Treasures here and there

At first glance, Finnish antique stores look just like those in New Zealand: goods piled high, customers sorting through, hoping for a lucky find. But there are a few things here that often remind me that I am in Helsinki.

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Nordic animals: bears, moose, reindeer, wolves, foxes and salmon. No kiwi pot holders or tuatara sculptures here.

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Light shades: it’s customary to take the light shades when you move house in Finland, even when you are renting. It was a surprise to find bare wires hanging from the ceiling when we moved into our place, but that’s just the way it goes. Of course we have light shades in NZ too, but perhaps we don’t have the need to buy them quite so often.

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Glassware: there’s always loads of glassware for sale here, especially coloured glass and anything made by Finnish company Iitalla.

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Ceramic kitchenware: Likewise you’d be hard pressed to find an antique store here that didn’t have stacks of kitchenware from Finnish company Arabia.

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Tea accessories: including Russian tea cups and tea-glass holders, silver teaspoons and ornate samovars. In New Zealand we tend to have more tea accessories hailing from England than Russia, as well as places such as China and Japan.

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Dolls: particularly blonde ones in European costume. In New Zealand stores you’d also find, from a different era, brown-skinned dolls in traditional Maori dress.

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I went into another antique store recently that specialises in selling tapa cloth and artworks from the South Pacific. The owner told me that these items are highly sought after here, particularly Maori artefacts.

This store reminded me of the warm home of one of my closest friends who always has tapa cloth displayed on her walls.

I know some people may find the selling of cultural artefacts offensive, but on this grey, wet Helsinki day, it was just really nice to see something that brought memories from home.

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Lost & Found

Visitors to Helsinki often comment on how well everything works. The trains run on time, the movies start when they say they will and it is very rare to see anyone cross the street before the green man appears, even when there are no cars.

Another thing I’ve noticed is the displaying of lost property. It seems there’s an unofficial understanding that if you find something of little value you drape it somewhere it will be easily found should the owner come back.

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As the weather warms up the lost property du jour seems to be gloves. They are everywhere. Strategically placed on bushes, fences and elegantly draped over power boxes.

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Which is not surprising really as Helsinki recently came first in an experiment to find the world’s most honest city. Eleven out of 12 ‘dropped’ wallets were returned to the owner with everything inside.

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While every city has street crime I haven’t noticed it here. While Sydney is a great city, working in cafes there I witnessed bag snatching, wallet snatching, phone snatching, kids breaking into cars and people trying to steal the tip jar.

We even had one guy who would come in and stuff whole pieces of cake in his mouth and run off without paying. All part of living in a vibrant city of 4.5 million people where there’s a gap between those who have and those who have not.

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So to me these Finnish displays of lost property seem like an indication of the overall honesty of the city’s population. True, no one wants one glove but I’ve also seen hats, shoes and sunglasses strategically arranged that have been left behind.

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To be honest, Jonny’s Ray Bans disappeared after being left in a Helsinki changing room but he recently had a friend request on Facebook from a cafe worker here that he didn’t know. She was asking him to return to collect the credit card he’d left last time he bought a coffee.

Helsinki Tops World’s Most Honest Cities 

Helsinki Metro Runs on Honesty

How to make the best korvapuustit (three treats with one dough)

I had a baking lesson on Sunday with my Finnish sister-in-law Ilona. She baked while I took notes before having a little sample at the end.

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This dough can be used to make various sweets. To make enough for korvapuustit, a few munkit (doughnuts) and rahkapiirakat (quark pies), follow these easy steps:

Heat 5 dcl (500ml) of milk until it is slightly warmer than body temperature. You can use water if you are lactose-free. Crumble in one packet of tuorehiiva (fresh yeast) and stir to dissolve.

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Add 1 dcl white sugar, 2 teaspoons cardamom, 2 eggs and mix. Stir in 9 dcl of plain flour (unsifted) and a pinch of salt. Once the mixture becomes thick and sticky use your hands to mix. You want a balance between the dough being thick enough to roll and loose enough so it has enough air in it to rise.

