Functional, punctual and awesome: my first 12 months in Finland

When I was a teenager in my home country of Bangladesh the only thing I knew about Finland was that it’s the land of Nokia.

After completing my bachelor’s in electronics I worked as a journalist for 3 years, I then decided to come to Finland to pursue a master’s at the University of Oulu.

I observed a number of interesting characteristics about Finland in my first 12 months of living here and I present them below…

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Getting Naked with a Dragon in Finland: my scorching sauna experience

Kotiharjun Sauna

 

I am sitting naked on a high wooden bench in a darkened bunker. The stranger sitting next to me, also naked, is beating my back with a handful of frozen birch branches. My face is on fire as an enormous blast of hot steam envelopes the two of us and others nearby.

 

A surreal sadist nightmare?

 

 

No — just a fairly typical scene during Christmas Eve in Finland.

Christmas Eve is the most popular day of the year at Kotiharjun Sauna, one of Helsinki’s few public saunas with a traditional wood-fired furnace.

 

Finnish Sauna vihta

 

I came to visit my son Leif who is studying abroad in Finland, and we decided to celebrate Christmas Eve with a traditional Finnish custom.

There’s something magical about this sauna. 

 

 

I don’t understand a word of Finnish but each time the door opens to this Dickensian inferno, another naked woman appears.  She shouts something indecipherable to the Nordic goddesses around me that sounds like, “Haluatko minun kääntyä löysä lohikäärmeen?” I think this must mean, “Do you want me to turn loose the dragon?”

To which comes a chorus of replies, “Kyllä kiitos, emme voi saada tarpeeksi, että kuuma lohikäärme hengitys,” which means something like, “Yes please, we can’t get enough of that hot dragon breath.”

Each naked newcomer reaches up towards the top of the furnace yanking down on a lever thus releasing a tsunami of water. The sudden, skin-scorching steam momentarily obliterates my ability to see the dozens of other naked bodies assembled in various states of quiet submission around me.

 

What I think of as dragon’s breath the Finns actually call “löyly.” Löyly originally means “spirit of life,” but is interpreted as “a cloud of sauna steam” released to purify the body and calm the mind.

Löyly — and more specifically sauna — is how many Finns begin their Christmas Eve celebrations which tells you a lot about the Finnish practice of physical and mental cleansing.

The relationship between Finns and their saunas goes back more than one thousand years.

 

In addition to purifying the mind, “taking sauna” has been credited with driving out diseases. Decades ago women gave birth in saunas and there are tales of tumultuous lovers reconciling differences in an enveloping blast of löyly.

 

The ratio of saunas to Finns these days is one sauna for every 2.75 people.

 

There are more saunas than cars in Finland which makes sauna kind of hard to avoid. But then again, why would you want to?

Most public saunas disappeared with the introduction of shared saunas in apartment buildings, but Kotiharjun Sauna still operates daily. Built in 1928 in the heart of Helsinki’s Kallio district (an old workers neighborhood) it doesn’t appear to have changed much since then.

 

 

Today there’s a free Christmas Eve drink offered and between visits to the sauna I help myself to a Finnish beer. I sip on the beer as I glance through the photos in a Finnish magazine about (what else?) – saunas.

Eager for another round of Finnish cleansing my son and I return a few days later for a pre-flight sauna before my departure home.

 

The woman behind the check-in counter smiles, “weren’t you here a few days ago?” She asks, seemingly pleased to see us again. Contrary to popular stereotypes she is eager to talk to us about Finnish culture.

“Were you surprised at how talkative the men are in the sauna?” She asks Leif about his Christmas Eve experience.

Leif nods. It was a surprise given the reputation Finns have for being reserved.

“The sauna is the only place Finnish men talk,” she says laughing, “and it’s because they don’t have their wives and girlfriends talking to them, telling them what to say or think!”

Legend says that the most important decisions are made in saunas. According to Visit Finland, taking sauna together offers the opportunity for special bonding experiences which have no sexual overtones. I can see firsthand how saunas deliver total mental relaxation, clearing the mind of unnecessary clutter.

 

 

As I come downstairs ready to say my goodbyes Leif comes out of the men’s locker room.

My send-off from Finland couldn’t have been more moving…as Leif heads outside for a beer I notice a stray birch leaf on his shoulder, and as he emerges into the frigid winter air the dragon retreats back into the hot layers of weathered wood.

 

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more stories about super Suomi

 

Edited by Michele Lawrence.

See why the internet is going crazy for this video of Black Friday chaos in Finland

Finns are well-known for their calm manner and stoic nature. So much so, it takes a lot to get Finnish people riled up. Losing to Sweden (again) at ice hockey, beating the world at ice hockey or beating Sweden at anything being notable exceptions. However, maybe this will all change with the advent of Black Friday, the American materialist frenzy created by the land of uber-capitalism to get people to buy crap they don’t need.

