Thursday, May 17, 2012
The Country Where I Quite Want to Be
Your humble narrator has just returned from Finland, where he attended the biennial Maple Leaf and Eagle Conference in North American Studies at the University of Helsinki. As some of this weblog's readers may not have been to Finland, I will here indulge in a few paragraphs' worth of travel writing, with the aim of wafting my readers off to that mysterious land of silks and spices (or at least of xylitol gum and reindeer).
There is much to like about Helsinki in early May. The city is clean and pleasant, its buildings painted in bright pastel colors. Helsinki's parks were green and free of snow, the trees just putting forth their first leaves. The weather for most of my stay was clear and sunny, with temperatures in the 50s. While chilly by Midwestern standards, this was warm enough that one could enjoy a beer or coffee out of doors at midday, and many of the locals did so.
As one might expect, Helsinki's people were ethnically homogenous: nearly all white and Northern European, except for a few Somali immigrants, East Asian tourists, and Romanian street musicians playing "When the Saints Go Marching In." Outside of the conference (where everyone was as casually friendly as conference-goers usually are), the Finns with whom I spoke were polite but reserved, and generally avoided making direct eye contact. Most people spoke at least a little English, which is fortunate because the Finnish language was designed by aliens - it has 12 cases and virtually no cognates. (The Finnish word for "university," for instance, is "ylionpistu.") Apart from "kiitos" ("thank you"), I did not pick up ay Finnish words on the trip.
I am not qualified to say much about Finnish culture and society, except that they have the same fondness for ice hockey that Kentuckians do for basketball (i.e. it is the state religion), that their educational system is quite good but on the verge of budget cutbacks, and that a notable minority are partial to drinking heavily and howling in the streets at 3 AM. Just like college students, except they don't grow out of it.
Finland's national bird is, of course, an Angry one.
this fine song by Monty Python.)