Friday, January 11, 2013

Blog Hibernation

I apologise for not posting. I need to get up the answer to my last question in my inbox, it has been there for a while. Unfortunately I will not be posting much on here in the future either. It is okay to send me questions but I will not be answering any for a while. I just lost my blogging mojo. I will get back to it when I get it back. I have been feeling uninspired and I just can't push myself to do this. Sorry for leaving without a word with still an unanswered question in my inbox haunting me only to return to say no more posts for now.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An Unseasonable Merry Christmas

Hello skeptigirl!
I saw a listing for an unofficial Finnish holiday on Wikipedia called Little Christmas or Pikkujoulu.  It describes it as workmates going pub crawling during December.  Would you give us a little more insight into Little Christmas?  What is the history of it?
Nashville, Tennessee

Thank you so much for writing Mark and my deepest humblest and, uncharacteristic for Finns, dramatic apologies for the delay. If we go by stereotypes, a real Finn would just have answered in a timely manner, we see ourselves as very reliable and hard working. It really is a good question but Skeptigirl is extremely lazy and prone to procrastination as well as employed for a change. 

The actual history that I found is a bit sparse because it is a young holiday and alcohol induced memory loss but it is based on the advent. In Finland Christmas is the main family and the main religious holiday. It may actually be the only somewhat religious holiday a Finn really observes because Finns are in no way religious as a person from the States understands religious. Still the whole of December is spent in pseudo spiritual observation and with warm fuzzy feelings if the hassle of having a spotless house from attic to cellar has not driven the average Finnish mother and wife to suicide. Finns commit a lot of suicides around Christmas.
Anyway, in the 1800s the advent was sometimes called pikkujoulu. Something resembling the pikkujoulu of today started to establish itself after WWI. It was modeled after the Christmas celebrations of schools called kuusijuhlat or literally “tree parties”. Before WWII it was sometimes referred to as a puurojuhla or porridge party. That must explain why rice porridge is served sometimes with raisin sauce, way more delicious than you think. Also some party type activities of High School graduates or ylioppilaat that took place in the advent season influenced it as well (so says Finnish Wikipedia) which might explain the amount or alcohol consumed in many adult pikkujoulut today. Remind me to explain the full significance of ylioppilas later.

The thing is, the pikkujoulu is more a celebration of peers while Christmas is a celebration of families and maintenance of warm family traditions. Pikkujoulu is all about fun. It is an opportunity to let your hair down, party with your co-workers (if it is an office party) or friends, exchange gifts and drink a lot of alcohol. There is a Finnish saying: Joulu juhlista jaloin, pikkujoulusta kontaten. There is a pun there which makes it funny and a pain in the behind to translate. Jaloin means both noblest and by foot, or walking. There is another, older and more serious, Finnish saying: Joulu juhlista jaloin. That by itself means: “Christmas the noblest of celebrations/parties.” But when the ending is added it puts the meaning of walking in there instead because it means “…[leave from] little Christmas crawling.” So leave the Christmas party on foot and little Christmas crawling [because you are so sloppy drunk]. I hate translation, trust me, I am an unpaid volunteer.

Now that we have left that painful paragraph behind, let us reinstate that Finns, in general, drink a lot when they party. They use alcohol to have fun like Skeptigirl uses commas and asides to make her point, way too much and irresponsibly. Both often end in embarrassing mistakes, one involving unwanted pregnancies, the other grammatical errors and awkward sentences.

The pikkujoulu is not always a pub crawl with friends ending in a hangover and regrets, but sometimes a space is rented especially if it is for a place of work or a hobby organization or club. Sometimes it is had at the place of work, a lot like an office party could be in America. Children have them too, minus the alcohol. I had one with my class in elementary school. We all brought candy and stuff and had a little party during school hours. This is not to be confused with joulujuhla which is put on by elementary schools which involves a pageant with songs and bad acting for the parents and refreshments.

The truth is there is not much to tell about the pikkujoulu, at least by me. I have not been to one since that one time in elementary school. My church has had one but it was the English Service Christmas Party so that was not the same thing at all. 