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Add 100g of melted butter and lightly mix with hands. Don’t knead too much as the dough needs to stretch.  Now it needs to double in size so cover with a tea towel and put aside. A 1950s tea towel printed with Australian birds is always best.

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Heat the oven to 200°c. Once the dough has doubled in size scrape it out onto a floured surface. When making korvapuustit you can be quite rough with the dough, it’s okay to push a bit of the air out of it. Divide the dough and put aside the amounts you would like for doughnuts and rahkapiirakat.

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Roll the dough into a 1cm thick rectangle and brush with 25g of melted butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and then roll lengthways.

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Cut the dough into triangles with the edge of a spatula. You can freeze uncooked dough at this stage to bake later.

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Place the triangles on a tray lined with baking paper. Put them on the bottom edge of the triangle and push down (like you are squashing a pyramid).

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Leave a bit of space between them as they will grow. Brush with egg and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake in oven for about 15 minutes or until golden.

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For rahkapiiraka: These are easier to make if the dough has come from the freezer. Shape dough into little dish shapes with a slight well in the middle. If the dough is fresh poke a couple of little holes in the bottom with a fork. Brush with egg and then mix one tub of rahka (quark) with the leftover raw egg and 1 teaspoon of white sugar.

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Spoon the mixture into the wells and press in raisins if you like and bake in oven for about 15 minutes.

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For the doughnuts: Shape dough into small rounds with the side of your hands. Don’t be too rough as you want air in this dough so they will rise.

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Take a round of dough and punch a hole in it with your finger. Then stretch a bit by spinning the ring on your fingers. This makes a sturdier doughnut shape than if you were to make a sausage and join two ends. You can freeze the raw dough circles at this stage for later use, or fry in oil and coat with sugar when cooled.

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Yum! All three of these sweet snacks are best served warm with coffee on the couch while you watch the Men’s 50km cross-country skiing final.

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Apologies to Ilona for not getting more photos that included her lovely face. I would have also included more photos of us eating these delicious snacks but some of us were still in our pyjamas… 

 

An amazing discovery in the Finnish forest

I went on an island adventure the other day. Well, I walked to Lauttasaari, an island about 3km from the city centre and connected by a wide bridge.  The sea looked amazing as I crossed over, the mild temperatures evident in the partially frozen water.

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Home to just over 20,000 residents and the Finnish Sauna Society, Lauttasaari is about 4km square in size. I walked around one side and back along the coast relishing the rarely shining sun.

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And then the most amazing thing happened. I came across a village of mini houses, set amongst the trees.

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I was stunned. Painted in different colours these tiny houses were set evenly apart and looked well-loved but as though all the residents had simply up and left.

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I marvelled at how tiny they were, just a minute’s walk from the beach and it was surprising to see that some even had chimneys!

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They are of course kesämökit (summer cottages), a huge part of Finnish life. Helsinki city empties over summer as nearly every Finnish family heads to theirs. Even with the long winters, on average Finns use their summer cottages 80 days of the year. 

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It’s amazing to see photos of the same cottages in summer here – the difference in the landscape is incredible and you’ll even see this cottage with the same dress hanging in the window.

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Apparently in the 1920s, the City of Helsinki offered poorer residents tents so they could experience summer vacations. Soon people began to ask to be allowed to build something sturdier and in 1946 an architect created a single design for the cottages, which were allowed to be 12 square metres in size. The residents own the cottage, there is no electricity, water is only turned on in summer and there are shared outdoor toilets (Source: Green Hearts).

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We’ve yet to experience a holiday in a kesämökki and I can’t wait to see inside – although these tiny cottages are not typical of most summer cottages in Finland. But I’ll be sure to visit again in summer when the leaves and grass have grown back and they are once again full of life.

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City Cottage – Inside a modern-day example of one of these summer cottages

Little House on the Baltic – the story of the owners

The Essentials of Cottage Life – Visit Finland

How to dress a child for Finnish winter

People often ask me how I’m coping with the Finnish winter – so far, so good. Frozen days? So novel. Long hours of darkness? So restful. Piles of snow? So magical. Dressing a child? Kill me. Seriously.

