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Finnish Independence day celebrations at Tamperetalo, 2013.

Strange freedom: 6 weird Independence Day traditions from around the world

Finnish Independence day celebrations at Tamperetalo, 2013.
Independence. Isn’t that word sweet? Here in Finland, we celebrate independence for the 99th time in 2016, so we thought it would be fitting to compare independence day traditions in Finland to other countries.

In our defence, as you read on, remember what the weather is like in Finland in early December.
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Go go snow! The incredible stories of the world’s coolest snowmobiles

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Living in the 21st century, it’s easy to forget that until relatively recently populations in cold-weather areas were practically stranded by snowy winters. That all changed with the invention of engine-powered snowmobiles. While we’re all familiar with the modern version it turns out the snowmobile has a long and colourful history, spanning more than a century. To celebrate this we’re taken a trip down a memory lane, and unearthed the coolest snow transports of all time. Wrap up warm and enjoy the ride!

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More kahvi, sir? How Finns became the world’s greatest coffee drinkers

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Think of great coffee drinking nations and you’ll probably think of Italians sipping their cappuccinos or the Spanish enjoying cortados. One nation unlikely to even make your top ten, however, is Finland. You’ll be surprised to hear then that Finns are, in fact, the world’s number one coffee drinkers. Incredibly, your average Finn drinks 12 kilos of the black stuff per year, far ahead of Italy (5.7 kilos per year) and Spain (4.5 kilos per year). So, how did this obsession begin?

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This amazing Instagram photographer will teach you about Helsinki’s walls

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Anyone who’s into Helsinki should take note of this Instagram profile, Helsinkifacades. The account has one goal: documenting the facades of Helsinki, in glorious detail.

The idea isn’t new: the Ihaveathingforwalls Instagram is a must-see for any friends of architecture, but this hyper-localized account documents Helsinki, one wall at a time.

We warmly recommend reading the captions too. The unnamed photographer gives well-researched detail about the origin of the buildings, including architects and years built. The same photographer has a general repository of more Helsinki goodness in a separate account: @somewhereinhelsinki_.

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We’re not done yet: LGBT rights in Finland aren’t perfect

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For the entirety of last week, Helsinki was flooded with diverse expressions of sexuality and gender thanks to Helsinki Pride. Arranged annually by HeSeta and partners, Helsinki Pride is easily Finland’s largest event for sexual and gender minorities and takes place the week after Midsummer, with an attendance of tens of thousands.

For an onlooker observing the culmination of the week, the parade through Helsinki on Saturday, it’s easy to feel joy and solidarity over how far Finland and many other countries have come in respecting basic individual rights. After an exceptional tear gas attack on the Helsinki Pride parade in 2010 by perpetrators with ties to neo-Nazi groups, the popularity of the event has only increased.

Major urban areas in Finland appear to be pretty good places to openly live as an LGBT person. History is far from rosy in this regard, though.  We could do worse than to remember that Pride parades enjoy a very recent past as demonstrations for basic human rights, rather than leaning towards a smiley-faced opportunity for institutions to remind us of their open-mindedness.

As we will learn, the present is also far from perfection for LGBT people in Finland. The situation remains deeply flawed for transgender and intersex individuals in particular.

But first, read on for a selection of milestones in Finnish legislation relevant to LGBT issues. We’ve sourced these from Seta, Finland’s main LGBT rights organization.

Demonstrators in Helsinki on Kansalaistori near the Parliamane on 28 November 2014, before and right after the passing vote of the Tahdon 2013 marriage equality bill, based on a citizen initiative.

Demonstrators in Helsinki on Kansalaistori near the Parliament on November 2014, before and right after the passing vote of the Tahdon 2013 marriage equality bill, based on a citizen initiative. Photos by Thomas Nybergh (1 & 2) .


 
 

Stockholm was the gay utopia

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1971, with “promotion of homosexuality or homosexual acts” (similar to the British ‘Section 28’) remaining illegal. The classification of homosexuality as a medical condition was abolished a decade later.

Many older people remember the post-war years of an era when Stockholm was a promised land. Indeed, Finnish tabloids cultivated the idea that all Swedes must be gay, ever since homosexuality was decriminalized in Sweden in 1944.

In Finland, discrimination based on sexuality was prohibited in 1995 and discrimination based on gender identity or expression thereof in 2005.

In legal recognition of life partnership, civil unions, or “registered partnerships”, were introduced in 2002, granting access to limited rights similar to marriage. Rights were amended to include adoption of the other partner’s children (to ensure legal custodianship) in 2009.

The debate over gender-neutral marriage dragged on seemingly forever after the 2011 parliamentary election, with one disappointingly downvoted bill. The new system of citizen initiatives was put into play, resulting in 167.000 citizens signing a petition which resulted in approval of the bill in November 2014.

So, what are the problems then? We’ll explore a couple of them in broad strokes, but we acknowledge that this is merely scraping the surface of systemic discrimination inherent in a binary view of gender.

