Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Am I missing something? Vol 1: Finland

julochka at moments of perfect clarity did this first. But as I am still teaching my mother how to use her Mac in ways other than finding things on Google or on Youtube (I was actually a little freaked out when she told me she knows what Youtube is and immediately had to find out whether I'm on there somewhere. Am not telling.), and as I was forced to kiss goodbye to the Hubby who had to return to SA yesterday, I'm left with little inspiration time to post anything on here. But hey, at least I finally responded to the comments on my last post, and made some suspicious ones on my siamese sister's and julochka's blogs.

Well, that just confirms that I still exist.

I can see from the notes I made yesterday (or actually this morning) that I thought it would be a splendid idea to give you an itemized account of sort of list the different things I miss, and some things I don't miss from the different places where I've lived, and make this into a series of posts. Now, I'm not sure how good this is really going to be, but I'm also thinking that making any list is always a nice distraction, and a good getaway from the task at hand - this currently being cleaning the apartment. I'm taking a day off from mother and from showing her how to get her pictures from her camera onto her Mac, and will instead be pretending to do some laundry of pants that can walk by themselves by now, and vacuuming up of little balls of something that will otherwise think they own this place. At the moment I'm still being looked up to as a fickle, largish god of wine, but I'm not sure how long it will be before the balls of something go all secular on me.

Being back in Finland, if only for a short while and out of reach of the balls of something but in the land of the actual and sometimes lovely, but mostly slightly scary and off-putting RWP (Real World People), has definitely brought back memories of things I used to consider essential, and could never ever live without, and things that I had completely forgotten about, and could never ever live amidst again, not to mention some new, refreshing, just-discovered acquaintances, which will be possibly later featured in a wholly different post.

Finnish coffee

I used to log kilos and kilos of Finnish coffee to Denmark. I realize no coffee grows in Finland and said coffee is actually from South America or Africa, but as I soon found out, the secret is in the roast, and that I prefer a light roast, which most other Finns do as well. Am I a Finnish Coffee snob (the kind looked down by Italians with Berlusconi spearheading the mock committee)? Yes, I am. But also, every time I return to Finland, upon that first sip from that first cup of Juhla Mokka I'm instantly taken back (in the best Proustian manner) to my teenage years, to the beginnings of my coffee addiction. Discovering coffee was one of the lovelier things from those years and has a lot to do with who I've become. Believe it or not. It just might be that I consist of nothing else than coffee, wine and burgers. A high functioning load of junk?

Nowadays, my Finnish coffee hoarding years are over. Turns out that if you try to smuggle transport a lot of coffee in your suitcase to a country sometimes talked of as the 'drug-gateway to the US' the little drug sniffing dog will sit by your bag at the airport and you end up explaining that there is in fact no cocaine hidden in the ten packets of coffee, and that you are transporting Colombian coffee to Mexico, because you like the roast and the shiny red packaging, only to end up having it stolen taken away from you by the customs officials. Still, Mexico did offer some very nice substitutes in the way of beans and roasts, and you can never go home again. And maybe you shouldn't even try.  

Liquor laws    

Regardless of the ubiquitousness of coffee in Finland (If a Finn asks you whether you'd like some coffee or tea you are to answer "yes" meaning "please fill a big honking mug with coffee and fast". Tea is automatically disregarded.), another precious liquid is a little tougher to come by. The state has monopoly on the sale of alcohol and this translates to no wine in grocery stores, and special state-owned shops (with rather annoying opening hours) called Alko, and a bad selection of tequilas. In recent years Alko seems to have upgraded their wine selection from the 4 different kinds I remember seeing on the shelves fifteen years ago, but the tequilas on offer are still too few and too white. Also, I really don't miss having to remember to go by an Alko at a decent hour, just to indulge in two bottles glasses of wine at night. Having to remember such details doesn't make me think twice about drinking, it makes me want to drink more. So there Finland. Take that!

Finnumor/ Cuisine 

Because of the Finnish language (and perhaps because we are not tall, blond and smiley like the Swedes, but tall, pasty white, and have deep set eyes that often make us look ominous. Think a blond Damien from the Omen) we have existed rather separately from all of the other cultures that surround us for quite a while now. This has resulted in a Finnish sense of humor, which I can completely survive without, but has also brought about a lovely culinary culture (also sneered at by Berlusconi) that I like to refer to as 'Bet you didn't know it was food?'

