Finland is just the kind of place where , after trudging around in the ice and snow , it’d be great to crash down on a comfy setee in a lovely warm colourful cafe , and have a nice cup of coffee, go out and walk around some more , have some icy adventures , then go to the next cafe for an irish moccachino, and so on , cafe hopping throughout the day. Unfortunately , these such places literally do not exist whatsoever in Oulu , and where they do they are so ludicrously exepensive that you simply can’t do this more than once a week as a special treat. Not as bad as Norway though , my mate told me the other day that when he went to Norway he paid 6€ for a cup of coffee in a petrol station.
I had imagined my experiences of Finnish culture and people to be sitting round a fire sharing reindeer kebabs with boisterous saami reindeer herders , sharing hearty arctic beers in wooden cups , being invited into igloos by friendly locals wanting to sell me cheap ,beautiful handicrafts , fishing for the mighty arctic pike with frosty bearded wise old Finnish fishermen , spear fishing with indigenous tribesmen, dancing and singing to keep our hopes up in the long winter nights, festivals of light and celebration of the seasonally produce and a down to earth , rustic , jolly folk, eternally triumphing over hard conditions.Instead , its full of silent pale businessmen who shoot geese at the weekends and get horrendously drunk every friday night in true English fashion.Oulu would be glorious if it was a bit more magical- as it was when all the glowing paper figures were set up on one of the islands , as a snowy , glowing beautifull menagerie. For three days , then never again. Going from the crisp white snow into a beautiful art glallery or interesting cafe or restauraunt full of vibrant colours and happy , friendly people is sadly lacking in Oulu , and sounds to me like a prettty damn good idea.The closest you can get is a €1 coffee in Mcdoanlds , otherwise , you have to walk around then go home to your dingy apartment.
I have also come to the conclusion that Oulu is a pretty special place, especially to spend a year on Erasmus. I don’t think I’ve been before to any place that feels less touched by culture- the skyline is as square as a game of Tetris, the wooden buildings are nice but still, functional and plain. Whilst steaming in the sauna the other day , me and my roommate realized that really , the culture of Oulu that we experience can be defined briefly as… having saunas…hearing the Finnish language…and some small foodstuffs you occasionally see in the supermarket. If anything, the lack of culture is the culture. The really tiny minority of Finnish people that talk to you , and that is basically no-one, and the fact that really no student speaks enough Finnish to talk Finnish , means that Erasmus is for all intents and purposes a separate entity to the city of Oulu , a seedy foreign underclass riding around on broken bicycles, whilst the Finns drive to university every day.Finnish architecture- a few lutheran churches and some big bridges. This separation makes Oulu feel more like an arctic research station than a university, with the divide between the foreigners and the Finns pretty wide.
The beauty of Oulu is definitely in the nature, the snow, the temperature, the lack of light in the winter and the endless light in the summer. And the feelings you can feel when you go to these places and ride across the sea on your bike. If anything the separation between Finland and Erasmus heightens this, you can really feel like adventurers in a foreign land for the whole year, exploring a strange and hostile physical and cultural environment. That’s not to say the Finns are unkind or unfriendly, anything but, but it’s just the Finnish dislike for talking and eye-contact is easily misconstrued as unfriendliness. You get the feeling this is a local city, for local people. The people of Oulu seem to suffer Oulu, rather than celebrate it. You won’t find many tourists in Oulu, that’s for sure. This is the real, no frills, no façade Finland experience- put on your snow boots, do what you have to do, get home and eat your pea soup before it freezes into a green frisbee. There’s not many signs in English, and there’ll be nobody to welcome you at the airport, just wait for the bus- 9 euros, one way. For those who want a high quality of life and for no-one to bother them , Finland is paradise.
After sharing my opinions on Finnish culture with my contemporaries , they remarked that the lack of showing off , vibrancy and passion was not a lack of love or happiness or energy in the Finn’s ,but instead a sign of deep inner peace , almost like Zen, ‘being at one with nature’ , and having risen above the need for the daily use of conversation or emotion. This made me rethink my opinions of Oulu culture- are a group of ‘friends’ powerwalking in silence across the city cold and inhibited or satisfied and content ,with friendship so deep that it is truly beyond expression? I guess thats for you to decide. As I will soon meet my culturally adopted Kummi family that are welcoming me into their home to share finnish culture and food with me , I predict a strong change in the opinion wind , which by my complaining about this awe inspiring country , no doubt may be strongly needed.
Also , after writing this blog essentialy complaining about this stunning country , I realised that maybe this was the three hours of sunlight per day talking. In many things here it is not so much more expensive than england , and maybe I should start spending some money and enjoying myself instead of fantasising about being on a beach in Andalucia.So yesterday , I had a ridiculously hot sauna then ran around in my pants in the snow , today I will buy some finnish squeaky cheese, tomorrow I go ice hole swimming again , I will go and play in the snow also today , and soon me and the french guys are planning to cycle across the sea a few kilometres to the nearest island , for a bit of a laugh. Also , tried ice skating last night , and its still bloody difficult.Also , the whole country has a traditional soup made out of pork fat and peas , served in schools , universities and the military every thursday , which is actually really quite nice. And as I said to my friends- anytime in our lives we can go to a hot , cultural, sunny , party place- you can get a return ticket from London to Barcelona for about £40 if you play your cards right. But this is a real chance to see something different, unique and incredible , something that most people never get the chance to see.
For photographic evidence that Finland is a fun place to be, look no further than here.