Quotes: Finns Know How to Listen to the Stillness in the Great Forest

After the Finnish centennial in 2017, I’ve been reading outside my usual periods of Finnish history a little, including on the Finnish Winter War (1939-1940, for 105 days against the USSR). Here’s another tidbit that caught my attention:

“Finns know how to listen to the stillness in the great forest; for them it is never absolutely silent, and they can read considerable information about their environment from the sounds of which outsiders are not even aware. Finns, in short, can adapt to their environment because they feel a part of it.”

– William Trotter, A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940

I know people who love water, to be on and in the water, whether a lake or an ocean. I don’t. It’s nice to look at or splash in now and then, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t adore it.

I’m in love with woods.

I need trees to feel whole and at peace, and preferably wild instead of planted and pruned trees. Whether in the cool, clear incandescence of summer nights, or wet, loamy autumn rain, or the crisp, brisk dark of winter, or, finally, the unhurried, budding, green spring, Finnish woods are dear to me.

Trotter, William R. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991, p. 145.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

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Quotes: Finns Were on Intimate Terms with Winter

After the Finnish centennial in 2017, I’ve been reading outside my usual periods of Finnish history, including on the Finnish Winter War (1939-1940, for 105 days against the USSR).

It’s easy for a modern Finn—at least this modern Finn—to get tired of reading endless takes, almost exclusively by foreigners, condemning the horribleness of the Finnish winter. Like in this excerpt from a book on the Winter War:

“One of the main factors that enabled the Finns to destroy forces much larger than their own was surely rooted in the differing psychologies of the men engaged on either side. To the Finnish soldier, the cold, the snow, the forest, the long hours of darkness were all factors that could be turned to his advantage. To say that the Finns were on intimate terms with winter is to voice an understatement. In Finland winter is the fact of life, and all else—the economy, the culture, the national psychology—is colored by, or derived from, that single overriding reality. The relationship between the Finns and winter constitutes something of a contradiction. On the one hand, winter makes life harsh and lonely and something crude. It is this aspect of living with winter, the cumulative effect of endless subarctic nights, the unearthly silences of the winter landscape, the harsh and marginal quality of rural life, that imparts to the Finnish character that dour and brooding quality that is so hard for foreigners to penetrate.”

– William Trotter, A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940 [original emphasis]

It is true that we stayed poor quite long and urbanised quite fast, pretty much during my parents’ generation, so it’s easy for me to lose perspective. Even as late as 1950s (I believe) it wasn’t unheard of for more remote farms not to have electricity. And our winters are undoubtedly long and dark compared to even central Europe, not to mention the Mediterranean and further south.

What bugs me, though, is that people seem to expect conditions like Siberia or Greenland. Hate to disappoint you, but our climate is greatly tempered by the Gulf stream and it isn’t that different from, say, New England. Another detail I’d like foreigners to really learn is that less than half of the country is arctic, and that means the rest is not. The southern coast is, in fact, part of the temperate broadleaf forest zone which covers most of central Europe, Britain, southern Scandinavia, and southern Russia.

I do grant that the Finnish character hasn’t caught up with the technological development, at least not yet: in general terms, we still tend towards melancholy despite now having world-class cities, transportation, and tech.

Trotter, William R. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991, p. 144.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

An Extant Map as Evidence of Native American Cartography

In the U.S., and indeed more widely in the Anglo-American world, Meriwether Lewis and William Clarke are known for their two-year expedition of the Louisiana territory (purchased from France in 1803) and the land beyond the “great rock mountains” in the west.

Less commonly remembered in cursory mentions is the extent of Lewis and Clarke’s interactions with local Native Americans. (Apart from Sacagawea, who is known at least in the U.S.) The whites didn’t just exchange gifts or talk about trade or clash with the local population; they received invaluable help and information (like when the expedition wintered with the Mandan people in present-day North Dakota).

Now it seems that western historians need to re-evaluate that extent.

According to The Jefferson Watch, cartographers have identified at least ten places in the journals of Lewis and Clarke where the captains talk about the maps by Native American hosts to help them figure out the lay of the land.

Christopher Steinke, at the time a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, found one of those maps at the archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris. It was drawn by Inquidanécharo, a chief of the Arikara (in French, Ricara), who was apparently also known as Too Né.

