Wednesday, July 27, 2005


I have often wondered in the recent past, how come the bollywood bigshots, who spare no country in search of locations and shoot in locations like Amsterdam and Switzerland, have not exploited Finland and it's untouched, pristine beauty so far. I was not surprised when I read that some filmmakers are indeed planning to shoot over here.

YLE TV reports - A leading Indian director, Samir Karnik, is currently in Finland hunting for locations for new film productions. The Finnish Tourist Board hopes Bollywood enthusiasm for Finland might lead to a tourist boom.

And the Finns are actually considering it a shot in the arm for Finnish tourism! Read more here.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Lingual Tangle

In Finland there are two official languages and no, English is not one of them. These are Finnish and Swedish. Finnish, supposedly, is derived from English, German and Swedish. (Now I wish I had taken at least some German classes before coming here). At some point of time in history, Swedish used to be the official language here. Now, Finland is a bilingual country where 6 % of the population are Swedish speaking. Swedish lessons are still compulsory in comprehensive schools. English, however, has become a "second mother tongue" for young people. Most (not all) people here can speak English though a lot of them have to think and speak slowly, processing it in their mind perhaps. Anyway this is much better than Japan where well educated people can not even speak English for their business needs. The chances of getting any kind of language help (in Japan) in a public place are really bleak. Your best bet would be a good practice of dumb charades*#. As far as written language is concerned, at least one can *read* the script of Finnish/Swedish and try to say something when referring to a place or anything else. Japanese renders one totally helpless.

Thanks to the Swedish speaking population, Finland's connections to Sweden and other Nordic countries are close. Swedish TV and other programs in Swedish are broadcasted out here. Sweden has Finnish as its minority official language.

People like us are faced with the bilingual situation in Helsinki when it comes to street signs and advertisements. We did not know earlier that everything was written once in Finnish and then in Swedish. So what was really two names of the same thing, was thought by us to be a two word name of something. Leppavara Alberga wasn't really a long name of the district where my office is. Rather Leppavara is the Finnish name and Alberga, the Swedish one. At times the Swedish names seem to be quite similar to the Finnish ones, at least phonetically for eg. Espoo is Esbo in Swedish. Now that we know everything has two names of the same place, we might get confused easily when there are two words for a single thing.

Most products here in the convenience stores have markings in Finnish and Swedish. If not these two, then an additional one would be in German (or maybe any other Nordic language). If you are really in luck, you might find some products with ingredients/contents marked in English as well, but that's something very rare. Even products from India do not have their contents in English. It's my hunch that some words in Finnish are also derived from Hindi. For eg. Pineapple is ananas! and Moong dal is Mung/Moong! Or maybe these products were 'brought' from India to begin with and hence the names stuck. Some words in Finnish are quite easy intuitively but one can't always rely on the assumption that they mean what they seem to mean. For eg. maisi is maize, paprika is obviously pepper, kakku is cake. But porkanna is not pork but carrot! And appelsini is not apple but orange! (this is the most common assumption most desi's make - urs truly not included). Apple is instead omena. For survival, we have tried to learn the words for chicken, egg, pork, beef, ham, duck etc so that we can at least make out some contents.

Finnish (and other nordic languages) has more vowels than English. These are ä, ö and y (apart from a, e, i, o, u) which are counterparts of a, o, u. I have already mentioned the usage of 'j' in Finnish. 'y' is also not pronounced as 'y' as in year but rather with a 'u' sound. So Yksi (means one) is pronounced as 'ooksi' and not 'eeksi' or 'yikesi' (cutesie equivalents of eeks and yikes). Out here ppl say 'Yau' (Yes), which is somewhere in the middle of Ya (yes) and Yo ('cool' way of saying yes). There are (a lot of) words differing only in the length of a sound and incorrect length can easily confuse anyone here. Like the Japanese, Finnish are also quite sing-song when it comes to talking but less than the Japanese anyway. Voice modulation keeps changing a whole lot. The 'r's are rrrrrrolled off their tongue and the 't's are much much softer than normal 't'. It's more dental (sound is made by the tongue touching the teeth) rather than the usual 't'. The Japanese way of speaking is very squeaky and nasal. They like to mull over a word (and in that process stretch it a whole lot and make it sing song too) or say it very quickly (rapid fire). Either of the two can happen. The Finnish, don't stretch their words as long. When they get stuck (during translation to English that happens), they repeat the syllable again and again (the-the-the-the-the), whereas the Japanese, stretch it and make it sing song (thhhhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeee). The Finnish are also very fond of saying 'Aha-aa' and with modulation that could varyingly make it sound like a surprise, a realisation, a magic trick or whatever. 'Ok' is said with a whole lot of force into the 'kay'. It makes one feel as if one is watching theatre. They also say 'buh-bye' or 'bye-bye' instead of 'Bye'. It's not considered childish or anything. Everyone says it and so do I.

I think my English is going to be "t'ot'ally" distorted by the time I get back.

