Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Hyvaa Joulua kaikille

Thought I'd leave the last post of the year on a note of goodwill to all, so from my wife and I

best wishes to all

Monday, 21 December 2009

the bread board

Finland is most clearly not Australia.

One of the clear differences here is that the air is really dry (even though Finns will tell you it isn't).

This encourages some mighty distasteful habits from my perspective. One such habit is the "cunning top draw hidden bread board"


It just pulls out like an ordinary slim draw and allows you to cut your bread and simply push it back in when you've finished.

This does however seem to lead to many a bread board containing the debris of bread from days or weeks ...


lucky its so cold here there is no cockroaches and dry here as to not sprout fungi

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Caminito: best Jäätelö in Finland

Kouvola has an incredible secret (not the railway station), it is home to the best hand made ice cream in Finland. Ice Cream or as its known locally Jäätelö

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you ...


closing time

Kouvola is a bleak and grey Finnish town, perhaps this comes across a little in the image above, but just behind the glass windows of the store front resides an interior of colour and flavour which is a breath of fresh air in the bleak greyness of Kouvola. While Kouvola would be an ideal town for a director like David Lynch to re-shoot a bleak surreal movie such as Eraserhead, it is not the sort of place where you'd expect to find rich colours and great tasting ice cream ... but as it happens Kouvola is home to the best ice cream shop in Finland.

Certainly this shop belongs more to a place such as Helsinki, Tampere or Turku.

caminitoIceCreamAs soon as you walk in the door you're greeted by an assortment of excellent ice creams of the like you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Finland.

As well as taking advantage of local flavors (such as Metsamarijat) you can find exotic and delicious flavours from Mango and Banana through to the (just tried it today) Jasmine flavour.

Yes, Jasmine, just as in the Chinese tea.

Its just great.

Naturally Sergio serves coffee (both Finnish style and Espresso), hot chocolate a selection of Teas and even some home baked breads and pastries (for the genuinely hungry).

Everything is made on site by the owner Sergio (who is not a Finn, but from Argentina). So the interior is decorated in the colours of his home town, with some brightly coloured oil paintings of the region adorning the walls.


Downstairs he has his ice cream making factory as well as more tables for patrons and even a playground for the kids.

downstairs at Caminito in Kouvola

Naturally even the reserved and stoic Finns enjoy hanging out here during the long summer days, and despite not selling beer or other booze here seems to attract quite a turnout.

Lets face it, its nice to be able to take the kids somewhere away from the typical beer selling Kahvilla (and the people you find there) isn't it...

As you may have noticed on this blog, I don't do advertising; so this isn't an ad. In fact its quite unlikey that anyone reading this blog will even be in Finland, I just thought that it was quite "hauska" to find such a Jewel in this place.

Either way I love it and I hope it continues to do well.

See ya there!

frost on the lake

Normally its snowing enough to make Skis the best bet for lake transport here in the east of Finland, but sometimes its just icy ... so with this in mind this year we thought we'd buy some "Nordic skates" (here they're called retkiluistimet).

These attach to the bottom of regular boots or in some models require you to use particular ski boot bindings. We bought a set that attach to regular boots because we often like to ski and hike in places. Ski boots aren't really good walking boots ...

They work best on plain ice, normally in Finland by the time the lakes are frozen but covered with snow, making it impossible to Skate.

This year we've had a long warm period in November with the temperature only dropping below 0°C in December.

We've had funny weather this year (by my experience anyway) with clear cloudless skies and -10 or -20°C all week, so we expected the lakes to be frozen and ice free.

So, armed with our new toys we set off for a local lake to try them.

We didn't expect to find that the lake was covered in what at first glance was snow, but we discovered to be frost.

It was quite simply the most stunning display of frost ice crystal growth I've ever seen.

We struggled with the skating a bit then gave up as it was too hard ... should have bought the skis.

As you can see above the ice was growing up in 3 dimensional sheets which looked like small ice plants all over the ground, with small leaves in all directions. This is how it looks close up

a beautiful "ice cover" of plant like ice structures.

Walking on them you could hear the smashing of the ice (as it was still -17°C), I felt like a kid breaking beautiful crystal in a shop with every step.

We dumped the skates in the bushes and set off on foot to explore and walk around a little.

Hope you enjoyed this little winter wonder here ... today its started snowing lightly so it's all going to be buried and crushed. In places they were so densly grouped as to look like snow at first.


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

hyvaa joulua tiimilleni

I always believe that you can never judge a person based on the perceptions of their culture or even their fellow man. My last six months of working in Helsinki has been such a night and day contrast to the Finns that I have met in the 2 years before this as to make me wonder if I have been in the same country. (Well in truth that gets sorted out every weekend when I am back in Kouvola).

My workmates at my as pleasant a bunch as I have worked with anywhere ever and certainly more pleasant than some I've worked with in Australia.

Its a little sad actually that my contract is coming to a close as (while not without some friction and disagreement) this bunch of Finns has been my summer in a winter land of darkness.

So, guys (if ever you read this and suspect its me) I'd like you to know that without any doubt you have lifted my spirit this year in Finland.

Hyvää Joulua!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

historical form over function

I often wonder just how dumb people can be and Kouvola (the place I live in here in Finland) gives me a prime example.

NOTE: since writing this blog I have found that it was not the fault of the Town Planner (or presumably the VR officals) that this debacle occured. it was the The National Board of Antiquities that demanded the railway station to be preserved as it was. The town archihtect was of a different opinion and stated that with modern materials it is possible to get functional solutions for the structures. Instead the blame rests with some nutcase at the National Board of Antiquities. Well fella, you should be sentenced to get your ass down here and stand at the THING every winter... till you decided to quit your job.

One of the "monuments" to the dead set ugly in Kouvola is the railway platform here.

Then one day I noticed they were starting to demolish it.


Finally I thought that they may put up a decent platform.

All during the summer I've been waiting for the (irregular) train at the Kouvola platform watching the demolition of the old platform and I thought often of photographing the demolition of this bloody ugly and bloody useless hunk of concrete.

Then, the demolition started to change ... all the roof had been destroyed and some of the pillars, but suddenly they were putting up new ones.

Oh my god, these idiots were rebuilding it! I shudder to think how many millions of Euros this debacle cost.

Not only is it an eyesore from a Stalinist Russian sort of bleak concrete architecture perspective, but its bloody impractical too.

What an immense waste of money this has been.

I'm told its due to some tossers suggesting that it needs to be kept as some sort of 'cultural heritage' .. for gods sake. Its a cultural step forward to remove it ... its not pretty nor has it ever been.