LudditeLabs on Twitter did some of the heavy lifting and linked to the BnF digital copy of the map:

BnF Gallica Inquidanecharo Map Missouri Valley

An article by Steinke is available at JSTOR, where this abstract comes from:

“The Bibliothèque nationale de France contains a hitherto unnoticed map attributed to Inquidanécharo, a Ricara chief. Lewis and Clark knew him as Too Né, an Arikara village leader who accompanied them upriver to the Mandan and Hidatsa villages in 1804. The map, which Too Né showed to playwright and artist William Dunlap when he visited Washington in 1806, is the most detailed surviving Indian representation of the Great Plains from this period. It invites scholars to reorient early American exploration and cartography from indigenous perspectives. Too Né interpreted his map as a work of history and cartography and situated the American explorers in the historical and religious landscape of the Arikara people.”

In “Here is My Country”, Steinke outlines some of the main features of Inquidanécharo’s map, and recounts some history surrounding it. He also lists a few other Native American maps from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

What most struck me, though, is that Native American maps seem to have contained more information than just geographical details—they also depicted cultural connections and ethnographical information.

I knew Native Americans used symbols and pictograms, and had to have—like people everywhere—a way of talking about and remembering locations outside their immediate surroundings. I had no idea, however, that Native American cartography was as polished or wide-reaching as it was (a hint for the Finnish school system), let alone that their maps might still be extant. Fascinating!

Found via bluecorncomics on Twitter.

This post has been edited to correct a typo.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Happy, WoW-y Midsummer!

Juhannus is the Finnish celebration of midsummer. People usually go to a summer cottage, burn bonfires, sauna bathe, and enjoy fresh food.

Or… in our case, this year, stay in town and play! I’ve just started cleaning up my quest lists and churning out the last Legion achievements etc. in earnest before Battle for Azeroth launches in August.

3-Laptop Evening

I could even have a juhannus sauna in game. I’m pretty sure one of the Pinchwhistle Point huts in Spires of Arak is a sauna:

WoW Arak Pinchwhistle Point Sauna

Tile floor, wooden benches, a large wood pail, and a stove for heating and making steam—sounds like a sauna to me!

Happy Midsummer! Hyvää juhannusta!

Images: 3-laptop evening by Eppu Jensen. Screencap from the MMORPG World of Warcraft, Warlords of Draenor expansion.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Why I Won’t Be Eating Porgs– I Mean Puffins

A news and culture writer Andrew Husband writes in “Porg Recipes For The ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Fans In Your Life” on Uproxx that us Nordics eat puffins:

“[…] we’ve put together a short recipe list — consisting of hors-d’oeuvre, entrées, and entremets based on traditional puffin and poultry dishes — for your perusal.

“Yes, you read that right. Despite being protected by several national and international conservation organizations, puffins are considered a rare delicacy in Nordic countries. And seeing as how The Last Jedi‘s porgs are based on the puffins writer/director Rian Johnson saw while filming at Skellig, it makes sense their preparation would be similar.”

As a source for his wild claim, Husband offers all of one link, and that goes to a CNN Travel article Iceland food can be unusual; check out these 10 dishes”.

Here’s my official response as a Nordic person:

Yeah… nope. Nopety-nope-nope-nope. So much NOPE!

While Iceland is unquestionably one of the Nordic countries, it’s ludicrous to claim that the existence of a practice in one country (or even two) equals its existence in all five.

Now, had Husband talked for instance of reindeer, he would be more correct, but still not entirely so. The Sami herd reindeer in the north of Finland, Sweden, and Norway, so we three nations tend to eat reindeer meat. In fact, sauteed reindeer or poronkäristys was one of the regular dishes at my elementary school cafeteria in Northern Finland, so I personally couldn’t call it a delicacy even though I’ve eaten it less often since. In Denmark and in Iceland it’s an import, and apparently they hardly eat reindeer at all (or so the all-knowing Internet tells me).

But puffin? I’ve never even heard of eating puffin before, although it sounds like the practice does have long roots in Iceland and Norway (judging e.g. by the existence of lundehunder or puffin dogs in the latter) and some other areas like the Faroes. And now that I know Atlantic puffins are considered vulnerable, I wouldn’t eat them even if I happened to be in a country where hunting them wasn’t banned. Not even if you paid me.

“Porg Recipes” arcticle found via File 770.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Writing, Reading, Living Different Cultures

I saw a Twitter thread about writing culture by author Joan He, on the face of it about her (or your) own but by extension that of others, and it has plenty of food for thought:

 

As a reader, and specifially a reader of speculative and historical fiction primarily not in my native language, I run into differences in culture a lot. And as a person in a multicultural, multilingual relationship in a strange country where I’m a cultural and linguistic minority, from time to time I find myself slammed against more deep-seated cultural assumptions.

