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.

Temporary Exhibition: a Viking Age Village in Finland

The Viking age apparently is a bit of a thing in the Nordic countries this year: in addition the brand new museum in Stockholm, Vapriikki museum centre in Tampere will host an exhibition on Viking-age life in Finland starting this summer.

The exhibit covers village life in 1017. It’s based on the discovery of and archaeological finds from a whole Viking-age village called Tursiannotko in Pirkkala at the shores of lake Pyhäjärvi.

Birckala 1017 runs from June 09, 2017 to August 19, 2018. The exhibit description (from their 2017 brochure) reads:

“It was the time of the Vikings. In the village of Tursia, people cultivated the land, traded, made sacrifices to the gods, and ate large amounts of pork. Both the Vikings and the Novgorodians sought the riches of the Häme wilderness; however, one small village of indomitable Häme folk still held out against the enemy…

“To celebrate the centennial of Finnish independence, the Birckala 1017 exhibition allows visitors to travel through time and visit a village in Northern Häme a millennium ago. You will get to know smithing skills, about cooking outdoors, and the principles that guided life for the Finns of the past […]”

On display will be, for example, bone arrowheads, decorated spoons, beads, tools, and a sword dated to 1050-1200 and its replica. Many items are being shown to the public for the first time.

Yle Birckala 1017 Swords

Apart from the exhibit indoors, a yard with replicas (and non-replica sheep!) is available for trying out some of the iron age skills.

Yle Birckala 1017 Tursiannotko Cottage

Vapriikki in housed in an old factory hall whose oldest parts date back to the 1880s. All the exhibits are covered by a single entry ticket. More info on the Vapriikki website.

Images: Swords by Antti Eintola / Yle; Cottage interior by Jussi Mansikka / Yle

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.

Quotes: Sometimes Silence Is the Greatest Wisdom

“’I think I’m supposed to say something, but I don’t know what,’ he said.

“’Then don’t say anything. Sometimes silence is the greatest wisdom.’”

– The volunteer and N’Kya in “The Volunteer” by Maurice Broaddus

Oh, so much this. Not only because I think it’s true, but because it reminds me of a cultural difference that’s highly personal to me. In my culture, silence is definitely seen differently than in the U.S. Over the years, I’ve struggled to explain it. This is the closest I’ve come so far:

For a Finn to be silent isn’t an indication of inattention or rudeness; far from it. Silently listening is a sign of interest, i.e., not interrupting before the other speaker has had a chance to finish. Silence means attention to the topic and respect towards another person’s life and space. (Finns need a larger bubble of personal space than other Europeans.) And silence can also be an indication of deep camaraderie.

In essece, then, silence means space, and space means respect.

Broaddus, Maurice. “The Volunteer.” In The Voice of Martyrs. Greenbelt, MD: Rosarium, 2017, p. 103.

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

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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How to Helsinki: Sauna, That Scary-Hot Room Full of Naked

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. Sauna is among the most well-known things about Finland abroad. Incidentally, sauna might also be the most commonly known Finnish word in English (although kalsarikännit seems to be making some inroads lately). Here is a short introduction to sauna I hope will be helpful to newbies.

