Sunday, July 15, 2012

Terveisia saunasta! (Conclusion/On the sauna)

The vocabulary we English-speakers use is diverse, varied, motley, heterogeneous and multitudinous. Even if an English speaker don't talk very good, each sentence out of his or her mouth is an artful combination of Latin, French, Old Norse, Old or Middle English, and to a lesser extent, Greek.  To that linguistic framework we attach words from most any language we find useful.  For example, if you were sitting on your futon eating a kiwi in your pajamas, you couldn't write an inane Facebook status-update without using loanwords from Japanese, Maori and Urdu, respectively.  This peculiar quality of English results from a long history of foreign domination, followed by a shorter history of dominating foreigners (which we're still enjoying today).  Yet the Finns and their language have remained distant - the Finns don't have the necessary self-esteem to conquer others, and they can't grow enough spices to be worth our time.  As such, from the many dozens of words in the Finnish language (by my count), only one enjoys common usage in English - Rapakivi granite.


Rapakivi granite is a hornblende-biotite granite containing large rounded crystals of orthoclase, and its name derives from a Finnish compound word meaning "mud rock."  It is also the topic of today's post.


Oh wait sorry, I was just reading about granite on Wikipedia.  The only Finnish word that enjoys common usage in English is sauna.  Today's post is about the Finnish sauna.




Finland is home to 5.4 million people and over 2 million saunas.  The saunas are hidden in the forest and around all the lakes; they dot the tundra and line the seashore, they're built into every home where we might have a utility room, and they're on the roofs of urban apartment blocks and student dormitories.  The presidential summer residence outside Turku has a lavish presidential sauna, and members of the Finnish parliament have members-only access to a parliamentary sauna large enough to fit an entire naked governing coalition.  There is a sauna 100 miles south and 4,724 feet down from where I am right now, at the bottom of Europe's deepest mine.  During the Cold War, president Urho Kekkonen famously welcomed Soviet leaders into his sauna, and a sauna-book at the library has extensive quotations from Kekkonen on the sauna's merits as both a bathing and political aid.  Every apartment listing in Finland has a "sauna" column in the specs.  I can see a rooftop sauna from my window as I write this.


The saunas have wood-burning stoves, electric stoves, or infrared heating elements, all of which heat rocks, onto which you throw water, in order to produce sauna steam or löyly. It's pronounced just like it looks.  The historical origins of the sauna are unclear, because the Finns abhor talking about themselves, but for at least 1000 years the average Finn has dedicated a significant portion of his or her life to the production of löyly. Today, as before, löyly is the endpoint of most Finnish dreams and aspirations.  


In the sauna-prehistory, the traditional Finnish sauna was a smoke sauna, which also burns wood, but has no chimney - they would build a fire in the morning, let it heat the rocks for many hours until the fire burned itself out, then ventilate the room before steaming.  This has gone out of favor since the advent of having an actual job.  But at the time there was no other way, and the smoke was a necessary disinfectant - smoke saunas doubled as food-storage lockers, meat smokers, and the place for childbirth.  If the modern Finn is less likely to have been born in a sauna, he or she was still probably conceived or gestated in one.


So 2 million saunas, 5.4 million Finns.  By my calculation, that means that each Finnish citizen could spend 8 hours and 58 minutes each day alone in a sauna, without any scheduling conflicts and without having to converse with one another.  If, on the other hand, they do run into one another leaving or entering the sauna, there's actually a unique Finnish expression for that - it's 8 seconds of respectful silence.

But alas, even in Finland, society has not been organized to quite that degree of numbing, mechanical perfection.  Until that day, the Finns must share the löyly with others.  But I say with only in the broadest sense - they can see each other, but that doesn't mean they have to interact.  In the sauna speech is superfluous -  through deep inhales and muttered half-words, everybody expresses the same thoughts. These include, and are limited to, "there's not enough steam," "that's a bit too much steam," or ideally, "this is the right amount of steam."  If there is any discord - say, if the Finn with the water-bucket throws too little on the stove - the Finns have an expression for that as well.  It's 8 seconds of resentful silence.  As with any linguistic subtlety, a foreigner in Finland learns to distinguish between similar silences through repeated exposure.




