It’s that time of year again…

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…Winter depression!!

I included a picture of the Groke from The Moomins as she is supposed to be a physical embodiment of winter depression, spreading ice and fear wherever she goes. And fittingly she is the most terrifying god damned thing ever seen in a kid’s show. See the way she just sits there and stares in that picture? That’s pretty much all she ever does.

Many people born and raised in Finland don’t seem to get winter depression but since I’m still new here, I’ve had it for two years in a row now. When I first visited my fiancee, back when he was my boyfriend, in the winter, I would get it even worse. Only an hour after getting up I would want to go back to sleep again.

The trouble is that there are so few hours of daylight that it makes me feel lethargic and it is difficult to become motivated to work or concentrate. But because I’m feeling so tired and because it’s so dark and gloomy, it’s harder to get out of bed in the morning so I end up sleeping in through what little daylight there is.

I have been doing a few things to try and combat it and they seem to be working for now. I switch on a lamp for a while after it gets dark to give the illusion of sunlight. I try to get up earlier to make the most of the sunlight and go out for walks if I can’t.

There is also a process that the Dutch call ‘hygee’. It’s difficult to describe because it doesn’t have a direct English translation. The closest we can get is ‘cosiness’, creating a warm atmosphere and doing things to make yourself feel better. Blankets, candles, books. All the things that Tumblr obsesses over and claims are best for self care.

It seems strange because you think ‘don’t we try to feel good all the time anyway?’ If so, how come Denmark is the happiest nation on Earth and the British are a bunch of miserable bastards? Many British people associate winter with bad things – the built up stress of Christmas, debt in January, and snow days causing travel chaos. Perhaps it is because Britian has a ‘binge then purge’ attitude. It’s normal for us to stuff ourselves over Christmas then desperately try to lose weight in the New Year. Hygee says ‘just keep eating that chocolate if it makes you feel good’. We’re obviously not doing things right.

I’m going to continue spending the winter living like I’m in a greetings card and see if it really works. If it does, I’ll have enough energy to continue working throughout the winter.

Summer adventures

I’m back from my summer trips and gradually getting back into the flow of work again. I spent three weeks at my parent’s house for no reason except that I haven’t seen them for a long time. Just as I predicted, it was a little surreal at first to be back in the UK after nearly a year away but I soon got used to it again, just as I’m not used to being back in Finland, although I think I’ve forgotten what little Finnish I learnt.

Even though I had several jobs come in during what was supposed to be my vacation time, it was still nice to relax a little, see my family, and have some proper meals cooked for me. (I’m back to eating nothing but macaroni.) Best of all was spending some time with this girl:

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My parent’s husky, Snow (or Lumi in Finnish or Sneg in her native Russian) was so excited to see me that she jumped up at me and almost pushed me out of the door again. But once she was over that, she went back to being grouchy that she wasn’t allowed any tidbits or that my parents and sister had to leave the house for their jobs. She doesn’t understand the basic ideas of capitalism and feels resentful when people’s lives don’t revolve around her.  Hence I managed to get a lot of good ‘grumpy Snow’ pictures:

 

She has an entire shady garden to lie in but chooses to lie underneath this table.

She has an entire shady garden to lie in but chooses to lie underneath this table.

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It’s still surprisingly hot here in Turku but since it’s near the end of summer the leaves are starting to change colour so it’s a strange mix of summer and autumn right now. I’m  hoping to get back into the swing of working now that I have more job offers coming in. It’s been almost a year since I moved here and I may be broke but I’m hanging in there, so that’s something at least.

Finnish summer

Once again, it’s been a while since my last post. I had a short break over Midsummer and went to my fiancee’s parent’s house again. I’ve been back in Turku for a week now but have had an unexpected amount of work come in so I haven’t been able to share my photos yet. Not that I’m complaining because it means my finances are slowly getting better so the rest of this year might not suck as much as the first half did.

We’re in the middle of our Midnight Sun period right now and only when it is incredibly overcast is there proper darkness during the night. No matter how many summers I spend in Finland, I still don’t get used to seeing skies like these in the middle of the night:

Taken at 10:15 PM

Taken at 10:15 PM

Taken at 2:45 AM

Taken at 2:45 AM

And that’s in the south where the Midnight Sun is the least intense. Further north where I spent Midsummer it was even brighter.