Tip sheet from daycare (

Dressing tip sheet from daycare

When the mercury hit zero degrees celcius two months ago I panicked and wondered what on earth to dress Miko in. But with a few tips and pointers along the way I felt quite confident sending him off today, with the forecast sitting at a high of -12°c and a ‘feels like’  of -19°.

Sunny, with a chance of freezing

Sunny, with a chance of freezing

As many of you will know, the secret is: layers. And what I have found even more useful is: all-in-ones. For weeks we’ve been struggling with too many bits and pieces, which leads to Miko flopping around like a non-compliant jellyfish and arguments and grumbling from both of us. I also suspect it might be where he learnt his new favourite word (starts with f ).

Layer one: thermals

Layer one: thermals

Until this morning, a typical outfit for Miko consisted of: undies, singlet, socks, thermal leggings, thermal top, fleece leggings, fleece top, then outer overall pants and jacket + hat and gloves and boots. And if it rains? Rubber overalls and jacket and rubber gloves over that. Because even waterproof gear can’t protect from a child kneeling in puddles and scooping water up with their hands.

Things like socks and thermal underwear come in different wool / polypropylene ratios for when the weather is 0 to -10°c and -10° and below. Gloves come with woollen inners or some people wear a thin woollen glove beneath a padded mitten.

Layer two: 100% wool suit

Layer two: 100% wool suit

After some advice from a teacher I bought Miko an all-in-one wool suit for when it gets below -5° and an all-in-one snow suit. So today he has on: undies, socks, thermal leggings and top, wool suit, snow suit, balaclava and gloves.

The balaclava might seem over the top, but when you’re out in these cold temps and the wind is blowing it doesn’t take long before you find the weak spots in your outfit. All-in-one suits eliminate chill factor down your butt crack and around your kidneys.

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Today when I dropped Miko at the park (because they start the day outside every day until it’s below -15°c) the teacher commented that his boots were not the best. I’ve been sending him in fleece-lined gumboots thinking this was the final frontier in winter footwear. She showed me that most kids are wearing warmer, gore-tex boots that are lighter.

What about when it’s cold and wet? I asked (because I ask the stupid questions so you don’t have to). It doesn’t get that cold and wet, she replied. Once it’s below zero, all water freezes and the snow is dry. Of course! Science.

Layer three: snow suit and gloves

Layer three: snow suit and gloves

So I’m off today to buy some better boots and then I think we’re set. Although it’s going to get warmer again tomorrow so unfortunately we’ll be back in a wet world of slush.

I’m obviously still fumbling my way through this winter get-up thing so any tips or comments are welcome. Thankfully I find shop staff incredibly helpful, especially when I say it’s my first winter here.

Made it!

Made it!

My biggest tips to you for dressing a child in winter are: allow at least 15 minutes and always ask if they need to pee first. Any time spent on dressing can be made up on a day like today by delivering them to school via sled.

Liebster Award

In the last few weeks I’ve found some great Nordic blogs that I love to read. One of those is by Marja & she has very kindly nominated me for a Liebster Award. Thanks Marja!

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The idea is to nominate someone, ask them to answer 11 questions and share 11 random facts about themselves and then they pass it forward by nominating someone else. Here are my answers to Marja’s questions:

What’s your favourite time of the year and why?

Summer, definitely. I’m a bit of a cold lizard and lying in the sun, although not recommended these days, just makes me the happiest I could ever be.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far in life?

That life can change in ways you never imagined and you really never know where you will find yourself one year from now.

How do you see your life five years from now?

Who knows? I guess moving to Finland from New Zealand last year has made me realise anything is possible. And I’m also trying to make my five-year goals now more about experiences, well-being and enjoyment rather than achievement, accolades and accumulating stuff (although I’m still a bit addicted to those last three).

If you have to choose one big reason for having a blog, what is it?

To keep in touch with family & friends back home in New Zealand and Australia & to share with them what life is like here in Finland. I also love that it means when we skype or call we can talk about what’s really happening in our lives as they already know we went to the museum etc. I hope it also helps my son’s grandparents, aunties & uncles feel connected to him.

What’s your greatest accomplishment within the last year?

Moving to Finland and finding my feet somewhere so very far from home. Finding people and places I love in a world that at times can be challenging to cope with as it is quite different to New Zealand – and everything is in Finnish!