My own initiation into the sauna ritual was surprisingly painless, aside from the steam-scaldings and the repeated birch-branch whippings (not made up, see bottom of first picture).  Whenever I would wade into some new cultural milieu in Russia, it was a minefield of rules of etiquette, archaic rituals and superstitions, all perfectly tuned to produce stress and wonder in equal measure.  So in Finland I expected the same - on the face of it, sitting naked in a tiny box with a bunch of natives would appear to be cultural immersion at its most terrifying and productive.  I thought the Finns would see through me like an autist through a Magic Eye poster, correcting every misstep and faux pas until I either cried or rapidly Finnicized.

Yet this didn't happen.  As it turns out, Finns don't seem to care much who you are, what you do, or how you speak, so long as there's enough physical space to accommodate them in the sauna.  This is a blessing for most visitors but perhaps a curse for my writing.  By extension, it may help to explain why the blog has floundered, and this is likely the last post.

The sauna is a warm, friendly, comfortable, thoroughly enjoyable facet of the culture, and the Finns would readily accept it (and often employ it) in various metaphors for the country at large.  Yet as Finland's most distinctive cultural tradition, the sauna neither offends nor challenges.  Within the country, it is beautiful but commonplace, and for visitors it is celebrated but not adopted back home. That seems to be the metaphor to me.

I'm reminded of Mark Twain's oft-quoted observation, that there's no difference between those who don't read and those who can't.  Within the sauna, for better or worse, there seems no difference between the Finns, who choose not to speak Finnish, and me, who can't.  That is, when life is at it's most Finnish, it can be hard to tell I'm in Finland.

What this says about the country has been difficult for me to parse, and even more difficult to convey in blog form.  One thing I can say is that, for the blog to peter out, without much conclusion and with weeks remaining in country, somehow seems a suitable end.  The harder I look at Finland, the less clear its outlines become.  This may in large part result from language limitations, in which case the blog will return when I do.  But I suspect there's more to it than that.  I'll post another round of pictures, because I have no shortage of beautiful landscapes and funny English,


but this may be the last essay for this trip.  Accordingly, please enjoy this collection of Finnish sunsets - click on any picture for a full-size version.  

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In this picture, you'll notice that in southern Finland the sunrises and sunsets happen at certain times, while in the North, they happen on certain dates.  I'm now in Oulu, which in this picture is the northernmost point that the sun still functions as it's supposed to.  














Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kokko! Kokoa kokoon koko kokko! (On Juhannus, the midsummer holiday)

The Finnish countryside is so idyllic, it makes Little House on the Prairie look like Mein Kampf:




Yet many Finns visit their mökki (translation: dacha) only 20-30 times per year, and even then, they often have to share it with other members of their family.  In a country of such natural beauty, with nearly 500,000 mökkiä to go around (according to the last census), trips to the countryside remain a luxury.  A luxury that everybody has.  But that doesn't mean they take it for granted - Finns relish their time outside the city, make ample use of the country's lakes and rivers, work hard on their various cottage-projects, and of course, steam in the sauna like it's the last chance they'll ever have.  In a stark rebuttal to everything our parents ever told us, the Finns are both spoiled and happy.

The mökki is also the centerpiece of Finland's famous midsummer holiday, Juhannus.  Juhannus is the most awesome holiday this side of Cosmonautics Day, and last weekend, a single Finnish Juhannus justified all of my language efforts, my larger graduate study efforts, and possibly all the work I ever did in school.  Rooted in pre-Christian Finnish folk tradition, Juhannus is so great that no Christian had the heart to change it - they simply changed the named (Juhannus comes from John the Baptist) and let the Finns revel in their blasphemy.  And revel they do - a typical Juhannus combines age-old rituals such as the kokko bonfire, fertility spells and widespread nakedness with more modern indulgences, like getting outrageously drunk and tearing around shallow lakes in powerboats.  And remember, it's midsummer in Finland - it never gets dark, so the party never ends.  And just in case this seems lacking in atmosphere, it's also Flag Day, and everywhere you look there are Finnish flags to remind you just how unhappy you are every day except this one.


