Small talk doesn't really exist in Finland - if you go to a coffee shop and want to have a coffee, all you need to say is "kahvi" (= "coffee"). You don't need "please", you don't need "thank you", you just need your coffee. No, this is not rude.
In addition to not speaking that much, we don't really have many hand gestures, either. The middle finger is bad, the thumb is good, and that's about it. Finns also avoid eye contact with strangers, and don't really take part in a discussion led by someone, for example a lecturer at a university. This kind of behaviour actually leaves room for improvement.


10. Sauna, vol II: Social Event
Remember everything I just wrote about silent Finns? It's not all true. There is one place where talking suddenly gets easier for Finns - it's in the sauna, totally naked! It seems to be the case that baring your body leads to baring your soul as well. If you go to a public sauna, you'll encounter a bunch of happy people chatting about everything and anything while sweating on the benches of the at least 80 C room. The sauna also makes Finns lose their inhibitions in other unexpected ways such as rolling in the snow, swimming in a hole in the ice, and beating themselves with birch twigs. You have to come to Finland to see and experience all that!


11. Mökki
On the other hand, Finns have a way of isolating themselves even more - the summer cottage. Unlike you might think, this is a place where you go to work, not to relax. You get to mow the lawn, wash potatoes in lake water, chop wood, and live without electricity. If you want to experience the mökki culture in a city, go to Finland at Midsummer. You'll find completely deserted towns as the Finns have migrated to the countryside to go about their caveman things.



12. May Day Dipping in Tampere/Teekkarikaste
This annual student tradition from my home town Tampere deserves to be mentioned. After surviving their first year at the Technical University of Tampere, college freshmen are baptised into real students in the Tammerkoski rapids. A crane lowers the champagne bottle shaking students into the freezing cold water while the whole city observes the occasion every 1st of May.






13. Food that looks like poo
Finland totally excels at producing food that looks like your Number Two. We have mämmi, which is a rye flour based Easter dessert that resembles diarrhoea; we have  mustamakkara, which is black sausage from Tampere, resembles something more solid, and is usually eaten with lingonberry jam at a marketplace; and if you simply like the taste of poo, then many people say that's the general flavour of Finnish coffee. Finns do love their coffee, and we are one of the top coffee-drinking nations of the world. And let's not forget about salmiakki, or salty liquorice - I actually need it to survive!

And by the way, don't let appearances fool you - mämmi, mustamakkara and salmiakki are all good in some shape or form, so you should definitely give them all a go. I will leave you with a particularly appealing picture of mustamakkara...

Picture by my lovely colleague and friend Tove.
Mämmi! Most people have it with cream or ice cream. I don't have it.

14. Food that doesn't look like poo
We also have a lot of food that both looks and is delicious! There's rye bread, Karelian pasties, all kinds of fish dishes, Karelian stew for those who like meat, macaroni casserole especially for the kids...and voileipäkakku, or smörgåstorta, or sandwich cake - which we probably stole from our beloved nextdoor neighbour Sweden and then made our own. I'm not a kitchen goddess but I do know how to make a delicious voileipäkakku!


Rye bread at its best!
My colleague and friend Tove's famous voileipäkakku!



My sister Karoliina's voileipäkakkus!


And finally, if you ever find yourself in Tampere, go to Pyynikin Näkötorni to try their famous doughnuts! They are to die for!


15. Milk Drinking
Children and adults alike drink milk in Finland. We, however, don't drink chocolate milk with a warm meal.

16. Personal Space
Finns love and need their personal space. If you do a Google search, you'll find images of Finns queueing for the bus, standing at least one metre apart. It looks funny, but it's real!

Sitting next to a stranger on the bus is also quite uncomfortable, especially if you happen to be the one sitting by the window as the typically Finnish silence aspect becomes an issue when the time comes to get off - you'll actually need to let the Scary Person next to you know that you'd need them to let you out. You wouldn't believe how embarrassing the whole ordeal is!

Most Finns don't really touch each other, either, when having a conversation, though some do. Hugging, however, is quite common. No kisses on the cheeks, though!

Finally, don't drop by at anyone's place unannounced unless you're told it's okay to do so. It's always better to respect a Finn's privacy and agree on when you'll visit them in their most personal place - their home.