As a shelter this stupid piece of concrete provides nothing, in fact its worse than nothing.

As you can see here, there is absolutely no shelter underneath it. The pillars supporting the roof are perfectly circular, so when the cold biting winds blow in winter you can't even really shelter behind a pole. The wind just passes around it neatly.

Worse, the high wings of the roof actually channel the wind underneath, so even if there is the merest breeze elsewhere, it turns into about double that under the platform roof.

I've drawn some lines here to show the effect I'm talking about. The above image gives some illusion that shelter is afforeded by this structure, but thats only when there has been totally still weather conditions that the wetness does not penetrate all the way to the center. Normally its more like this...

The last thing you want here in winter is wind to make the cold worse, well this piece of magic architecture does just that. In Autumn its doubly worse as the increase in velocity of the air pulls in any rain, drizzle or sleet to well past the middle point ... typically here in Finland there isn't much wind .. heck people even leave candles outside without glass covers and they don't get blown out.

So this is where people wait ... for the trains (which are often late) ... warm hospitable Finland. Reminds me of waiting for the train at Tikkurila (in Helsinki) on the station for a train with no shelter at -20 with the wind blowing and the station locked up.

You know, this design might make sense in Australia where the hot sun is overhead, and the design would create some breeze ... but here the sun is never overhead, so even in summer it provides nothing.

In so many ways its a monument to the stark and unimaginative ugliness of this town.

Before I leave this I'll toss in a brief mention of the stairs down to the 'underpass' to get to the platform. They (as a result of the demolished section) now are not covered, so snow falls on them and makes them bloody dangerous.

Staff sprinkle gravel over them, but seriously it doesn't help much. Ohh ... notice that ramp for the handicapped? Its stainless steel ... don't reckon your wheel chair'd get much grip on that in winter.

HAH .. You'll never get up, but man the way down is a real adrenalin rush...

How ironic it is that Finland has won an award for being the capital of design in Europe ... where the hell do they hide it? Seriously folks, Finland may have a reputation as a wonderful nordic country, but that can only come from word of mouth of the locals (who probably compare it with Russia whom they hate or perhaps Italy?) cos after nearly 3 years here I'm not seeing it.

I've said it before, send some of the staff here to a place like Japan where they can learn organisation.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

welcome mat

Just found out that Finland is putting out the welcome mat for all Egyptians

go for it guys, lookin forward to this one .. you guys used to bein door mats yet?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Fear and (self?) Loathing in Finland

I have been tying to understand why and how I have developed such strong negative feelings about many of the ways Finnish Culture. It seems irrational and it is hard to nail down.

So why am I writing this ... fundamentally I'm writing to try to make sense for myself, writing to see what others may think if they choose to comment on it and writing to assist my learning.

Normally I try to keep these feelings buried within (other Foriegners here have cautioned me and looked about carefully to see who is around, before speaking in hushed tones warning me about saying anything dark or broody about Finland). It struck me as so theatric the first time it happened but it has happened so often I can't help but wonder why.

But hiding my feelings has never been something which I have agreed with. To me it is the way of the psychopath or the deceiver (who typically do well in politics) and not the path of an honest man.

Some Finns you have admitted to me that they know themselves to be moody and on occasions given to reactions and negative bouts which they admit they may not have if they were in a better frame of mind. Occasionally it is blamed upon the climate (darkness and rain). I'm inclined to agree, as I feel that encroaches on my own (previously steady, jovial and energetic) disposition.

Living in a perpetual night, lacking the daily rhythms seems to take its toll. Could it be we are so strongly shaped by the environment around us?

As you (may) know I have spent some years living away from my own culture, the ways, the foods, the climate and environment I know so well. Living in Japan was both fascinating and exasperating. I experience many things which can not be ascribed to a discrete experience but which are the result of an immersion in a society. I took some time to comprehend and assimilate those experience and naturally it involved altering to some extent who I am and how I perceive the world

Fundamentally I strive to understand the world for what it is, not for what I think it is.

This requires that I understand the place I'm in from the local perspective, not simply from my own perspective. So far my approach to this has been to begin with the history, preferably as written by the locals. Knowing the most obvious exterior of the culture helps too and so understanding the local mindset on religion or spirituality helps too.

Finnish culture has been hard to identify for me, compared to Japanese or Korean cultures (both strong and distinctive) Finnish culture seems far less clearly defined and observable. I suspect it is somewhat hidden under the facade of "westernization" ... buried beneath the homogenizing externalities such as clothes and cars, with little to distinguish it from other European cities.

But Finns are most certainly not Germans, Swiss or Italians. They at first seem to act similarly to Americans (incl Canadians), but once you get past the few English speakers (who seem to behave differently) quite different (to the USA) cultural differences emerge.

For one thing, Finns have struck me as being quite proud, proud of themselves, proud of anything Finnish. Sometimes it borders on arrogance. Strangely enough (and not immediately visible on the surface) there is this self doubt that exists at the same time. Perhaps this provides some sort of explanation of the phenomenon to strongly degrade everything outside Finland while at the same time seem to adore it. I have never met a people who so commonly and so stronlgy refuse to buy anything from outside the country as I have in Finland. This is all the more strange (to me) when you consider that Finland is part of the European Union

I have looked for what the source of this pride is, is it the pride in the culture? pride in a long history of accomplishments? Looking around one can find none of the "great" things which figure in propping up the arrogance of places like Egypt, the Roman Empire, China, Great Britain, Germany or the United States. It seems to me that one has to struggle through history to find anything about this little speck on the map which was not even aware of itself as a nation two short centuries ago.

Perhaps the answer lays in fear ... and fear drives many hates. Looking around the borders Finland has Sweden on the west, the arctic on the north, Russians on the east and across the Baltic to the south is among other places Germany. Sandwiched between these places Finland has struggled variously with Sweden and Russia, tried to align itself with Germany and generally (recently) tried to make something of an entrepreneurial go at building a business empire in the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet Empire in the recently independent states such as Estonia.

Finns strike me as being fundamentally nice individuals who are often totally unskilled in inter-relationships. They frequently lack conversational skills (even in Finnish among Finns) and are occasionally more comparable to a Savant (at least in Australian society). This seems to be more the case in the Countryside than in places like Helsinki (and I'm wondering if its more an Eastern Finland than Western Finland thing...)

Perhaps this fear of things drives the loathing of places and the self consciousness of the reality of geography and history.