Finland is one of the only countries left where Midsummer is still celebrated as a national holiday. Some other Nordic nations also celebrate it and I think Germany does as well, but those are the only ones I can think of that do so. Back home in the UK only Neopagens celebrate Midsummer at sites such as Stonehenge, although some people just want an excuse to get drunk at an ancient monument.

Midsummer is like Christmas part two in Finland, only without the commercialisation which many argue has ruined what is supposed to be a religious holiday.  It’s a time for family get togethers but you won’t be dragged to visit all of your great aunts and uncles or sit through a long church service. There are elements of Finland’s ancient shamanistic culture like lighting bonfires, but today Midsummer is mostly used as a break from work.

I’ve spent one Midsummer in Finland before but since it’s my first Midsummer living in Finland, of course the weather was awful all week. When I tell people here that the British summer is even worse than the Finnish one they have a hard time believing me. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get to visit the summer cottage and do all the things we were planning like swimming or fishing. I also didn’t get much of a chance to take some pictures to compare with the winter pictures I took at Christmas.

These are the ones I did manage to get:

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Next month I’ll be spending three weeks visiting my parent’s house in the UK. It will be strange to be back after spending nearly a year abroad. Has it really been a year? I feel like I haven’t done that much or learnt any Finnish. Maybe that was because I had a lot of other issues to deal with this year. But I’m not planning to leave Finland any time soon so I still have lots of time to have many more Finland adventures.

Spring update and photos

It’s been a while since my last post. In that time, spring has very slowly come to Turku and although it’s still not very warm and the trees aren’t in full bloom yet, it’s a nice change from the winter weather. I’m hoping that it will get warmer over the next month and that I’ll be able to go away somewhere and relax for Midsummer, which is an important holiday in Finland.

I’ve had a few good things happen to me this spring. I edited two full length manuscripts in the same month and had my first magazine publication for a Finnish language learners magazine. I’ve also gotten a part time book reviewer job contract and one of my articles on my writing blog was selected as a teaching resource.

Even so, the last two months haven’t been that great for me. Some of the things I was hoping to avoid when I moved abroad ended up happening. I didn’t handle them particularly well and I went through a bad period of anxiety and depression. Things are starting to improve now and something that does make me feel better is going out and taking photos.

Practicing photography was one of my new year’s resolutions and it came at a great time as I was asked to submit some pictures with my magazine article, so I guess I could say I’m a published photographer as well as a writer. Here are some spring pictures from the area near my apartment block. I foolishly forgot to take any of the same area during winter. Although it was a pain to get around during that time, it was at least very pretty. I’ll have to wait until next year to get those. Until then, enjoy some pictures taken on a much sunnier day than this one:

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A fishing wharf near my flat. I like to go there when I want some alone time to think, read, or pray.

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Random coloured things because why not. Clearly I still need to practice my photography because I spent ages getting the right angle and still forgot about the electricity pylons.

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Tiny daisies growing on the ruins of what I assume was once a church or temple. There are still religious services held there sometimes.

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Five things that are weirdly popular in Finland

I’ve been living in Finland for just over six months now and I’ve found that when you live in a foreign country for long enough, you start to see patterns that don’t exist in your own country. You particularly start to notice things that each country likes and doesn’t like. For instance, over here I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to heavy metal bands but I can’t get salt and vinegar flavoured Pringles anywhere.

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What is this fuckery?!

I’ve been thinking lately about Finland and the ‘Germans love David Hasselhoff’ trope and wondering why certain things become hugely popular in one place compared to another. Why do some things become a more integral part of a country’s national identity than they do in the country they originated from? I’m going to look at some things that are weirdly popular in Finland and try to find the answer.

  1. Emmerdale
Nothing like a bit of soul crushing misery at tea time.

Nothing like a bit of soul crushing misery at tea time.

One of the first things I noticed when I visited the DVD section of the local supermarket was the amount of British drama DVDs. That’s no surprise since Britain has some of the best actors and writers in the world. (Not that I’m bragging or anything…) What I did find strange were the DVDs of what I assume are old episodes of the British soap opera Emmerdale. Of all the popular soaps, why the most depressingly boring of them all? Why the one that for some reason my grandma watches religiously but I had to stop watching because I realised I like feeling happy?

