Friday, November 29, 2013

Week 48; autumn term about to end

This week I've had the last lessons of the autumn term for most of my groups, and we've done our usual things as well as talked about Christmas. In my Write it down -course we've exchanged opinions on advertising around Christmas, and we've all agreed that it seems to start too early nowadays. Somebody wrote that this year she heard the first Christmas carol already in September, and those of us who have small children have noticed that different kinds of toy booklets and ads seem to be delivered in every household earlier and earlier every year.

For children these toy adverts seem to be an endless source of inspiration when Christmas wishes are concerned. They come up with all kinds of requests when they browse through the pages of these booklets. Of course, now some of you think that okay, why don't you just throw those booklets away before your kids get to see them; that will solve the problem. Maybe so, but it's not that simple. You see, children tell each other about these booklets and if someone hasn't got them, the finger starts pointing at the parents pretty quickly..

Well, of course parents don't have to take all of these wishes too seriously, and I think that it's very healthy for children to learn that you can't have everything you wish for. When I look at the lists my children have written to Santa, I just try to figure out which of these Christmas wishes are truly important, and ignore the ones I consider unsuitable, too expensive, or totally useless. I guess that's what parenting is: you try to do what's right by your children without pampering them too much or being too hard on them.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, November 22, 2013

week 47

This week we also got a foreign visitor to tell us about herself and her country. This young woman, Esther, comes from Spain, and it was really interesting to hear her thoughts about many things. She said that it is fairly common in Spain these days that young (well-educated) people go abroad to seek for employment or participate in different projects because there are no jobs available in Spain. Esther herself has been abroad twice and is now going to go back home within a few weeks, hoping that she will find work in Madrid and be able to stay there permanently.

That got me thinking that actually it takes a huge amount of courage to leave for a new country all by yourself. Of course, when you're young, you usually want to experience new things and see new opportunities as an adventure, but still I think it's admirable to have the courage to do this.

I myself have been abroad but not actually lived anywhere besides Finland. Still, I have an idea of what it feels like to jump into the unknown. When me and my husband (then fiancé) were young, he got a new job from a city we had never even been to, let alone had any connections to. When we moved, we literally had to read a map to be able to find our way anywhere -or back home. First it seemed exciting; it was just the two of us in compeletely new surroundings. After a while, though, the feelings of isolation and alienation began to grow, and the new home town didn't feel so alluring anymore. The different phases of a phenomenon called "a culture shock" can be very strong, and naturally they are more difficult to bear if you have to go through them alone. In my case I had my fiancé to keep me company, to ease my feelings of loneliness, and help me read the map!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Week 46; a visitor from Poland!

This week we got a visitor from Poland to tell us about herself and her country to the people in my discussion groups. We got a lot of information on Poland and its people, Polish customs and holidays, and different places of interest.

Our guest, Maria, also told us about an ongoing campaign to promote Poland, which is called Come and complain. The idea behind this campaign is to tell (foreign) people about Poland and remarkable Polish people in a new way. This campaign doesn't emphasize how beautiful the country is or how many prominent scientists, composers, engineers, directors etc. the country has produced. On the contrary, the campaign focuses on something Polish people are apparently very good at: complaining. If they introduce for instance Marie Curie and say that the was the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize, and that she actually won two of them (in physics and chemistry!), they immediately complain about  it saying: what, only two? The same style goes on and on complaining about beautiful buildings, famous people, natural sites and all sorts of things. Naturally, you might argue that using this kind of inside joke as a marketing gimmick might be dangerous since not everyone understands jokes the same way, but in my opinion this campaign is a refreshing idea! Actually, I think that also us Finns use a lot of self-irony and we find it hard to praise ourselves, so at least I understood the jokes in the examples Maria showed us, and I thought they were hilariously funny! In fact, I went on Facebook today and found this campaign there as well, and of course I pressed the I like -button quite a few times!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Week 45; do's and don'ts

This time we discussed cultural differences and thought about possible instructions of do's and don'ts for people who come to Finland.

Quite obviously, we came up with some instructions concerning going to the sauna, because this phenomenon is so intrisically Finnish. First: yes, you do have to take your clothes off when you go to the sauna, and second: yes, you do go to the sauna with other people. I can imagine this seeming very weird and distressing for many people, and to be quite honest, not even all Finns like to go to the sauna with strangers or people outside the immediate family.

Other things that came to mind were for example the fact that -unfortunately- Finns don't use words like 'sorry' or 'thank you' very much, and we don't even have an equivalent for the word 'please' in the Finnish language! The fact that we don't use these words much doesn't mean that we intend to sound rude or angry; it's just not something that we do. It's exactly the same with the unwritten rule of not talking to anyone on a bus, on a train, in a lift or in any other public place for that matter. Again; we don't intend to seem withdrawn or misanthropic, it's just our way of showing that we respect privacy, ours and others'.

Finns are sometimes said to be selfish in traffic and we are accused of not taking others into account. It might be useful to know that even if Finns stop at red lights even when there's nobody coming, we don't necessarily give way to pedestrians who attempt to cross a street.

One thing we Finns cannot stand is bragging. One should be aware that quite many things can be interpreted as bragging, such as talking about your salary, buing a new car, wearing nice clothes, building a summer cottage and talking about it (it's okay to have a summer cottage as long as you don't mention it to anyone), travelling abroad more than once in ten years, telling the neighbour how well your kids are doing, telling others how you like your new haircut, telling how good pancakes you made yesterday and so forth and so forth. Since almost anything can be perceived as bragging, it's best not to say much about yourself, and make sure you don't stand out in any way. Modesty is the best policy, that's our motto!

To sum up; you will get along with Finns as long as you don't brag, don't talk to us, take your clothes off and come to the sauna with us. Don't expect us to say please or thanks or sorry, and we'll get on just fine!

PS. I am from the province of Savonia in Finland, and it is said that we Savonians have a spesific sense of humour. We love irony, and we also apply self-irony whenever possible. Thus, when you read this text, please take into consideration that I might not be 100 % serious about my discription of us Finns...

Friday, November 01, 2013

Week 44; Halloween

During this week it's time to say goodbye to October and welcome November, which also means that it is time for Halloween. 

The concept of Halloween has been brought to Finland from the USA, and it has become quite common in the recent years that shops also in our country sell different kinds of scary costumes, jack-o'-lanterns and basically all types of Halloween knick-knacks in October. Not very long ago it was customary that around this time of year shops were filled with candles and different types of heathers to be taken to the graves of our departed loved ones, because that has been the Finnish way of spending our Pyhäinpäivä.

My son -turning nine next month- went to a birthday/ Halloween party of a friend last week. He was extremely enthusiastic about the whole thing, and dressing up in his scary costume was a huge deal for him. There were about a dozen other enthusiasts already at the party when we arrived, and I must say that the mother of the birthday boy had really made an effort! There were Halloween -decorations everywhere, and she had even (on top of everything else) baked and decorated a cake that looked like a cemetary! Later that evening I asked my son what the gravestones had tasted like, but he said that he hadn't tasted them; he'd been too busy with gummy worms and other icky stuff! The best things in the party according to him were of course friends and their horrid costumes, fake spiderwebbs and sticky fake slime!

I must admit that I've liked our Pyhäinpäivä and the idea of remembering the dead in a quiet and respectful way, and I've thought that Halloween doesn't suit our culture. Now that I've seen how much fun Halloween -parties can be like, I've started to think that maybe it's not such a bad idea after all: to have fun in a funny way in order to lift your spirits during the darkest autumn. So, who knows if I'll even arrange a Halloween party myself next year!