Joan pointed out that culture is a way of thinking, or cognition, or perspective. As an example, I’d like to share two failures of cultural expectations from my personal experience.

Ratatouille Anton Ego Perspective Quote

At a con once, I wanted to get a book signed by an American author. I happened to know from their online presence that the author is an introvert. Even though we were both at a public place where introverted authors and panelists often don a more outgoing persona than they do in private, as another introvert I wanted to make sure I’d be especially considerate. However, quite without intending to I tripped over a distinctly Finnish quirk.

One of the big unspoken assumptions in the Finnish culture is that silence isn’t a negative. (Erik and I have both written about it for instance here, here, and here.) In essence, how I understand it, silence means space, and space means respect to other people.

Accordingly, at the abovementioned autograph session, when it came my turn I said my hellos, presented the author with my book, and waited silently. It wasn’t until the author asked me “Did you read it?” that I realised they expected me to say something else. And I had thought I was being courteous not to burden them with yet another dose of chitchat on a weekend full of being “on” at a busy con. I can’t remember for sure, since it was a kind of a deer in the headlights moment for me, but I think I was able to stutter my way to an exit without actually breaking into a run. In any case, not terribly smooth on my part.

I’ve also had a previously friendly person walk away from me when, in the middle of a presentation, I (I’m guessing “merely”) nodded to them to acknowledge their presence and silently continued to listen to the speaker (I’m guessing instead of starting a conversation with the friendly person). Although it’s been years, I still find that an utterly, completely, and thoroughly puzzling reaction.

Over the years, I’ve built a store of strategies and stock exchanges I can pull out if needed, but it’s been hard to try and perform—for it is essentially a performance—in a way that feels unnatural and at times even rude to me. Even after 10+ years, I still can’t bring myself to commit to it wholeheartedly. I suspect I’ll always be the odd, quiet one in Anglo-American contexts, but that’s my background and temperament.

So: yes, cultural assumptions and perspectives are difficult to convey, whether in writing or otherwise. Adding surface details to a fictional culture is easy, and it can be a fantastic tool for both creating distance from the everyday world and deepening the invented one. I love seeing glimpses of the practicalities that fictional characters deal with; I would find—and have found—stories seriously lacking without them. Never, though, should the surface glitter be where invention on the part of author ends; that is as unsatisfying as a lack of external cultural markers.

Being a truly exceptional author has, for me, come to mean not only the ability to create layered, nuanced worlds (or convey the complexities of everyday life in historical fiction). In addition, skilled authors I enjoy the most are able to avoid massive infodumps and to suggest underlying cultural values subtly, as inseparable part of narration and dialogue. And that’s a very challenging thing to do. It sometimes takes me more than one read-through to feel I’m beginning to understand a story. Then again, worthwhile things often are the most difficult ones.

Image via The Autodidactic Hacker

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

How to Helsinki: Last Call

Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.

Worldcon 75 is just a week away now. In case you missed any of our previous posts, you might want to check them out, too:

 

Here are a few last-minute tidbits, odds and ends, and random pieces of advice that might be worth knowing if you’re getting ready to head to Helsinki:

Low-alcohol beverages, like beer and cider, are available at most grocery stores. For harder liquor (22+ % alcohol), you’ll need to go to one of the state-run Alko stores; you also must be 20 years old and have valid government I.D. Anyone who looks under 30 years of age may be carded when buying alcohol.

Apteekki = pharmacy

Apua! = Help!

Ateneum Art Museum is one of the three museums forming the Finnish National Gallery and located conveniently on the south side of Rautatientori square close to Helsinki central railway station.

Flickr Alessandro Grussu Ateneum Art Museum

DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS. That creates problems for residents, outdoor sellers, and other visitors. The seagulls at Kaupptori, for example, are already quite adept at snatching food from people. (That means they will dive AT YOU and steal your food FROM YOUR HAND. I don’t know about you, but I find that intimidating and I don’t want it to happen to me! –Eppu)

Public drinking water fountains are rare in Finland, but tap water is clean and safe. Carrying a water bottle is a good idea.

Dual flush toilets are becoming very common, and they’re easy to operate: small button for small flush, big for large. Please do take part in our environmental efforts.

Electric sockets and plugs are Europlug type C or the grounded Schuko type F.

Elevator behavior humorously put: Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times, and for the sake of everything you hold dear, do not engage in small talk.

9gag Finland Elevator

More seriously: Elevator behavior shouldn’t be a problem; just be mindful that customs may be different than you’re used to and you’ll be fine.

