Monday, 9 May 2016

The Finnish Passion for Cross Country Skiing

It seems strange to be posting about cross-country skiing now when it is May and almost 20 C outside. But I have been so busy this past year that I have not had time to blog. Where I live there is a lot of green space and nature paths. The Finnish winter is great for cross-country skiing as there is always so much snow. In the winter, when there is enough snow and it's cold long enough, the city plows tracks in the snow along the walking paths for cross country skiing. I can literally leave my house and step onto the ski trail and I love it! My first winter in Finland my husband taught me cross-country skiing and I fell in love with it. I sometimes joke with my friends that one day I will train to be the first person to represent Trinidad and Tobago in cross-country skiing in the winter Olympics. Lol! I enjoy the feeling of freedom and being part of the nature. It is a total body workout that is easy on the knees. Every winter after my first ski session I ache all over.

When the city makes the tracks it seems everyone comes out to ski. It's especially crowed on sunny winter days. I guess Finnish people find it strange to see a black woman cross-country skiing because other skiers always stare at me. Many times people even stop to talk to me and offer me skiing tips. It seems cross-country skiing is part of the Finnish fabric somewhere next to sauna. Children are taught to ski from an early age at school. I have seen first and second graders in groups, skiing down the tracks with their PE teachers. Cross-country skiing, or maastohiihto as it's called in Finnish, is not just a sport but a means of transport. My mother-in-law tells me stories of how she skied to school as a child. There was no school bus back in the days. When Trini grandparents talk of walking to school for miles, Finnish grandparents talk of skiing to school for miles. The Finnish history books even tell of Finnish soldiers silently sneaking up behind the enemy on skies during the winter war with Russia in 1939-1940.

Alas now it seems summer is here, and while I am enjoying the warmth and the sunlight, I can't help but miss cross country skiing.

Ski trails in my neighbourhood. Sorry for the poor picture quality but my phone camera is crap.

Me skiing.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Day of National Jealousy

Every year a list of the nation's highest earners is published in the daily newspapers. The list also discloses the amount of income they made and how much taxes they paid. Last week Monday the Finnish tax authorities published taxpayers earnings and the newspapers promptly summed up the top earners.

This is something very Finnish, for I have not heard of this phenomena in any other country. Usually one's income is considered a private matter so data on income and taxes are not publicly disclosed in most countries. I myself don't really care how much someone else earns and I don't understand the need to post it in the newspapers.

The discussion for many people for weeks after will be why and how can one person make so much money. The implication being, that it is wrong and sinful to make more money than everyone else and that person must somehow be exploiting the system and others. One co-worker summed it up perfectly when she called it the day of "national jealousy". I guess that's basically what most people feel when they read the list of top earners. In a country where most people are middle class and where everyone should be equal, the fact that someone is earning much more than everyone else really sticks in the craw.

Here is a link to a news article about the list of Finland's top earners in English. According to this article publishing people's salaries may become a thing of the past, if new EU regulations limiting the dissemination of tax data come into play.
Finland's Top Earners

And here is a more extensive list and breakdown.
Big Tax Data Reveal

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

There's no corruption in Finland.

Finns say there is no corruption in Finland, and while the levels of corruption are definitely much lower than in the rest of the world and Trinidad, today I read proof that there is corruption in Finland.

I came across an article in the Helsinki Times about the former head of the Drug Task Force Jari Aarnio. He has been charged with several drug related crimes and misuse of his position. The article reported that a cell phone used to make drug deals was recently found in his garage. The phone was found some time ago at a site of investigation and later disappeared from the police's evidence room. Sound familiar Trinis? It has now been found in Aarnio's parking garage. In addition to aiding drug dealers in smuggling hashish to Finland from the Netherlands, he also supposedly obstructed justice by tipping off his collaborators to prevent them from being caught, and by threatening a witness. He sent criminal gang members to visit the witness and they threatened to kill the witness's family. He also placed a gang member in the cell next to the witness while he was in jail. The article reported that he even hired a prostitute who said she was taken to his office during work hours. He reportedly had sex with her while working and taking care of his official duties at the same time. Talk about multitasking! This article sounded like something I would read about in a Trinidadian Newspapers! This must be why Finland has slipped from number one in the corruption index to number three.

Finland slips in corruption index

So don't believe the hype, it's not true. There is corruption in Finland. It's just less and well hidden. Trinis are just more brazen with their corruption.