It happens to be the time of year when the TV is steadily broadcasting all the stuff about the Winter and Continuation War. That is the most recent and perhaps most major conflict with Russia. I think the purpose of this is to stir up emotions in Finland and (in an oddly Orwellian way) focus Finns on remembering that they hate Russia (incase they forget) as much as it serves to remember the suffering and sacrifice of their grandparents.

Strangely almost noone in Finland seems to focus on how much Russia (before the Stalinst period) did for Finland. Its a bit like that scene from the "Life of Brian" where the agitants ask "What have the Romans ever done for us?"

Well, for one, Russians gave Finland itself ... in my *(recent) reading of history, the Finnish War seemed to be between Sweden and Russia and fought on Finnish soil. A strong motivation for Finnish participation in that war was the promise of autonmy from the Russians and the degrading of their ties with the Swedes (who saw Finland mainly as a source of stuff).

Its kind of funny that the battlements and forts which were built by the Swedes to hold their territory against the Russians were eventually captured and used by the Russians to essentially make it impossible to retake Finland. This fort is an example of such (quite near where I live)

Some interesting reading:

So I wonder if the "chip on the shoulder" that Finns seem to have is an externalization of their own troubled self image.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

northern depression

Another sunny day in the northern white city

helsinkyMorningand another day of gloom (something like Kaamos as I understand it) with only the prospect of it getting gloomier until December 21.

Finns are all acting "down in the mouth" and depressed as the "season" drags on.

Personally I've never been overly fond of the physical landscape in Finnish Cities, and as always, the bigger ones are often the more ugly ...

So while Helsinki may have more attractions to it than Kouvola (where bleak and post-stalinist-dysfunctionalism style of architecture rules the landscape)

Noone seems to have any motiviation to do anything at the moment, which is blamed on the dreadful climate.

And who can argue with that ... the image
to the left was taken at 11:30am and its still not even really bright.

Then there's the drizzle ...

Its unrelentingly grey and bleak ... even the dead rabbit on my way to work hasn't moved

helsinkiBin1 So its no wonder the garbos can't muster the effort to empty the bins.

This one has been gathering garbage for a few weeks now ... looking at the way people have tried to be neat here you can't really say Helsinki people are messy, even the coffee cup is doing its share to hold some of the rubbish.

enjoy winter

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Governance Police and Democracy

Finland is a funny place, one finds the most unexpected things here.

One of the unexpected things for me was the way Finland seems to be an interesting blend of socialism and democracy with surprisingly little corruption getting in the way of things.

My dealings with official representatives (like police, border guards, public officials) has been typically "Finnish" : terse, to the point, and impartial.

It came as a surprise to me that overwhelmingly most people consider the Police to be genuine, honest, hard working people. In fact they have the most un-police uniforms I've ever seen ... basically blue car mechanic overalls with a utility belt to hold radio, torch, restraining devices and their gun.

Perhaps this is an important point ... as there is no "ceremonial uniform" tying to represent them as being some dressed up fancy group which is separate from society? Despite the fact that we're often used to police wearing "smart dress uniforms" which hark back to military officers, maybe its better to regard them as being practical dispensers of the public will (which would be the laws of our society).

Watching TV lastnight I saw a programe about "Australian Border" and there was an excellent representaion of all that is wrong with the Australian (and probably English, US and other) official representatives.

Essentially the situation was that a tourist from Coloumbia was entering sydney, neatly dressed, calmly spoken and a gentle sort of fellow. The machines which the customs officers have detected chemistry which set off an alert for drugs and so the customs officers began searching his baggage.

Now it was the particularly opressive gestapo arrogant attitude of the officer conducting the search which rubbed me entirely the wrong way. I was impressed despite her arrogant attitude that he remained calm. It was clear that she had decided he was guilty from the start and began with an attempt to badge and cajole him. To his credit he remained calm and stayed friendly.

When he suggested that he understood what they were doing and why, the officer went into a more high pitch attack nearly baiting him up ... "how would you know what we are doing? Are you hiding something"

He was subjected to a body search and asked to go to a "controlled toilet" where his 'dump' was to be examined he said that he understood what they were doing again, and said they were probably looking for drugs in his stomach.

Well, that was like waving bait in front of a dog, and the officer went even more ballistic asking him why he suggested they look in his stomach.

Oh come one you fool, was this your first day on the job?

Eventually it was found that he was carrying medications which contained compounds which also trigger the chemsitry detection of the device. Exactly as he had been saying all along, he did not have illegal drugs.

This is exactly the difference between Australian Police and Finnish Police.

The Finns act like un-involved professionals simply following their jobs, while the Australians often bring their personal prejudices and anger along on the job with them.

If this is making you think that Finns themselves are somehow a motivated and politically motivated group actively involved in citizenship and keeping their civil servants and politicians in check, well frankly nothing could be further than the truth. Finns are as laconic and un-involved in anything other than their own affairs than any country town Aussie would be.

So why are the two places different?

Let me quote from: the Victorian Office of Police Integrity report 2007

The original policing of Australia derived from eighteenth century England as inevitably as the First Fleet itself. The new settlers of 1788 had left behind a country where there were harsh laws, an entrenched class system, much poverty and crime, much public disorder and violence. Criminal punishments were draconian – horrifying, by modern standards. Many in both the Magistracy and police were notoriously dishonest and ineffective.
So given this its hardly surprising to read that the history of the formation of the Victorian police lays in:

In September 1836, Victoria’s first three police officers arrived. They had been sent
by the government in Sydney, where all three had already been dismissed for drunkenness. By March 1837, all had been sacked from their new billets in Port Phillip: one for repeated drunkenness, one for repeated absence, and one for bribery. Despite the discouraging start, replacements were appointed....
Lovely start to things ... no wonder I've always been sus about Victoria

But this highlights a core difference between Australia an Finland.


The patch on the map we call Finland has had (more or less) the same people living in it for some centuries. They may not have called themselves Finns, and at some points they've been part of the Swedish Empire and the Russian Empire. However they've always maintained their own language and different cultures. Between the 17th Century and the 18th Century the control of Finland changed hands from the Swedes to the Russians. Finally after quite some wars with Finns stuck in the middle (of course taking sides variously).

So when Finland obtained independence from Russia in 1917 they were really taking possession of their own destiny.

Australia is quite a different kettle of fish, our history of formation was as a penal colony of England, and independence was obtained quite differently with years of planning to transit from being a Colony to a Federation of States and become independent (to an extent) from England in 1901. Australia was essentially set up as a carbon copy of English legislature, but set in a background of a more wild west sort of location and by a people who were not really considering themselves as Australians.