Where are you planning / dreaming to travel next?

I’m going to meet my parents in Switzerland in May but may have to book somewhere with sunshine before the end of this Nordic winter.

What’s one of your happiest moments so far?

When I’m with my husband and we are visiting somewhere new and the sun is shining and people are in the streets I will often find myself saying to him, “I’m really happy right now.” And also finding out I was pregnant with Miko after such a long road to get there and being able to share that news with family and friends – people spontaneously cried with joy, it was amazing.

If you had to describe your personality with three words, what would they be?

Friendly, open, curious.

What’s your ultimate dream job?

To get paid to write about all the cool things happening in Finland.

What’s your resolution for 2015?

To learn Finnish to a conversational level and continually improve my writing and photography skills.

What characteristics do you admire in other people?

A commitment to doing what they truly love, courage and uninhibitedness.

11 Random Facts About Me

  1. My grandmother taught me to drive her car when I was eleven-years old. She had a tiny Honda Civic with automatic transmission and sometimes I would drive her to the shops or the beach.
  2. I’m a pretty good whistler.
  3. My best friend and I used to practice our hiragana charts a lot at school and I still remember them.
  4. Somehow I came up with this philosophy that we should always do the things that scare us. But now I seem to have a lot of fear-facing in my life and it’s exhausting trying to be courageous all the time. So I’m going to just do the things I like for a while.
  5. I love vinegar and chilli and eat both every day.
  6. I don’t get out of bed for chocolate that’s less than 70% cocoa, my favourite being 85% cocoa.
  7. I have a small rock on my bedside table that was given to me as a gift for my 21st birthday. My friend found it on the beach and thought it was such a nice shape he declared it was a ‘peace rock’ and I still hold it in my palm when I need some peace. It’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.
  8. I love swimming in rivers most of all.
  9. My happiest place though is sitting in hot water – be it a bath, spa or hot spring.
  10. I find it really hard to say my name (Melanie) really clearly and often people think my name is Naomi.
  11. I met my husband when I worked at an organic supermarket and he shopped there. I used to time it so that I was working on the checkout when he came in. We have now been together 14 years.

For the Liebster Award I now nominate five blogs that I follow and really enjoy:

Hannan Helmet

Glitter on my Passport

Gossamer Goes Postal

People of Helsinki

Sundari Austin

And here are my questions for you:

  1. What is your favourite drink?
  2. How many countries have you lived in and where?
  3. What is the most important thing you get from your blog?
  4. Are you a city or a country person?
  5. What are three things you are good at?
  6. What is the scariest thing you have ever done?
  7. What did you want to be when you were younger?
  8. If you could do one thing next year where money / time / courage were no obstacle, what would you do?
  9. What is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?
  10. Are you superstitious?
  11. What are you looking forward to most about 2015?

Here are the rules of the Liebster Award:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and post a link to their blog.
  2. Display the award on your blog.
  3. Answer the 11 questions provided to you.
  4. Provide 11 random facts about yourself.
  5. Nominate 5 -11 blogs with less than 1000 followers & let those bloggers know, with a link to your post.
  6. Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.
  7. List these rules in your post.

Thanks again Marja & to anyone else who has read this far!

Fake birds and sun lamps

“I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day,” – The Temptations

Number of winters The Temptations spent in Helsinki: zero.

Töölönlahti starting to freeze

Töölönlahti starting to freeze

Getting up before the sun is no big deal in Helsinki these days because the sun doesn’t get up until 9am. And by up, I mean legs over the side of the bed, still in its pyjamas.

Today's forecast - with 3 weeks to go until the shortest day

Today’s forecast – with 3 weeks to go until the shortest day

At mid-day the sun in Helsinki sits just 8 degrees above the horizon. Which means that while we have sunlight, we often have very little sunshine. In fact, November was ‘three times gloomier than average’ with Helsinki having a total of just 12 hours of sunshine in the first 26 days.

A rare November day

A rare November day

So how do we cope with these grey days that seem like constant twilight? Well luckily it’s still quite novel which helps and before heading out we have a hit of Vitamin D spray every morning.