Here are the only two articles I could find about Jari Aarnio in English. They are a year old and don't mention the new evidence and witness statements I read about today.

 Prosecutors demand a 13 year sentence for Aarnio

Cash stash found at home of Jari Aarnio

Monday, 18 May 2015

Roti in Helsinki

I've been so busy I haven't blogged in months. So many ideas so little time! However, I thought I should find the time to briefly let you know about a little venture I undertook over the weekend.

On Saturday I hosted a pop-up restaurant on Restaurant Day here in Helsinki. With lots of help from friends, I made fifty bite-size rotis to sell. I kept it simple since I sold them in a park, and made basic plain rotis (dahlpuri roti is too much work!) with curry chicken, potato and chick peas inside. So just a one-pot filling. I am happy to report they all sold out in approximately two and a half hours and everyone said it was fantastic. Even the Trinis said it was good, so that is high praise.

If you don't know what Restaurant Day is, it's a food carnival started in Finland a few years ago where anyone can have a pop-up restaurant and sell food. It is now held four times a year and has spread to many other countries and cities around the world.

For those of you who are wondering what roti is. It is traditionally an Indian dish consisting of a flat bread (called roti). Wrapped inside could be any curried vegetables or meat of your choice. Trinidadian cuisine is heavily influence by our large Indian population and roti is one of our most popular street foods. Indians were brought to Trinidad in 1839 by the English as a cheap labour force to replace the recently freed slaves on their sugar plantations.

Restaurant Day was a very positive experience. We were happy to represent Trinidad and Tobago and we were gratified that the public loved it. I even met a new Trini who said she came all the way from Porvo to taste my roti!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

In Finland they spare the rod without spoiling the child.

"Spare not the rod and spoil the child" is a biblical saying that’s very popular in Trinidad. Corporal punishment in the home is now illegal in forty countries. Trinidad is not one of them. However, this practice is tabu in Finland and has long since been discontinued. In contrast, every now and then some Trini Facebook friend will post a video of some child doing something wrong and will ask if that child shouldn’t be spanked. One video was of a teenager being spanked with a belt for posting semi-nude pictures on FB. Almost all the Trinidadians commenting are usually in favour of spanking. When I argued against spanking I have gotten replies like: "We were spanked and we turned out OK" or "Spanking is the only thing that works". My mother-in-law was horrified when I told her these stories. In fact physical punishment already began to lose favour in Finland in the previous generation. Only one of my friends reports being spanked by his father and he is still angry about it. When I comment on my friends’ posts I cite current research findings explaining that physical punishment actually does the opposite of what parents are trying to achieve and may even lead to mental problems and delinquency. . Still, Trinis will argue that spanking is good for the child.

I have never liked being spanked and already as a child I knew that there must be a better way to teach children to behave. I remember wondering how a spanking would help me to learn anything else other than how not to be caught next time. I don't understand how anyone who has been spanked can do the same to their children. But I do understand that if you have been given no other example to follow you will probably fall back on the same methods your parents used. The fact is, spanking in the moment is easy. But long-term, strategic, non-violent parenting is more difficult and takes more work and patience. When my Finnish friends talk about ways to get their children to behave, it seems that using non-violent methods comes naturally. One of my friends was asked where she came up with all these parenting tricks and she says she doesn't really know. “Probably my parents did the same with me” she replied. But for someone like me who grew up being spanked and hearing things like "children should be seen and not heard", "children don't have feelings", and my all time favorite, "because I said so!" non-physical child rearing methods do not come naturally. That’s why I read countless parenting books. Because of all the research I do on parenting, people probably think that I am a “helicopter parent”. But the truth is 1) the scientist in me has to research every topic of interest and 2) I don't have non-physical disciplining examples from my own childhood. So basically most of my ideas on child rearing have come from books.

What I really like about Finnish child rearing is that parents believe it is possible to teach correct behaviour without spanking. In Trinidad people seem to see child rearing as a power struggle where parents are the master and children are subservient. Here, child rehearing is about building trust and teaching children correct behaviour, not forcing them to do what you say through fear of violence. Finns think the point is to teach the child so that later they can make the right decision on their own when the parent is not around. That way the parent does not always need to be looking over a child’s shoulder with a big stick for them to behave.

