Sinikka's snippets

Finland and travelling, a woman's life, cultures, languages, photography plus family recipes


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Painted faces

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I haven’t been very much into portraits or people photography in general. I’m more at home roaming the woods, snapping pictures of nature. That’s why, this week’s photo challenge – Face – has been slightly troublesome for me.

In the end, I chose this photo from an annual Hanami festival, organised in a park full of cherry trees in Helsinki last weekend. As last year, I tried to capture some of the Japan-inspired costumes and characters around the park. Surprisingly many young Finns are great fans of Japanese anime, and enjoy dressing up as their favourite characters. This ‘geisha’ caught my eye from afar, but on closer look, turned out to be possibly a ‘taikomochi’, a male geisha. Some online searching revealed that the original ‘geisha’-style entertainers, back in the 13th century, were, in fact, all male. The ‘taikomochi’ have since become rarer and rarer, and today, there are only very few left in Japan, the field having become almost exclusively female.

I have always been fascinated by the Japanese culture, finding it inscrutably irresistible. For example, Japanese facial expressions are impossible for me to interpret as their real feelings seem to be hidden underneath a mask, dictated by cultural norms and unspoken rules. Even more mysterious, are the striking, white-painted faces of the geishas. Here is another picture, taken during our family trip to Japan in 2004 – a geisha spotted in a Kyoto night, white face shining in the darkness.

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‘On the road’ through culture shock

On Instagram, people post pictures on Thursdays with the hashtag #tbt, meaning ‘throw-back Thursday. As it’s Thursday today, instead of instagramming, I decided to post this close to 20-year-old memoir of my family’s unforgettable experience in the US here on my blog. I wrote this in 2002, having done the Fulbright teacher exchange in 1996-1997. All the sentiments and insights still ring very true today.

Back in those days, no knowledge of digital cameras, and as all our old-fashioned slide pictures are still waiting to be digitalised, after all these years – only one scanned print of us. Here we are, young and wild, at the White House for the annual kids’ Easter Egg Hunt. It was the Clinton era, and the President and the First Lady even came on the balcony to greet us.

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ONE FAMILY’S JOURNEY THROUGH AN AMERICAN FULBRIGHT EXCHANGE YEAR

Culture shock has been defined as ”the anxiety that results from losing all of our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse” (Kalvero Oberg, “Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environment,” Practical Anthropology 7 (1960): 177.) As such, people setting off for any length of foreign sojourn are usually well counselled to deal with this challenge as easily as possible. As indeed, were my family and I.

We learnt all about the four basic stages: euphoria, hostility, gradual adjustment and finally – hopefully – adaptation. We thought we would have been well prepared and aware to avoid it, or at least be able to smoothly survive and get through any of the difficult stages…

Here are some brief thoughts on our year in America.

STAGE 1: EUPHORIA

August 1996 – excitedly off the plane, to set foot on American soil for the first time ever in our lives and into dazzling, sticky-hot Virginia sunshine. Amidst all the immediate ”oohs” and ”aahs” and ”gees”, we enthusiastically started our year of exploration of a vast new continent.

Daily we came across phenomena so new and exhilarating: the sound of, what we thought were noisy telephone lines, but were told bemusedly later were cicadas, the incredibly abundant choice and supply of food at restaurants, the enthusiastic service everywhere (“Have a nice day!”), all those cute American expressions, never-ending TV entertainment, the ultimate ‘shop till you drop’ experiences (I still remember the first time at the cash register: ”Paper or plastic?” and me frantically wondering whether it meant ”cash or credit card”!), the first time driving on the buzzing beltway around DC with the car radio blasting genuine country ‘n western…

And yet, at other times so strangely familiar – after all, we’d seen much of it in the movies or on TV. But it is true what we were told – everything in America is BIGGER, and even then, I’d say magnified by thousands! From such mundane things as the fridge and the garbage can to stretch limos, everything seemed giant (even our new local supermarket was aptly called “Giant”, can you believe it?). Once driving in from New Jersey, catching the first glimpse of that stunning Manhattan skyline – well, even the blue sky seemed huger.

Diary entry during the first couple of weeks: ”Even the ants here are humonguous!”

STAGE 2: HOSTILITY

Soon though, the little hitches began to appear in our consumer and tourist paradise.

For example, little did we guess that all our laboriously acquired medical certificates and child’s extra vaccinations meant diddly-squat in our new home country. Apparently, it was a pink form they needed (not the light blue one our Finnish doctor had provided). Another slight problem – you can’t enrol a child into school if her birth certificate doesn’t have a number and worse, doesn’t list her father’s name, let alone even the child’s!