I think this has a profound effect on the fundamental premise of governance in Finland and this is not something which is restricted to the Police.

So while Finland seems to be populated by laconic people who seem among the last I would envisiage as "active participatory citizens" there seems to be something at work here making Finland public service actually work better ... warrants further investigation if you ask me

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

winter surprise for Finnish drivers

its the same every year I'm told

Slippery conditions in winter take drivers by surprise again this year

I checked out the car ... sure enough ... summer tyres.

Ha ha ha ha

The Finns who read this will know what I mean ;-)

Kind of reminds me of being back in Australia ... slippery condtions in the wet take Brisbane drivers by surprise...again


elevators in Finland

One of the funny things about being a foreigner is created by that fact that you make assumptions on how life should be based your previous experiences in life.

As an Australian I was born and grew up in Australia and lived in the buildings we have there. In Australia we have this view that we are somehow still a "far flung colony" of England and look to the "civilized world" (such as Europe) for inspiration. Reading the magazines and watching TV in Australia images and advertising seems to support this idea.

However when you come to live in Europe you find that we've got it all wrong, and about the only area I can find which is not simply inferior or antiquated in Europe is perhaps that of policy. In areas of infrastructure we seem to be quite advanced while the Europeans seem to be simply smug in their own belief of their advancement.

Take elevators as an example. At home we have sleek well designed elevators which are fast, programmable and safe.

I have been consistently stunned by the museum pieces which still seem to be pushed into service here in Finland.

This is the 'bank of elevators' at my place of work. When you call one, you have to be paying attention as the door does not open to cue you in on its arrival, you have to grab the handle and pull it open. They only hold between 3 and 4 people each and in many you can't press the button to go somewhere till the door has closed ... you can't press more than one floor, so if you are going to floor 3 and the person who presses first presses 6, well you have to come back down again ... as long as noone called it from 7.

Quaint. I thought this was a developed country? Clearly in Australia we have different standards of what a developing and what a developed country is ...

In my own building at home (and in almost every building I've been in) the wall of the elevator shaft is directly visible and you have some quaint little door to open and close when you get in.

Some are like this one (which is from my building in a major University in Finland). It really belongs to something from "Castle Wolfenstein"

it would be funny if it was just a joke.

However the real joke is how (because they grew up here) Finns seem to think this sort of early 50's sort of ex-soviet machinery is somehow "normal" ... and can't see my point.

Like I said above if you're born in a place and grow up there you think its normal ...

I'm sure that refugees from Somalia and other 3rd world countries who come to Finland are entranced by the wonderfully modern place, certainly the Finns are all quietly smug about how good things are in Finland ... I get quite tired of hearing gibber on the train from passengers who have been 'abroad' for two weeks going on about
  • "how much better it is compared to XXX" or
  • "the quality of ZZZ in YYY was just so poor"

well folks wake up and look at things here a little more objectively. If I saw elevators above while I was in "developing countrys" like this one in India it was 'normal' ... but in Finland?

Well clearly this shows that being a developed or developing country is a state of mind, not a state of how things are.

Its clearly a cultural thing as in Japan the attitude was "look abroad to how they do things, so we can learn to do things better" while in Finland its "pick the things we do better than abroad so we can pat our selves on the backs and nod in agreement with how good things are in Finland"

To Australians I say .. stop knocking your selves, keep working at making Australia a better place and keep looking overseas, but not just for what we're not doing well, but for what we do well. We need to learn how to pat ourselves on the back a little.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

defending VR staff

Recently I blogged about how VR can't find their ass with both hands. Well my wife points out this morning an article about a recent VR debacle where many Finns were also pissed off.

Clearly heaps of others were and continue to be as pissed of with VR as I am. Reading that I am more confident to say that the management of VR clearly can't find their their asses with both hands.

Some people here have told me that the old white SF european identification sticker on cars before it changed to FIN upon joining the EU means Soviet Finland not Suomi Finland.

Well something I didn't talk about in my last blog post (because I didn't want it to sound like a rant) was the attitude of the staff I encountered. The belligerent and superior attitude of the asshole in the asiakaspalvelu was essentially typical of a comfortable cynical bureaucrat who gets sick of people complaining at him and so goes on the offensive as a beginning.

However in the station (while waiting for the next train) I stopped one VR staff, explained my situation and asked how I could complain about this. He was polite and helpful. Clearly he had managed to cope with the shitty situation he is in (working for VR).

uncle Geoff's rotary HoeI think that its important to say that no matter how you may start out as a human in life, spending time working for a bureaucratic machine like VR you are likely to become just like that youself.

I mean how would bit like to work in a place where everyone you met was angry or unhappy?

VR Policy seems more related to a different century (like the one where my Uncle's rotary hoe comes from).

So try not to take it out on the staff (even if they have been turned into assholes by the machine) try to remember its the machine that needs an overhaul.

Perhaps the central management in VR could do well to visit Japan and see how they manage things, clearly their view is from Russian systems, which aren't working with modern western world expectations.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

VR - Finnish Rail

From the Beavers lesson:

They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.

Well, here in Finland you won't have to worry about soap and smiles.

I travel 4 hours per day 5 days per week on the Rail system in Finland ... after some months I can say that timetabling is "more like a guideline really".

I'm not sure if this is actually representative of anything, but its interesting none the less, that the "push here" decorative icon on the doors to the "dining cars" has indeed got extra fingers.

Five fingers and a thumb.

Not sure if this means anything but in Finnish language its common to say one has five fingers rather than four fingers and a thumb.

Oddly there is a word for thumb.

This leads me to wonder if the person who made this was saying something, being artistic, or simply following a order sheet to make a hand with five fingers.

Well either way I'm certain that VR can't find their own arse with both hands even with 5 fingers and a thumb.

Last night was a classic example of this. After waiting on the platform in the cold and breeze (and trust me, the cold breeze is cold here in Finland) and hearing for the Nth time that the train was going to be delayed (now adding up to 45 minutes delay so far) I got the shits and went to ask why and when it may arrive.

It took about 45 seconds to walk up to the information area from the platform in Pasila station, and with the PA still saying that the train was going to be delayed I asked at the information desk when the train will depart.

"its leaving now" said the grumpy asshole at the desk (in Finnish of course). I bolted back to the platform to see the train had arrived and was indeed pulling out of the station.

Bloody hell ... military choppers don't drop marines and dust off so fast, probably the train was worried about being late so took off fast to catchup.

So after waiting 45 minutes on the platform I was left just standing there waiting for the next train..