I thought that maybe the concept of seemingly normal people dealing with normal issues appealed to Finns. Except that these ‘everyday’ issues involve euthanising your paralyzed gay lover, discovering you just made out with your long lost sister and a plane crash destroying half your village.

  1. Ginga Nagareboshi Gin (or Silver Fang Gin)

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Anime and manga are generally very popular in Finland, but Silver Fang Gin, despite being very obscure in most places, is hugely popular throughout the Nordic countries. It became one of the few anime to receive a Finnish language dub, although by all accounts being popular wasn’t enough to get it a good dub.

It’s obviously because it’s about dogs and bears and snowy climates, and definitely not dumbed down for children. Just like in the show, there really are dogs in Finland trained to hunt bears. (And they’re adorable!) I’m wondering if it’s also because the bears are the villains in the series, and bears are often used as a symbol for Russia.

The giant bear is totally not a metaphor for communism.

The giant bear is totally not a metaphor for communism.

  1. Conan O’Brien.

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Now this one is kind of weird. Don’t get me wrong, Conan O’Brien is great and all, but supposedly the main reason he’s popular in Finland is because he bears a slight resemblance to the former president Tarja Halonen.

Or maybe it's this.

Or maybe it’s this.

Apparently O’Brien started this rumour himself and it just caught on, which makes much more sense. I wonder if he looked through pictures of world leaders to find one he looked like so he could become popular in their country and get a free trip there. He must have been disappointed when it turned out to be Finland and not a warmer country.

  1. The Spoony Experiment.
I definitely didn't choose the picture with the cute puppeh on purpose.

I definitely didn’t choose the picture with the cute puppeh on purpose.

Now this one does make perfect sense. Spoony, real name Noah Antwiler, is an internet critic who reviews movies, video games, table top games, and anything nerdy. Finland is basically the kingdom of the nerds (yet for some reason we still get bullied in Finnish schools) and I think his extreme geekiness and how comfortable he is with his nerdy lifestyle appeals naturally to Finns. Finland has never had its own king, but I reckon Spoony should be our first.

Spoony even said in the commentary of one of his videos that he was invited to a Finnish comic con and a fan dressed as his incredibly obscure one off character ‘Stereotypically-drunk Mexican Cyborg Early 90s Otaku Kid’. Spoony personally gave him his seal of approval as ‘the number one fan in Finland’.

  1. Donald Duck.

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Another slightly confusing one. Donald Duck or Aku Ankka comics are amazingly popular in Finland. You can buy them down at the local corner shop. It’s strange to consider now that Donald Duck was initially criticised in Finland because he doesn’t wear trousers and is supposedly living in sin with Daisy Duck. Whoever made that claim probably wouldn’t like me pointing out that The Moomins walk around naked all the time and are completely accepting of homosexuals.

He has his own section in the book shop. I don't think he even has that at Disneyland.

He has his own section in the book shop. I don’t think he even has that at Disneyland.

Why do Finns love him so much? Maybe it’s because Donald’s a sailor. Maybe it’s his anger issues. Maybe it’s because he’s the dark horse of the Disney characters, despite obviously being the best of them all.

Finland is just one of the countries where Donald Duck comics are produced, and have been since 1951. There was even a Donald Duck version of the Kalevela, the Finnish national epic poem, which is kind of like if Bananaman made a version of Game of Thrones. Actually, that might have potential…

Runeberg and cake

Last time, after ranting about the weather, I said I was going to write about the Finnish poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg and the cakes named after him. As it turns out, it’s frustratingly difficult to find his poems in English (I’m sure they’ve been translated at some point but I can’t find them anywhere) so the only information about him I could find at the local library, in English, was from a series of essays about Finnish identity. I’ll write my response to that in a later post, as I don’t want this one to get too serious.

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For now, I’ll explain a little more about Runeberg. He is the national poet of Finland, although, as was common for the time, he wrote in Swedish. His most well-known work is The Tales of Ensign Stål (Now I really want to see a redshirt on Star Trek named Ensign Stål!) part of which was used (in a translated form) as the lyrics for the Finnish national anthem. This gave me the only English translation of Runeberg’s poems that I could find:

Oh our land, Finland, land of our birth,

rings out the golden word!

No valley, no hill,

no water, shore more dear

than this northern homeland,

precious land of our fathers.