Once that was all figured out, there was another line up around all different administrative offices in DC to straighten out a problem that, unknown to us, happened immediately we had arrived at the airport. The immigration official there had automatically assumed that the man would be the provider and the wife a mere dependant, and so, naturally, entered MY work permit in my husband’s passport. This now meant I didn’t have a social security number. As I later found out from my students, having this is the key to living the American life. Nothing can really start without it. I tell you, standing in line in an INS office in DC and eventually ending up at the ”deportation booth” is no fun!

Added to all this frustrating red tape, next the stress of actually starting a brand new style of work! My assignment in Falls Church Transitional ESL Center and my job in Finland were literally as different as day and night. Not only did I change from a regular day school into an evening program, for a teacher used to a national curriculum and set course books, it was a shock to end up being more like a freelance entertainer. Instead of having some time every day to team-plan with colleagues, I was literally locked into my classroom with my students for almost six full hours every night. Seeking help from my new colleagues in lost and lonely moments, I was told “just smile” and later hushed with ”we don’t talk shop during dinner breaks”.

Little by little, American peculiarities began to be less charming and started to irritate!

Even the cheerful greetings in shops – “How ya doin, you guys!” – soon sounded downright intrusive. ”Leave me alone, I don’t know you, please don’t say anything to me!!” Now why, oh why, wasn’t America more like good old silent and sensible Finland?! Even our little kindergartener daughter started to show symptoms. During the daily ’Pledge of Allegiance’ with the customary singing of ’God bless America’, she chose not to stand up with the reasoning “but it’s not my flag nor my country, teacher”.

Rock bottom came just two months in: the brakes in our borrowed car let us down one morning and resulted in a brush with law enforcement! What we saw as a really minor bump – just a common beltway fender bender – led to us naively using our European instinct to explain things to try and sort it out. WRONG!! Soon after we were advised: never admit anything, say nothing! We were just totally oblivious to the litigious US approach to any problem.

Already, it was all beginning to suck!

Diary entry: ”Love it, or leave it… Help, I want to go home!”

STAGE 3: GRADUAL ADJUSTMENT

If it wasn’t for our lifeline network of wonderful Fulbright friends we’d made at the orientation (Hilkka, Terttu, Ismo and Anikka – thanks a whole bunch to all of you!) and especially Anneli, our dedicated motherly confidante at the Helsinki end, plus our own stubborn perseverance, we might have easily packed our bags there and then.

But we had our mission to accomplish – to complete the Fulbright assignment and exchange philosophy bestowed on us.

Settling in at work and interacting with my multicultural immigrant students steadily became more of a daily delight and an inexhaustible learning experience for me. Through discussions inspired by poetry, song lyrics, folktales, and legends, I learned such touching details about their lives, feelings, hopes, and fears. In fact, I began to realise that really we were rather like allies and friends, together adjusting to our new environment and gaining invaluable insights into diversity and tolerance and each other’s fascinating cultures.

Further, juggling the roles of a teacher in a challenging new job, being the wife of a Mr. Mom (or as he preferred to call himself, ”Survival Organiser” – to impress Americans incredulous at a man staying at home!), plus a parent of a just turned 6-year-old ”exchange student”, gradually got easier. We began to meet real neat people, routines were established, and we learned the ways to make life run smoothly (coupons really stretch a budget!). Even our daughter’s regular ”OH MANNN!” exclamations, started to sound cute, and reassuring.

America was beginning to reveal to us its fun side.

Diary entry: “Trick or Treat, Thanksgiving turkey and Happy Holidays! Yeah, we’re getting a handle on this now!”

STAGE 4: ADAPTATION

America really is the ideal continent for travel and discovery.

The on the road culture of the States became so understandable. We decided the only way we could handle this was to “collect states”, and so we embarked on the road movie experience by travelling the 3,000 miles from Coast to Coast (and then back) plus a few more North and South. Well, we got to 40 states (out of 50! – that ain’t bad in a year!). Memorable experiences? Wow, countless.

Just a few of the amazing? Here goes… As well as all those famous places in New York … Grand Canyon (one day hike into, and still only got one third down!), desert to snow in one day (those Monuments and Arches up to the Rocky Mountains), San Francisco (Golden Gate Bridge – walked across 3 times), Graceland (plus Tupelo for the birthplace – ah huhhah), Las Vegas (no big bucks for us!), Route 66 (for the kicks!), Hollywood, Miami Beach, Disneyland, Niagara Falls, Kitty Hawk, Indian reservations, Amish folk, nearly everything in DC, like the White House (even the kiddies’ Easter egg hunt on the lawn!), and more…so much more…and all through it the ubiquitous motel stay (or even a tepee, one time).

