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.