The number for emergency services is 112. Also note that pay phones are almost non-existent in Finland because cell phones are so ubiquitous.

You may not be able to establish eye contact with strangers on the streets. This is perfectly normal in Finland; we love our personal space and want lots of it.

Gasoline is very expensive due to taxation—keep it in mind if planning to rent a car.

If you meet a Finn with whom you share a mutual acquaintance, you may be asked to take greetings to that person. It is vital that you follow through. Carrying greetings (the Finnish word is terveisiä, which covers the whole social scale from “Say hi to your buddies for me” to “Do give my sincerest regards to your honored great-grandmother”) is serious business in Finland.

Indoor spaces tend to be warm due to effective insulation. Dress in layers for the win!

With regard to the language issue, one of the most succinct answers is by author Elizabeth Bear: “[I’ve] heard some concern about the language issue. There is no language issue. If one of your languages is English […] you will have no issues at all navigating. (It’s sort of a running joke with my agent and I that while my books sell very well in the Nordic countries as imports, we can’t get a translation deal there. Because everyone speaks English […]”

Luggage storage is available e.g. at Helsinki central railway station and at the Kamppi long distance bus station.

Mosquitoes are the bane of the Finnish summer. (We actually joke about them being our air force. –Eppu) Current reports are that this has not been a bad mosquito year, but it’s still important to take precautions if you’re sensitive to bites and will be out and about in the late evening or early morning, which are the prime biting times.

The National Museum of Finland concentrates on Finnish history from the Stone Age to 19th century and has an extensive collection of objects. The building itself, of National Romantic style, may also be of interest. Free entry every Friday 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; at other times, entry fees apply.

National Museum of Finland

Petrol is very expensive due to taxation—keep it in mind if planning to rent a car.

Pharmacy = apteekki

The word please (or the like) doesn’t exist in Finnish. Instead, the same function is embedded in the verb form of the sentence. This doesn’t mean that Finns are inherently rude; we may sound rude to native speakers of languages that use an explicit please word if we forget to use it in other languages, and we well might slip up since it’s not ingrained.

Finnish does not have gendered pronouns. The word hän means both ‘he’ and ‘she.’ It’s not unusual for Finns, even Finns who speak English very fluently and are highly aware of gender identity issues, to slip and use the wrong gendered pronoun when speaking English. (It’s a little like English speakers learning Spanish and having to remember that forks are masculine but spoons are feminine.)

Recycling is becoming very common. Your hotel room and Messukeskus might have containers for different types of trash. Please do take part in our environmental efforts.

If you bump into someone by accident, just saying “Sori” (comes from and sounds pretty much the same as English sorry) is usually sufficient. Finns don’t really do apologies for small accidents.

Towel hooks in bathrooms are only for storing the dry towels. Spread towels to dry elsewhere (rack, over the shower stall door / shower curtain bar) and hang to store.

 

Some additional reading & browsing

Images: Ateneum Art Museum by Alessandro Grussu on Flickr. Finland elevator behavior via 9gag. National Museum of Finland by Eppu Jensen

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

How to Helsinki: Getting around Helsinki

Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.

Eppu here. First of all, I should note that I didn’t grow up in Helsinki, so I’ve had to learn the capital region transit system as an outsider. There’s no denying that it’s a big system with many moving parts (see what I did!) and that it can feel overwhelming. However, I find that, overall, information is abundant, the signage excellent, the electronic displays usually accurate, and the services run on time. Navigation or ticketing haven’t been a problem for us. (Note: Unfortunately I can’t competently comment on the success of the accessibility initiatives; I can only say there’s every attempt.)

Edited to add: Please also read Progress Report #5. Worldcon 75 staff have put together a very informational final report with lots of practical tips.

Flickr JElliott Moving in Helsinki

Some general information

The public transit network in the greater Helsinki area consists of local and regional buses, trams, commuter trains, subway (metro), and ferry. The system is managed by Helsinki Region Transport (in Finnish: Helsingin seudun liikenne or HSL; HSL on Wikipedia). Helsinki also provides city bikes for a fee (registration required).

Most lines operate between 5:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. or so. Nighttime lines, where they exist, are marked by letter N in the timetables (for example, 415 and 415N), and a higher night fare is charged between 2 a.m. and 4.30 a.m.

The metro sign is a white M in a red square.

Many Finns stay silent in public transit, although in large cities and/or with younger passengers this may not hold true. A Finn might also not ask someone blocking them to move; a wish to pass is often expressed only through body language.

