Not riding rabbits in Finland

August 14, 2011 at 11:25 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

My first day in Helsinki, all I knew were two words of Finnish. One was kiitos, thank you, and the other is apparently the most offensive word in the language. That first day, I was so jetlagged that each time I bought a coffee, I was afraid I would get the two mixed up and inadvertently call the barista a particular part of the female anatomy.

Thanks to my fascination with inappropriate phrasebook sentences, I’d also researched ‘This gentleman will pay for everything’, Tämä herrasmies maksaa kaiken, but so far haven’t managed to work it into a conversation.

I love Scandinavia. I adore the isolation up here, the weather, but most of all the languages. When I stopped someone to ask for directions to Kaartinkaupunki, I wanted to hug them for allowing me to even say the word in the first place. But unlike the other Scandinavian languages, Finnish is not Germanic – it’s a beautiful, complicated, quirky tongue whose closest relative is its cousin Hungarian, and even they haven’t spoken in years.

Quirky is an apt word. I did some youtubing (apparently it’s a verb now) before I left Australia and blinked at the rather bizarre results; Finnish hockey mafia. Charlie’s Angels speaking Finnish. Weird Finnish guy freaks out while eating liquorice. Jabba the Hut speaks Finnish.

Then there’s the loveliest idiom about not being in a hurry, Ei olla jäniksen selässä, literally ‘not to be riding a rabbit.’ Add to that the fact that the World Wife Carrying Championships, the International Phone Throwing Competition, and the World Air Guitar Championships are held here, and really, how could you not want to visit?

I’m drinking it all in, walking kilometres each day and relishing the fact the Finnish drink more coffee per capita than any other nation. From the huge flea market down by Uudenmarkt where I bought a Russian punk T-shirt and befriended a mute blues musician, to the cowboy pub on Manneheimintie where I ate smoked reindeer washed down with cloudberry liqueur, surrounded by tractors, to the boats down by the harbour loaded with crates of fresh fruit for sale, where I saw a Finn in hotpants literally skiing down the street…every day gifts you with stories, if you know where to look.

And I do, believe me.


My only regret is that in all my research, I failed to notice that I missed Helsinki Rockabilly Week by one day.

Now that would have been something…all that Finnish gingham!



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If you need to hug reindeer…

March 1, 2011 at 11:25 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

I collect phrasebooks.

I also collect red shoes, snake tattoos, and musician ex-boyfriends, but that’s a whole different story.

Matt Burke Photography

I was fifteen when I found a 1967 edition of ‘Teach Yourself Norwegian’ in a secondhand bookstore. Always drawn to the exotic words of snowy lands, I taught myself how to order black coffee, croon endearments to reindeer, and ask for a lift to Sweden.

Then, on page 147, the author was apparently compelled to teach me ‘You will be shot at dawn.’

Hmm, curious.

A few pages further, it read ‘If you continue, I will shriek loudly!’ (Varer det stort lenger, skriker jeg høyt!), and the enigmatic  ‘The first thing I saw was a pig’ (Det første jeg så, var en gris).

Really, what kind of holidays did they have in the sixties?!

All it took for a word wench like myself was that one intriguing spark, and my collection began to grow. I can’t pass a secondhand bookstore without scanning its shelves for more quirky old phrasebooks and their gems, and now I have the joys of the internet as well, I doubt I’ll stop anytime soon.

How could I resist, with treasures such as these?

* I don’t mind watching, but I’d rather not join in (No me importa mirar, pero prefiero no participar) – Spanish

* My hedgehog is not stupid! (Min igelkott är inte dum!) – Swedish

* Je suis desolé de vous quitter, mais je dois acheter un chapeau (I am sorry I have to leave you, but I must buy a hat) – French

* Oho! Tota noin … Eihän se vaa ollu’ sun ajokoira? (I’m awfully sorry … was that your hound?) – Finnish

* Nár fhág sé a chlaíomh ar an mbord? (Didn’t he leave his sword on the table?) – Irish

While it’s entirely possible I spend far too much time diving into dictionaries and chuckling at the sheer magic of words, who hasn’t been in a situation where you’ve looked around and thought, damn, wish I knew how to say I want to hug that squirrel in Esperanto? And because of course you now need to know, it’s Mi volas brakumi tium sciuron.

But my absolute favourite has to go to those glorious Germans, who thoughtfully provided us with this priceless line:

* I am not a conference delegate, nevertheless I would like a penguin (Ich bin kein Mitglied dieser Konferenz, dennoch möchte Ich einen Pinguin).

If you’re anything like me, I bet you’re dying to work that into a conversation.

For more delights like this, try out and http://www.omniglot.language.

 And if you ever get to use them in a real life travel context, by all means, let me know!

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