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My own Juhannus began, as for most Finns, back in the chaotic metropolis.  It was Thursday afternoon - I was slaving away on grammar drills in the dark, dusty stacks of the public library


when I finally buckled under the weight of urban life.  I dozed off, escaping for a few precious moments the madness swirling around me.  But only a few moments - I was soon awakened by a gentle, male Finnish voice.  I was half-dreaming, but I think he said "sisävesiristeilylaivojen."  I apologized politely and then assessed the situation.  Next to the guard who had woken me up, an elderly Finnish woman was watching me with an apologetic look on her face.  Too polite to rouse me herself, it appeared she had called library security to perform the ugly task for her.  The guard smiled vaguely, and then quietly slipped behind the veneer of polite Finnish society.  The woman took a seat across from me to read the newspaper.  I was back in urban hell.


You know how cities are.  People like ants, endless lines of them carting in whatever wealth they can scavenge, carting out the corpses of the weak and the sensitive.  Every smile is plastic, every gift is a loan, you almost wish somebody would punch you in the face because at least it would be honest.  And the foreigners.  Don't get me started.  In these parts, it seems like every 1000th person I see is an Arabic-speaking, Turkish-Italian immigrant from India.


Juhannus couldn't come soon enough.  My first step was to get out of Turku as fast as I could.  I grabbed the bare essentials and hitched a ride to Tampere, where I thought I might find respite, but that city suffers from all the same diseases.  It was hardly different from Turku - whatever direction I looked, I saw the same post-industrial hellscapes:


universities like prisons:


and cultural decay:


Alright, that one was in Turku, I can't hide it.  Anyway, Juhannus couldn't come soon enough.  Except it did - I left for the countryside the next morning, with my only Finnish friends I didn't make via the internet.  Our destination - a beautiful mökki on a bucolic farm near a placid lake.  That is, the same place everybody else in the country was going.  Here's what it looked like from inside:


And from the sauna:


Our first task was to make a delicious lunch, to be eaten outside in the bug-free sunlit yard.  At least that was my first task - the girls' first task was to put on flower-print dresses and gather the family around.  It was so heartwarming, it made Mister Rogers' Neighborhood look like apartheid South Africa.



What followed was an endless sequence of Finnish delights.  A first swim in the lake for the season, which I enjoyed for about ten seconds before sprinting to the first sauna of the evening.  The second swim was considerably longer, warmer and more relaxing, but notably, not much darker.  The four of us drank wine, drifted between the sauna and the lake, and between Finnish and English.  I was partial to English and the sauna, but all combinations were nice.  Soon it was midnight, and all around the lake we saw the bonfires light up, grow, and eventually fade.  Smoke settled over the entire landscape, and the shouts of drunken Finns echoed across the water from all directions.

After midnight we went to gather wildflowers, obviously.  Note the smoke in the background, and the light.



It was so wholesome, it made fresh-baked apple pie look like John Wayne Gacey Jr.'s basement.  Legend has it that if you jump over 7 ditches to pick 7 different kinds of wildflower, and then you sleep with the whole collection under your pillow, you'll marry whoever appears to you in your dreams.


The girls struck out, but I was blessed - looks like I'm marrying my friend Joanna, who is also kinda my sister Annie at the same time, and lives in the house I grew up in in Illinois, except the house is in a big city, and everybody is eagerly anticipating some new space launch for some reason.  But in the morning I just told everybody it was Joanna.

