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The Finnish obsession of berry picking

I will have start by apologising – this is going to be a rant! Why would I complain about such an honourable activity as picking berries? Nothing wrong with berry picking as such. I, too, believe it’s wonderful that we have this free, fresh goodness at everybody’s disposal in Finnish forests. And yes, even I think that more people should make the effort to collect their own and get the benefit of fresh air and exercise as a bonus.

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However, what I have started to object to this summer is people using picking berries – or rather not picking them! – as the weapon to accuse one group after another of being lazy. Actually, it all started last summer when the Finnish media was plastered with headlines about a 14-year-old boy, later dubbed as “bilberry Oscar”, who picked 350 litres of bilberries in the forests and earned quite a sum of money. A commendable achievement, of course! Just google the name Oscar Taipale, and you’ll see loads of articles, all in Finnish unfortunately! He was soon hailed as the perfect role-model for other teenagers who do nothing but sit in their room in front of the computer screen! All youngsters, the praise went on, should be like Oscar, and get the entrepreneurial spirit early on! He was even mentioned in our President’s New Year’s speech to the nation as the model young citizen:

During the late summer and autumn, I followed the big story of young Oscar Taipale about tiny berries. Oscar made good earnings from picking hundreds of litres of forest berries. I too was delighted by the idea of a boy picking berries from bushes and inspiring his friends and many others to do the same.

Please, don’t get me wrong. Naturally, I appreciate and support what Oscar did. I have absolutely nothing against him or his enthusiasm. What I’m against is suddenly saying that everybody should do the same. After all, aren’t we all individuals endowed with our own free will and freedom of choice about what to spend our time on, or direct our interest towards?

Then come this summer and the incredible craze with Pokémon Go. Suddenly all the youngsters (and even people as old as I!) are walking around chasing after these monsters in an augmented reality mobile game. Woohoo, finally something was addictive enough to get everybody up and walking long distances every day. How great is that! We should be nothing but pleased. But no, this won’t do! It wasn’t long before some wise guy expressed his besser-wisser opinion in one of our biggest national daily papers (sorry, only in Finnish again) how young people are totally wasting their time with silly, useless Pokémon, and should be – yes, you guessed right! – picking berries and mushrooms in the forest. SERIOUSLY!

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Finally, yesterday I read another opinion where the writer disagreed with researchers who claimed that poor people can’t afford to eat healthy food, by accusing those less fortunate people of laziness because they didn’t spend their days out in the woods to pick free food for themselves! What on earth next? I guess somebody will come up with the idea that we teachers, who have been blessed with an enviable, and totally unfair if you ask most Finns, free summer should be sent to the woods to save Finnish economy!

Why can’t you just let those who want to voluntarily do it, and really enjoy it, roam the woods and do the picking? I don’t mind spending half an hour to pick enough for one bilberry pie but no more, thank you very much. The mosquitoes like me far too much, and I get too hot and bothered trying to protect every inch of my skin with protective clothing. Anything longer than that would be pure torture for me.

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I’m fortunate and grateful to have friends who happily bring us a bucket of bilberries or lingonberries they have picked every summer. They are delicious, full of important nutrients, and taste heavenly on our breakfast porridge all through winter. I really love all Finnish berries. But honestly, enough of this blame throwing! Berry picking is not the universal solution to every possible problem on earth!

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