 

Tickets, please

Always carry a valid ticket. Passengers without a ticket are charged a penalty fare of 80 euros.

There are several different kinds of tickets (single, day, travel card) and ways to get them (bus drivers, tram operators, text message, ticket machines / automats / kiosks).

The ticket machines operate in Finnish, Swedish, or English; payment is by coins, bills, or cards. Below is a how-to video:

Ticket machine. HSL/HRT. Helsinki by Den S

Note that despite what some information pages still say, train conductors no longer sell tickets; passengers need to buy a ticket before boarding.

Twitter luckyandangel HSL seutulippu Cropped

Ticket terminology

Paper tickets are Finnish-Swedish bilingual. Note that ticket validity is indicated with 24-hour clock and that dates are written out in day/month/year order.

  • aikuinen (Fin) – adult, grown-up
  • alv (Fin) – value-added tax (VAT)
  • barn (Swe) – child
  • dygnsbiljett (Swe) – day ticket
  • enkelbiljett (Swe) – single ticket
  • giltig (Swe) – valid
  • hyvää matkaa (Fin) – Have a pleasant journey
  • kertalippu (Fin) – single ticket
  • lapsi (Fin) – child
  • moms (Swe) – value-added tax (VAT)
  • region, regionbiljett (Swe) – region, regional ticket
  • seutu, seutulippu (Fin) – region(al), regional ticket
  • trevlig resa (Swe) – Have a pleasant journey
  • voimassa (Fin) – valid
  • vuorokausilippu (Fin) – day ticket
  • vuxen (Swe) – adult, grown-up

The cheapest per-trip option, a travel card, is available from 14 to 366 days—i.e., a minimum of two weeks—so they’re basically the local commuter option.

If planning to make only two trips in one day, a day ticket (valid for 24 hours) is more expensive than two single tickets. Three or more trips justify the cost of a day ticket.

Attending Worldcon 75 members get a free travel pass courtesy of the Helsinki Region Transport. At this writing there’s no more information, but it sounds like a Helsinki internal pass (cf. zones, below). After this post went live, we heard from W75 that it’s a regional pass. Yay!

 

Zoning out

There are three zones: internal, regional (two zones) and the whole region (three zones). The internal tickets basically cover only one city (Helsinki; Espoo; Kauniainen; Vantaa) or municipality (Kirkkonummi) or transit zone unit (Kerava & Sipoo).

Fare Zones within Greater Helsinki Region Sm

Helsinki central railway station is the biggest transportation hub in the greater Helsinki area. Other hubs include Pasila railway station, Sörnäinen, and Itäkeskus (literally, ‘east center’) in Helsinki, Espoon keskus (Espoo center) and Leppävaara in Espoo, and Myyrmäki and Tikkurila in Vantaa.

Unless your accommodations are in one of the adjoining cities, you should only need internal Helsinki tickets during the con.

 

Airport transit

At Helsinki-Vantaa airport, there are several local and regional buses in addition to train and taxi services. Trains stop between the two airport terminals and both at Pasila and the main railway station in Helsinki, with several stops in between.

Buses run between Helsinki-Vantaa and the city, ending in the vicinity of the Helsinki central railway station. Lines terminate either on Elielinaukio on the west or Rautatientori (railway station square) on the east side of the station.

For the city center, take either the HSL bus 415 or 615. The newest and fastest connection is the Ring Rail Line (I and P trains). Both the HSL buses and the airport train require a regional ticket (seutulippu). The private Finnair City Buses run between the airport and Elielinaukio.

 

Finding the spot

Bus and tram stops have both a unique 4-digit number and a name in both Finnish and Swedish. The stop number includes one or two preceding letters which indicate(s) the city or municipality of the stop (E for Espoo, H for Helsinki, etc.). For example, Pasilan asema / Böle station is H2100 in the photo below.

In practice, only the stop names are relevant, but you can use the stop numbers, too, with the Reittiopas route planner (see below).

HSL pasilan_pysakki

Stops and departure bays display a sign with the route number(s) and destination(s) for the line(s) that use that particular stop. A small metro sign (white M in a red square) indicates that that line feeds to the metro.

Many of the stops also have transit maps and printed schedules. They are good for basic route finding if you know where you’re headed.

Electronic timetable displays at stops and terminals show either real-time or scheduled arrival / departure times for the line(s) serving that stop. Inside vehicles they typically display the route number and the name of the next stop.