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At the holiday's end, every Finn is healthy, happy and ready for the coming trip around the sun.  Everybody, that is, except for those Finns who died over the holiday in house fires, bonfires, traffic or boating accidents, or most commonly, by drowning.  In one last Juhannus tradition, those unlucky few are listed on the front page of Helsingin Sanomat (scroll down a bit), the country's largest newspaper.  This serves as a reminder to the survivors - every other day in Finland, in every sense, is darker than Juhannus.


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This entry is paired with the next one - the Finnish sauna.  I will post before leaving for Oulu next week if I don't squander my free time in the sauna... which I almost certainly will.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Autoton keskusta! (A tour of Turku)

If Irkutsk is the Paris of Siberia, as many Russians claim with a straight face, surely Turku is the Venice of southern Finland.  Granted, I haven't yet been to Helsinki or any other southern Finnish cities, but I have no reason to expect that they're any more like Venice.  And I haven't been to Venice either, or Paris for that matter, but the fact is, Turku is pretty nice - just like I hear Venice is.  Did you follow that?  Good.  But don't just take my word for it.  In this photo collection, you too can explore Turku, in all its Venetian splendor.


Presented below is a day in the life of Turku, Finland.  Our walking tour begins where my own tour began - wandering through the streets during my first week here, looking for signs of life.  And I found them, too - it turns out that my earlier description of Finland



was an oversimplification.


Much to my surprise, that Sunday the city was racked with political unrest - I stumbled upon a crowd of young Finns with a red flag, listening to a girl with a megaphone.


I couldn't make out exactly what she was saying, but she mentioned Turku, cars, and the word 'street' in the allative case, meaning motion towards - they were going to some street to do something for some reason!  I hadn't felt so energized since 3:00 a.m. the previous night, when the sun was rising and my jetlagged body thought it was mid-afternoon.  As it turned out, this ragtag alliance of the Finnish Left Union (formerly the Finnish Communist Party), me, and randos with a free Sunday afternoon was rallying to eliminate all cars from the city center.

Now generally speaking, I'm not inclined towards passing political fads and pet causes, but I weighed the pros and cons on this one and tentatively climbed on board.  I reasoned that if there were no cars in the center, I could walk in a perfectly straight line, staring straight ahead, from my Finnish lessons to the smoked fish stand kitty-corner from the school.  So I clenched a D-battery in each of my fists, flipped my backpack to my front to protect my ribs, put on a bike helmet, wrapped a bandanna around my nose and mouth, and looked for a pig I could punch.  But get this - there were no pigs, aside from a friendly one who came to check the paperwork at the beginning.  No lip-service to the law through a giant megaphone, no endless columns of baton-wielding storm-troopers, not a single extrajudicial ass-kicking for the entire two hours.  And for the protesters' part, when I unclenched my fists and looked behind me, they were all playing cards and chatting it up - almost certainly what the police were doing back at the station.  No Molotov cocktails (originally a Finnish invention!), no self-immolations, not even a catchy chant.  Really, the only difference between this protest and a low-key party with friends is that the protest was explicitly approved by the police, but then they didn't even stick around to crush it.


I was disheartened, but there was a silver lining.  The protest allowed me to make my first Finnish-language political critique.  As you can see above, for all their radical anti-car rhetoric, the group was employing a giant white van to play music from the stereo.  I started constructing a sentence in my head, and after a few minutes I turned to the girl next to me and said, "it's strange that they're playing music from a car."  And I nailed it, too - she understood, laughed, and said, "sisävesiristeilylaivojen."  Or something like that.  And I laughed too, because from the context I could safely assume she said something lighthearted.

Just as the party broke up, I captured a photograph that renders all this text unnecessary.  Here is the parting gesture of one of the leaders - thanking the crowd through a megaphone from the window of a moving car.


