In recent years, Finland has become the world’s model society in many categories and nobody’s as surprised as Finns themselves! Want to celebrate the eastern European country like a native? Here’s how.
Do not call Finland an “eastern European country.” Yes, it is the eastern-most country in the EU, but it took decades for Finns to convince themselves they were a part of the West. However, to get a feel for that 1970s eastern European flavor, stop by U.Kaleva, a bar named after Urho Kaleva Kekkonen, who was the president of Finland between 1956 and 1981.
Finns take their independence seriously – and celebrate it almost as seriously. However, don’t expect it to be a wild outdoor party, because it won’t be. Why? It’s cold and dark in Finland on December 6. Instead, turn on the TV and watch the President’s Ball from the President’s Castle like more than half the population does (aged four and up) did in 2017 and 2016…and 2015…and 2014…
… and then fire up that DVD of the Unknown Soldier. To reach peak “Finnishness,” read Väinö Linna’s 1954 novel by the same name first. Then watch the 1955 movie version, then the 1985 version and finish off the marathon with the 2017 version. Or watch the 1955 version on TV earlier that day.
Cuddle up on the couch with your trusty sidekick, mäyräkoira, the “dachshund.” That’s 21st century Finnish for “a 12-pack of beer.”
Drinking in solitude is not to be recommended, but since we’re in the topic of the Finnish language, it’s good to know that doing so is so common that Finns even have a term for it – kalsarikännit, or “getting wasted in your underpants.” That’s when you open that bottle of vodka with no intention whatsoever of going out later. A related word, used once the weather gets warmer, is pussikalja, or “bag beer” – beer to be enjoyed in a park or on a cliff overlooking water.
Of course people go out in Finland! In fact, it seems that new restaurants are popping up in Helsinki almost daily. There’s one! And there’s another! You can even travel to Lapland without leaving downtown Helsinki. Here’s how.
The only thing that can unite Finns more than the Presidential Ball is Finns doing sports, and they’re particularly good at two of them – Formula 1 and ice hockey. Go to a game and have a few beers. Interestingly, there’s no Finnish word for that. Alternatively continue your TV bingeing night by (re-)watching the 1995 hockey World Championship Final against Sweden, or the 2011 final, also against Sweden. Fall asleep wrapped in a Finnish flag.
Have a moment of silence. Just because. Silence is good. It’s golden. If you have nothing to say, well, say nothing.
Karaoke! Of course. The best way to end a night out is to end it with a couple of renditions of Finnish pop. In Helsinki, one of the most popular spots is Pataässä, “The Ace of Spades.” It’s unrelated to the Motörhead song, although Finns do love metal. There are more heavy metal bands per capita than anywhere else in the world.
We’re back to Finnish language. Sauna is one of few words that Finland has given the world, or at least that’s what they’re all taught at school – and you know what they say about Finnish schools, right? (The best in the world).There’s a sauna in your hotel. There’s a sauna in your airbnb place, and chances are, there’s one in the apartment you’re renting. (If not, there’s one in the basement). And there are public saunas too.The importance of saunas to Finns cannot be exaggerated, its spiritual meaning could. It should be noted, though, that about a hundred years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for midwives to deliver babies in saunas.So, off with the clothes, and into the heat. And then out and into the snow, a lake, or the Baltic Sea.
Everything mentioned above in one way or another, has one thing common – sausages. They’re everywhere in Finland – in the sauna, you can cook them in a tin foil bag on the stove, and in the summer, you can put them on a grill, or fry them over an open fire. On New Year’s Eve and May 1, or April 30, the day before May Day – a spring carnival in Finland –the choice of sausage is nakki, a short wiener, with a side of potato salad. Just the variety of sausages sold in an average Finnish supermarket is something to see.
And finally, you can mention the war. As long as you also mention Finnish sisu, the nation’s gritty, never-say-die attitude.
First published on scandinaviantraveler.com