To top that all we even got the year of a Presidential election. Wow indeed.

Diary entry: ”Been there, done that!”

REFLECTIONS

Only with hindsight did we realise that not only had we not avoided it, but surprise, surprise we had actually been a textbook example of going through all the stages of culture shock.

So, is there any lesson here? Well, perhaps that no matter how well you prepare yourself and are prepared by others for ‘culture shock’, in reality there’s no avoiding it. Everybody just HAS to go through it personally, in their own individual way – it’s like any initiation ritual in life, one way or another you have to work your way through them.

I don’t think you can fully adapt to a new culture in just one year. Despite all our daily triumphs we still remained legal aliens, although possibly well functioning ones. And anyway, for us, the purpose was different. Interaction and enriching our lives through mutual learning and experience were more important. I must admit we left America wistfully. Just as we felt we’d got the hang of Stateside living and culture…it was all too soon suddenly finished. We sure would have loved to stay on for another year.

And no sooner had we arrived back in Finland than it was time for ”re-entry shock”, and that in itself is a whole new ballgame……

It is now close to 5 years since we returned.

The spirit of Senator Fulbright’s original inspiration was: ”promoting understanding between people and their cultures”. In this respect, for us the whole time was totally successful and deeply affecting. After all, put a Finn to teach English to Asians and Hispanics in the US, and you can hardly get closer to that ideal!. Any problems or difficulties we ever encountered pale alongside our experiences and recollections, which are all still so vivid and truly treasured; not only the sights, but also the few lasting and dear friends we met.

But of course, the experience also significantly impacted our professional lives. It became a catalyst that ignited unexpected shifts in our mindsets. In particular, the characteristic and inspirational American ‘can-do’ attitude really got to us. Since then, I have stepped onto the lifelong road to study and learn about intercultural communication and have also become the coordinator of several international projects in my school. My husband also finally got around to setting up his own company on return (based very much on intercultural experiences, too). Even for our daughter, interest in other lifestyles has led to her now having her own sponsored little god-daughter in India.

To wrap then: as well as allowing us to realise the American experience of travelling on the road, the Fulbright exchange and opportunity also set us on the road to become more enlightened citizens of the world. Quite simply, we feel privileged to have been part of Senator Fulbright’s vision.

Diary entry: ”Was it worth it? You betcha – it undoubtedly was REAL COOL MAN!”


 


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Hanami – adoration of cherry blossoms

My first encounter with cherry blossoms was back in the mid-90s in Washington DC of all places. I was working as a Fulbright exchange teacher in Virginia for a year, only 30 minutes by metro from the capital. There are some 1,700 cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, donated as a sign of friendship by the mayor of Tokyo in the early 20th century. They offer a spectacular display of beauty in spring. I remember going there several times, to admire the first small pinkish blooms, through to the peak time and all the way to the end of the fragile petals falling on the ground, white as if it was snowing. At the weekend, we also saw a lot of Asian, and other people enjoying picnics under the blooming trees.

Ever since then, cherry blossoms have held a special place in my memory and heart. They are an annual reminder of the fleeting nature of life. So breathtakingly beautiful, but so short-lived at the same time! Recently, I have been more than pleased to see that some cherry trees have been planted along the riverside, and elsewhere, here in my hometown of Turku in Finland. This spring I have been cycling around with my camera to capture some of this floral splendour. It’s good for your soul to just sit or stand underneath a canopy of blooming trees, taking in the subtle colours of the petals, which quiver helplessly in the slightest breeze. So fragile that you feel as if you need to protect the tiny blossoms with your hands.

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One Sunday, I happened to be cycling along the river, and came across some cherry trees that I had never even noticed before. The blossoms were already coming to the end of their time, and had turned gorgeously white. They made me think of a full, lacy wedding dress – what a lovely thought!

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My project for next year is to start early enough, probably towards the end of April, and go round all the different trees I now know of, and enjoy the whole, swift blooming cycle. Unfortunately, our town doesn’t enlighten us of the different species of cherries they have planted. So, finding that out will be part of this project, too. ‘Mindfulness’ is one of the new fads here, and I feel enjoying the nature around us is the best form of mindfulness you can engage in – and it’s all free!