I hope I answered the question alright Mark. As always, feel free to add your observations on pikkujoulu the comments below along with any other comments and questions. If you ask a question in the comments I will answer it with only one paragraph and no research so if it is something more involved, on the subject or off, send it to

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I have one more question staring at me accusingly from my inbox begging me to answer it. I have been procrastinating, there is no excuse. I am sorry. I will try to get around to it soon, I have started. I am also wrestling with myself to get myself to translate something pro-bono from English to Finnish. It is a lot less fun than you would assume especially taking into account how bad my Finnish grammar is, these people are desperate.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Finland, a Good Place to Live

In the U.S. Norway, Sweden and Finland are pointed to often as being great countries to live, from your perspective what do you think about that?

This is Jeffrey’s final question, please send me more. The e-mail address is No matter how small or silly, I can answer it. I will even try to tackle the big and controversial. Prompt answers are not to be expected but eventual answers are guaranteed at this time.

Dear Jeffrey,
I think Finland is a wonderful country to live in. It has its faults but I love it here and not just because it is my native country. I have perspective on this issue having lived in the United States for 18 years. I only moved back here a little less than two years ago. Still, I can only speak from my own perspective. There are plenty of complainers on the internet and around town that I hear. Some say that Finland is a crap place without really offering an explanation. Others say Finland is terrible in regards to business. Others say the taxes are too high. Some point to the far reaching alcohol abuse. Still others complain that Finland is overrun with freeloading darkies. The last group has their own political parties The Finns or the True Finns (perussuomalaiset) and Vapaus Puolue. 

Some of these criticisms have merit. The way Finnish business is regulated is tight and the taxes are high. This is fine and even good in my opinion when it comes to big businesses like Nokia, Fiskars and other huge companies. The real problem, from what I have heard, is that the taxes are not really lower for the small businesses. I think the government should be more supportive and legislate to encourage small business more than it does now. It is not a terrible place to have small businesses. Several people I know have their own businesses and do well and succeed. I think this is a case of, could be better but is not bad.

The charge that taxes are high is completely true. Well, they are high if you make a lot of money. They are pretty low for low income. Once you get in the middle class and get comfortable they start to go up. This is because Finland is social democratic. We pay higher taxes than most countries but we get a lot for it. We get the best education in the world. It is all free, not just elementary through high school but University and certain job training too. We also get healthcare. When living in the US there was five years that I did not visit the doctor during. It is good that I did not get sick because I could not have afforded it. Here when I had my last doctor’s appointment it cost me 20euros. My son gets all medical and dental care completely free until he is 18. He also has access for free to any physical, mental or speech therapy that he may need. If he needs glasses the eye doctor is free as well. Glasses and medication, not so free but everything else is. Medication is very reasonably priced. Crime is pretty low. If it was not for violence fueled by alcohol and bicycle theft we would have one of the lowest rates of crime in the EU. 

Speaking of the alcohol problem, it is true, as I said about the binge drinking on Vappu. There is an underage drinking problem here as well. About a year ago I went to the store with my husband and we also went to buy a bottle of vine at Alko (state liquor store). Behind us in the checkout line was a young man, maybe fourteen with his mother. Young man puts a large bottle of brown hard liquor on the belt and mother pays for it. Leaving the store I saw the young man drinking it outside the store with another young man with the mother nowhere in sight. There is a problem with alcoholism and underage drinking that is deeply engrained in the culture that is complicated and I hope to discuss it in a future post in more detail.

Still, I really think this is a very good place to live. It is beautiful:
I can walk, bike or take a bus anywhere and I don’t need a car. People don’t think I am crazy for walking on the street like they did in America.

The political freedoms and the ability to influence are so beyond what an American can understand in some ways. Finland is a small country and so your vote really counts. When you write a politician they are very likely to write back, especially during election time. I got written back to by representatives and a blogger Willie Lahti who is a naturalized Finn made a big project out of it trying to find a party to vote for. If you get thirty people together for a protest in the right place you get attention and your questions are likely to be answered by someone.