Of course one and two year olds are not at the developmental stage to understand and be reasoned with. But there are methods and tricks like distraction etc. which can be used until the age at which you can reason and teach consequences. The point is that there are other methods besides spanking that work. And if you really want to find a non-physical method of child rearing, you can. There are many resources out there, TV (Supper nanny), websites and blogs, and parenting books. I found that many of these methods work and I haven’t needed to spank my child to get her to act appropriately. Of course it’s not easy and children will not always behave like angels even with all your best efforts. But that’s life.

Contrary to popular belief sparing the rod has not made Finnish children spoilt. In fact, at one of our “family birthday parties” where there were eight children of various ages, my Brazilian friend remarked on how well behaved Finnish children were in comparison to Brazilian children. I had to agree that I had not experienced such well behaved children in Trinidad either. Finland also has low rates of delinquency and crime. So maybe there is something to be said for not spanking your child. And maybe children will act better with gentle treatment and positive reinforcement.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Talkative Finns

This week I saw a video of Jimmy Kimmel talking to a couple of his audience members who were from Helsinki, Finland.
In the tradition of great Finnish men like Mika Häkkinen and Kimi Räikkönen these guys were brief and to the point with their one syllable answers.

Finns are not known for the art of small talk like Americans or the English. In fact the idea of speaking uselessly is anathema to them. They really encompass the idea of "If you have nothing useful to say, then say nothing". For instance there is a classic joke about the taciturn Finns which goes like this:

Two Finnish men, Jukka and Pekka, go ice fishing. They fish in silence for a long while and eventually Jukka asks "So how are things?"  Pekka doesn't answer and they continue fishing in silence for some more hours. Then Jukka asks, "So how is the family?" At this Pekka gets angry, stands, up and shouts "Did we come here to talk or to fish?!"

Of course this joke is an exaggeration and there are always exceptions to the rule. But it is true that Finns simply say what they mean and mean what they say. Finnish men especially follow this rule. This also means that Finnish men are not good at "sweet" talk. And many people especially men need a few drinks in order to open up to strangers and talk, or to approach a woman. That's why Latin men are very popular amongst Finnish women and Finnish men hate them. Haha!

For a Trini who likes to talk, in the beginning my interactions with Finns felt awkward at times. For instance, at one of my first work places in Finland we would regularly have lunch together. Quite often there were long silences during our lunch especially near the end. Everyone was content to sit there just staring at each other for long stretches of time which made me uncomfortably try to fill the silence with my chattering. Eventually I grew used to it and also began to be content to just sit there in silence for a few moments with my colleagues.

Trinidadians talk a lot and we are loud. Up until now, I have what is considered a bad and rude habit by Finns, of talking on top of others. This is actually a survival tactic because in Trinidad, especially in my family, you will never get to say your piece if you don't talk over everybody else and louder than them. The last time my husband and I visited Trinidad my family had a gathering. My husband thought it was insane how everyone spoke at once and so loudly. He thinks it is an incredibly inefficient mode of communication. Maybe he is right. Finns will wait patiently for their turn to speak and if you keep interrupting them, like I do, they stop speaking. When they do speak it will be concise and to the point.

 I remember a funny anecdote about a trip to Barcelona my husband and I once took. We stayed with a friend who was a native and she showed us around. The Spaniards are lively, talkative and loud people. I think they may be even more so than Trinis. We went to a house party with my friend. As we entered, the noise level was beyond that of any Finnish house party just from all the chattering. My husband spent quite a while in the hallway just inside the front door before he could acclimatize himself to the noise level and start interacting with these incessantly chattering and gesticulating people. And let me tell you my husband is not the stereotypical quiet Finnish man but, even to him this was too much.

After living here for almost twelve years I must say I have grown accustomed to the "silence is golden"  mantra. I no longer always feel like I have to fill in the silence when I am in a group of Finns. And my brain gets tired when I am with my relatives for long periods of time because of all the noise and endless talking.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmas Culture

So an old school friend of mine on facebook recently posted "Culture is really something yuh know. Who remembers seeing their neighbour still painting their front wall at 4.30 Christmas morning with a torch light for illumination?" And it started me thinking of the Christmas cultural differences between Finland and Trinidad.