HANAMI FESTIVAL IN HELSINKI

I was lucky to notice an ad for a cherry blossom festival in Helsinki somewhere in my social media feed. It falling on a weekday religious holiday, made me convince hubby that we needed to go. It was actually the 8th time this festival was organised in the suburb of Roihuvuori in Helsinki, where over 200 cherry trees have been planted along a hill in a park. It was interesting to find out on a website that just as in Washington DC, these trees, too, are thanks to donations, this time by Japanese nationals residing here in Finland.

According to Wikipedia, HANAMI, or “flower viewing” means:

the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, flowers (“hana”) in this case almost always referring to those of the cherry (“sakura”) or, less frequently, plum (“ume”) trees

It was a windy day, and a bit on the cool side. We even had a hail storm pour over us in the afternoon! But the weather didn’t prevent thousands of people from having a good time underneath the trees. Arriving by train, after a two-hour journey, we were there early, and managed to see the trees better than later on when all the participants were milling around and setting up their picnic spots.

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I was especially pleased to see people of all ages taking part in the festival. Too often the Finnish custom is to separate the generations, each to their own specific activities. Lots of young families came with their babies, toddlers and pre-teens, many of whom wore creative fancy dresses for the occasion.

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The cosplay and anime crowd were there, too, with the most elaborate costumes. It was all quite delightfully unexpected for us but, of course, so much part of Japanese culture. Made me remember our trip to Japan, and a visit to Harajuku district in Tokyo where imaginative teens gathered to show off their sometimes quite outrageous fashions and styles.

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Initially, I had a very stereotypical expectation of the festival: a sophisticated, serene, almost solemn occasion, with possibly some faint, traditional Japanese music in the background, and people staring at the blossoming trees in quiet awe and adoration. Couldn’t have been more wrong! Little did I know, that people would bring boom boxes and other music devices, and play really loud rock and pop. What’s more, there were also music and Japanese martial arts performances on a stage, which added to the noise. Well, why not! Everybody to their own, and possibly this is the way ‘hanami’ is celebrated in Japan.

Definitely an occasion to mark in our diaries for next year. It was refreshingly different for Finland. Firstly, so crowded, and such a diverse and colourful group as well, with happy faces all around. Secondly, the joyful activity all through the day, Japanese food being cooked and sold in stalls, all the fascinating shows and performances. Thirdly, meeting friends for a chat and picnic on the lawn. And last but not least, the feeling of wonder, magic and fairy tale,  thanks to wonderful creatures such as this spring butterfly, for example.

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The message of the cherry blossoms for me was ‘carpe diem’. Seize the day, and ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may’ as it’s all too soon over.

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The plight of Arctic minority peoples

During my Easter trip to northern Norway, I learned a lot about minority peoples here in the Nordic countries, especially the oppressed history of the Sami people. The Sami are an indigenous people, in fact the only one in the whole of Europe, living in Norway, the north of Sweden and Finland, and the Kola peninsula in Russia. There are about 100,000 of them, speaking several different varieties of the Sami languages. The overwhelming majority live in Norway. I must admit that I had quite a stereotypical, touristy picture of them. You know, people wearing their colourful traditional costumes, herding reindeer in the wilderness of Arctic Lapland, just like the pictures on this Norwegian tourism website. Only Santa Claus is missing to complete the picture!

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Yet, a visit to the Sami ethnographic exhibition at the Museum in Tromsø, and listening to the many stories and insights of our hosts, opened my eyes. After decades, and centuries of oppression, and shame about being different, a minority in a country, the Sami are gradually getting recognition and rights to their language. In the past, Sami children in Norway, for instance, used to be sent to monolingual Norwegian schools to learn that language, being mocked and discriminated against in the process. It didn’t help that most of them were also members of a very strict religious sect that forbade them a lot of the activities that other Norwegian children enjoyed. Luckily, things are gradually changing, and about time before yet another small minority language disappears from this earth. Sadly, some varieties of Sami have already become extinct.

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In Norway, it wasn’t until the 1990s that bilingual road signs (Sami and Norwegian) were introduced in the north. But as you can see from this one above, displayed at the museum, not everybody was happy about this development. During the night, Norwegian opposers went ahead and shot at the signs long enough to make the Sami name undecipherable! And this went on and on, as soon as the authorities replaced the destroyed signs. The hatred and narrow-mindedness of some people!