Flickr johanjeijon Sauna ROI Midnight 2010
Sauna, Rovaniemi, on July 2, 2010, midnight sun; by johanjeijon
  • At its core, sauna bathing is exactly that: a form of cleaning yourself thoroughly. (Think extreme showering, of sorts.) Early saunas were typically small huts with benches along one wall, a wood stove (kiuas) in one corner, and a place for washing with pails of water in another. Modern saunas at pools or public baths (uimahalli) are right next to the showers, and in private homes they are attached to a full bathroom.
  • After an initial, quick shower, bathers sit down on the bench of their choice (high, middle, or low) and wait. If too cool, you can move up a bench and/or toss a ladle of water onto the stove for a burst of steam (löyly). If too hot, you can move to a lower bench, splash yourself with water with the ladle, or step into the shower room for a moment (or drink water, take a shower, go swim). In fact, dividing your sauna bathing into several consecutive short trips to cool off and then returning to the heat makes the experience more enjoyable. A final, good wash head to toe, fresh clothes, and a glass of water afterwards will feel heavenly.
  • Yes, you are indeed supposed to feel hot in sauna. Really hot. The point is to get the sweat flowing—that’s the main thing that’ll make you feel fresh and clean afterwards. However, you shouldn’t feel dizzy or bad; that’s not normal. Don’t be shy about stepping out for a moment before returning. Also note that anything metallic worn on the body (like glasses or jewellery) might get hot and feel uncomfortable.
  • Some people combine alcohol with sauna bathing (typically, a beer or two afterwards instead of water), but I find I get dehydrated enough to want to stick with non-alcoholic drinks. A little something savory can feel good to replenish the salt you’ve just sweated out, though.
  • There is some paraphernalia involved. The two absolutely essential ones are a bucket of water and a ladle, and they are included by default. If desided, you can bring a bottle of water to drink, a sauna whisk (vihta or vasta), a sauna hat, and a bathrobe (to cool off in after the final wash but before changing into fresh clothes). A small cotton or linen towel as a sit-upon (pefletti) can also be a good idea. (Note that some public saunas may require a sit-upon and rent or sell disposable ones to those who don’t bring a personal one.)
Sauna Whisks for Sale
Sauna whisks for sale at a Finnish market square (kauppatori) in 2004
  • There are no time limits or minimum stay to “do sauna right”—you stay as long as you feel like. I know people for whom sauna bathing is an hours-long ritual, whereas I’m a fairly speedy bather myself. (Note, however, that if you’re paying for sauna access, like at hotels and pools, they typically do limit your bathing time.)
  • Sauna bathing can take many forms depending on the composition and mood of the group. It can be silent and meditative, or active and chatty, or anything inbetween. It can be a private affair with each bather in their own thoughts, or part of a stag or hen night. It can be a part of families’ weekend routine, or it can be enjoyed by a solitary business traveler in a hotel in the middle of the week.
  • That said, even the more taciturn Finns can open up in sauna. Because we’re all literally reduced to our bare essentials, sauna is seen as a great equalizer and an easier environment to talk to strange people, especially Intimidating Foreigners (thank you, Arttu, for the wonderfully self-deprecating phrase).
  • And yes, you really are expected to go in completely nude. This is perfectly normal in Finland. In fact, bathing suits that have been used in chlorinated pools may release toxic gases in the heat and are therefore usually prohibited in public saunas.
  • It’s typical for a family to bathe all together, but not necessarily outside the home, nor necessarily after the kids hit puberty. Public saunas may be either segregated or co-ed, or there may be shifts set aside for women and men separately.
  • Note that, as with any place where people appear in a state of undress, there are strict social codes in place. Imagine going to the beach with your family—you wouldn’t want to be stared at, followed, intruded on, touched, or have your physicality commented on. It’s the same while sauna bathing.
  • A note about co-ed saunas specifically: Co-ed bathing tends to skew towards the younger and/or student populations, but it’s not universal. Not all Finns are comfortable with co-ed saunas, and there’s nothing odd about that. It’s perfectly fine to skip a co-ed sauna. Breaches of conduct (lewd comments or gestures), while rare, can happen. Again, think of a beach: it’s not likely that someone misbehaves, but since it is a public setting no-one can guarantee that everyone behaves 100% of the time.
  • You can have a sauna year-round, and we Finns do. (Erik and I can personally testify how lovely it is to have a sauna after hand-shoveling a foot of snow from the driveway!) However, sauna bathing in the nightless night of summer is special, especially at a cottage with added dips into a lake, river, or the sea. Since Finnish natural waters can stay rather cool even in summer, it’s typical to make several visits (sauna, water, sauna, water, etc.) before washing up. And grill some sausages for a salty after-sauna snack.

Finally: It’s not weird to be apprehensive by the thought of a hot room full of naked strangers. However, sauna is a wonderful, relaxing, and cleansing experience, and may just be worth overcoming those doubts. YMMV, naturally. If you’re sauna-curious but extremely shy, a hotel room or an apartment with a private sauna (yes, both are a thing in Finland!) are a possibility.

But don’t take just my word for it. Below are links to non-Finnish sauna bathers’ thoughts. (Note: Some apply specifically to Ropecon, the largest Finnish role-playing con, and therefore to the younger end of the geeky / nerdy circles in Finland.)

Two bonus links: a post from Visit Finland that combines useful info with a delightful lack of marketing-speech: Enjoy Urban Sauna Culture in Helsinki; also, “Sauna Time,” a comic from Scandinavia and the World with a humorous take on the difference between Finnish and Scandinavian sauna bathing.

And a note from Erik: For my fellow non-Finns who haven’t experienced sauna before, you may have your doubts about the whole thing. I certainly did before I tried it. Here’s what I knew about sauna before meeting Eppu and visiting Finland: 1) it’s damp and really, really, really hot; 2) you sweat a lot. Both these things are, of course, true. Now, my previous experiences with damp, hot environments and sweat were not good ones: humid summer days, over-heated pools, gym classes in un-air-conditioned spaces, etc. The thought that someone would voluntarily subject themselves to those kinds of conditions sounded very strange to me.

Here’s what I learned, though: sauna is different. In sauna, the damp heat and sweat feels good. It relaxes your muscles and quiets your mind. It gives you the all-over relaxing warmth of a hot bath, but no part of your body has to stick out in the cold air. You only stay in as long as it feels good: if it starts feeling bad, you just step out and cool down. And as soon as you’re done, you shower away all the sweat. There’s no feeling of clean quite like the clean of being fresh from the sauna.

Of course, your experience may be different. You may try sauna and decide you don’t like it, which is perfectly fine, but don’t be scared to give it a try.