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So what are Turku's residents doing, in the absence of political strife?  More often than not they're in the sauna, but the sauna will get its own blog post in a few weeks. Between steamings, Finns here enjoy the rich cultural life you would expect from Europe's best-educated, hardest-drinking country.  This is Turku's spectacular public library, seen from the street and from inside:




For my American readers, Finnish libraries differ slightly from our own, and not just because there are patrons.  Finland, if you'll recall, is a hypermodern socialist dystopia, where free thought has been exchanged for free health care and other shiny trinkets.  As such, the library is just a mind-factory where the state assembles loyal cadres.  It's a two-part process, which I photographed as part of my tour, but also as an election-year warning to the readers back home.

First, the Finn submits to a retinal scan at the library robot (pictured below), which then dispenses whichever book Helsinki sees fit:


Then, he or she is legally obligated to read the entire book cover to cover, suspended from the ceiling inside one of these soundproof knowledge pods.


What was I saying?  Oh right, tour of Turku.  When the Finns aren't in the knowledge pods or jogging en masse,


they're reveling in their own cultural heritage.  And sometimes they're doing both at once:


Start paying attention now, I'm actually going to say stuff about Turku.  See that giant church behind the runners?  That's the Turku Cathedral, the most important religious building in Finland.  It was built at the end of the 13th century by Sweden, the Finns' dominating foreign power of choice.  It is worth noting that, though the church is the spiritual and cultural center of the Lutheran Church of Finland, it predates both the Lutheran church and, in a sense, Finland. It is by far the oldest man-made structure I can see from my dorm room.

The building itself has an eventful history as well.  The first cathedral was dedicated in 1300, and then built up throughout the late Middle Ages, attaining its current, towering height of 102 meters by the beginning of the modern era.  A meter is the Finnish term for a yard.  Much of the building (and much of the city) was destroyed in the Great Fire of Turku in 1827, but the church was rebuilt on the surviving stone structure.  Some inner walls of the church are still covered in ash from the blaze.


The fire was caused by an oversight in the church's construction - they had not yet installed this "the use of fire is prohibited" sign.

                                             

The church also houses Finland's most prized possession, which I hinted at in an earlier post - the economic perpetual motion machine.  This is my first attempt to upload a video to blog, so hope for the best.  About halfway through, I zoom in on a large gear ticking away in the back.  Every time it clicks, one job is added and one welfare check gets sent out in the mail.

video

Turku is actually home to two significant medieval buildings, the other being the Turku Castle, which I haven't visited and thus can say nothing about.


But I can say much about the cathedral.  This is thanks to the generosity of my Finnish blog-readers and the good people at /r/finland, one of whom invited me on an exclusive, apparently rare tour of the church and the bell tower.  Thank Asko for making the following photographs possible.  Asko is the Finnish term for Bobby.


View from the belltower - Turku center and the Aura River

The church is actually the centerpiece of Turku's "old city," the medieval market square that makes Turku a uniquely historic place.  But all the roads are torn up and under construction there, so that it can look its best once I leave.  These are a few pictures I was able to frame such that the construction isn't visible.



I wanted to round out my city tour with some views of the Finnish night life, but I encountered two problems - there's no night, and Turku's student population cleared out before I got here.  A few weeks ago though, when there still kinda was night, the Finns celebrated their mass-graduation day, after which all students of all ages celebrate in the city center.  The program director at my school called it "a disgusting and stupid tradition," wherein teenagers get drunk for the first time, lose control, vomit everywhere, and then get cleared out by police if they're lucky, by ambulance if not.  He said to stay out of the center if at all possible and to hope for rain.  So I went home and charged my camera, but when I got to the center, it was rainy and thus relatively tame.  Here are some graduate-Finns, wearing their ylioppilaslakit, or traditionalfinnishgraduationhats.


It wasn't all for naught.  I did snap this picture of two drunks fighting, just as the dude in the red punched the other dude in the face.  He swung so hard that he lost his balance.


But for the most part it was calm, peaceful and pretty.  What a let-down.