17. The lakes
There's altogether more than 200 000 of them, and they're all beautiful and free for all to swim in. However, we don't have many lakeside activities on offer. In Central Europe, you'll find pedal boats with slides and other such things you can rent, but in Finland, it's mostly just the lake and the nature around it. Typical lake-related things to do are rowing a boat, canoeing, swimming, and taking turns in swimming and going to the sauna. My dad has even built a raft that functions with a lawn mower motor and fits probably 15 people if not more!



18. Shoes
Shoes are taken off inside, unless you're attending someone's graduation party or other such thing where clean shoes are a part of your outfit.

19. Nightless Nights/Midnight Sun vs. Lightless Days/Kaamos
In the summer, the sun doesn't really set at all in Finland. In Lapland, you have really light nights while in the southern parts of the country, it looks something like in the pictures below, taken at midnight in June. On the other hand, Finnish winters are really dark, especially if we don't have any snow, and the sun sets so early that by the time you get off work, it will be pitch black. Quite a few Finns suffer from what we refer to as kaamosmasennus, depression caused by not seeing the sun properly for a long time. (kaamos = the dark winter period)




20. Headlights
Despite the nightless nights in the summer and because of the constant darkness in the winter, you'll always need to drive with your headlights on. Having them on is not a choice.

21. Elks
We have a lot of them, which is why we also have a lot of fences to keep them off the streets and motorways. You'll also spot warning signs when driving in areas where elks are common. However, if you want to spot an elk, you should probably go to a zoo, for example in Ähtäri as elks don't actually just roam around everywhere for you to get nice pictures of them.



22. Reindeer
No, an elk is not a reindeer and a reindeer is not an elk. Reindeer work for Santa Claus, or joulupukki. Just to show my love for our neighbour Sweden, I'll give you a picture of reindeer taken at Skansen in Stockholm. Go there! You will actually also be able to see reindeer in the wild in Lapland, but only in Lapland. Go there, too!





23. Joulupukki
Yes, he's Finnish and he lives in Rovaniemi in the Arctic Circle. You can meet him there and he'll be sure to speak your language to you! I also have a lovely Finnish movie recommendation for you - Joulutarina (Christmas Story), which tells the story of how Santa became Santa.

Here's a picture of Julcsi and me with Santa Claus in Lapland. The picture is not particularly sharp, but hello, it's Santa!



24. Dish Drying Cabinet
This is one of the best things to come out of Finland. Above your sink, you'll have a so called dish drying cabinet, where you can put your newly done dishes to dry. It's great!



25. Sauna, vol III: The Experience
The sauna is back! I've talked about the general things and the social aspect of it, but what still remains is the experience itself! Unfortunately I don't have many pictures to share right now, but I will make sure to return with a couple of lovely snapshots later on.

I like a sauna that is heated up to 80 C. I recommend taking a shower before going into the sauna to prevent your skin from burning. Hardcore sauna goers also wear a sauna hat so as not to burn their hair. Also, bring a bucket of water, a scoop, and something to sit on, such as a small towel (but don't wrap it around yourself!).

Now you're in the sauna. Sit on the bench (the higher up you are, the hotter it will get), take a comfortable position, and then throw some water on the hot stones. Some people also like splashing water on the walls and benches to make it more moist. As for the water that goes on the stove, I like throwing maybe three scoopfuls to begin with to make it nice and hot. Then you'll just keep repeating this until it gets too hot for you and you need to go outside to cool yourself off for a while. Take a nice, cool shower, go outside, have a dip in a lake if you happen to be close to one, and then go back into the sauna. My sauna sessions usually last from 30 minutes up to an hour, with many shower breaks in between. Some people do less, some do more. Some like a really hot sauna - my grandpa heats his one up to 100 C! Oh, and like I said before, you go into the sauna naked. No swimsuit, no towel around you. The saunas at swimming halls strictly forbid swimsuits because they're considered unhygienic.

There are a lot of products you can use to spice up your sauna experience. You can mix different scents such as eucalyptus, tar and birch tree with the water in your bucket to make your sauna smell nicer. These scents come in small bottles that you can buy in any supermarket. Supermarkets will have a section dedicated to sauna products so it's easy to find anything you might be interested in trying. You can also throw a little bit of beer on the stove to get a nice scent of freshly baked rye bread!

