Life in the Cold
Thursday, 4 December 2008
A training gig in Helsinki means an early start for Christmas celebrations this year since everything is covered in snow. My Finnish guides help brighten up my brief, yet adventurous, 4-day visit with their cultural commentary.
‘There’s no specific Finnish word for “please”.’ It seems that it’s implied in the structure of what you say and how you say it. ‘That’s why Americans think we’re rude,’ exclaims one Finn.
‘The Finns advocate and live by the principle of Work-Life balance.’ Many of the people I meet seem to work at a sustainable pace. It’s remarkable how some folks respond to fewer daylight hours by making the most of their dark afternoons and evenings.
‘The Finns work hard.’ I’m told it’s a matter of pride that many people here work hard. No Finn wants to be regarded as a lay-about. If this is true, then it’s a good example of what Dubner and Levitt describe in Freakonomics as a social incentive that influences human behaviour (the other two being financial and moral incentives).
‘The Finns are straight talkers.’ They tell you what’s what, no messing about. It requires some serious listening – whether you want to hear it or not. In return, they really listen to what you have to say.
‘Helsinki’s a pleasant place to work.’ Most of the non-native Finns I meet tell a similar story of how they ended up in Helsinki by chance. ‘I came here as a student and have stayed on ever since!’ beam a number of Finns.
‘The Finns are a friendly bunch once they get to know you.’ I wonder if it’s because good company helps keep the winter blues at bay. That and Lapland being less than 100 kilometres away.
The Finns seem to talk more about the weather than even the Brits. I feel right at home as folks spend their lunchtime commiserating one another on the rain and long for a winter with snow to brighten the long darkness.
Most people I meet from around the world wish they worked in a flat structure at work. One Finn insists his boss isn’t just the bloke who sits next to him, but also a good friend. ‘What happens when you make a mistake?’ I ask. ‘He tells me and we work it out,’ he nods, smiling.
The Gift of Giving
During my expedition in search of Christmas presents, I stumble across an unusual sight: the Free Hugs campaign at the main train station. ‘If I give you a hug, may I take your picture? It’s for my blog,’ I explain. Distracted by the phenomenon, I mistake their offer as a commodity instead of a gift.
Nonetheless, I give and get a hug. What a great idea.
‘We’re part of a global movement to increase happiness in the world,’ says one of the young women as a matter-of-fact.
‘Do you come across strangers you would rather not hug?’ I ask.
‘Yes!’ replies the shorter of the two gifthuggers.
‘But we hug them anyway!’ insists the taller one.
Now that’s dedication.