Finland: more than just a pretty face?

Every time I visit a Scandinavian country I promise myself it’ll be the last. No more overpriced coffee, cold weather or sensible behaviour. There is more to life than making friends with the sterile and unsexy second cousins of the EU. So after Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway I was done but not done with perfect happy countries. I thought I’d test my patience elsewhere. So off I jolly well went to Finland, on an intrepid journey to search for bizarre attributes of Scandinavia’s last perfect land that I hadn’t thoroughly criticised.

There is no night in summer. No that’s not poetry; Finland is the definition of extremist. Summer is 22 hours of daylight with “moderate” temperatures. The sun is inescapable, in theory. In practice, 15 degrees and a pissing down day of rain did not immerse me in anything other than damp clothing, resulting in an emergency outfit change in the library toilets. Still, with my city map in hand and ample experience of weathering England’s temperamental climate, I was not deterred.

Practice your Tony Hawk Pro Skater game skills on PlayStation 2

There are many wiz-kid skateboarders in the hoods of Helsinki. They’re quite a cut above the skater stereotype – Scandinavia has rubbed off on them nicely. They all speak three languages, observe road rules and seem capable of engaging in semi-intelligent conversation. There is a budding skate scene rolling across the city – potentially a bit late to the party if you ask me. Wasn’t that why the early 2000’s happened? Perhaps I paid particular attention to this hidden cultural anomaly because I once wanted to be a Sk8r Boi just like Avril Lavigne. That was until I realised I was being overly ambitious and took up law instead.

Having left that vision behind me, I now prefer to see a little less underwear poking out of the top of jeans and a little more common sense: none of them was wearing helmets. In the words of Shania Twain, “that don’t impress me much”. Despite the lack of health and safety displayed by the skaters, I was quite pleased to see a little spice in the suburbs.

Wild dance parties in bespoke holdings

The summer sun meets its match against winter with 22 hours of darkness and minus temperatures. To prevent themselves from hiding under big rocks for hibernation purposes, the Fins have crazy dance parties in unusual places and jump around like excitable leprechauns to keep warm. It seems logical.

One cold winter’s’ day in the 80’s, Finnish squatters hiding out in a reclaimed abandoned warehouse started dancing and invited all their hipster friends to come groove with them to acid house music and DTM music. They weren’t actually squatters, they just hung out there after university and pretended to be homeless. But this did not stop a revolution from being born. In case you didn’t know, acid house music sounds like a fire alarm being played through a didgeridoo and remixed with the sound effects and vibrations of a collapsing building. DTM music is completely different because it sounds more like someone hitting their head really hard against a wall of bubble wrap while playing the xylophone.  This “inspiring” no-longer-new generation of music can only be played under the cover of darkness because it sounds even worse during the day and is prone to trigger the effects of a delayed hangover.

The storage building hipster dance party revolution was taken over by some rich guy who turned it into a lucrative enterprise. Even today, people turn up to cut shapes on the dance floor in their band t-shirts and mom jeans. The abandoned warehouse which is yet to see any renovations even has a members-only section. A members-only VIP privileged nightclub with all the perks of high society life disguised as a dreary drug den: so un-Norway. In sum, Fins find it fun to party in reclaimed abandoned warehouses that probably have asbestos in the walls and that could collapse in on themselves at any time. All of course, for an extortionate fee. It’s ironic that it’s cool to be down and out when you’ve never actually been down and out.

I didn’t go to an abandoned warehouse rave because none of them opened before 7.30pm which is past my bedtime. However, I was particularly impressed by the club scene after I was told “if you can’t dance to house music then you’re already dead” and received a very welcoming invitation to this said club from a man wearing a flamingo print polo and sporting a handlebar moustache. Regardless of whether your dancing is more sprinkler than salsa you’d fit right in. Fist pumping is an alternative form of dance you can bring to the floor and that also works. It’s like a simple version of “YMCA” arm movements but with no purpose.

 Post-communist era communists

There are lots of fabulous coffee shops in Helsinki and there are also two either side of an anti-capitalist pro-Russian communist memorabilia store. I was only looking for a shop to buy a postcard for my Grandmother so it was quite the unexpected surprise. I wasn’t sure if I should be delighted or concerned. I was tempted to purchase a propaganda poster, but I didn’t. Mainly because the last time I bought foreign war souvenirs, they were confiscated at the Vietnamese border and I had to sit in a special waiting room for 90 minutes. If you do find yourself in Helsinki pining to purchase unsavoury items for show and tell, be sure to take tissue paper to shield any politically contentious buys. Unusual things can happen in usual countries.

 Helsinki did have a few curveball gems that managed to raise my eyebrows more than once – which makes any place less unsexy than I first thought. So the moral of the story for visiting Finland? Park your pre-conceived judgement on poor (not financially poor) Scandinavia and embrace all the blonde haired sk8r disco kids (although not literally). Also, I’ve concluded that taking a flyer to use as a postcard from a pro-communist anti-capitalist memorabilia shop doesn’t mean you’re supporting a strict and non-humanitarian regime – it just looks like you are.


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