The blog is set to take us in exciting new directions soon, as I move about Finland and then settle up north.  First I visit Tampere and see my first Finnish mökki (translation: dacha), to mark the Midsummer holiday with our dear Finnish TA from Berkeley.  Then I study some, visit the Turku archipelago, and hitchhike my way to Oulu for more studying.  Expect pictures.  Expect a tour of Oulu.  Expect to learn about the sauna, the Finnish highways, and the wilds of the Arctic.  Most of all, expect the expected. This is Finland - all of my plans will go as planned, and then I'll go home.  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Puhutko suomea? (On the Finns' English)

Finnish, Swedish and English, in descending order of nonsense:


Have you ever tried to listen to your own native language as if it were foreign?  Next time you're walking down the street, try paying attention to just the sounds and the rhythm, but not the words, as if you're in a foreign country.  You'll find it's almost impossible - the mind makes sense of things if it can.  The same for print.  Try looking at this blog as if it's just a bunch of random symbols, like Russian or Greek might look to non-speakers.  It doesn't work - it always looks like language.  It's like watching a foreign movie with subtitles.  It's difficult, and irrational, not to read the subtitles.  You want to know what's going on, and you have the means to do it.

The reason I say this is because I was just at the grocery store, and I figured out why I'm not learning to speak Finnish.  I got to the counter, and put my items on the belt.  The cashier tallied them up - jarred herring filets, some cloudberry jam, a box of licorice, reindeer sausage and a couple of cabbage rolls - and told me the price.  Kaksikymmentäyksi euros, yhdeksänkymmentäviisi cents.  Got that?  Neither did I.  The Finns shorten all of their numbers in speech, so they end up sounding nothing like they do in grammar class.  But in that moment of hesitation, while I decoded the number in my head, the cashier caught my facial expression and said it in English.  And in an instant, my Finnish education was cut off.  The cashier turned the subtitles on.  But I couldn't get frustrated with her - it doesn't make sense to delay the people behind me in line, and her job is to take my money and send me off, not to teach me Finnish.

Contrast this with my first month in Russia.  I'd walk into a Russian grocery store, and put my items on the belt.  Cashier tallies them up - three packs of cigarettes, a liter of vodka, a sack of flour and a couple of cabbage rolls - and tells me the price.  Chetyresta piat'desiat'shest rubles, desiat' kopecks.  I hesitate, and start to ask the cashier to repeat it.  She hears my accent and repeats the price, slowly and condescendingly.  I don't catch it the second time either, and desperately try to explain that I'm just learning Russian, when the people behind me in line start yelling at me in all variety of Russian slang.  I give the cashier 500 rubles, and trust her to give me the change I'm due.  I gather my items as fast as I can, and red-faced, I run home repeating in my head all the things that were said to me.  My trembling hands finally get all three keys into all three locks, and I run to my room to rifle through the dictionary, learning as many words as I can before the tears cloud my vision.  That's how you learn a foreign language!

In Finland, my whole world has subtitles.  English is the lingua franca, every sign is aimed at English-speaking visitors, and every cashier is a professional translator.  For the Finns, it's an economic necessity that the whole country be bilingual.  But this has the unintended effect of actually obscuring Finland from those of us who want to know it, because I can't pretend I don't speak English.  So whether or not I like it, I occupy a surface-level, English speaking Finland, which is surprisingly disjoint from the Finnish-speaking Finland.  And because day-to-day functions all default to English if my Finnish is imperfect, it's proving very hard to improve my speech or comprehension, and thus make the jump.  I need to practice enough to reach some threshold, past which my Finnish is good enough not to trigger the Finns' English-mode.  But I get no practice because their triggers are so sensitive, their English is so good, and oftentimes they want to practice it anyway.  And in conversation, what Finn wants to talk about the price of cabbage rolls with me in halting Finnish, when they know they can talk about more interesting topics with me in English?  Like the Finnish economy, this language problem is a perfectly functioning, closed loop, and very frustrating for the rare foreign student of Finnish.  A host family was my best hope, but by the time I realized that, it was too late.  I wish Finland was as poorly-educated, self-obsessed, insulated and nationalistic as we are.  Then imagine what I'd learn!