Now this is just typical of the disorganization of VR ... (not to mention the shit-attitude of the counter service staff ). For example, at right here I have a typical sign showing the train information. A quick look will show two things
  1. the train to Riihimaki is late
  2. the morons can't get the sign and the columns displaying the data right (see the red rectangles)
Perhaps someone should send the railway staff here to Japan for some training in both courtesy and punctuality. Ohh ... but that's right ... being courteous is just wanking isn't it....

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

communication style

People say that its the little things that count. This seems to be a point lost on Finns who are so fu*king blunt it verges on rude ... well and actually they are often just rude too ...

One day in discussion with a Finnish friend he explained that being polite is just "wanking", its un-necessary and really does nothing to explain the message.

My experience is that many Finns seem to follow his philosophy. This is more pronounced in the countryside than Helsinki (where the population actually seem to be more like nice people, despite the issues you get in Cities vs Country towns)

Anyway, I was walking to the train the other day and found that this sign was put up to say "Work Area, no entry without authorisation" more or less...

What caught my eye was the face on the "icon" person shows a cranky unhappy face (which is so typical of Finns). You get the impression of "Hey, YOU! You can't come in here, bugger off"

I though for a moment that this is quite different to what I've experienced elsewhere in the world.

The problem I have with expressing what is distressing and annoying about living in Finland is that it isn't anything in particular, its the summation of everything in general.

Since I've made comparisons with Japan I thought I'd contrast this to the Japanese way of expressing the same thing...

construction sign (no enter)

construction sign (no entry)

Both signs are far less aggressive and still get the message across. But that's the point, Japanese are fundamentally a polite society. People try not to get in your face or annoy you. Not Finland ... the general attitude here is "I'm pissed off, so you should be too ... noone gives a shit how you feel so get used to it".

Back in Korea I asked a friend of mine who had had some dealings with Finns what he thought of the average Finnish person ... "grunting alcoholics" was his answer.

The longer I stay here the more I find that so many Finns really are just grumpy, rude semi-alcoholic, socially incompetent (to keep this polite).

Monday, 14 September 2009

Finnish Food 101

Pick up any Traditional Finnish Food cook book (mainly the ones in Finnish Language) and in the preface you'll undoubtedly read dribble like "Finland has the finest fresh ingredients" or "Spices are not used in Finnish Cuisine because Finns prefer to enjoy the superb quality of the freshest ingredients in Europe". [note to self: acquire some citations and post there here]

out of the closet

Any decent researcher will declare their research premise up front, as noone modern believes in the fantasy of "context free" positions, and writing in "It can be observed" or "It is found" is just rubbish designed to lull the reader into some trance of belief in the writers intentions.

poppy cock. I write what I think and justify it with evidence, determination of the "truth" is up to the reader ... not me.

winter SunsetFinland is a dam harsh place to live, aside from Siberia its hard to find a harsher place to live in than Northern and Eastern Finland. Modern amenities (insulation, energy, transport) have made life far far more comfortable, but sit outside in Jeans and a T-shirt for half a day in winter and you won't have hypothermia, you may well be dead.

Accordingly traditional food is whatever you can get in a harsh climate, its restricted in scope, preparation and condiments.

Not using much spices in cooking is certainly a truth, but people are influenced by food culture they see on TV or read about in books. They have no traditions on how it might be prepard (and precious few foreigners to show them) so penetration of this into life is problematic. A quick visit to the supermarket will make it clear that understandings of how to prepare food are very limited. For a start its dam hard to find any nice ingredients.

An endless array of the same kind of luncheon meat, pressed ham pieces or salami repackaged (but looking the same), tons of pre-packaged 4-in-a-bag German styled (but that's where it ends) knack-wurst looking sausages (the staple diet it seems), and some cuts of meats plastic wrapped and covered in slime (which passes for "grilli flavor", usually just makes washing up harder but supplies little in any taste). Almost all the chicken will be
  • breast fillets covered in some obscene slime which passes for "grill flavor"
  • breast fillets "natural" (if your lucky)
  • mangled breast fillets covered in the same sickening slime (you couldn't call this diced, its clearly by machine)
  • legs or drumsticks covered in some "grill flavour" which looks like it started as a powder
  • perhaps if your lucky you'll also be able to find mangled up thigh fillets
The pork suffers from the same issues.

Why is it so

Well if you think about Finland geographically you'll soon see that its about as far into the polar regions that humans can live and grow their own food. In fact its only the Gulf Stream and proximity to the Baltic (stabilizing air temperatures) which makes it as habitable as it is.

Seems funny ... but if you pick up a large ball and (without turning it) look at it as if you were the sun and it was the earth, then after you get far up past the 50th parallel you'll see that it is starting to behave as a log scale ... small vertical movements take you further along the earth. As you can see in this diagram the red area on the top of the earth is longer for the same movement in height at the equator.

These parallel lines are a good representation of the amount of sunlight falling on the earth, so the further north you go the more land the same amount of light is spread across (and I haven't even taken the extra tangent through the atmosphere into account yet).

Growing seasons are tightly defined and despite the days of long periods of sunshine in the summer if you plant your crops even a little late they just won't grow enough to produce a harvest. If you try to plant to early you could risk loosing all of it with a snap frost killing off the seedlings. Its a tough growing environment and gets harder the further north you go. I recommend that you get a patch of land and start growing your own potatoes and vegetables to see what I mean.

Accordingly Finns have a strange view of divisional regions in Finland which is almost like the same Log scale.

Southern Finland is the little strip along the bottom I've marked, Central Finland is that patch in the south and northern Finland is all the way from just below the middle to the top. I've marked an area with an arrow point to it, this is roughly the point at which Lapland starts and reindeer herding starts ... perhaps the Finns are aware that this really isn't Finland and is infact the Sami lands, but that's another blog article...

All of this of course has an enormous impact on food: what's available, what it costs and when you can get it.

Something which would be intuitive to our parents and grandparents but seems to be lost on the supermarket generation who (among other things) are so decoupled from our reality that they think water comes from the tap.

So clearly in this environment Potato is one of the main staples, along with Turnip (locally called Lanttu) Carrots, peas and some other of the "plain jane" stuff of our (Australian) childhoods.

Grains like Oats Barley and Rye are grown here while wheat has traditionally been a "exotic" and or expensive grain. This has a strong influence on breads ... hope you like them chewy.

The text kovaa kuin elämä means hard as life. Especially with bread certainly fresh is best. But the emphasis with bread making (in my view) is on storage and not wasting anything.