You can also check out possible routes and options ahead of time with the Journey Planner (Reittiopas) in Finnish, Swedish, or English. Plug in your destination street address or attraction name and choose your preferred method and route; you can also adjust the amount of walking required or number of transfers in the settings.

Pertinent destination or stop names for Worldcon 75 are Helsinki-Vantaa airport (for which the route finder uses terms lentoasema or Helsinki-Vantaa airport T1-T2 corridor or combinations thereof), Helsinki railway station, Pasila or Pasilan asema (for Pasila railway station), and Messukeskus.

The Google Maps public transit directions also seem ok to me, but I haven’t used them often enough to comment on their reliability.

Note that the old Pasila train station is being demolished and a new one being built during the con. I haven’t personally been there, but on the basis of every newspaper photo I’ve seen it looks like signage and information on where to find connections, platforms, etc., is plentiful.

 

How to put a stop to it

The metro and commuter trains stop at every station. Enter and exit through any open door.

However, buses and trams only stop when requested. It is customary to enter through the front and exit through the middle or back doors. (People with accessibility issues may use the front door or middle door on low-floor buses both to enter and exit.)

At a bus stop, give a clear sign to the driver by holding your arm out to the side. Keep holding your hand out until the driver signals to show that s/he is going to stop.

Trams typically stop when there are passengers waiting. If the stop is shared by several routes, however, raise a hand to request that your tram stops to pick you up.

To exit at your stop, press the Stop button on the grab bars. (Note: Tape strips like some American buses use, for example, do not exist in Finland.) Do it early enough to give the driver time to stop safely. In fact, it’s not unusual to see people signal for a stop almost as soon as the bus or tram has left the previous stop.

 

What if I want to talk to someone?

The city of Helsinki tourist guides, the Helsinki Helpers, stand ready to answer questions until the end of August. Find them in their distinctive lime green vests on the inner city streets and cruise harbors. There’s also the Info Container tourist info kiosk on Keskuskatu next to Ateneum Art Museum (link to a map).

At or near Messukeskus, where you’ll be dealing mainly with hospitality workers or fellow fen, you will be in the best of company and are bound to find help, but Helsinki residents in general are used to tourists, too. Do not hesitate to ask passers-by for help if you need it. Many Finns, even if they tend to be reticent or shy of their English skills, are well-informed, eager to help, and give practical advice.

 

An outsider’s perspective

Erik here. As a foreign visitor, I’ve always found Helsinki quite an easy city to get around. The city center is compact and easily walkable, if that’s your preferred mode of transportation. If not, there are many good public transit options, as Eppu has explained. As with other parts of Finnish culture, there are some local details about getting around that may confuse you or not be obvious if you’re used to American cities. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you visit Helsinki:

  • Public transit has a bad reputation in some parts of the US. This does not apply in Finland. Finnish public transit is clean, modern, efficient, and easy to use. You’ll see everyone from parents with little children to business executives on their way to meetings riding the trains, buses, trams, and subway in Helsinki.
  • Always cross the street at a marked crosswalk and always obey the Walk/Don’t Walk signs. Even if the street is empty, don’t cross against the lights. This isn’t just a matter of courtesy, it’s also for your safety. Finland is a very law-abiding nation and drivers expect pedestrians to follow traffic signals. If a driver has a green light, they may not look out for pedestrians crossing the road in front of them. In Helsinki, unlike in many American cities, the buttons for crosswalk signals actually work.
  • In many places, you’ll find the sidewalk divided into two lanes, one for bicycles and the other for foot traffic. The lanes may be marked with painted symbols (a bicycle or a pair of walking figures), or the sidewalk may be partially paved, partially cobblestone (bicycles on the pavement, walkers on the cobble). Try to stay in the appropriate lane. This is also a matter of both courtesy and safety. There are a lot of bicycles in Helsinki and it’s both rude and dangerous to get in their way.
  • If there isn’t a marked division on the sidewalk, it’s good manners to stay to the right so that other people have room to get by you.
  • Turning right on a red light is not allowed anywhere in Finland, which is useful to know whether you’re driving or just walking around.
  • Few stores in Helsinki have public toilets and those that do may charge a fee. But free public toilets are available around the city. Look for dark green metal sheds on sidewalks and in parks, about the size and shape of a newsstand. These are free, clean, and kept in good condition.
  • As in many other European cities, look for street signs at the corners of buildings, not on free-standing posts.
  • Because Finland is a bilingual country, all road signs and many informational signs are posted in both Finnish and Swedish. Many places and neighborhoods around Helsinki also have names in both languages. Sometimes it’s obvious—it’s not hard even for an English speaker to guess that Eerikinkatu and Eriksgatan are the same street. Others are not so easy to guess. Without a little linguistic knowledge it can be hard to know that Ruoholahti is the same as Gräsviken. The announcements in public transit are also bilingual (occasionally trilingual, with English following Finnish and Swedish).

