Finlandization

I just traveled through Finland (well, Helsinki) and the Baltic states and enjoyed it enormously. Here are a few impressions about Finland, interspersed with random pics:

  • Finnish women have excellent skin (not much sun), and tend to wear a lot of makeup, but do it pretty well. I.e. no Cleopatra eye-smears like you see in some countries (Balkans, I’m lookin’ at you).

HEL Iced marina with bike

  • Young Finnish men may well have good skin too, but you can’t see it. They like beards, man-buns, and knit hats. They dress in a proudly slovenly fashion.
  • You see a fair amount of blue or green hair, and shiny sweatpants covered with stickers seem to be pretty popular.
  • There are more fat Finns than you might think.

DSC03765

  • Like all European countries too small to be able to afford dubbing movies, many people speak surprisingly good English.
  • Finns have a ironical, self-deprecating sense of humor about being Finnish.
  • Finland had its own prohibition at the same time as America. It hugely increased the popularity of hard liquor, which was much easier to smuggle. After prohibition was ended by referendum, the state created a nationwide monopoly on hard alcohol sold through chain stores called “Alko”, which survive to this day. Prices are twice as high as they are in Germany owing to import duties, sales tax, and special alcohol taxes. Finns go on booze cruises to Estonia.

hel young romantic couple on parkbench

  • Finnish museums are world-class, and Finnish art is interesting. Lots of euro-periphery art tends toward the “plakativ” (German for on-the-nose), Finnish stuff is less afflicted by this tendency, but some pieces are still pretty: “Oh, I get it, this is social commentary. What else you got for me?”. Still, many other pieces are queerly evocative in a Euro-periphery way.

 

  • I was a bit surprised to find out that Finland was basically a rural backwater of Sweden, then Russia, until the 20th century. As of 1917, literacy was only 70%.
  • Finns fought a civil war after 1918 and the Whites won and ruthlessly suppressed the Reds.
  • Finns fought on the side of Germany during WWII, but had little choice and refused to deport their Jews, so they don’t get the same stigma as, say, Lithuania.
  • Finns dislike the term “Finlandization”. What Cold Warriors interpreted as truckling to the Soviets, Finns think of as masterful diplomacy which saved them from the sad fate of the Baltic nations.
  • Finns declined Marshall Plan money to avoid irritating the Soviets. Further, they had to provide $226 million in “war reparations” to the Soviet Union, which involved shipping 340,000 railcars full of goods and gold to Russia in the immediate post-war years. Building the massive organization to provide these reparations is credited with Finland’s post-war economic recovery. Another data point showing that economic development is more influenced by a nation’s cognitive capital (Finns are smart) than by natural resources or even historical exploitation.
  • Finns are 70+ percent officially Lutheran, but highly secular like all Scandi countries. Finnish churches are very spare, they really took the Lutheran disapproval of images to heart.
  • The old-fashioned national hero is Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, who I’d never heard of, an adventurous and long-lived general (helped the Whites win the civil war) who made his name in the Imperial Russian armed forces. Sixth President, from 1944-46.
  • The more modern one is the man who shaped modern Finland, 8th Prez Urho Kekkonen, who ruled for a whopping 26 years (1956-82). He developed a reputation as the only man who could handle the Russians, so especially during the late 60s and 70s, his re-election was often supported by Finnish political parties across the spectrum.
  • Finnish is notoriously hard for outsiders to grasp, one reason being that Finns don’t use most “international” words like buro, sport, park, elektrizität, Stomatologia (dentistry), universitet, etc. Instead, they have their own words, which look noting like what you’d expect. “University”, for instance, is “Yliopisto”. One language, though, is universal:

 

That’s about all for now. Next up, in a few days: Estonia!

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