Education here is free. This does not just include K-12 but specific job training, professional degrees and university degrees. People say there is unemployment and that is true, but it is also true that there is a shortage of employees in fields. Healthcare and social work is always hiring and cleaning jobs are in plentiful supply. Then there are other growing fields these are just the ones that always seem to be hiring. If what ever field you trained for all of a sudden laid you off here you can pick another, if you can’t get another job, and go back to school, it is free. Still there can be money worries as a student because student aid is rather low but at least the classes are free.

Personal opinion aside, the Legatum Prosperity Index lists Finland as number seven, ahead of the United States. Other sources like Newsweek put Finland higher. They say Finland is no. 1. So, there is no consensus if Finland is the best, or one of the best, but based on personal experiences, and reading I have done, Finland is pretty darn great.

The last complaint that I listed about Finland being overrun with foreigners/refugees/dark skinned people is really ridiculous and racist. I will only mention it here to say that Finland takes in fewer refugees per capita than Norway and Sweden and also gets fewer immigrants. This argument is fueled only by ignorance, fear and hate and has absolutely no basis in reality. Personally 90% of my social circle consists of immigrants and I am uet to meet these free loaders who do not want to assimilate.

So there is good and bad like everyplace but I think it is great here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cold War and the Finns

Today we tackle another one of Jeffrey’s questions.

With where Finland is, what kind of perspective do the Finns have of the tensions that have/had existed between the United States and its allies and Russia (and/or the former Soviet Union)?  Has this changed a lot since the fall of the Soviet Union?

Thank you for yet another excellent question. Finnish history cares less about the United States than one would assume. We had our own tensions with the big bad Soviets. We fought two wars trying to stay out of the Soviet Union after our independence (1917). The winter war (1935-1940) that lasted just a couple of weeks because the Soviets were very ill prepared. They basically thought they would drive across and counter no resistance. They were poorly dressed and from the south so they were unprepared for winter and Finland easily defeated the invaders.

After this we had a grudging peace. The Soviet Union attacked again in1941 and this time the Soviets were better prepared and the fighting lasted until 1944. In the end the Finns were technically the victors but could not afford to keep going. Russia could keep throwing men at the war, Finland could not. Russia actually lost many more soldiers to one Finnish soldier. For this reason Finland had to make some concessions and give up some land.

After this, appeasement characterized Finland’s policy toward the Soviet Union for the entirety of the cold war and the existence of the Soviet Union. The reason for this was simple, we were afraid of having to go to war again. We did not want to lose more of the ones we loved, have our homes destroyed and we were tired of living in fear. We paid our war reparations which paradoxically revolutionized and jumpstarted our economy and ushered us into the modern era of industry.

Only now are the extreme anti-Russian sentiments going away. Finns used to fear and hate them. The fear in fact was so strong in cases that rumours about Soviet communists drinking blood circulated and other extreme tales of the macabre. This resulted in many Finns migrating to the United States to get away from living in the shadow of the iron curtain. They moved to the area of Minnesota in the USA and parts of Canada. So during the cold war I suppose the United States was seen as a safe haven, away from the Soviet Union. After all, we were in it together, in the fear and worry over what would happen with the cold war.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Finnish Holidays

Jeffrey has sent me several questions. I wanted to answer one of them today. This is the first one:

I am very interested in things that people celebrate in different cultures (festivals and holidays).  What are some of the best that are celebrated in Finland? What are some that may be unique to Finland?

Thank you for the question Jeffrey. I cannot think of any festivals or holidays that are just uniquely Finnish other than Finnish Independence Day that is celebrated December 6. Finland got its independence from Russia in 1917. It is a low key holiday that includes lighting of  candles inside and outside and tar candles outside.

 137Picture 004

Finns huddle by their televisions to watch the Independence Day ball at the presidents castle that includes the who’s-who of Finnish celebrities and politicians. We chat about people’s ball gowns, Source: Helsingin sanomat

admire people’s attractive spouses

 Source MTV3

and watch people trying not to pass out as they shake the president’s hand.