Your splendour from its shell

one day will bloom;

From our love shall rise

your hope, glorious joy,

and once your song, fatherland

higher still will echo.

 

Aleksis Kivi may be more revered within Finland, as he was the first author to write in the Finnish language, and in modern times Tove Jansson’s Moomin series is famous worldwide, but Runeberg is probably the only poet in the world to have both his own day and a dessert named after him. This is a Runeberg cake:

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Whoops, that one was squished on the journey back from the supermarket. This is what they’re supposed to look like:

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They were named after Runeberg as he supposedly ate them for breakfast every day. His wife might have even invented them. Similar to how Cadbury’s Cream Eggs are only sold before Easter, these little cakes appear in Finnish supermarkets and cafes just before Runeberg day on February 5th and disappear for the rest of the year. But unlike Cream Eggs, they are delicious. I’m not going to attempt to bake them myself, I’d probably just drink all the rum, but if you want to try then here’s a recipe:

http://www.dessertsforbreakfast.com/2010/02/finnish-february-runeberg-cake-aka.html

Good news, everyone…

…I’m still technically alive!

Yesterday I reported on how much of a pain the ice is here in Turku and said I’d write about how I got along going out on my bike to go grocery shopping. Well, I’m alive, that’s one thing. A lot of the ice has melted since yesterday but there’s still a considerable amount still on the ground and no nice soft snow to walk on.

The journey to the supermarket was awful and I ended up either walking my bike or riding through puddles half the way. I thought that the puddles would be safer since the ice had already melted. Even though, like most people, I’m slightly broke at this time of year, I bought more food than usual so I don’t have to go out again for a long while.

The ride back was surprisingly not too bad, since:

  1. The weight of the groceries on the back of my bike gave me more balance.
  2. We did what we probably should have done before and stuck to the main roads which were mostly gritted, even the steep and very long hill.
  3. Those two factors gave me more confidence.

It was only once I got closer to my apartment building that I started having to walk my bike very slowly and carefully and it was then that I realised why I had such a hard time yesterday – Nobody has bothered to grit any of the pavements near my apartment. There were plenty of people around there having just as much of a hard time staying upright as I was.

Still at least it’s the weekend now and my fiancee’s making a cake right now so I can spend the whole weekend watching Star Trek in my pajamas. Next time I’ll write a post about the poet Runeburg and why he has a cake named after him.

Winter’s F***ed Up

This song really sums up how I feel about the Finnish winter right now. At first it was pretty and I got to take a lot of nice photos. But now that it’s constantly snowing and thawing and snowing again here in Turku, the ice is becoming a real problem. Fresh snow is fairly easy to walk on and makes a funny squeaky sound when you step on it, but the ice and slush that comes afterwards is making my life very hard.

All I wanted to do today was go to the supermarket and get some sweets for my fiancee’s birthday. I tried going by bike like I usually do but almost fell over three times in under a minute so I abandoned that idea. But that’s ok, I thought, a long walk will give me a chance to do some story plotting in my head. Barely 100 meters from my apartment door I almost slipped over on an incredibly mild slope.

This went on all the way to the store and back. I ended up going to a smaller store that was closer and stocking up on as many snacks as I could carry with the hopes of hibernating in my apartment until the ice thaws again. But we’re running low on food and I can’t survive off of sour cream and onion coated peanuts for three days so we have to go to the store again tomorrow. Plus Saturday is my fiancee’s birthday and he wants to go out to eat, which we rarely get to do on our own (and I have to satisfy my curry cravings somehow).

I suppose I’m lucky because I work from home but as anti-social as I am, I am still required to leave the house once in a while. Even though I’m assured that it’s very common, I feel like a giant idiot falling over in front of people who seem to be staying up right just fine.

I really hope the ice melts before tomorrow because we don’t have a car to get the groceries home and I’m honestly quite scared of cycling in this weather. I can’t even walk over an ice covered slope without having a panic attack. I’ll keep you all updated on how I manage.

Christmas in Finland

I’ve been lucky to spend this Christmas season in Finland for the first time. In the past I’ve spent New Year’s and Midsummer in Finland a few times but Christmas was a first. My fiancee and I went to stay with his parents in Joensuu, which is much farther North than Turku and has a lot more snow.

I was a lot more excited about it than he was.

