Kaurismäki in your knickers: a guide to Finland – Part I
Let’s be honest: what is the first thing that comes to your mind thinking about Finland?
You possibly think of extremely cold winter days all year long. You may have heard about its high suicide rate. And maybe coincidentally about the common public drunkenness.
I have a love-hate-relationship towards Finland. I’ve been there a couple of times during an internship for a Finnish company. In the end it didn’t work out that well so take everything I say about the country with a grain of salt. I’ve been with the German subsidiary back in the ‘00 years right before the dot-com bust. Though the time between boom and bust seemed more like an instant. The company had their IPO and sent their Chief Financial Officer to Germany to tell the permanent employees that they will get a few shares in the company. The ball-and-chains du jour. Solemnly without a trace of self-mockery he declared: “Our shares are now at €3.5. But according to some very conservative estimates they should be at €55 by the end of the year”. Everyone in the room (except me) was like “Yeah, I’m gonna be rich. I’m gonna make 250 bucks!”. Two weeks later the CFO held most of his meetings from a prison in Tampere. Something about insider trading, tampering and fraud. Dunno, it was a strange world back then – my job was to look pretty at the copier. A fortnight later I brought my boss to a smile for the first time. He was a Finnish-German hybrid (talk about ‘worst of both worlds’), very down-to-earth and below. I handed him my resignation.
But enough whining and wallowing in self-pity in hindsight it was quite fun actually. Not the days in Finland but definitely the nights. As far as I’m concerned Finns are some hellish Jekyll and Hyde types. Hard working and even more so in the hard drinking department. The last few days I tried to do a tour through my memory – reliving my stays in Finland by drinking the glorious Vodkas I had back then.
The first time I was sent there on an emergency mission taking some important documents with me (the interwebs were slow in those days, remember the dreaded 1MBit leased lines?). It was on such a short notice they had to book me on a business class seat, great! Into thin air with Finnair. Sitting next to me was a Finn who struggled to fit his derriere into the seat but who was obviously used to the glamour and allure of business class travel. His gaze constantly switching between my cleavage and a glass of Vodka. So not be an ungrateful guest I had a couple of shots myself.
It’s interesting how different the Finlandia Vodka tastes mid-flight from back on the ground. It is produced from barley and glacier water.Though it is now available in a wide range of flavours I had it in its pure form back then. And so now as well. I’d say it is not something special – more of a good everyday Vodka. If you’re after something that won’t give you hideous hangover or that can be used in a classic cocktail go for it. But don’t expect to indulge yourself in a hunt for subtle flavours. It’s straight with a couple of rough edges – not as smooth at it could be but good value for the money.
I try to forget about the following days – it’s the Jekyll-thing. If sober a Finn tends to be very straight forward and seem to be taxed by words spoken per day. I’m not sure if I was the reason. Maybe I chuckled a bit too much every time a guy spoke to me with his rather cute accent. At least the blokes I met had a rather high-pitched voice with a tongue seemingly glued to either side of their cheeks. But at night Hyde creeps out of his disguise. That’s a good thing. In terms of brightness there’s not much difference between night and day – but the people change dramatically.
Once they get a sniff of Vodka they turn into cheerful and affable boys and girls. Guys who seemed to have a taken a vow of silence turn into fantastic and poetic storytellers. Still not easy to understand (despite their immaculate English) but you have to bear in mind that it could be a language thing. They have 16 grammatical cases. Yep, 16. And they don’t refrain from using umlauts in just about every second character. Käytätkö tätä hökkeliä talona? You call that shack a house? Yes, you have to have your important phrases ready. No wonder you have to get drunk to speak it – then it sounds like a rough drive on a pothole riddled street through a beautiful winter valley.
Okay, I digress. An absolute “must-visit” is Helsinki’s Kafe Moskova. It was founded by the brothers Kaurismäki, the great Finnish film directors. Maybe you’ve seen Aki Kaurismäki’s “The Match Factory Girl”? If you want to impress a girl on a first date (and get in her knickers) try showing off with your well-founded knowledge of Finnish cinematography. It’ll really stir up a girl’s helper syndrome. “What a deep, troubled mind!”, she thinks gripping her chest in bitter sweet agony. The Kaurismäkis first had a very successful Corona bar, always full, always noisy. So what do you do as a self-respecting, broody film director? Of course you open up a Soviet style vodka palace right next to it. To clear out the room at closing time they play Brezhnev speeches: “Modern production sets rapidly rising demands not only on machines, on technology, but also and primarily on the workers, on those who create these machines and control this technology. For ever larger segments of workers specialised knowledge and a high degree of professional training, man’s general cultural standard, are becoming an obligatory condition of successful work.” Yeah! And that’s not even in Russian. Definitely bad times back then but Soviet art makes for great decorations nowadays.
Of course they have a wide range of wonderful and multifaceted Vodkas, a cornucopia of crystal clear goodness. “Kipiss” as they say unceremoniously. Speaking about clarity and pureness: have a Salmiakki Koskenkorva or Salmiakkikoss in short. It’s a Finnish Koskenkorva vodka or brännvin mixed with salty liquorice. It’s a black, sharp, salty shot of winter wonderland. Definitely not a good choice in summer but something to get you heated up on a snowy evening. Fun fact: the liquoricey taste of the liqueur will stay for a couple of hours. So don’t worry you have thrown out your toothpaste in a drunken bout.
I think we’ll wrap it up for today. In the coming days I’ll dig a bit deeper into the strange and wondrous world of Finnish Vodka, saunas and Nordic pick up lines. Stay tuned!