Think about it ... its not long ago that thousands died in starvation caused by crop losses. If you think in internet sorts of terms you'll only see the now. Humanity is not so transient (well I hope not) and so if you take a historical perspective to it, rather than an internet timespan, think of the climate and perhaps it'll make more sense. Let me quote from the Wikipedia link above:

Parts of the country had suffered poor harvests in previous years, most notably in 1862. The summer of 1866 was extremely rainy, and staple crops failed widely: potatoes and root vegetables rotted in the fields, and conditions for sowing grain in the autumn were unfavourable. When stored food ran out, thousands took to the roads to beg. The following winter was hard, and spring was late. In Helsinki, the average temperature in May 1867 was +1.8°C, about 10°C below the long-time average. In many places, lakes and rivers remained frozen until June. After a promisingly warm midsummer, freezing temperatures in early September ravaged crops; the harvest was about half the average. By the autumn of 1867, people were dying by the thousand.

Pork is pretty much the main meat, with some amounts of Beef (cattle seem to be kept for dairy) and a little bit of mutton. Note the word for mutton is quite conveniently "lammas" so watch out when you're looking for lamb. Finnish language is full of such issues and they do not differentiate between "electronics" and "electrical" in normal language, try being an engineer and looking for a place to buy some electronics stuff ... but that's another blog article.

Keep in mind the climate and it will become pretty evident that stock animals need to be housed (I mean even sheep have limits and -20 has to be past it). So if you want many of your animals to be around come spring you'll be keeping them indoors. This has enormous impact on the costs of keeping meat and what you'll choose.

Other meats include reindeer and moose (to those who can afford it or know someone who goes hunting), some game birds (well, mainly duck and even that's a hunting thing or fantasy of the past), of course chicken (comes cheaper with slime) and fish.

Of the to fish, Salmon (known locally as Lohi) is certainly the best, but in my view the Norwegian Salmon is the go more than the lake or (even worse the) farmed stuff here. There is another common local lake fish called Muikku, its small and normally netted. In my opinion, some things all the lake fish have in common is they normally have something in common with the taste of lake silt, are better fried with butter and preferably some flour ... anything to disguise the taste really.

Cooking style

I've lived most in Eastern Finland where Keralian culture has been a significant influence, Helsinki (south on the Baltic) has of course plenty of influence from trade with Russia, Germany and the Baltic countries. This makes Helsinki stand out as different from the rest of the place. Country people seem to think of Helsinki as some sort of "black hole of calcutta", but that's ok as Heislinki people get to think of the country people as "vitu maalainen" (which I won't translate here).

Cooking outside is something which happens in the warmer months, and you can find "traditional delicacies" like Lohi fillets being cooked beside an open flame like this. Notice the oil catch tray, Lohi is a very oily fish.

Ovens inside the house are both for keeping the house warm (and are centrally located) and provide a location for baking. Temperatures are hot at first as a fire is built inside the oven directly. At this point you can bake things like Piirakka (shown on the left) which are a thin 'pastry' of unleaven bread dough based on rye flour with perhaps a little wheat tossed in. The interior is filled with (typically) mashed potato or rice boiled in milk these days, but that's quite fancy by traditional standards where it was typically boiled and mashed turnip or oat porridge. They may be served with "egg butter" which is mashed boiled eggs with extra butter.

They're nice, but a bit lame ... if you ask me.

The oven stays quite warm for a while, so this leads to the next most common dish which is Paisti. This is essentially an oven baked casserole, it can contain almost anything, but some combinations I'm familiar with are:
  • pork (with some chunks of skin with the fat on) and beef chunks (poor cuts)
  • pork as above and small lake fish (covers up the mud taste of the fish but seems odd to me)
  • Lanttulaatikko (turnip boiled, mashed, milk added spread in a baking dish and baked)
  • Porkanalaatikko (carrot instead of turnip)
  • Mämmi (a nasty black looking porridge common at easter ... I don't want to hear another word about vegemite from a Finn)
The meat casserole dishes are typically cooked in a deep bowl with just water perhaps an onion and (for the really spicy tolerant) a single black peper corn.

... meat and fat boiled slowly with fish ... no condiments ... yum.

Sure, traditional English food is hardly attractive either, but then I've never said otherwise. After living for some years in Asia I find that Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Indians all have great food culture, while Scandinavia has ... well ...

So, a combination of lack of food availability, lack of food diversity, little or no spice trade, limited meats makes Traditional Finnish Food look strange today. Its an aquired taste, its simple and if you grew up in the west you might find you don't like it.

I personally find it heavy, saturated in fats (good if you eat little, work hard and live outside) which for my lifestyle (computer systems) is neither good for my health or my palate. Today, if you live in or visit Helsinki you may wonder just what it is that I'm on about, as the conference centers, restaruants and "hesburger" burger outlets makes it look rather different.

There's lots more to say, so in part 2 of this I'll look at some other views (from Finnish sources) of the challenges of Food in Finland ... to wet your appetite I'll say that the traditional "Kauppahalli" (local food market where good food is actually sold) is under threat from the commercial machinery of the K and S chains. Shareholders naturally benefit, food is perhaps cheaper, probably more available and certainly mush.

Monday, 31 August 2009

home sweet home

Ethno-centrism seems to imply a kind of nationalism when reading the definition on wikipedia:

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one's own race or ethnic group is centrally important, and that all other ethnic groups are measured in relation to one's own
but personally I tend to think more in terms of it being the (perhaps unconscious) basis of all comparisons with "other" places. One's initial frame of reference. But traveling and living abroad these last 10 years has fairly much stripped me of a 'context'. I feel that I can understand Japanese things from a Japanese, Korean things from the perspective of Koreans and to some extent Indian things from that perspective. I tend to be critical of how things are in Australia (the things which I believe we could do better) and want to work towards making where I live a better place.

Well, right now I live in Finland. After observing things here for some years I've started to see things which could be done better here and to understand the ways of doing things here and why they do what they do.

But that doesn't mean that there is nothing that I'd love to change.

The reason for this article is being confronted one time too many by (someone who should have had a better idea cos they've lived over seas) a Finn who just couldn't get it and laughed smugly to me that English Australians and Asians make flimsy houses compared to the fine examples of home making that Finland has. Heck we can't even build a decent wall the right thickness according to this guy.

The guy had lived in England (so I understand why he thinks more insulation is needed) but despite my descriptions of the differences in environment between Australia and Finland he just couldn't get past his Suomi-centrism.

So I thought that the best approach might be to take off my objectiveness, put on my Australian centric glasses and write about this from an outsiders perspective.