Another holiday of note, while not uniquely Finnish, is Vappu (May Day). It is celebrated on May first and second. It is the holiday of students, working class and children. I have been known to refer to it as “the most vomit smelling pee soaked of all the Finnish holidays.” This year I had to be “pee police” at my church for a three hour prayer meeting. It was an endless stream of people attempting to urinate on the church steps, the front steps. I would chase them off only to have the same people try to do it a short time later all over again. I am a little bitter about Vappu I admit. There is more to say but I will leave it at that.

Another is Juhannus (Midsummer’s Eve or summer solstice). It is also celebrated throughout northern Europe. Finnish people like to go to lakes and make huge bonfires and stay up all night as the sun barely dips below the horizon and if you are in Lapland it does not set at all.

That is all I can think of, for now. Hope it helped. I will answer another one of Jeffrey’s questions next week. I will try to cover other holidays over time, in greater detail as they become current.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Linguistic Strife

As the first question asker KaiWen gets answered first.

This is his question:

I hear that there is strife and controversy between the Finnish and Swedish speaking populations of Finland over language. Why is this? From what I understand they have equal legal status. There are plenty of other multi-lingual countries that seem to get along fine, like Switzerland or Singapore.


Well, thank you for your relevant and complicated question. Let’s start delving into this question with some background and statistics. About 5.5% of the Finnish population is Fenno-Swedish. In Helsinki the Swedish speaking population is about 7%. The autonomous region of Åland (Ahvenanmaa) is almost completely Swedish speaking. Most of the Swedish speaking population lives along the coast. My home city of Tampere seems to have relatively few of them. I have only ever met one. Not counting Åland there are about 250,000 Fenno-Swedes. In contrast there are 54,546 Russian speakers. Total population is about five and a half million based on current estimates.

Now that I have given you a bunch of gibberish numbers let me talk about the history of this language debate. The reason Finland has Swedish speakers who are Finns is that Finland was a province of Sweden up until 1800, I lost my history book so that is the best you get and need for the purposes of this article. After this Finland became an autonomous region within Russia. We retained Swedish as our governing language because that is what it had always been and Russia did not make us change it. Finnish was the language of the lower classes and Swedish the language of the educated upper classes. Later Finnish, after independence, was made into the language of government.

Over time the percentage of Swedish speakers has been declining but there are many communities that the percentage of Swedes if so high that some of them do not speak Finnish that well. Also in contrast I speak no Swedish at all, so bork bork bork. I see Swedish on a daily basis when I go to government buildings but in places like grocery stores, and the like, English is a much more common second language to write things in.

Now to the strife: I am sorry to disappoint you, KaiWen, the reports of actual strife are mostly limited to election times and as far as I have observed it is mostly centered on mandatory Swedish learning in schools. This means kids have to start studying Swedish in middle school whether they want to or not. Most people I have met have relatively little motivation for this because later when they are grown they will go to Sweden and use English as the common language because both Finns and Swedes have excellent English skills. Also English can be used to communicate with the Fenno-Swedish population too if their Finnish skills are poor.

During the parliamentary election this came up as an issue addressed by The Finns (Perussuomalaiset). They are a very nationalistic party and in my opinion racist and anti-immigrant in their policies. They wanted to remove mandatory Swedish from schools. This caused pro- and anti- demonstrations and it got a little heated there for a little bit but as the elections were over and the Perussuomalaiset failed to deliver on anything they promised it blew over along with their Get-those-Darkies-Outta-Here initiative.

The discussion about removing mandatory Swedish has been discussed since I was in elementary school and is one that is not likely to be resolved for quite some time now. I don’t think there has been much serious discussion about removing Swedish as the other official language. In conclusion, sorry to disappoint, KaiWen, the reports of language strife in Finland have been greatly exaggerated.

So, how was the first post? Anything I missed? Is the answer completely wrong? I welcome comment, addition and correction.