 

Online information for getting around in Helsinki

Any additional tips? Do share!

Images: Moving in Helsinki by J.Elliott on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). HSL seutulippu, detail, by luckyandangel on Twitter. Fare zones screencap from HSL “How to Use Public Transport”. Pasilan pysäkki by HSL.

This post has been edited to add resources by Worldcon 75 and correct the type of HSL pass given to W75 members.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

How to Helsinki: Shopping in Finland

Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.

Eppu here. Shopping in Finland has changed quite a bit in my lifetime. For most of its history, Finland was a poor relative to and fought over by Sweden and Russia. After the second World War, though, and especially after 1970s, Finland has changed drastically and is now one of the most stable, orderly, and prosperous countries in Europe. Nowadays you can find pretty much the same things in Helsinki as you would in any other Western European capitol—spiced with the Finnish flavor, of course.

Shop at Suomenlinna by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo on Flickr
Shop at Suomenlinna island fortress by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo

Like Erik mentioned already (HTH: Eating in Helsinki), 1- and 2-cent euro coins are not used in Finland. While legal tender, shopkeepers might nevertheless decline accepting the coins. Everything is instead rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cent number. (If you’re a coin collector and want a full set, there are 1- and 2-cent coins to buy.)

Perhaps a shock to visitors from outside the EU is the high sales tax or value-added tax (VAT; in Finnish, arvonlisävero or ALV). EU member states are required to collect VAT, but each state is free to set its own rate. Currently in Finland, VAT is 24% for general items, but there are lowered rates of 14% for food and restaurant services (excluding alcohol and tobacco) and 10% for books, medicines, and transportation or cultural event tickets, among others.

Marking the tax may also differ from what you’re used to. After I moved to the U.S., having to do calculus to find out the final purchase prices was an annoyance to me. In Finland, all prices already include any applicable taxes; what you see on the price tag is what you pay.

People living permanently outside the EU or Norway may be able to make VAT-free purchases, but note that retailers are not obligated to offer tax free shopping. If they do, there’s often a sticker at the door or at registers, and a number of requirements apply. See Tax-free sales to travellers in Finland for more.

Shop Window by Ian Kennedy on Flickr Cropped
Shop window from the Design District Helsinki, detail, by Ian Kennedy

There’s a movement to start charging a small fee on plastic shopping bags in stores, and some chains have already started, but as of this writing no consensus exists. It’s perhaps best to bring your own foldable totes or prepare to pay for bags.

If you’re planning on buying electronics or DVDs, note that Finnish DVDs are region 2, and electric sockets and plugs are Europlug type C or the grounded Schuko type F.

 

A few recommendations

Books

kirjakauppa – kirja ‘book’ + kauppa ‘store’

The biggest book store chains are Akateeminen Kirjakauppa and Suomalainen Kirjakauppa (NB. no English site; store locations listed here). Used books can be found in various antikvariaatti or antikvaarinen kirjakauppa.

Stockmann Book Department by IdeasAlchemist on Flickr
Stockmann Book Department by IdeasAlchemist

Moomins

The iconic Moomin (Muumi) troll family created by Tove Jansson can nowadays be found in many stores and on a great variety of items. Official Moomin merchandise can be found at Moomin Shops, the most centrally located of which is inside the Forum shopping center (link to a map); there’s also a shop at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport.

Moomins by Mike Burns on Flickr
Moomins on dishware by Mike Burns

Design & Fashion

Some of the world’s most imitated and admired designers and architects come from Finland. From Eero Aarnio’s Ball Chair (The Prisoner tv series, Men in Black II) to the Marimekko Unikko poppy pattern (worn by Jackie Onassis) to a new generation of designers, the Finnish style tends towards modern, understated clean lines. Merchandise from design houses and individual designers are often showcased in the Stockmann Helsinki city center department store during the summer season.

Fiskars shopping by Visit Finland on Flickr
Fiskars shopping by Visit Finland

Vintage & Second-Hand

Open-air markets and market halls are good places for finding vintage and second-hand items, including older design. The non-profit Fida and UFF chains sell primarily second-hand clothes. Flea markets—kirpputori or kirppis—may also work.

