Sinikka's snippets

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


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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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My oyster

“The world is my oyster”, as the saying goes. Maybe that’s where London transport authorities got the name for their versatile ‘Oyster card’? I was going to write an ultra-positive post praising the usefulness of this card. However, I had to add a warning at the end of this post, having learned the hard way how important it is to be fully aware of all the conditions of use.

But, let’s start with the positive. Compared to the old system for tourists and visitors of 1-day or 2-day travel cards, now having access to the “top up as needed” Oyster card was a really welcome change during my recent visit to London.

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Arriving at Gatwick airport, I simply went to the train tickets counter, and bought my card: £5 deposit on the card itself, and £30  credit, which I reckoned should be enough for my four-day stay. And it was enough although no problem if you spend more, you can top the credit up at any tube station. The card is good on the tube, and London buses, too. Very handy.

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I especially appreciate having a card in my pocket to use on the buses. I never know exactly where I will be getting off, which is why having to buy individual tickets from a driver is always a bit complicated. Not to mention, having the right change as well. I love just getting my card out, flashing it to the reader, and I’m ready to hop on, and off, wherever I want!

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Unfortunately, my “thumbs up for the Oyster card” spiel has to come with a serious warning! Buying my ticket, I was told that if I didn’t want to keep it, I could hand the card back, when leaving the country, and get the £5 deposit back. Brilliant, I thought at the time. Yet, trying to do this, at exactly the same counter at Gatwick airport, I was told that there was still 90 pence worth of credit on the card, which meant that I couldn’t get my money back. WHAT? “This is why we put this warning on the card”, said the irritatingly know-it-all assistant at the counter. And blow me, there was the sticker on the card, printed in tiny letters as usual, reading:

REFUNDS for unused credit MUST BE completed at a London underground station before travelling back to Gatwick Airport. NO REFUNDS for unused credit can be given at the airport.

So there, quite clear, no point in protesting even though, of course, I tried. Quite honestly, how many of you always read all the small print on everything? Why on earth wasn’t I warned about this, when purchasing the card? Or is this an intentional scheme to earn £5 extra from each unsuspecting traveller? Looking at the card now, in its plastic cover, this small print is quite conveniently partly obscured by the text on the cover. I was furious for a while but then, we are not talking about a fortune, and no doubt, I will go to London again, and be able to use this same card, and all the ease it provides me with getting around Britain’s lovely capital.

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Lesson learned, though – to avoid unnecessary disappointment and frustration,  carefully read all the small print on anything you buy!


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#weekendcoffeeshare: April 3, 2016

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If we were having coffee, I would take out our chocolaty brown retro coffee set, bought at a second-hand store years ago. I would set the dining room table, and brew the last of the smooth 100 % Hawaii peaberry Kona coffee that I still have stored away in the cupboard. Only for special occasions, just like this one, a calm and confidential moment for me to pour my heart out to you.

I need to talk about troubled atmospheres in the work place, tantamount to toxicity. I always pictured my ideal working environment as a community of experts, pursuing the same, shared goals. Openness, transparency, fairness,  equality and validation and appreciation of everybody’s work effort were values that I used to take for granted. Helping a colleague in need, collaborating constructively, sorting out problems as a team, collegiality and solidarity were its driving forces. All for one, and one for all, for the good of everybody in the community. In such an environment, improving what doesn’t seem to work comes naturally, and everybody is involved in and committed to making things better together. In such an environment, everybody thrives and has the chance to become their best selves. Sadly, I now feel I’m stuck in a time warp of a past paradise with these pie-in-the-sky dreams. Wake up and smell the coffee (pun intended)!

I’m a representative of the older generation of employees. My values and beliefs probably seem stuffy, dated and almost obsolete to the new generation, who rush into working life with their different sets of expectations. They seem to have a notion of entitlement, an urge for instant gratification, and a greed for constant praise for their tiniest efforts and achievements. While somebody of my generation would quietly and conscientiously do their work well, and even put in extra hours for no reward when needed, the new generation counts every minute and initiative as something deserving an extra merit bonus. They also tend to keep loudly blowing their own horn, especially when any superior is in the room, and quite conspicuously flatter vain leaders for personal gain. All right, don’t get me wrong. I do understand that people, customs and practices need to keep evolving and developing. The status quo is not a state to be maintained at any price. I actually enjoy change and challenge myself. I understand that the younger generation has grown up in the world of social media where self-promotion, and creating a marketable product of yourself are the norms. I honestly admire young people’s energy and enthusiasm, their fresh, new approaches and chirpy, cheerful disposition. But what gets to me is the utterly selfish,  looking after number one attitude, which makes people callously disregard anyone else who might get crushed in the process. And mind you, I don’t claim that things are black and white – with the older and wiser being the modest goodies, while the young and inexperienced are the pushy baddies. Stereotypes and generalisations aside, I’m just describing certain tendencies that I have observed in my rather limited circumstances.

Of course, all work places are made of different personalities who, regardless of age, may clash. It’s only human. Now this leads me to the crux of many crises at work – poor leadership. Surely, it’s the responsibility of a leader to secure the well-being of each and every employee. A good leader wouldn’t condone any attempts of employees seeking promotion and benefits by elbowing others out of the way by questionable means. In recent years, a lot has been written about the lack of good leaders in Finland. In a recent blog post, a marketing expert in a Finnish IT company listed the characteristics of a poor leader:

  • giving unclear instructions, and then blaming employees when they do something “wrong”
  • micromanaging (getting stuck with trivial details)
  • having no clear vision for the future
  • incompetence
  • being too lax
  • unprofessional, even improper behaviour (shouting, sulking, lying, drinking problems)
  • trying to please everybody, and not having the courage to tackle problems when needed
  • unwillingness to share responsibilities
  • partiality, having favourites among their employees
  • inability to change their behaviour and actions

What can be done, if a leader qualifies for most of the shortcomings on the list above? Employees witness the situation going from bad to worse, day by day, week by week. Cliques form, a lot of whispering and gossip goes on in every corner, secrecy and defensiveness flourish. Anguish and anxiety spread like wildfire, especially among the older employees. When this goes on long enough, the obvious option for any sensible person would be to get out, as changing the leader is usually out of the question. Sadly, the reality for us older employees is that in the present economic situation, and with raging agism in our society, it’s practically impossible to find new employment.