My limited idea of the Sami was shattered at the museum, seeing huge photos of all the different people with Sami roots. Of course, they are all their own individual selves even if there are still some of the traditional reindeer herders left, too. I was deeply touched by the stories of people who had totally buried their Sami ancestry to protect themselves and be accepted in Norwegian society, only to find out later in life, sometimes through serendipitous coincidences that they were actually Sami.

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I must say I felt even worse when I learned about the Kven minority in Norway. I hadn’t even known about them! And they are my compatriots, descendants of Finns who moved to Norway back in the 19th century. Their fate has been very similar to that of the Sami, or even slightly more difficult as they didn’t have the special indigenous status. Many of them totally denied their Finnishness, and did their utmost to become Norwegian and not stand out from the crowd. These days, though, they are becoming more active, having their own little societies and meetings, and claiming their rights together with other minority groups. It is a triumph in the north that you can now see even trilingual road signs – Norwegian, Sami and Finnish!

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How has the status of these minorities improved then? In Norway, the Sami have their own Parliament and are recognised as a minority group with their own language. Here in Finland, Sami children finally have the right to education in their mother tongue. Since 1986, the Sami even have their own flag, which I saw proudly flying on the poles together with the Norwegian national flag in Tromsø. Still, there is a lot to be done, not least about the attitudes of the majority.

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How many tragedies and sad fates have these people suffered over the years! And similar injustice is still rampant all round the world. ‘Different’ equals ‘worse’ and ‘a threat’ – let’s suppress it. When in our country, be like us, behave like us, become one of us, at any cost! It’s frightening, in the wake of yet another general election here in Finland, how the extremist anti-immigration parties and ideas gain ground. Will humankind ever learn from history?

During this highly enlightening trip, I was also introduced to Mari Boine, a Sami singer and musician, who has been promoting the Sami rights, culture and language through her music ever since the 60s. Here is a song by her, where the rugged and challenging arctic circumstances and the Sami issue are ever present. The music is magical and haunting. The northern dimension, with all these ethnic tensions, will certainly be haunting me for a long time.

The lips of the silenced people burst out in speech
The stream of words once again were flowing
Over the frozen riverbanks when we finally came together
My dearest son of the wind

(Taken from Lyricstranslate)


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Pop-up “Restaurant Day” in November

November 15, a grey and windy Saturday morning. The temperature here in southern Finland barely above zero celsius, but no sight of snow or ice, thank goodness! The beginning of another pop-up restaurant experience in my town, and around the world. Following the online map, with venues popping up all through the week, I finally found 20+ to choose from, noticeably fewer, though, than on the lovely late summer day in August, which I blogged about earlier. Not surprising, given the season and weather, but enough, however, to plan an interesting tour. According to the event Facebook page, there were still all together 1698 pop-up places opened in 35 countries, which is quite an achievement!

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Our rather colourless riverside scenery in November

Two major differences to our previous experience: this time, we drove around in our car, at times parking and walking from place to place. Still got some fresh air and exercise although, I must say, I did miss my bike, but the distances along our planned route just were too long, unfortunately. Secondly, most of the November events took place indoors, which nicely added an extra interest in actually being invited into people’s homes. Very un-Finnish and brave! Compared to the open-air garden events in August, the indoor cafés and restaurants were far more intimate, and sparked even more impromptu conversations and interaction between the strangers whose paths crossed by chance, around coffee and dinner tables for fleeting moments . Great for us private, and often sullen, Finns! And what a way, for anyone, to “seize the day”, and make each unexpected encounter count.

I and hubby started by the riverside, at ‘Curry in a Hurry’. A simple canopy-covered place, offering 3 different curries with naan bread. Just the right hot treat, temperature and spice-wise, on a nippy winter day! Turned out that the friendly and welcoming curry chefs were also a mixed Finnish-British couple, just like us, so we felt right at home.

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Warmed by the nice and tasty curry, we then walked to a 1920s block of flats up the road, and entered the enchanting ambience of “The Yellow Salon Café”. This was a family endeavour, put together for the third time already by a father, keen on antiques and design, an enthusiastically baking mother and a daughter enjoying the customer service. The whole front room had been totally reorganised for the day, with a lot of effort and care to create just the right atmosphere for a Christmassy coffee break, down to the finest detail. I was especially impressed with the oldie-worldie outfits of the two ladies, not to mention all the scrumptious pies, cakes and goodies, which literally melted in your mouth. I would definitely go again, and can recommend this venue, both for culinary and aesthetic enjoyment. I’m still wondering, though, about the elegant and enigmatic young lady, quietly having chocolate cake while reading Molière in the corner. Just one of those intriguing stories of this great day!