So to the guy on the train, if you're reading this, here is my version of you take this bit of iron wire .... yep, this one's for you so read on.

Out of Finland (rather than Africa, that'd be Meryl Streep)

When I was living in Japan I was asked by people "why do westerners live in closed boxes trying to exclude the environment?" ... as I come from Queensland in Australia where we don't live in houses like that (although I now know well that the Finnish do) I was never really sure how to respond to this, our houses are usually airy, wooden and built along lines like this.

? or this ?

The reasons for our architecture are:
- that its warm or hot most of the time,
- we want to capture and utilize breezes and
- keep the heat of the sun away.

Now you need to keep in mind that Finns need to cater for a winter which can get down to -20° C (like more north and east) and in some places -40° C If you put on your engineering hat for a moment that's about 60° C in differential temperature. Rather different to Finland our winter (in the coldest areas of Queensland) drops to something like 0 ° C over night minimums with day temperatures of 15° C or so. A little further north its warmer still with overnight minimums of something like 15°C. At most we need to keep a 20 degree difference in temperature, and to be honest 10 is more like it.

Even if we totally fail and live outside in the cold its really not so bad anyway as winter only is cold for about 2 months of the year. Heck Finnish summer has colder days than our winter is.

So we mostly focus on keeping heat out and letting breeze in. Verandas help this by making the roof overhang from the walls and keep the wall from being heated up by the sun during the day.

Japan (much like Australia) certainly gets its fair share of warm weather (though they do have a chilly winter to contend with) and (for one reason or another) tend to build homes which are more open and openable. You can sit on the veranda and just sit back and enjoy the environment from the comfort of your own home.

Now, Finland has rather a different environment to Australia or Japan, its not really ever hot (though the Finns seem to think differently) and if you happen to have a nice place in the countryside (the so called "summer cottage") then in the warm weather times its a full on mosquito fest out side.

Generally speaking many countryside Finnish houses look more like this:

with almost no roof overhang (looks strange to me) and often a cubic design. Makes sence logically but has all the aesthetic appeal of the Borg.

Some things to note in this picture:

* the front entry is much like a spaceship air lock. It allows you to open the door to go in and out, without releasing any air from the house.

* next to no roof overhang (lucky there is little wind here so the walls don't get wet from the rain)

* not much in the way of guttering (well, it doesn't really rain here, and for quite some period of the year the water is not in a liquid form anyway)

* windows are typically double or triple glazed and may not be practically openable, although there is usually a small slit window on the side that can be opened.

Its worth noting that the chimney is in the middle of the house, as the fireplace is intelligently located in the middle of the house. Quite a good design idea as the "fireplace" is normally a large brick oven. This has of course considerable thermal mass and not only works as an oven, but does a really good job of keeping the house warm in winter. Since traditional Finnish food revolves around slow stewing of everything in the oven (usually without anything such as spices or flavour) it handily works to keep cooking odors out of the house as they mainly go up the chimney. This is something you'll become acutely aware of if you try to cook something other than "Finnish food" ... kitchens (and the houses are by and large small sealed boxes, which quickly fill with steam, cooking smells and what ever when you start to do a stir fry or a curry. If that doesn't put you off cooking like you're used to then the the most common electric stoves here will. (I have no idea why fancy "Jamie Oliver" cookware is so popular here when cooking is the way it is here ... but that's another blog page)

This is of course another downside , as using the oven in the summer makes the house uncomfortably hot and stuffy (leading Finns to think it gets hot here). Woe be tide if temperatures rise more ... it'll be aircon or stew inside.

Which brings me to my next point ... why hasn't anyone in this country discovered mosquito screens on windows? Its not for the shortage of mosquitoes in the summer time I have to tell you (locally know as the Finnish Air Force). Its quite pathetic really, Finns get dealt up rubbish by importers and shafted as much as possible on imported goods. I have no idea if this is to rip them off or foster the local religion of only buy Finnish (... oh gosh, but that's yet another blog page).

Back to houses ...

This is a kind of typical interior to a home. While windows are not on all walls, they typically have some facing the south to catch as much light as possible if they can get it.

Remember that Finland is really really north, so the sun rarely gets up high in the sky, certainly not in winter. So it makes sence to use as much of the light as possible.

You have to balance things though as windows (even triple glazed) let cold through into the house (read let heat out of the house), so you can't really pepper all your walls with windows. Now, if you look carefully you can just make out a heater which runs along the base of the window there. That's a really common feature in newer buildings up here, and the warmth from them neatly counters the cold air falling off the windows. They are of course electric in this instance, but some places make use of heated water radiators.

Looking more closely at the walls we don't see them being significantly thicker than ones we'd see in many countries.

Perhaps its a left-over perception from old wooden box houses (built with the locally gown pine soft woods grown here, which to my hardwood experienced eyes seems like packing crate rubbish) where wooden beams were cut thicker and insulation was done with other less efficient materials.

So, yes, Finnish houses may be better insulated against the cold than Australian ones, but compared to our places they are stuffy to live in, dreadful to try to cook in and isolate you from the outside. I always need to check the temperature before going out to know what to wear. This is something totally foreign to me, as in any other part of the world I feel more connected with the outside world. Why does it always have to be 23°C all the time?

To my mind Finns have lost touch with the evolution of their houses, as the older homes are much nicer, actually get cool in the winter and open up more in the summer. The only good thing about modern Finnish houses is they make it possible to wear undies all year round in such a cold place.

Given the problems that they are discovering with molds and fungus growing in the cavity in the walls (and the increasing problems with allergy reactions to the synthetics used in their insulations and other building materials), I think that the Queenslander style houses are better all round homes to live in our environment than these places are for this environment. So if you want to compare houses without thinking of the environment I think that makes our houses better.

Say ... looking at the cube desing again perhaps we could compare Finnish homes to a foam beer esky? Similar properties in many ways ... say I think I'm on to something. (Perhaps its because Finns think that its always cold is the reason that beer is always warm in the fridge of my local supermarket, but again I digress...)

The really strange thing is that in Canada they have just as cold a climate but manage to have warm houses and ventilation too.


and so it comes down to how we do things and understanding why we do things. I think that here again Finns fail to grasp the world outside of Finland in their critique of things.

Looking at the old town in Sydney it was clear that the English settlers constructed things out of habit too, even though they moved to a totally different continent.,They didn't change their construction habits and built houses just like they did in England. So perhaps the Finns are like the English (well in all of Europe from what I can tell) to sledge other countries as being inferior and inadequate.