Images: Sauna by johanleijon (CC BY-SA 2.0); Sauna whisks for sale by Eppu Jensen

This post has been edited to add resources.

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

Johanna Sinisalo Is a 2017 Prometheus Award Finalist

Author Johanna Sinisalo’s latest novel, dystopian The Core of the Sun (Auringon ydin, translated by Lola Rogers) has gained another distinction: it is a finalist for the 2017 Prometheus Award.

The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf. Presented annually since 1982 at the World Science Fiction Convention, the Prometheus Awards include a gold coin and plaque for the winners.

Congratulations! I hope she will give a talk on on TCotS at Worldcon 75.

Speculative Stories Online: Finnish Weird

Finnish Weird is a recent project to publish new Finnish speculative fiction in English. Published yearly by the Helsinki Science Fiction Society and edited by Toni Jerrman, the issues are available online for free to read or download as either epub or pdf.

Finnish Weird 3 Issue Covers

Each volume contains feature articles well as short stories by big-name authors such as Anne Leinonen, Leena Likitalo, Johanna Sinisalo, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, Maria Turtschaninoff, and others. At this writing, the fourth issue (2017) has just been released.

fw4_logo

Author Johanna Sinisalo introduces the project and the style suomikumma (“Finnish weird”) in the inaugural 2014 issue:

“After barely a couple of hundred years of written literary tradition and decades of gatekeepers who have shunned works including elements of fantasy as cheap escapism, Finnish writers now create fiction that is a phenomenal mixture of sf, fantasy, horror, surrealism, magic realism – you name it. It’s highly original, fresh and surprising, sometimes it celebrates elements of our rich folklore and mythos, sometimes it soars sky-high in sf worlds, sometimes the stories are almost realistic, but have that little weirdness or twist that makes them something other than mimetic writing.

[…]

“I’m not trying to say that we Finns reinvented the wheel – new weird – and are trying to claim it as our own, not at all. What I am saying is that Scandinavian countries did not invent crime stories either, but in the wake of the international success of detective and crime fiction from Sweden, Norway, etc., ‘Nordic Noir’ has become a label for a certain quality of story. In my opinion, the label ‘Finnish Weird’ is also a brand – a brand that promises a roller-coaster ride of highly original prose from very diverse writers with truly personal styles. We are weird and very proud of it.”

Images via Finnish Weird

How to Helsinki: Finnish Summer

“Kesätie” = Summer Road

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. There is something special about the summertime in Finland and if you haven’t experienced it before, you have a lot to look forward to. If you’re not used to the summer at high latitudes, though, you should know what to expect. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The Finnish summer is a time of light. In northern parts of the country near midsummer, the sun is in the sky all night long and there’s no visible difference between midnight and noon. In Helsinki in August, although the sun does set for a few hours, it doesn’t get darker than twilight. Expect to see a lot of sun.
  • Unless it rains, which can happen a lot. There’s an old joke: “The Finnish summer may be short, but at least it doesn’t snow much.” Summer weather can be changeable, from cold, raw, and rainy to clear and hot. Be prepared for all possibilities.
  • If you’re not accustomed to the light summer nights, they can mess with your body clock (especially when piled on top of jet lag). You may find it easy to lose track of time without the changing light to cue your body to feel hungry or tired. Keep an eye on the time and make sure you’re eating and sleeping regularly.
  • If you’re like me, the light nights may also make it hard for you to sleep. Most hotels in Finland will have light-blocking curtains, but you may also want to consider a sleep mask. (I find melatonin very helpful for regulating my sleep as well.)
  • With the light nights, it cal also be easy to lose track of time if you have an appointment to make or shopping to do. Many Finnish shops and restaurants are not open as long as Americans may be used to, and they may have different hours in the summer (including some that have very limited weekend hours). It’s always a good idea to check store hours ahead of time.
  • Summer is also mosquito and tick season. If you’re going to the woods (which you definitely should, if you have the chance), make sure you protect yourself well with long, loose, light clothing and bug spray.
Finnish summer night
  • Despite these warnings, the Finnish summer is magical. There is really nothing to compare with the light, quiet summer nights. If you have the opportunity, go for a late-night walk. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Speaking of magical, don’t miss out on Finnish ice cream. Ice cream kiosks pop up all around in the summertime where you can get a cone or ice cream bar. Finns make good ice cream, and a lot of it is low-lactose or lactose-free (look for “VL” / “vähälaktoosinen” or “laktoositon”), and/or gluten-free (“GL” or “gluteeniton”).

I hope you enjoy seeing Finland in the summer. It is one of the best times to visit the country. It is also one of the best times for meeting Finns. The summer is a relief from the cold, dark winter and, at least for some people, it can have an effect on temperament. Characteristically dour, taciturn Finns can become more relaxed and open in the summer sun, even a little goofy. Summer is when this sort of thing happens:

Thunderstruck by Steve’n’Seagulls (LIVE) by Steve Seagulls

Enjoy it!

Images by Erik and Eppu Jensen

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