So there, in a nutshell, a dead end situation, being caught between a rock and a hard place, a glimpse into the reality of toxic office politics. In the case of a friend of mine, it went so far that an irreparable personal tragedy ensued. I feel hopeless, helpless and drained out of energy. I’m sorry for burdening you with my problems, but this venting has helped me get if off my shoulders a little bit.

On a lighter note, hope you enjoyed the special Hawaiian brew! What’s been happening with you lately?


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I’d prefer some service, please!

Why is it that departures on major journeys almost invariably occur in the middle of the night? As thrilling as travelling to exciting places as, having the taxi drive at your door at 2.30am is less thrilling. Then, in my case, usually a a coach ride of 2.5 hours to Helsinki airport. To cut a long story short, arriving at the airport, after dosing off on a chilly coach, doesn’t make me a happy camper.

And then, you are forced to do the check-in yourself at a self-service automat! Everybody seems to have some problem with it, and the young assistants there just don’t have enough time to help all passengers quickly and efficiently, no matter how hard they try. Somebody has their boarding passes crumpled and stuck inside the machine, while others are struggling to get all the information of their final address typed in correctly.

The robot-like check-in assistants at Tromsø airport in Norway

The robot-like check-in assistants at Tromsø airport in Norway

Travelling to Hawaii recently, and wrestling with the wretched automat, I could feel my blood pressure rising, and my mood getting lousier by the minute. What finally broke this camel’s back was that there was no way to proceed if you didn’t know the zip code of your address in the US! I didn’t have the zip code! The unfairness of the situation and customer neglect was palpable, in my fuming mind at least. How could airlines do this – reduce staff, to make more profits to the owners and share-holders?

Finally, after trial and error, lots of sweat and frustration, and even being reprimanded by the assistant for using foul language in front of child passengers (!), I got our boarding passes printed. Phew, after all that you’d expect the baggage drop to go nice and smooth. Fat chance! There was a long, slow queue in front of us, and it turned out we had to still see a flight attendant at the check-in desk, to get our bags tagged and ready to go. In the end, it took more or less as long for the attendant to do this, as it would have done to print the boarding passes at the same time. And doing that, how much happier would customers be with the check-in experience, and the general performance of the airline!

Self-service seems to be the norm at Scandinavian airports now. I wonder how foreign tourists to Finland, for example, feel about this inhospitable lack of service at Helsinki airport. I would imagine, it doesn’t promote a very positive country image, does it? What a pity, it’s only money that seems to rule in this part of the world these days. Or maybe I’m just getting more miserable with age, and the younger generation of self-contained globe trotters find nothing strange about this.

How pleasantly different our flying experience was coming back from Asia at the beginning of this summer. I and hubby flew back from Hong Kong, again early in the morning. No shortage of staff anywhere! In fact, I particularly noticed people proudly wearing vests with ‘trolley assistant’ printed on the back. (Needless to say that at Helsinki airport you are lucky to find a trolley anywhere, and usually have to walk quite a while to spot one.)

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What’s more, instead of the cold, uncompromising machines, we had real people with friendly smiles doing the check-in for us. And to help us avoid queuing even for a while, we were swiftly directed to the priority check-in, even without any priority tickets. Finally, the real icing on the cake was that the efficient VIP assistant managed to secure my long-legged, tall hubby extra legroom for the long-haul flight to Europe. How awesome is that!

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Let’s tackle an -ism

Sexism is alive and well, even in our ostensibly equal Finnish society. Sadly, I’ve also got to know ageism first-hand in recent years, with more and more frequent confrontation at schools between “the lazy old fogeys, enjoying too big salaries”, and “the enthusiastic, innovative, hard-working girls and boys, just out of university, with unfairly low pay checks”. Today, however, I want to rant about SIZEISM, which according to The Free Dictionary means

(Sociology) discrimination on the basis of a person’s size, esp against people considered to be overweight

Making the most of my week-long autumn break, and a crisp, sunny autumn day, I went round town today – window-shopping, and exploring the new autumn fashions. In one of our main department stores, I got enraged by the female dummies on display in their women’s fashion department. Why are the plus-size dolls faceless, hairless, dowdy,  shapeless blobs, stripped of all their femininity and beauty? Not to mention boring hair and ankles thick like tree trunks!

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They are just big, standing in forcefully masculine positions, rather like some law enforcement officers. No allure, no grace, not a hint of sexy! A far cry from the regular-size dolls, with shiny fashionable hairstyles, carefully made-up faces and flirty poses.

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True, there are also the “faceless” skinny dolls but at least they are somehow stylish and modern – not personified in a negative way. Or what do you think?

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Another question started bothering me, too. Why do you need different brands and manufacturers for different sizes of women here in Finland? Mostly, the plus size fashions also have limited colours, as if somebody forcing you into a dull colour scheme (black, brown, grey – possibly a bit of red!) beyond a certain dress size. Compared to Britain, for example, Finland is really backward in its treatment of curvy women. I love shopping in the UK where most retailers sell all fashions in all sizes!

Luckily, there’s online shopping! Finnish fashion designers and retailers should make an effort to tackle sizeism, or a sizeable proportion of their clientele will soon vote with their feet!