So what can I say about Finland?  Every night I listen to recordings from Finnish talk radio, but I may as well just read the tags under each link - I'll listen for thirty minutes and hear the word 'Finland' fifty times, then maybe 'sports' or 'Russia' or  'good, yes, true', with long expanses of sisävesiristeilylaivojen in between.  90% of my day I spend asking my teacher about the plural partitive case, so that I can spend the remaining 10% at the smoked fish stand, asking how much I have to pay for plural partitive quantities of smoked fish.   I try to interact with people, but usually it ends with them speaking English, or me smiling and giving the international 'nevermind, it's not important' gesture.  A few days ago I decided I'd meet people via their dogs - dogs are even worse at Finnish than I am, and I figured I could pet them while I prepared perfectly grammatical sentences in my head.  So I approached a pretty Finnish girl with a pretty Finnish dog, confident in my new plan, but it turned out I lacked the requisite vocabulary - I started to ask, "can I..." and realized I didn't know how to say 'pet your dog,' or 'take a photograph of your dog.'  So I settled on "can I meet with your dog?"  That was the only time, thus far, that a Finn has laughed in my face.  And of course she answered in English.  It was rock-bottom, but at least I got to meet with the dog.

So in these circumstances, I've retreated in my Finnish ambitions.  At first I was trying to read Finnish newspapers, but that was too hard, so I moved to Finnish Wikipedia articles on topics that interest me, like astronomy and Finnish history.  Those were too hard, so I switched to articles on things I already know everything about, like the Simpsons and the Beatles, or American culture and cuisine.  That was too hard.  So finally, I've settled on a giant book of Finnish-language Donald Duck comics.


And you wouldn't believe the crazy trouble those ducks get into!  But even those are difficult, at least for now.

So in place of cultural insight, of which I have little, the next post will buy time and reintroduce another favorite from my Russia blog - a photo collection and visual tour of Turku.  I'll try to post that in the next few days.

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One last, important thing - I want to extend a warm American tervetuloa to my Finnish readers!  For those who didn't notice, over the last week my blog was visited by over ten thousand Finns, or perhaps by one Finn ten thousand times.  Thanks to these efforts, the Finland blog, after three posts, is considerably more popular than the Russia blog, into which I poured my heart and soul for well over a year.  I'm even on Google!  Simply type in "Finland blog," and then click "next ten results" eight hundred times, it's near the bottom.  Or, if you type in "finland blog cabbage roll dogsbody," it's the first hit!  And for those who have already found it, don't be shy - there are Facebook and Google+ (read: Facebook) share-buttons below each post.

At first I was nervous, because it's much easier to caricature a country, and garner American readers at the expense of its culture and people, when the subjects themselves don't read it.  But your overwhelmingly positive response has reassured me.  If you Finns promise to keep boosting my pageview counter, I promise to keep the blog in good taste, and to not take any cheap shots or easy laughs at the expense of your country.   


I also would like to exploit this to my own personal ends.  If any readers happen to be in Turku, feel very, very welcome to drop by the pääkirjasto and introduce yourself.*  And bring your cool Finnish friends, and take me to Finnish places.  I live alone in student housing, so I'm not seeing nearly as much of the area, or meeting as many of you Finns, as I would like to.  Come by any day around 3:30 - I'm almost always there, on the second floor, in the yellow-orange seats along the window overlooking Linnankatu.  No murderers please.  This is what I'll look like, except it'll be at the library:


And a week into July, I'm moving up to Oulu.  Nähdään!

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*Update:  All my problems are solved!  Kiitos to all of the friendly Finns/Turkulaisia who have visited and written (and even written in Finnish!).  I'm no longer at the library every day at 3:30, because I'm super cool and making plans with people.  But if you're in Turku, do leave a comment on the blog!  I still want to see and do things, and I've got a phone.