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We also bought a sunlamp which wakes us by filling the room with a soft glow. This grows stronger until we wake to what feels like a room full of sunlight – it also has a setting that includes the sound of birds chirping.

Time to wake up! The fake sun has risen & the fake birds are chirping

Time to wake up! The fake sun has risen & the fake birds are chirping

The temperature has been sitting around 2 degrees for a month now, which means any snow we have doesn’t stick around. Last winter was very mild by Finnish standards and no snow means dark days as there’s nothing to reflect the light. So for the first time in my life I’m really hoping it will get much colder!

Perfect number plate for snow

Perfect number plate for snow

But I’ve got a bit to learn yet about snow. I was walking home the other day admiring the flakes as they fell around me and decided to pull my hood on. What a rookie! There’s no better way to spoil a romantic mood than by dumping a whole lot of snow on your own head!

Sun and Moon times in Helsinki

You know you’re in Finland when…

Some days I wake up and it takes me a while to realise I am still in Finland. Voices float up from the street and then it dawns on me, ‘Oh yeah, I’m in Finland. And everyone speaks Finnish.’

I’m also reminded by things around our house, as although ours may not be a typical Finnish home, I’d say it is pretty standard for most Helsinki apartments.

Here’s what is different to our home in New Zealand:

There are two front doors, about five inches apart and the first front door has a slot in it for the mail to be delivered through.

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Just inside the apartment are two open wardrobes for hanging jackets and putting shoes. As winter approaches this becomes even more important and now holds gumboots, gloves, hats and scarves too.

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There is a thermometer just outside the window near the front door. As winter approaches we check it every day before we go out so we dress for the weather and not our heated apartment.

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There are heaters in every room that are turned on by the building manager once the temperature drops below a certain level for a few days in a row.

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The washing machine is in the bathroom.

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There’s a sauna off the bathroom.

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The pipes in the bathroom are exposed.

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The windows are triple-glazed and there are two doors out onto our balcony to keep the cold out. In summer we had the balcony open but you can also pull the windows across to make it more like a conservatory.

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This photo was taken before we unpacked but is pretty much how our balcony looks again as the plants and armchairs have been brought inside for winter.

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We’ve seen dramatic changes in the view from the balcony in the five months we’ve lived in this apartment.

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July

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August

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September

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October

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November

You may notice that every apartment has external ladders too, which I believe is to do with removing snow from the roof. There are not many chimneys either, although Joulupukki (Santa Claus) comes in the front door on Christmas Eve so no worries there.

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Oh yes, and there’s always this: the Finnish flag which is raised by each building manager on public holidays and special anniversaries. My brother-in-law also told me the flag will be raised to half-mast if someone in the building has died – a good time, he says, to call in if you are looking for a place to rent!

Update: how could I forget this??

I’m speaking Spinach

I’ve started Finnish lessons, which I love. The teacher is great and my classmates come from Canada, Spain, Venezuela, England, Nigeria, USA, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Russia, Estonia, Nepal, India, Pakistan….who said Finland is not a diverse country?

Here’s a few things I’ve learnt about studying languages so far:

Finnish is not so difficult

Ha! Well the grammar is and we’re yet to really get into it, but the words are great. Lento (flight) + kone (machine) = lentokone (airplane). Jää (ice) + karhu (bear) = jääkarhu (polar bear). You get the idea. Which is why it wasn’t too difficult and felt so good to be able to answer my teacher when she asked me to say 65,493 (although it did take me a while)*.

It’s all relative

When learning weather words we used a map of the world and next to Sydney, Australia was an icon saying +10 degrees celcius. I of course used the adjective viileä (cool) but the correct answer was lämmin (warm). According to our textbook, “Etelä-Suomessa ei ole talvella aina pakkasta” (South-Finland is not alway freezing in winter). We must save the word pakkasta (freezing) for when it gets below -15.

Ravintola = Restaurant

Ravintola = Restaurant

Cowboys say ‘iii-ha-ha’

Finnish cats say ‘nau’, Finnish people say ‘oh-ho’ instead of ‘oops’ and Finnish cowboys say ‘iii-ha-ha!’