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A Next Generation Finn: Hannu Huhtamo’s hand at light painting photography

With so much eye-grabbing art out there it’s difficult to find a focal point. Hannu Huhtamo’s light painting photography is an art form that provides just that — focus.

Hannu is putting an interesting spin on photography by overlaying long exposure captures of light movement to beautiful still photography, and he’s using Finland as the backdrop.

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milk photographed in dairy aisle in supermarket

Episode 9: When you can’t figure out which dairy product is milk

milk photographed in dairy aisle in supermarket

What makes a chatty Brit prefer Finnish silence? In this special episode, renowned Finnish comedian André Wickström interviews Joel Willans, author of 101 Very Finnish Problems, at the Helsinki Book Fair. We learn about the backstory of Very Finnish Problems, how Joel ended up in Finland and much more. In a bonus segment, co-host and producer Thomas Nybergh reveals his future plans for the show.

Contact: [email protected]

Produced by Thomas Nybergh / Ink Tank Media

 

 
Shownotes:

Hat tip to Sakari Heiskanen of Gummerus Publishers for recording the interview

Joel’s book: 101 Very Finnish Problems

André Wickström on Twitter

Joel’s book recommendation: Chasing the Scream (on the so-called War on Drugs)

Thomas’ podcast recommendation: Haven’s Gate, in-depth documentary on the suicide cult of the same name

Thomas’ podcast recommendation: Cults, documentary series on religious cults

Joel’s podcast app recommendation: Apple Podcasts (included on all Apple mobiles)

Thomas’ favorite podcast app (iOS): Overcast

Thomas’ podcast app recommendation (iOS & Android): CastBox

Very Finnish Problems can be found in all of the above mentioned apps and many more.

 

Download or subscribe

You can get the show as a direct download.

Get all new episodes automatically by subscribing in your favorite podcast app.

Apple Podcasts / Soundcloud / Stitcher / TuneIn / AcastGoogle Play / RSS

 

 

 

 

About the show

What’s so weird and wonderful about Finland? British born Joel Willans, creator of Very Finnish Problems, discusses, with a variety of fascinating guests, what he’s learnt after 15 years living in his much-loved, adopted country.

Follow Very Finnish Problems to get all our stuff.

Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

Title photo by teakwood

Photograph showing treelines in sunset. By Vesa Linja-aho.

Episode 8: Driving for 14 hours and only seeing forest

Photograph showing treelines in sunset. By Vesa Linja-aho.

Are electric vehicles taking off in Finland? Joel Willans, author of the best-selling book 101 Very Finnish Problems, is joined by Antti Korpelainen of Virta, a car charging services company. Topics include battery technology, long drives to Lapland and more. Co-host Thomas Nybergh is annoyed by misguided bio fuel subsidies and wants the current Finnish government to shove it.

Contact: [email protected]

Produced by Thomas Nybergh / Ink Tank Media

 

 

 
Shownotes:

Thomas’ article on Finnish electric car adoption, anti-electric lobbyists and harmful subsidies.

How Norway’s government made electric gars irresistible

Electric cars in China

Developments in battery technology and cost

Electric car crash safety

Antti Korpelainen

 

 

Download or subscribe

You can get the show as a direct download.

Get all new episodes automatically by subscribing in your favorite podcast app.

Apple Podcasts / Soundcloud / Stitcher / TuneIn / AcastGoogle Play / RSS

 

About the show

What’s so weird and wonderful about Finland? British born Joel Willans, creator of Very Finnish Problems, discusses, with a variety of fascinating guests, what he’s learnt after 15 years living in his much-loved, adopted country.

Follow Very Finnish Problems to get all our stuff.

Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

Title photo by Vesa Linja-aho

The 5 most fascinating facts from Crowst’s Finnish sausage survey

What is it with Finns, grilled sausages and summer? Every Friday night you’ll find hordes of people queuing up at the grilli for a taster. You’ll find sausages at hockey matches, being sizzled at the summer cottage, feasted on at picnics and parties. Amazingly, every Finnish banger is based upon the very first commercial sausage, HK Sininen, launched in 1963. Despite this, Suomi sausages are still a much-loved part of Finnish culture.
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From Lahti to Lebanon: My journey to a Syrian refugee camp

 

While the Syrian war crisis is hardly fresh frontpage news, it continues to rage and gather more casualties with no real end in sight. This war has created a global humanitarian crisis, while refugees flee their homeland after being uprooted by selfish political desires and guerrilla fighting forces.

Wherever you live you most likely have seen this crisis manifest in extreme human persecution, death and desperation, and many people outside Syria feel powerless to help.

I currently reside in Lahti, Finland and this is where my story begins. Finland is a place like no other and the city of Lahti, even more so.

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