I love Karelian pies with egg butter 


and mämmi with cream



and real 100% rye bread with cheese




and 'plastic' cheese with cloudberry jam (my pic has lingonberries. Sadly.)


Yes, these dishes are all DELICIOUS. And every time I go away, I sorely miss them, and upon returning completely overindulge, resulting in weird tasting belches and bad, bad heartburn. No, the coffee has nothing to do with the heartburn. Don't even go there.

Walking around town

Seeing that in Johannesburg walking around is a major no no, spending time in Finland has really had a profound effect on how much I really appreciate the possibility of quickly 'stepping out to get a carton of milk', or the never-to-be-revealed-to-the-Hubby 'returning from a bar crawl by myself, on foot, at 4AM, with all of my valuables precariously hanging from my purse, and with the Canon around my neck'

Resulting in this kind of awesome photography action.

These are not my towels.

Saving the world made easy

I know I'm no environmental superstar/hero like my siamese sister, Vancouver's Enviro Girl (VEG), but Finland really makes recycling easy. Our apartment came with separate trash cans, and there is an equal assortment of such things downstairs to match the ones we have upstairs. Wine bottles are even recyclable, and not just as glass, but as actual bottles. Hurrah!

Honesty

This is both a negative and a positive side of Finland. Finns are quite possibly the most blunt people on earth. I have had to de-learn this to some extent, but alienating even complete strangers still comes fairly easy to me (none of you had thought this, correct?). In Finland honesty means that you can leave your wallet on a park bench and someone will surely call you and tell you to pick it up with all of your money still in it, but it also means that when you have just squeezed into that pair of pants the size of which you already feel is a new low, the sales assistant will helpfully remark that the store also carries the pants in plus-sizes. I miss being able to say what I want when I want and not get glared at. Unless of course I spoke to a complete stranger in the elevator, in a waiting room, a cafe, or a store, where you are simply to pretend like there is no one in there with you. Got it?

Knowledgeable service

I'm off to fetch my black leather Converse All Stars now, since the lady from the shop just called me, left a message both in Finnish and in English telling me my long awaited shoes, in my freakishly big size, have arrived (from somewhere else in Europe), and that they are keeping them for me until I can come and pick them up. And I don't think that I gave them the correct telephone number.

Next stop Denmark, or Mexico. I haven't decided yet.

21 comments:

Molly said...

Must, must, MUST see a pic of those sneakers!

Fab list too ;)

stepforddreams said...

mmmm food pics so good. Was at my neighbours house today (asking whether her sewrage pipe was leaking poo all over her backyard or whether we were the only poor bastards with a poo garden) and I noticed her amazing new cushion on the couch. From Finland she said. Now I want to go there. Not just for the cushions but the blunt people and the good food.

Seaside Girl said...

The irony of the wine shop being called Alko is delightful. Thats what my local off licence calls me...

Cyndy said...

The food looks amazing! I can see why you miss it!

As to liquor stores, don't think anyone has it more backward than Pennsylvania. Not only do we have State stores for liquor and wine (only just recently allowed certain stores to be open on Sundays), we have distributors for beer (when you want to buy cases or kegs) and bottle shops (very limited, definitely not grocery stores) for six packs of beer (and wine coolers, if you are so inclined). At the bottle shops you cannot carry out more than 144 fl oz at one time. So if you buy two 6-packs of "pounders," that is 16oz. cans, you have to take one 6-pack out the door at a time. Not kidding. In college (when beer was a dietary requirement) we had names for the state system, as well, but most sounded like something you would have heard in Nazi Germany.

Love, love, love the towels and the story of the picture. I have always said that it all comes down to laundry. Who knew that included a story of clubbing in Finland until the wee hours of the night while the sun was still shining. Must make a note of it...

kristina said...

after watching the clip you linked to on youtube, I too can live without finnish humour... ;-)
post a pic of your shoes asap! :-)

Extranjera said...

Molly - I'm sure I'll put one up sooner or later. Am taking inordinate amounts of pictures of feet.

SD - Yikes on the poo. Hope you get that sorted soon. There is some rumor going around that Finns are very stylish and in the forefront of Scandinavian design, but I'm not sure if that's entirely true... However, food is definitely something else and well, yes, the people too.

Seaside Girl - You can always find it. The sign is like a beacon to a mind like mine.