Tove Jansson and Touko Laaksonen

Two 20th century icons of Finnish culture, Moomin author Tove Jansson and Touko Laaksonen (Tom of Finland) managed to pull through as apparently non-heterosexual people long before it was cool, let alone legal. (Images: Wikipedia (1 & 2)).


 
 

The confusion over sexuality vs gender vs anatomy

In itself, the term “gay rights” isn’t a very inclusive affair. While mainstream culture around the western world seems to be increasingly accepting of the presence of homosexual behavior as a fact of life, many issues related to gender minorities are still clouded by ignorance.

As a complicated topic worth exploring further, it’s necessary to point out that the appearance of someone’s body isn’t always very indicative of their gender; especially when many cultures insist on a binary where gender corresponds to, and is determined by, one of two “acceptable” sets of reproductive organs.

But this is simply not the case. Put briefly: each day, intersex babies are born all over the world with visible or invisible ambiguity in their gendered anatomy: reproductive organs, hormones, chromosomes, etc.

Each day, doctors make random choices and, to put it bluntly, mutilate many of these children. The intention is to produce genitalia that conform to the prevailing norms of what boys and girls look like. Oftentimes, these alterations to infants’ bodies cram them into a set of expectations of gender that may end up being wrong at some later point in their life.

Oftentimes, such mutilation is performed in utmost secrecy; in recent history, parents and doctors have kept this information hidden even from the child well into adulthood, denying them the opportunity to explore the actual reality of their gender.

This is by no means a strictly Finnish problem, but some doctors defend this practice. Yet, such a level of guesswork seems amazingly lax for the scientific standards we otherwise expect from the medical profession.

Helsinki Pride 2014 post-parade Park Fest in Sinebrychoff Park.

Helsinki Pride 2014 post-parade Park Fest in Sinebrychoff Park. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen

 




 
 

Finnish transgender rights are dented by punitive bureaucracy

One alarming omission in Finnish human rights can be found in the treatment of transgender or non-binary persons; individuals who identify as the opposite of the gender they’re assigned at birth, or who find neither of the available categories correct. This also includes intersex individuals whose gender has been misassigned at infancy, often through surgical mutilation.

Some individuals who wish to reassign their legal gender to the other of the two available categories feel comfortable with their options; for others, the other position of the gender binary can be just inoffensive enough to be the less mismatched one. Again: two genders based on reproductive anatomy is far from adequate. (And gender isn’t tied to sexual preference either.)

Here comes the crazy part of the Finnish system: the process of reassigning one’s legal gender requires a doctor’s diagnosis. This is more hair-raising than it may sound, because people expressing too much gender non-conformity, or with comorbid conditions such as depression (itself often just a symptom of untreated gender dysphoria), are routinely denied diagnosis and care.

After this diagnosis, the person can apply for a differently gendered name and receive new ID papers. Only, the ID papers are prescribed to the same gender as before. One consequence of this is that people are legally forced to carry ID papers that may involuntarily expose them as transgender for at least an entire year before they may have their gender marker changed; information which may be exposed in countless systems that needlessly file people by gender, causing endless everyday inconvenience, and worse.

Shots from the Helsinki Pride 2016 parade and Park Fest at Kansalaistori.  Photos by Thomas Nybergh.

Shots from the Helsinki Pride 2016 parade and Park Fest at Kansalaistori. Photos by Thomas Nybergh.

 
 

How would you feel about being sterilized to get a new passport?

For a transgender person in Finland to be a candidate for the final, actual legal gender reassignment, a second doctor must confirm their ‘diagnosis’. Before 2015 people with one of the two possible diagnoses (which roughly correspond to ‘transgender’ and ‘non-binary’) were even completely ineligible for legal gender reassignment, but recent activism has made it possible, albeit difficult, to choose the “less incorrect” option even with the ‘non-binary’ diagnosis.

Only, that’s not all: the individual must also be proven to be infertile. This usually achieved as a byproduct of hormone replacement therapy, which many transgender people choose to alter their bodies – and brains.

However, not everyone who needs to change their legal gender wants hormonal therapy or is able to access it due to medical concerns. So, in effect, Finland is practicing forced, or coerced sterilization of transgender individuals and other gender minorities. The price of not conforming to certain expectations about fitting into a gender binary is to be bereft of reproductive ability.

Trasek, Transtukipiste and Amnesty International provide more information on transgender and intersex rights in Finland, in Finnish.

Title images (1 and 2) by Alejandro Lorenzo




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Midsummer madness: 12 retro juhannus photos that show how Finns partied in the past

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Empty streets, silent cities, closed shops — wait, what kind of holiday is this Juhannus?!

The utter deadness of Finnish cities at Juhannus, or Midsummer, often leaves unsuspecting foreigners baffled. Unlike the raucous celebrations of Vappu in Finnish city centers, Midsummer is all about escaping the hectic city lifestyle. Most Finns flock to the peace and quiet of their summer cottages in the countryside to celebrate one of Finland’s biggest holidays.

Midsummer is a celebration of the summer solstice, which in Finland and other northern locations is a special sight to behold. The days are at their longest point in the year, and the famous “Midnight Sun” of the north is at its most spectacular.