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We finally ended our tour with another Christmassy experience. A summer hut in a garden, aptly named “Café Charm” for the day, with a view of a small, local lake. On offer was our traditional Christmas delicacy: rice porridge, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar on top. Here, too, Christmas carols were played in the background, and flickering candles added to the warm feeling in the darkening afternoon. I can understand people wanting to tap into the Christmas theme as there is no Restaurant Day closer to the holidays, but for me, maybe it was a little early for all the jingle bells, santa figures and decorating gingerbread cookies, lovely ideas and activities as they were. Next this café, there was also a quirky little boutique, boasting the world’s smallest cinema (in a toilet!) showing a 1920s documentary about the area, in the times when the adjacent broadcloth factory was still working. So, not only food and meeting people but learning about local history at the same time!

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The above mentioned “cinema” on the left

Hats off to all the hard-working and creative volunteers for organising this great day for the rest of us! Looking forward to the next edition on February 15, 2015!


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A great Finnish food carnival

Restaurantday1 Are you keen on cooking or baking? So much so that you would even like to sell some of your culinary creations to others? But, obtaining the required licences and going through all the red tape has prevented you so far, plus the fact that you really couldn’t imagine this as your full-time career. Or would you just like to have a fun, novel experience sharing food with people for one day? Well, wait no longer – there is a way: THE POP-UP RESTAURANT DAY. In the words of the inventors, this is what it is:

Restaurant Day is a worldwide food carnival when anyone can set up a restaurant, café or a bar for a day. It can happen anywhere: at your home, at the office, on a street corner, in your garden or inner courtyard, at a park, or on the beach – only your imagination is the limit.

For your pop-up restaurant, café or food stall, you won’t need to apply for any permits, nor do you need to let the taxman know what you’ve earned, for as long as you only charge enough to cover your costs. The first ever “Restaurant Day” was organised in Finland in May 2011, and since then the concept has spread to over 50 countries worldwide. Quite an achievement! If you got interested, here is one of the three men behind the concept, Timo Santala, explaining to you in English what it’s all about. It’s well worth sparing 17 minutes to watch the video as it’s is full of heart-warming and funny stories about interaction, participation, open cities, active citizenship and, above all, the creative madness of people who are given the freedom and trust to organise something extraordinary for a day.

I couldn’t agree with Timo more when he asks:

Is there a better way of meeting new people, experiencing a country as a tourist or integrating to a new place as an immigrant than around a shared dinner table?

Yet, it still amazes me that this phenomenon was actually invented and given the green light in Finland, the promised land of rules and regulations! In fact, the inventors have revealed that it was exactly their frustration with all the Finnish restrictions for setting up restaurants that gave them this idea. What adds to my amazement is that, in general, we Finns are quite private people. Many of us are not particularly keen to open our homes to strangers even though we often do invite friends over for dinner or coffee. What’s more, we very much tend to keep ourselves to ourselves, and shy away from socialising with people we don’t know. I believe this is partly due to our culture of politeness, according to which it is good manners to basically leave people alone, and not bother them with unnecessary small talk. This cultural background makes the concept of the Restaurant Day, where you suddenly expose yourself to dealing with strangers, often in your own home, even more incredible. Maybe it is a positive sign of people longing for a change, and a new sense of community spirit in these highly individualised times. This great day takes place four times a year – in February, May, August and November. Obviously, here in the north, our seasons affect the organisation a lot, with May and August being much easier and more convenient for outdoor venues. I and hubby had a wonderful day last August, cycling around all Sunday to a few places we had picked from the list beforehand. Even the weather couldn’t have been better that day! Our picks then were a Polish-Finnish couple’s pierogi restaurant in their yard, raw cakes by the riverside, a garden do with several main courses and desserts, and with live music, too (in fact, two well-known Finnish musicians, which was an interesting bonus) and another garden café with traditional Finnish coffee and cakes. Not only was the food highly affordable and interesting to sample, but the tour also introduced us to lovely, new neighbourhoods of our hometown that we had never been to before, not to mention the healthy exercise and fresh air and meeting and talking with lots of people. There’s hardly a better way to spend an autumn Sunday!

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My “red lightning transport” for the day

Restaurantday2Restaurantday3Restaurantday3Restaurantday4 If you have never heard of this idea, why not jump on the bandwagon in your village / town? You can find all the information you need on this webpage (and in several languages, too). I can’t wait for the next experience on November 15. I’m even toying with the idea of having my own little café in May next year. Let’s see what happens!