I was a lot more excited about it than he was.

It wasn’t that much different than Christmas in Britain, except that we had dinner and presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. I found this a little strange as there was nothing special to do on Christmas Day than laze around. I decided to go out for a walk, like people always talk about doing. It was minus 15 Celsius but I got some great pictures.

You can see the full set of them here, but these are some choice ones:

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I call these snow hedgehogs.

I call these snow hedgehogs.

Yes, I played on the swing even though it was covered in snow.

Yes, I played on the swing even though it was covered in snow.

A few days after Christmas we went to see my in-laws new summer cottage. Well, I say summer cottage…

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It’s being renovated right now but by summer time we should be able to visit and enjoy some fishing, swimming and barbecue.

The house is located on an island which literally translates to ‘moose island’ which is part of a remote archipelago accessed by a ferry.

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It was the first time I’ve stepped on an ice covered lake and I wasn’t as scared as I thought I would be. I was worried I’d suffer the same fate as Lester Nygaard in Fargo. But I don’t think I’ll be going ice fishing any time soon.

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It’s been nice to have a break but I also want to get back home and start writing again so I can earn some money for a trip to visit the UK. 2014 has been a huge year for me with getting engaged, becoming a published writer and moving abroad so I hope to do even more in 2015. There’s a lot more I want to do with this blog, including making video posts, so I’ll be back soon.

How not to write an expat brochure. (And how to write one instead.)

I’ve been living abroad in Finland for about three months now but with all the administration and bureaucracy involved with emigrating, it feels like so much longer. But I’m still not done yet. I’m still waiting to hear if I’m eligible for health insurance plus I have to apply for a tax card, open a bank account, register my freelance business and apply for a language course. And that’s without the tax office back home hounding me about forms they never sent me.

When I visited the police station to arrange my residency permit, I picked up a brochure that I hoped would provide me with answers for my many questions. It did help in a lot of ways and provided some useful information such as what to do if you’re a victim of abuse, the emergency services number, and national holidays (Speaking of, happy Independence Day, Finland!) but there was a lot it was lacking. As well as being very poorly edited, the language was incredibly dumbed down and didn’t provide some of the most necessary information that expats need. Here are some of the things it did say:

  • You can borrow books for free at the library. Because in other countries you have to pay to borrow books from a library?

    What is this mysterious 'library' you speak of?

    What is this mysterious ‘library’ you speak of?

  • Send letters and parcels from a post office. Leaving them out with milk and cookies for the post fairies doesn’t work anymore.
  • Parents are responsible for raising their children. You mean I can’t let the internet do it for me? Then what’s the point of even having children?!
  • People use public health services when they’re sick. I usually just go to my voodoo priestess.
  • Babies and children visit the doctor with their parents. Do it yourself, you lazy brats! If you can lift your own head up then you can book your own doctor’s appointment.
  • You should brush your teeth for good oral health. Thanks for warning me, Finland.
  • Finnish officials don’t take bribes. The fact they had to point that out disturbs me…
  • Finnish people like free time. They also like to breathe air and wear shoes.
  • Men do their equal share of household chores. Well I should hope so!

Here’s what I think an expat brochure should be saying instead, based on my own experiences and questions I’ve seen on forums:

  • Sauna etiquette. It may be obvious to Finns, but foreigners who aren’t used to it might be confused. For instance, towels or no towels? Gender segregated or not? It could potentially save a lot of embarrassing moments.
  • How to deal with seasonal affective disorder. Trust me, it is not fun.
  • Where to find books in English. As I work in publishing this is especially important to me, but many other people like finding books to read in their native language as well.
  • What proof of freelance income I need to get my residency permit. This wasn’t made clear at all. I showed up at the police station with three years worth of tax forms I didn’t need.
  • International moving companies that ship to Finland and finding a removal company within Finland.
  • Can you get time off work for non-Christian holidays? I work from home so it’s not an issue for me, but it probably is for some people.
  • Dealing with wild animals such as bears and wolves. We don’t have them in the UK so it’s good to know how to stay safe and not get mauled.

    It's ok to pet them, right?

    It’s ok to pet them, right?

  • If your residence permit is based on family ties, does it become invalid if you divorce or split up?

Fellow expats, have you ever come across any similar information packs when you moved abroad? What information do you wish was included in expat brochures?