Some people like to grill sausages on the stove, though this is always forbidden in common saunas. People also often have a beer in the sauna, though probably again not in public saunas.

Some important sauna vocabulary for you:

KIUAS = stove
KIULU = sauna bucket
LÖYLY = the heat that results from throwing water on the stove
LAUTEET = the benches in the sauna
KAUHA/KUUPPA = scoop
VIHTA/VASTA = a bunch of birch twigs you can use to hit yourself in the sauna to better your blood circulation

The sauna has traditionally been important in the Finnish culture. It's the place where babies were born, sick people were attended to, and the dead were prepared for their final journey. Many Finns like to have a little elf figurine in their sauna. This elf is referred to as saunatonttu, or the sauna elf, and it's there for protection. In Finnish folklore, the sauna elf also punishes naughty people. The sauna elf was or is believed to enjoy the final löyly once everyone else has had their sauna session.

Needless to say, the sauna is one of my absolute favourite things about Finland. Here's our cat Nessu, loving his birch twigs. You can also buy dried ones such as the ones in the picture.


26. Mölkky & Afrikan tähti 
These are Finnish games. Mölkky is pictured below - it's a throwing game where you try to hit target pins and collect exactly 50 points.


This is what you would wear at the summer cottage!

Afrikan tähti
, on the other hand, is a Finnish board game where the players try to find the biggest diamond possible by travelling around Africa. There can be many opinions about this game, but it's very commonly found in Finnish households.

27. Honesty
Finnish people actually mean what they say. If someone says "Let's have dinner!", it really means that you will. If someone says "Let's meet at 2 pm!", that's when you should arrive, or preferably a bit before. Punctuality is highly valued. Finns don't like exaggerating, and we're mostly pretty down to earth, and not particularly corrupted.

28. Drinks from the Nature
I wanted to include drinks from the nature on my list because there are some amazing things you can find. Mahla, or birch sap, is a liquid you can collect from birch tree trunks in the spring while kuusenkerkkä, or spruce sprout has traditionally been used to cure diseases. My lovely friend Tuulia has an amazing food blog where she has shared a couple of cool spruce sprout recipes. How about a spruce sprout schnapps?


29. Other Homemade Drinks
Some traditional drinks I want to mention are sima, or mead, that we drink on May Day; kotikalja, or homemade non-alcoholic beer that people sometimes drink with their meal; and sahti, that is the traditional alcoholic drink that comes from where my mum is from, Lammi. Give them a go if you can!

30. Alcohol Monopoly
And by the way, the selling of alcohol is monopolised in Finland. You can get beer, cider and long drinks at supermarkets, but for anything stronger, you'll need to head for Alko. Bear in mind that they close at 8 pm during the week and even earlier at the weekend. You can obviously still buy drinks at pubs and clubs.

31. Monsters, Elves and Trolls
We like our monsters, elves and trolls. Since Santa Claus is Finnish, we obviously have a lot of elves, too. We also have our beloved Rölli-peikko, the friendly troll from a children's TV show with lovely educational songs. In 2006, Finland finally won the Eurovision Song Contest with a band called Lordi praising Hard Rock Hallelujah, which was legendary since we hadn't won the contest before, nor have we been successful in it since then. And finally, we have our Moomin trolls, created by Tove Jansson, one of my personal heroes.



32. Confirmation Camp
We have this tradition called confirmation camp where 15-year-olds are sent camping for a week to learn about the Bible and to gain the right to become someone's godparent or get married in a church later on. Most teens seem to love the experience while others, like me, aren't that impressed and only go for the presents. Because yes, your week is followed by a big confirmation ceremony with lots of presents from your relatives and family friends.

33. Free Buckets
Free buckets need to be mentioned! Finland is not the country of freebies, but whenever a shop announces they're giving out free buckets to the first 100 people who show up, people get desperate and are willing to do anything for their free bucket. I tested this theory earlier on in the year at an education fair where I got the bucket in the picture below. Lo and behold, I was attacked from left, right and centre by bucket-loving Finns, begging to find out where I had got my bucket! See, I told you this deserved to be on the list! A good word to learn, therefore, is ämpäri - when you see it, go for it for a fun experience!