These days, Midsummer in Finland is held on the Saturday closest to the solstice. Celebrations begin on Midsummer Eve, with the majority of city dwellers travelling to the countryside to kick back and relax Juhannus-style. Grilling, dancing, bonfires, maypoles decorated with flowers, and of course drinking are all on the itinerary.

Wondering how old-school Finns celebrated Midsummer? Take a look at a few fabulous photos we found of Finns doing it up big for the summer solstice!

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Lessons in life: 5 books about schooldays everyone should read

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There’s a good reason school-stories have always done well: we can all relate, right? We might not have gone to boarding school like the Mallory Towers gals, or gotten our Hogwarts invitation like Hermione Granger, but the French class/homework/detention/Sports Day cycle is pretty much the same the world round. Children’s literature is dominated by it, whether we’re talking Enid Blyton’s The Twins at St Clare’s or Gillian Cross’s The Demon Headmaster, and the adult version, tipping into university life (a.k.a. the campus novel), is another perennial variety. So it’s not exactly obscure, but we love it all the same! Here are five examples of educational romps for all ages that kept us up all night with our torches under the bedclothes.

1. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

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A creepy classic of modern literature, this is set in a small upmarket university in Vermont, and it’s about a group of classmates who commit a murder. The characters are oddballs, in that they’re peculiarly snooty classics students, and the narrator, Richard, is so determined to impress them that he gets in way over his head… It’s melodramatic and completely mad but very, very captivating. You’ll never look at Ancient Greek in quite the same way again.




2. Back Home, Michelle Magorian

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A little girl is evacuated to the US during WWII and has a jolly old time, but then, boom, the war is over, and she’s shipped back to boarding school in England, where everything’s rotten, the other girls are awful and there isn’t anything to eat (damn those rations). And then drumroll, she meets a boy. Of course, it’s not that simple: this is a really bleak look at alienation and bullying and loss, but even if it might put you off boarding school, you’ve still got to read it! Complex and heartbreaking and, finally, uplifting.

3. Cat Among the Pigeons, Agatha Christie

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It’s Agatha Christie so it’s got to be mystery, and this is an article about school stories, so… yes! A murder mystery set in a boarding school! If ever there were two genres that cried out to be combined… It’s got jewel thievery and spies and kidnappings and Middle Easter revolutionaries and it’s even got Poirot (albeit only briefly)! With high drama and a lot of humour, like anything by Christie, you’re going to enjoy it, even if your own school days are going to seem pretty lame in comparison.

4. Moo, Jane Smiley

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A campus novel set in an agricultural college in the American Midwest, Moo features a memorably cast of academic freaks and misfits – one is conducting experiments on an unfortunate boar called Earl – and pokes fun at the genre as a whole, with one chapter labeled ‘Who’s in Bed with Whom?’ There’s certainly a lot of bed-hopping, as well as back-stabbing and conniving, and we thought that Dr. Gift, a professor who refers to the students as ‘customers’, is right on the money for today’s educational zeitgeist, though the book itself came out in 1995. A dry satire with a complex weave of plots, this will appeal to pretty much anyone who’s worked anywhere near the university sector.




5. Madeline, Ludwig Bemelmans

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Bringing it back home with one for the kids, this beautiful picture book and its series of successors features a little girl – Madeline! – who’s away at a Parisian boarding school (‘an old house with vines’ where live ‘twelve little girls in two straight lines’ and their long-suffering teacher, Miss Clavel. The near-monochromatic illustrations (black, white and yellow, mostly) are gorgeous and even the slight awkwardness of the English translations of the original French rhymes don’t make this anything less than enchanting. This first book came out in 1939, and while it spawned a still-expanding franchise of spin-off and sequels, we still love the original the most: after all, a book that makes even appendicitis seem fun has got to have something going for it.

We could go on: there’s Tom Brown’s School Days, for a start, and the opening sections of Jane Eyre and Angela’s Brazil’s brilliantly anarchic stories – but which are your favourites?

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In pictures: A short history of the fabulously fun Finnish holiday Vappu

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It’s time for one of Finland’s most loved holidays: Vappu!

Vappu, the Finnish version of Walpurgis Night and May Day, is a huge carnival-style festival that welcomes the coming of spring and warmer weather. Finns take to the streets and parks on the evening of April 30th to celebrate, drink, eat and socialize. For foreign visitors, it’s something of an unexpected sight to see hundreds (even thousands) of Finns kicking back in the park with alcohol and picnics, surrounded by colorful balloons and wearing what appear to be sailor caps.

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Fours DIY divers 1940s

17 photos that will make you see the 1940s differently

Fours DIY divers 1940s

With much of the decade dominated by World War II, the 1940s have not gone down in history as the happiest of times. But the 40s had much more to them than war. Swing dancing, jazz, fabulous fashion, classic film, and even the first computer all helped to define the decade as well.

People of the 1940s did the best they could to smile through the tough times. Take a look at these photos from 40s to see what we mean.

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