I so do not miss Trinidad in that respect. When I look at my Finnish mother-in-law slaving away in the kitchen for two weeks before Christmas preparing ginger bread cookies, plum pastries, Christmas casseroles and all those goodies it makes me tired. I could not imagine how it would be if she also had to clean the whole house top to bottom, mop floors, polish them, clean windows and shine them, change and wash all the curtains, dust everywhere including under the bed, and paint the whole house inside and out like we did in Trinidad?

Wherever did this tradition come from in the first place? This is just another tradition created to kill wives and mothers and harass little children. Because in the old days maybe the husband would paint but you think he would do any of the household cleaning? No! Not men's work. So it was the women who did all the cleaning and roped the children into helping. So our Christmas holidays away from school consisted of helping mommy mop, dust, polish, scrub and paint. As I am writing this I am having flash backs, like the remnants of a bad trip, of Christmases past when I sat outside in the hot sun on a stool painting the front gate. I ponder the uselessness of it all when children should be outside learning through play (I love that Finnish concept). Instead we re-paint the entire house even if we have to beg borrow or steal to afford it, just to keep up with every one else in the neighborhood.

Needless to say I am not doing that. And I especially love the fact that nobody here is expecting me to do that. I enjoy my freedom to just worry about the usual cleaning and the making of the Christmas foods which in and of itself is more than enough trouble in my mind. Especially when you have little children. I think it is more important to spend time with my child than worry about having a spick and span house for Christmas guests.  The only thing that I may be made to feel guilty about is not making all the Finnish casseroles and ginger bread cookies and plum pastries by hand. But I long ago stopped feeling guilty about that. I was recently told by an older work colleague that "You can't buy the Christmas casseroles, you have to make them yourself, it's just not as good". First of all, as an immigrant I have a built in excuse. I am not expected to know how to make Finnish Christmas food. But as I said earlier, it is more important to be rested and happy so that I can spend quality time with my family, rather than being a tired and cranky mess. I learned from my mother-in-law, who is quite the homemaker and enjoys it, not to do the same. As she is always tired and complaining of an aching back after Christmas and spends most of her time in the kitchen instead of with the children who fly across the globe to spend Christmas with her. To her it makes sense, but to me it doesn't. And I have noticed that nowadays a lot of younger Finns feel the same as I do. So I am not alone in my freakish foreign ideas. 

But the Trini habit of totally redoing your home and making all the Christmas foods, foods too many to count, is just too much. What with all the black fruit cake which must be prepared in advance as the prunes have to be pitted and soaked in liqueur with raisins, currants and cherries weeks before the actual baking of the cake. Then there is pastels where the meat filling has to be cooked, then corn meal based dough has to be made, separated into balls, rolled out and the filling added. Then each is folded individually and wrapped in a banana leaf, and foil and steamed. This process takes all day! There is also the sorrel making, which requires pitting those horribly prickly seeds from the sorrel flower (I shudder at the memory of having my little hands pricked) and boiled with spices then strained, cooled and sweetened. The pigeon peas stew which needs to be shelled first before it can be cooked. Another labour intensive en-devour. Not to mention the macaroni pie, ham, bread, turkey, calalloo, rice and salads that have to made all to be inhaled in under an hour at the Christmas table. The preparation of this feast usually began weeks in advance and culminated after midnight on Christmas eve. How did our parents ever have the energy to deal with us children on Christmas day I don't know. We Trinis take this Christmas preparation thing to an extreme. An extreme I gladly enjoyed as a recipient when I was growing up but refuse to bother with as an adult on the other side of the fence.

Here once again I have a wonderful built in excuse. I live abroad so I can't get calalloo, pigeon peas or sorrel. No one here knows about pastels and black cake so no one is the wiser that I have not bothered to make them. When I remember how my parents used to criticise the neighbour's "blender" calalloo (as opposed to using a swizzle stick, Google swizzle stick if you are not a Trini) and pastels with a press (as opposed to using a rolling pin and folding), implying that their cooking was inferior. I laugh at the stupidity. As we grow older we realize the adults are not as clever as we thought. I think this whole Christmas mania that adults put themselves through for Christmas around the world is silly and the Trini Christmas mania is the silliest of all. I can say this because I am a Trini!

P.S. I made fish sticks for lunch today on a Sunday not the whole "Sunday lunch" (macaroni pie, peas, rice, salad, meat roast or stew for those of you who don't know). In fact I rarely do except for on the occasional nostalgic Sunday. Another Trini slave-driver tradition that no one here cares about and won't judge me for. Ha!