26 September 2006

Guest Column

The other day I told a former Fulbrighter who has lived in Finland for over five years that I was writing about Finnish pedestrian behavior (they don't cross against the lights) and Finnish cuisine (it's a little complacent, I think). I am convinced that they are somehow related, but I haven't worked it all out. That elicited the following, which he said I could post as long as I included the caveat "that this is only one American's observations and opinions. Sometimes these things reflect frustrations that might be described as culture shock.” Enjoy.

Finns are less cross-walk inhibited than they used to be. But consider this, Finns have no apparent physical or social peripheral vision, at least to me. It’s a wonder that they don't all crash into each other on their bikes. In public spaces they do not give way to others. I found out the hard way when I was in a car wreck. I was going straight across the intersection. The other driver was turning left and did not give way in front of me. Our eyes met, and I could see that she had no intention of stopping or taking evasive action. I did but she hit me anyway. Later she explained in court that she thought she had the right-of-way! She did not and was found guilty, but Finns will not (egalitarianism) give up something they think they are entitled to. Because of this, part of the reason why they do not disobey crossing signals is that somehow they realize they need rules. This is also why you see so many of those number machines in service places. If you couldn't take a number all hell would break out. Chaos would reign, much like it does in places like Italy. As for food... The original basis of Finnish cuisine was survival in spite of the weather and the geography. Next came social reforms I believe due in significant part to Soviet style public services. During this phase the keyword became nutrition. Finns are disgustingly healthy in terms of their food. As well, due in part to the homogeneous construct of the population, there came about a large degree of food sensitivity, thus you see little in the way of spices, and Finns have food allergies and lactose intolerance for example is rampant. Finally, in the third phase there has been some progress. I have observed massive changes in food selections at Prisma since I moved here. More and more ethnic foods particularly. Some Finns will agree that tourists do not come here for the food. But some are quite sensitive about it, and feel that in a very pragmatic sense that Finnish food is healthy, and no more need be said or done. Cheers,


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