Window shopping 2 by kallu on Flickr
Window shopping #2 in Kallio, Helsinki, by /kallu

Handmade

Handmade wares vary from high design to mom-and-pop operators. Both types can often be found at a tori (an open-air market) or kauppahalli (market hall), or the former in various souvenir and/or design shops. One hot spot (though touristy) is the south side of Senaatintori (Senate Square; link to a map)—walk along Unioninkatu, Sofiankatu, Katariinankatu, or Helenankatu towards Kauppatori (Market Square) and the harbor.

Hand made by Freeariello on Flickr
A hand made seller at Kauppatori in Helsinki by Freeariello

Some links:

Images: Shop at Suomenlinna by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo on Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Shop window cropped from a photo by Ian Kennedy on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0); Stockmann Book Department by IdeasAlchemist on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Moomins by Mike Burns on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Fiskars shopping by Visit Finland on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0); Window shopping #2 by /kallu on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Hand made by Freeariello on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

How to Helsinki: Eating in Helsinki

Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.

Erik here. Finnish food isn’t as familiar to most Americans as French or Italian food. Before meeting Eppu and visiting Finland, I couldn’t even have made a guess at what Finnish food is like. For those of you new to Finland, here’s a little taste of what you have to look forward to in Helsinki.

Sauteed reindeer with mashed potatoes, lingonberry, and pickle, photograph by Htm via Wikimedia

About Finnish food

Traditional Finnish food will feel familiar if you grew up in New England or the midwest: fish, beef and pork, many kinds of dairy products, potatoes, seasonal vegetables and berries, and grains (although grains like rye and barley are more common than in the US). Of course, what most Finns eat nowadays is not that different from what most westerners eat, but you’ll still see the influence of traditional foods in many places. There’s still lots of fresh fish and potatoes on Finnish tables and the dairy sections of Finnish grocery stores have an amazing array of products, some of which don’t even have names in English.

For many Finns, breakfast is an open-faced sandwich made of a slice of rye bread or a Karelian pie (see below) topped with cheese, cold cuts, tomato, and cucumbers. If your hotel offers breakfast, expect to see a table of sandwich makings. You’ll also probably find eggs in various forms, sausages and/or bacon, oatmeal porridge, yogurt, and berries. You’ll also find coffee. Finns take their coffee very seriously: Finland has one of the highest per-capita rates of coffee consumption in the world.

Lunch and dinner are much the same as in the U.S. It’s also common for Finns to take coffee breaks in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon. These are seen as treasured moments for relaxation and reflection. Working during a coffee break is a breach of social etiquette and it is rude to interrupt a Finn on their coffee break unless invited to join in. It is less common for Finnish cafés to serve coffee in to-go cups; you are expected to stay there and drink your coffee in peace, not carry it with you as you rush off to your next meeting.

Kebab with rice and salad photograph by Allan Reyes via Flickr

What is true of coffee is true of food in general: Finns see eating as an activity in itself, not something you do while working on something else or on your way somewhere. Even fast food is meant to be eaten sitting down, not on the go. The two most common kinds of fast food in Finland are pizza and kebab. Finnish pizza has a paper-thin crust and is served in whole, uncut pies, not as slices. Eat it with a fork and knife, not folded up in your hand. (But definitely have some—Finnish pizza is superb.) Kebab, which may not be so familiar to Americans (though it is similar to shawarma), is a Turkish import: thin strips of grilled spiced meat often served in a pita bread or on top of rice, with lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickled hot peppers, and sauces. It’s also very well worth sampling, but it tends to make a bit of a mess. Several international fast food chains also have a presence in Finland, in case you feel the need for something familiar.

In general, Finnish tastes tend more sour and less sweet than Americans’. Sour berries like cranberries, lingonberries, currants, and gooseberries are widely grown and often eaten plain or only lightly sweetened. Finnish rye bread (ruisleipä) is a tangy sourdough bread without the molasses and caraway seeds that sweeten American rye breads. Finnish yogurts, juices, desserts, and other foods also tend to be less sweet than typical American versions of the same.

Many Finns are lactose-intolerant, have gluten sensitivities, and/or eat vegetarian or vegan. Food allergies are also very common. Most stores and restaurants offer a variety of alternatives suitable for people with these concerns. Look for “VL” / “vähälaktoosinen” for low lactose or “laktoositon” for lactose-free, “GL” or “gluteeniton” for gluten-free.

Public water fountains are rare in Finland. If you’re going to be out and about for a day, it’s a good idea to carry a water bottle with you.

Salmon soup, photograph by Tuijasal via Wikimedia

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