The brain is a filing cabinet

My theory on learning languages is that the brain is like a filing cabinet and each language goes in a different drawer. Somewhere in my brain is a drawer of high-school Japanese that is gathering dust, but if I had to open the drawer I could rifle through it and dust off some of what I learnt.

The thing is I am currently studying Finnish and Italian so when my brain doesn’t know a word in Finnish, it automatically goes down to the next ‘foreign language drawer’ and starts looking in the Italian drawer. Which makes me want to say things like “Minä olen uudesta seelannista ma abbiamo vissuto in Australia per dieci anni.” (I am from New Zealand (FINNISH) but we lived in Australia for ten years (ITALIAN)).

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Finnish, Swedish, English

My filing cabinet needs a spring clean

My brain is getting a work out as my Italian class is conducted in Italian and it takes me a while to realise when the teacher has switched to Finnish, which is okay if I know the Finnish words she has used (“For homework do exercise…”).

With all this jumping between languages sometimes I go to tell people ‘I am learning Spanish’ – which is not true – and my mind quickly recalibrates and grabs hold of ‘Finnish’ which has led me at times to tell people ‘I am learning Spinach.’

I think I need to lie down.

* kuusikymmentäviisituhatta neljäsataayhdeksänkymmentäkolme

 

 

 

Nightmares on Ice

IMG_2439There are a few things that get lost in translation as I make my way through life in Finland. Like when I greet people in the street with, ‘Hey, how you going?’ and they think I say ‘Where are you going?’ which makes them uncomfortable as it is quite a nosy question and they start to explain, ‘Well, first I’m going to the post office and then….’

IMG_2438So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I signed up for Adults Beginners Skating Lessons to find that actually, I had signed up for Adults Beginners Figure Skating Lessons. Because even though I emailed first and said I was an absolute beginner, there is no such thing as an absolute beginner on ice in Finland. Only one who hasn’t yet mastered the art of jumps and spins.

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I went and bought a pair of skates before my first lesson because people don’t rent them here. In New Zealand it’s a bit like ten-pin bowling shoes – you go to the ice rink and hire a pair there. The first shop I went to had some lovely skates for beginners but unfortunately not in my size (big).

IMG_2436 So I headed north to another skate shop where a lovely woman helped me find a pair that fit.  Although they are not for absolute beginners, she explained, but for slightly advanced beginners. “Like for when you do jumps,” she said.

IMG_2440She showed me how to lace them up, which is quite a skill in itself, and then took my skates out the back to sharpen the blades. She also kitted me out with blade guards that I wear while making my way from the changing room to the ice and soft, furry covers to put on the blades after class to protect them and prevent rust.

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It was immediately evident at my first lesson that I was way out of my depth. The only time I have been ice skating in my life was when I was 14 and a 17-year old guy from the butcher shop took me on a date to Paradice Ice Rink. We skated around holding hands to Thunderstruck by ACDC and for some reason I just haven’t recreated the scene since.

I am determined however to not sit at home all winter and read that there will be open-air ice skating rinks in Helsinki, including a big one near Rautatieasema (Central Station). One helpful comment on Trip Advisor was to remember that there are no sides – which for me means nothing to hold on to or to use to stop.

IMG_2447So while two groups of skaters move around me at class, skating backwards and pirouetting, I stick close to the wall and just aim to stand up and move forward. I am so out of my comfort zone. I’m quite tall and have never worn high-heels so balancing on two thin blades is really hard for me.

People glide by with encouraging smiles and give me thumbs up, much like you would if you saw a person of very limited mental capacity riding a bike for the first time. A few different people approached me after my first lesson with kind words and advice (get knee pads) and all of them asked me, with faces full of curiosity, “So, um, where are you from?”

IMG_2448The hardest part for me is managing my ego – it is so embarrassing to be so very bad at something while all around you people are doing it with ease. My main supporter, a man from India in the class, assures me that once I get the knack it will be just like moving over butter. Which would be great as I’m sure it would make for much softer landings.

In the meantime I just have to focus, manage my pride and stop myself from turning up to class in a t-shirt that says “I’m actually very good at swimming!”

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