The land of thousands lakes and 3 million saunas

 “What kind of coffee do you drink in Finland­­?”

“Coffee”

“But is it latte, cappuccino, macchiato or what?”

It’s just coffee. Year after year Finland is one of the biggest coffee drinking countries, even during our childhood we start practicing with little empty cups in a playhouse on our yard, with imaginary cookies, but with real company of our friends. We grow up, taste it for the first time, and even if it wasn’t so good, we start to have it, from light to dark filter coffee.

lake-panorama

Besides that, for me, when I think about my home country, first things to pop in to my mind are saunas, summer cottages and equality. For nonresidents: maybe Nokia, cold weather, Kimi Räikkonen, heavy metal… And we have all of those things. Take a tour through the now 101 years independent country, home of 5,4 million people:

tuomiokirkkowinter helsinki2You’re walking in the beautiful capitol of Finland, center of Helsinki, in a nice sunny afternoon. It’s already middle of the summer, you will survive with your shorts and a t-shirt, since its 25 degrees. Nice warm wind is playing with your hair when you walk past old stone buildings, you see how drivers appreciate local driving rules and speed limits, and when the lights turn green at the zebra crossing, you can safely cross even if your eyes are staring at your phone. It might be a little weird how people are walking really fast when there’s no hurry, how everybody keeps some distance from each other and only talk if there’s something to say. So here you meet our first friend from Finland, “Personal Space”. When you go out with your friends, usually it’s enough just so say “Hi” (Moi), and go grab a beer, or chilly cold apple cider from bar a down the street. If it’s too early or you are having lunch break around noon, a better choice is to enjoy a warm cup of coffee or tea.

Public transport is always running. Choose a metro, bus, tram, train, or city bikes, everything works with one ticket. It doesn’t matter, where you live in Helsinki, you can always find your way to the sea, nature reserves parks, forests to enjoy fresh air, or go to the center to see all the museums, churches, outside markets… Even in the center you can take your cold drinks, picnic food and go to the park with your friends, and continue there to the night life in Helsinki. When the clock turns midnight, you will see the whole city with different eyes, there’s music, talking, dancing, people are making new friends, hugging and smiling. Here’s another one of our friends, the alcohol culture that bring us closer together.

forrestcottageWhen it’s midsummer in June, you can find how Finns packing their cars and driving a couple hours to the summer cottage to spent a long weekend there with friends and family. One point of view, the best way to spend your midsummer is there, usually without electricity, running water or other comforts. You’re going prepare your food in a grill, maybe even a campfire, ranging from different meats, smoked salmon, salads, grilled vegetables, and always with a fresh batch of new potatoes. Sometimes even from your own ground if you’re lucky enough. Enjoy your drinks, play some Finnish game called a mölkky. There’s a saying that Finland is a country of thousands lakes, and usually you can expect to heat up the sauna in the evening, run to the lake to swim and enjoy the sunset. Sauna, our best friend, is a big part of the culture. There you can step out of your comfort zone and share the sauna with your naked friends and family. The oldest sauna dates back to the bronze age, (1500–900 BCE.), when you had a hole in the ground with a pile of stones. The idea was to heat up the stones, throw in water, and the steam would heat up the whole hut. It’s basically how it has continued from there to these days, and Sauna is a necessity to most of the Finnish people, after all, we take the honor of inventing it.  Nowadays you go there to relax, but through the history it has been used by mothers to give birth, medicate sick people, wash up deceased ones.

8814424746_9e4ef1e4ae_bYou can find Saunas almost everywhere, in apartments, public swimming halls and even in some work places, but the best one is always in your summer cottage, heated with wood, where you can step outside from the heat (löyly) to chill out, even if it’s winter when you can roll in the snow. Oh winters, remembering the days when there were lot of snow, over -20 degrees, red cheeks and thick clothes. It has changed a bit like the climates changing globally, but you can still experience that, especially if you go to Lapland. Land of Santa Claus, reindeer’s, amazing views across Finland’s nature and winter sports. We are still thinking back on our big win in the ice hockey world championships in 1995, our first gold medal. It really stayed in the history.

Did you know, that in 1906, Finland was the first European country that gave the women’s right to vote? That heritage is to be cherished, when it comes to human rights. Equality is an important subject, and it has been improving more and more through the years. As a citizen of Finland, from the first day you were born, you start to notice the equality. Government has given layettes to mothers for free since 1938, it contains the first important things for a baby like clothes and blankets. You grow up in a day care center, age 7 you start your free public school for the next 9 years, and after that you can start your studies in college, vocational school, university without huge student loans or tuition’s. You will always have a right to choose who you want to be, what you want to do in life. It doesn’t matter who you will fall in love with, since in 2017 Finland gave right to same sex marriages, as a big step toward to equal rights for everyone.

Tip if you’re going to travel to this Nordic country some day, be open minded and spread your smile to Finnish people, explore different parts of nature, enjoy this culture where you find to appreciate your own time and silence, and always, always remember to taste some salmiakki (hard, salty, black candy),  and rye bread. And if you’re brave enough, you can fulfill the Finnish stereotype: “Drink vodka in the sauna, run out naked to roll down in the cold snow yelling PERKELE.” (Perkele means devil in modern Finnish and is a popular, strong profanity, especially used in this stereotype)

Selina Niemi

lake

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