34. The Forests
Such a big part of Finland is covered by forests that they need to be on this list. You can go to the forest to pick berries and mushrooms, or just enjoy the beauty and silence of Finnish nature there.  This picture is from Aulanko in Hämeenlinna, my new home town. I think it's stunning, and I'm guessing you'll agree!

A post shared by P. Julcsi (@peajaypea) on

35. Kippis = Cheers!
So here we are at number 35. The number of the years I've lived in Finland (minus my exchange periods, of course) and the number I want to dedicate to Finland's 100 years. So: Kippis! Cheers! Happy birthday, Finland, and thanks for having me!


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Thursday, 9 November 2017

Representing Finland on the Embassy of Finland in Washington DC's Website!


I had the amazing opportunity to write a blog post about my Fulbright experiences for the Embassy of Finland in Washington DC! This is a huge honour, especially since it's the Centennial of Finland - I love to have been able to do a little bit of something to represent Finland in the world this year!

Check out the post here:


Fulbright to the Fullest: Inspired by Inclusion


In other news, I just finished my inquiry project on the inclusion of LGBTQ+ students in American schools and got amazing feedback for it (I was told I should pursue a doctorate )! Thus, all is well in B-Town :).

An autumnal snap of the Sample Gates.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

One Day in Indianapolis


At the end of September, in an attempt to escape the stress caused by the inquiry project, Julcsi and I decided to catch the Campus Commute shuttle from Bloomington to Indianapolis for the day. Indianapolis is the state capital of Indiana, and it's conveniently just an hour away from Bloomington, so a day trip can be arranged easily. The bus connections here are not the best in general, so Campus Commute is a life saver! It operates between the two IU campuses (yes, there's another one of those in Indy) during the week and a round trip will cost you $23.

We managed to choose an incredibly hot day for our Indy excursion - it was 35 C!! What a day to spend seven hours wandering outside! At the same time, it was perfect because everything looked so pretty and we really got to experience Indianapolis at its best.

The shuttle dropped us off at the State House, which looks a lot like the Capitol in Washington, DC.








After our photo session, we decided it was time to have breakfast, and headed towards the Monument Circle, which is the very centre of downtown Indianapolis. I instantly liked the city - it's very much like New York, only smaller and, as a result, with a more intimate vibe. Sex and the City-type music was playing out in the streets, and there were lots of lovely-looking restaurants and coffee shops everywhere. We ended up going to a breakfast restaurant called Yolk for some West Coast Crepes.

The Indiana State Soldiers and Sailors Monument.




Our next stop was the Indiana World War Memorial Plaza. There, we also met a very friendly squirrel (seriously, squirrels and groundhogs have been one of my favourite things here in Indiana!).

The Indiana World War Memorial in the background.

Hello, squirrel!




The Plaza continues behind the Memorial.



The State House from another angle.

Lovely!



Next, we headed for the Canal Walk - a waterside promenade perfect for jogging, sightseeing, or simply a peaceful afternoon stroll. You can also find gondolas, pedal boats and street art along the canal, so it's quite nice, especially on a hot day. I was a little bit surprised to find out that the canal itself was more like a very shallow pool (though no swimming!). I had imagined something along the lines of a romantic little creek, but the overall impression was pretty much that of an artificial river in a concrete jungle. Quite like a very, very urban Venice. Still, it was quite pleasant to be by the water, and - crazy as we are - we eventually ended up doing the whole damn walk, all 3 miles of it (almost 5 km)!





Indiana State Museum.


By this point, the heat got to us, and we needed to head inside for some air conditioning. We decided to have some cold drinks at the coffee shop of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. The museum itself seemed interesting, too, so if we still have time, I'd maybe like to go back to explore more.

The Eiteljorg Museum is right next to Indiana State Museum.




Once we'd regained some energy, we ventured out again, and found the "I Am Indy" sign...a cool view with Indy itself in the background!



The State Museum looked pretty cool from the outside, too - let's see if we'll get the chance to go there before the Fulbright experience is over.



Finally, we did the Canal Walk in its entirety before catching our bus back to Bloomington.


We found an urban library.
The bridge leads to the zoo.






Lovely!



We both really enjoyed the day and highly recommend Indianapolis as a destination. I think three days is all you need to see everything there, but it's one of those places where the atmosphere is enough to make you love it, so you might even be up to spending more time in the city.

My next post will be about Boston - not yet the conference aspect of it, but the city itself. Stay tuned!