Well sorry guys but living in Finland shows me that the homes are just as thoughtlessly assembled following "traditional" patterns when making apartment (even though we don't have a stove with a chimney to get rid of cooking fumes) as the English whom Finns so quickly ridicule.

The apartments are miserably ventilated with one small aperture in the kitchen to exchange atmosphere (and nothing much to let it in so it can't escape) that people often resort to poking fans onto them in an attempt to clear the air. It works so poorly that I can hold a candle to the vent and not get any air flow even when I open windows. Now, if I want to clear the air from my apartment out, I open my front door (into the stair way) open the down stairs doors (into the apartment building) and then open my balcony door ... man then its like a torrent!

The roof extraction vent sections are so poorly designed that any attempt to force air into these vents just results in pumping air into other peoples apartments (and yes I've even seen newspaper articles explaining why you shouldn't do that so people must be trying it). So we're just suppoed to sit in our little sealed box and not breath or cook.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

mind your language

I think that I'll need to paint a little background picture here first, so please bear with me on this one ...

One of my personal beliefs is that as when I'm in a country that as much as possible I should use the local language. Not as easy as you may think as no native speaker uses standard textbook language and then there's local dialects (quite strong in Finland) to consider.

Some people already speak a few languages, which can make picking up a language much easier, and of course if you've studied the language before going to that place then that makes the process all the easier.

Finnish as a language is unlike most of the languages in the region. By unlike I mean at a really deep level. Swedish, Norwegian and Danish are all part of the same language group and are quite close to eachother. Learning enough to move between them is relatively easy (although the Norwegians sometimes complain that the Swedes don't bother). German Dutch and English are also related languages and easy to move between in comparison to Finnish. Myself I find Japanese and Korean easier to learn and grasp than Finnish. Russian (one of the slavonic language groups) is also nothing like Finnish either, so looking over to the east doesn't help much for inspiration either.

Fortunately (well in Helsinki) Finns are quite aware of the global insignificance of their native language and are very accomodating with using English (note: more people speak Swahili than Finnish).

Now, don't get the idea that I don't want to learn this language (I've got family commitments here) but there is a really big difference between polite dinner conversation and discussing issues within a project team meeting (and country Finns are not noted for saying heaps at dinner I gotta tell ya).

Its actually really hard to be at the level where you can express subtlety or be tactful and delicate (yes, even in Finland some people want to do that) in a language you feel unfamiliar with.

So in a recent Team meeting here at my work I noticed that one person (the first as it happened) decided to start his section report in English, then everyone sort of followed. Of course this was for my benefit as I am the only native English speaker in the room (the other foreigner isn't an English speaker but does as well as a merchant Dutchman would).

While the sentiment was lovely I felt bad as the organisation does not have any directives requiring that and some of the people really struggled with English. Later in a discussion with my supervisor I said that I felt bad that everyone had to be put out because of me and I would be happier if the meetings were in Finnish because not everyone was comfortable with English and it was only me that was uncomfortable with Finnish. He agreed and so out went an email (in English) quite tactfully suggesting that in the interests of communication facilitation meetings would be in Finnish again unless someone wanted to specifically ensure that I understood a point.


The topic came up again over afternoon tea in the next week and various opinions were put forward and chatted about. Then one person said:
"Well we all speak good English here (invalid assumption if you ask me) and besides it gives everyone an opportunity to practice their English. So I think that if even one person in the room is speaks English as their language we should all use English."
while everyone seemed to be nodding and agreeing with this one person quietly said:
what about if one person speaks Swedish?

Well ... that put the cat among the pigeons. Protests, rejection of the idea, and comments like:
  • I've studied that language for over 15 years but I still can't express myself well
  • Oh come on ... Swedish?
You see here in Finland (in case you didn't know) they are a bilingual nation much like Canada is; and just like Canada's tensions between the English speakers (majority) and the French speakers (politically influential) tensions exist here between the two language groups.

Perhaps its more complex because Finland has (at various times) been governed by Sweden. While Finns speak Finnish, some in the coastal areas have Swedish ancestory and speak Swedish as their mother tongue (some claim they can't speak Finnish at all).

So if you speak English then that's simply a neutral foreign language ... but if you speak Swedish, well, that's loaded with connotations and implications.

I'm beginning to see why the Swedish speakers sometimes feel isolated here ... (of course the Finns will tell you that its their fault ;-)

suomen Lippu
Where this all starts to get interesting (to me) is that recently Sweden has recognised Finnish as an offical language within Sweden (recognizing Finnish minorities), while all the time here in Finland I hear debate about
"why should we have Swedish as a national language here when we didn't ask for it or them"

this to me says loads about the two nations.

Friday, 21 August 2009

opinions: fine as long as you agree with me

Finland seems to be quite an open place, with few of the 'reservations' so common in countries like England or Japan. As an Australian we like to call "a spade a spade" and you discover quickly here that such behavior is not popular. Acutally I'm finding that there are some interesting comparisons between England Japan Australia and Finland.

The relationship it not exactly straight forward or even the same in each comparison type.

For instance in my diagram I have England and Japan on opposite sides of the circle, but they could equally be on opposite sides of a mirror looking at each other.

Both are densely populated island 'Nation States' with a long history and a monarchy in their history.

Both have quite distinct and observable ceremony in their culture (for example tea culture is strong in both although quite different).

Australia and Finland are both places where 'strong observable culture' seems absent, but if you compare a Finn to (say) a German or an Australian to a Pommie there are enough differences to make it clear that despite similarities we're quite different.

Finns like Australians seem to be "no nonsense" down to business people. We both have recent Agrarian histories and seem to like straight to the point talking in business.

But despite an exterior of "no bullshit" in Finland it seems that the Japanese concept of "WA" is really quite significant here. Finns (it seems to me) actually dislike discussions which look like they may involve any kind of difference of opinion and will quickly truncate them. Finns are certainly well know for being blunt and abrupt, perhaps even devoid of notions of courtesy. I've even had a Finn tell me that courtsey is just "wanking" and people should just get to the point.

Well, the interesting thing is that if you do "just get to the point" you'll likely find people take discussions of abstract ideas as being personal attacks. Sure we all do this ... Australian, Japanese, English ... but the level of it seems more elevated here ... as in a country which was bound by etiquette and culture, like Japan.

So much for courtesy being irrelevant ...

This can be confusing for a foreigner trying to understand what's happening. Perhaps a Japanese would fare better in comprehending this concept.

Bottom line seems to be that your opinion is valued as long as it is mine. I wonder how much this will seem like a mirror to me when I go home and can compare Australians under the same lens.