Cyndy - Note to self: never move to Pennsylvania, too many restrictions on a necessity.
And, the sun wasn't still shining, it was already shining. This time of the year it's only slightly darker around 1AM-3AM. Pic might actually be from around 5AM, am not sure what time I got back. Yup. It was that kind of night...

Extranjera said...

Kristina - And, unfortunately that one is from a show that went on for years. A very popular one too.
Shoes coming up in the near future!

Cyndy said...

Thanks for the clarification for us that live the boring lives at lower latitudes! We go to bed when it's dark; we get up when it's light. I am simply amazed that the sun in nearly always shining (and on the flip side that so many people can deal with the constant dark in the winter). Have brother in Alaska, and still quiz him about it--ongoing for 20 years.

So, if I am getting this right, and you wanted to pull it off, you could say you were out and about early--not late...

wv: inguea: when one's creative thought is interrupted or stuffed, like my head this morning...

Vancouver's Enviro Girl said...

Drug sniffing dogs are NOT be to be petted, so I found out when i saw one at the airport recently when he lovingly sat down beside my bag. Complete accident, apparently, as I had just finished eating huge hamburger and still smelled like it. Handler was not amused on either front.

We have weird liquor laws here too...and I have always found it exceedingly hilarious that you can buy liquor in grocery stores elsewhere as that is a big no-no here.

Hero? Moi? Never.

tippyrich said...

I thought I lived in the only area where liquor laws were archaic! But no, it seems that Idaho/Utah is as off Pennsylvania, Vancouver, and Finland! Specifically Utah: No acohol sold on Sunday. Wow, how did that happen? *sarcasm*

We also have Alco stores here in Idaho, but the merchandise is limited to cheap plastic flowers and poorly made children's clothing. Nothing so much as a Coke in the cooler!

Let's see those infamous shoes!

Extranjera said...

Cyndy - Did you ever see that episode of Northern Exposure where all of the residents of the little Alaskan town have to wear a 'natural light' cap during the dark months so as not to go crazy? We don't have those in Finland.

VEG - I miss being in a country where there is plenty of booze available at any 24 hour grocery store, a.k.a. Mexico. Man, I miss Mexico. Mexico.

Tippyrich - Seems I'm scratching all of the 51 States from my list of potential temporary homes soon (and VEG, I know Canada is not one of them) on account of too many difficulties in staying wined up. Dang.
I like our Alko better. Even with the screwy rules and such I prefer it over poorly made children's clothing.

Optimistic Pessimist said...

I completely feel your pain on the liquor laws. It's that way in Pennsylvania...liquor/wine is available only at state stores with weird hours. they just started opening one of them in my town for a few hours on sundays. Can you imagine not being able to by wine on a sunday? I can - it's happened to me. It's not a good feeling.

I just wish I could buy my wine at the grocery store like everyone else.

Extranjera said...

Opie - Not being able to buy wine on a Sunday. That is one major reason to leave a country. For me at least. That used to be the case in Finland (back when I was still in the land of Santa), but Denmark is much better off, and Mexico is totally perfect (24h wine buying possibilities). SA, not so much...

Laura said...

I love your blog and am so glad I found you sweetie! Those dishes look sinful and decadent and lovely. Please save me some K?

Vancouver's Enviro Girl said...

OK, is it wrong that I want to steal the footer at the bottom of your page?

Extranjera said...

Laura - Food's already gone (almost before taking the pics as it doubled as my breakfast/lunch, but there is more where that came from while I'm still here... Thanks for visiting. I also found you now!

VEG - Steal the banner, but not the pics. Hubby's being annoying about me calling the giraffe one mine...

tippyrich said...

Extranjera - it's dinner time, and those food photos are fabulous. I have a pal who loves to take pix of all his plates too! Thanks for sharing!

rxBambi said...

I have never eaten a lingonberry, but now I kinda want to. I think I can buy booze anytime I want. Alas, I'm usually in bed. I know I can on sundays cuz that's when I stock up (buy 6 bottles of wine and save 10%).
I'm anxious to try finnish coffee but if there is no sbux I'm a little worried.

wv: foculca - I'll let you take this one...

Extranjera said...

Tippyrich - You're welcome. Food was indeed awesome.

rxBambi - No SB, but otherwise the roasts rock. Finland is definitely worth seeing!

Elindomiel said...

Karelian pies Karelian pies Karelian pies.


I miss them so much. :(

Extranjera said...

Elindomiel - Will have one (read: several dozens) for you/in your honor. Cool?