* - acting out words without speaking
# - I searched for a suitable hyperlink for 'dumb charades' and one of the sites churned out is of my employer, where they write about the cultural events!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Nuuksio National park

On midsummer's eve, I went out just exploring the city and some of its islands. The next day (the actual midsummer day), I went to Nuuksio National park which has a range of activities for all. This is the park where you can supposedly spot the flying squirrel though we didn't see any since it comes out at twilight. This park is really amazing. Not only is it like a forest, it has well marked trails which you can trek on and mini lakes within it. It also has some campfire sites and cooking shelters. The cooking shelters have the provision of grills. There are huts which contain wood, which you can chop further to break down into smaller chunks. Then you light this wood and use the provided grill for your cooking. We were carrying our lunch with us which we heated on the grill. Unfortunately for us, it started raining the moment we got to the park. So trekking went for a toss and we quickly settled in a cooking shelter to escape the rain and the sudden cold which resulted. It was great fun heating our food on the grill. We were not aware of exactly what cooking facilities we would be getting in the park otherwise we would have carried sausages, potatoes, cheese and other stuff to be grilled as well. We made up with just heating our 'rajma-chawal' but even they were heavenly. It was almost like "daal bukhaara" or something. Because of the rains, there were more people in the cooking shelter than it could accomodate. There was a pair of guys, who were going on making tea (the delicious smell wafted towards us quite often) again and again throughout the day. We really felt like trading some rajma-chaawal for tea. We decided that next time we would come prepared with everything and have tea and pakoras. I tried grilling a marshmallow (richie-rich style). As I suspected, it shrunk in mass the instant it was kept close to fire. Ultimately it tasted like cotton candy that we get back home. I prefer the spungy marshmallows. We did heat up some tortillas on the grill and they were just lovely. After gluttonizing all day, we set back for Helsinki. The rains had stopped by this time. The natural beauty here is amazing. Even the weeds have pretty and colorful flowers. There are a lot of wild larkspurs growing around this place. They bring a lot of colour to the panorama. One thing that one instantly notices here are the nature sounds, that go with the place. Incessant twittering and cooing of birds, a whole lot of insects buzzing and at places, water slowly making its way - all soothe and calm you.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Midsummer eve

The 24th June was midsummer eve this year. This is a festival associated with the summer solstice. Midsummer is thought to be a very favourable time to find a partner. In addition, many weddings take place at Midsummer. Most of the Midsummer "spells" (more of a pagan ritual) have to do with seeing your future husband's face. According to one of the spells, you were supposed to pick nine different flowers and to put them under your pillow and in this manner you would see him in your dreams. Tradition also has it that females wanting to see their future partners should go naked to a well and peer into the water to see the face of their future partner in the reflection. Needless to say, this would attract a lot of men around the spot and obviously these encounters might result in alliances for some. Shakespeare captured this night of supernatural wonder in his play "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" when humans and other-world fairies mingled on a night when love and mischief was definitely in the air.

In today's day, the midusmmer festival is celebrated by 'raising the pole' or by burning a bonfire (much like lohri back home - Only this is done in daytime). (The picture is courtesy Wikipedia). During Midsummer Eve, i.e. the night before the longest day of the year, people light these huge bonfires to symbolize light triumphing over darkness, and life over death. It is also believed that they are driving out bad spirits by doing that. There is a lot of cultural stuff like folk dances, games, songs, fortune tellers etc at this event. The date is not fixed. The government decided that they would choose the closest friday to midsummer solstice as the midsummer eve. This way people get a long weekend. They also have a tradition of hoisting the finland flag (Almost every building has a pole for that) on this particular day. This is a much awaited event especially in Finland. Nature is one of the main elements of Midsummer. Practically everyone who has the chance will spend their few days off in the countryside. This is the time when people go out to their summer cottages and have a nice time just relaxing. The city wears a deserted look all of a sudden. This was one day when we noticed that only the 'foreigners' in Finland were left behind as they didn't go anywhere.

Midsummer is an ecclesiastical celebration, the celebration of the mid point of the summer and it has also been the National Flag Day ever since 1934. The funny thing is that all these are celebrated on the day before - Midsummer Eve is somehow more important than the actual Midsummer Day. This day has actually been a battle field for religion in Finland: it has been debated as to whether it is originally a pagan or Christian celebration. This is a popular day for getting married.

Midsummer is the time when you are allowed to go a little crazy. Some people do that by trying out the magic that their forefathers were so ready to believe in. Other people may try to achieve that same feeling with the help of alcohol and that causes trouble for the police and hospitals. One can see shards of broken bottles everywhere and people lying drunk on the streets.

Though I didn't go "out" anywhere and neither did I visit the Midsummer celebration in Seurasaari island here, I enjoyed my long weekend. On midsummer eve, the weather was absolutely great and I was walking on the streets till 1:30 am (something I have been doing quite often). The sky was a deep blue and was covered with clouds as seen in the pic I have clicked of the Esplanadé at that unearthly hour. The next post would be on what I did on the weekend.