Tag Archives: culture

Tips to Mr Putin and Mr Trump for interacting with the local tribe in Helsinki, Finland

2018-07-15

Presidents Trump and Putin are due for a tête-à-tête in Helsinki on 16 July, 2018, a summit in which national security issues and alleged Russian interference in the US elections of 2016 are likely to be hot topics. The two leaders have missed me by a year. I was in the Finnish capital in the summer of 2017 – not to mention the previous autumn – as part of the journey which has resulted in my newly published ebook, The Honest Tribe: Travels in Finland.

Esplanade Park in summer. Helsinki, Finland. Esplanade Park in Helsinki, Finland.

Too bad, gentlemen. Our paths are not to cross, and I know you’re cursing your luck. During my time in Finland I picked up more than a few snippets of information on the Finns and their metropolis, and we could have lounged in a Helsinki bar, drinks in hand, while I filled you in on a few points that even your advisors might know little of. Following that, I would have shown you something of the city.

Had we met for a drink in Helsinki, I trust Mr Trump, with his vast personal wealth, would have stood me a beer or two. My teacher’s salary doesn’t extend to prolonged stays in Finnish bars, and, with measly quantities of beer on sale for the best part of ten euros a time, many Finns also feel the pecuniary pain of alcohol consumption, not least in the pricy pubs of the capital.

According to some, this is a historically rooted ploy on the part of the Finnish establishment and designed to keep the country’s working class sober enough for their labours. With his Soviet past, Mr Putin might be inclined to agree. Had we drunk together in Helsinki, he might have refused Finnish beer on the grounds of its (supposed) exploitative, capitalist associations. Or that may have been an excuse to partake of vodka, a drink much loved in his home country.

Helsinki’s cafés and restaurants have offered me similar insights into Finnish life. Mr Trump is no doubt accustomed to high levels of customer care in American eateries – ‘Hi, my name’s Jenny and I’ll be your server today’ – and is likely to encounter similar standards in their Finnish equivalents, though with one notable exception. It was in a café on Suomenlinna, the island off Helsinki’s coastline, that I was told by the girl at the counter to fill my cup myself. She indicated cups, tea bags and an urn of hot water behind me.

‘Beware Finland’s DIY cafés,’ I might have warned my presidential companions as we staggered away from our Helsinki bar in search of a cappuccino or an Earl Grey. Mr Trump would have been appalled, even incredulous, and might have dismissed my caveat as fake news. Mr Putin may have been equally disbelieving, but I could have convinced him with a tall tale. ‘It’s for the protection of Finnish citizens. So a Russian agent can’t slip poison into their drink. Remember Alexander Litvinenko?’
Suomenlinna fortress, Helsinki. Suomenlinna fortress, Helsinki.

Fortified with beer, and tea or coffee, Donald, Vladimir and I might have perambulated around Helsinki, in search of a little culture. The city’s famed Lutheran cathedral would have been a must-see, and, once we’d negotiated a route through the groups of young people who perpetually congregate on its steps, we’d have found ourselves within its calming but plain interior.

The plainness might not have suited Mr Putin, more accustomed as he is to the ornate and gilded interiors of Russian Orthodox churches. Silvio Berlusconi, the notorious Italian politician, once commented of an eighteenth-century wooden Finnish church he’d been shown that in his own country it would have been bulldozed. So it is with the Latins and Slavs, who revel in the decorative and effusive.

No so the Finns. In the early stages of The Honest Tribe I comment that my assessment of Finland could be summed up in the words ‘clean, unfancy and efficient’. And those attributes are fine with me, as, I suspect, they are with Mr Trump. Indeed the American president has Lutheran roots on his father’s side of the family, so he might have felt at home in Helsinki Cathedral. He’d have nodded with approval, I’m sure, as I indicated its statue of the redoubtable Martin Luther. Mr Putin might have grown bored and impatient, seeing his surroundings as dourly Protestant. But Donald and I wouldn’t have minded – as long as Vladimir didn’t phone for a bulldozer.

‘Don’t mention the war!’ John Cleese famously enjoined in an episode of Fawlty Towers, the popular British comedy series of the 1970s. Finns, however, are inclined to refer to the conflicts of the twentieth century all too often, at least for the sensibilities of Russians, who received the run-around from militarily slick Finnish forces in the short-lived Winter War of 1939-40. Finns take pride in the sacrifices their people made in the 1940s and some see the period as being fundamental to the formation of the modern Finnish national character.

As Stalin received a bloody nose at the hands of Finnish forces, it might have been politic for me to steer both Vladimir and Donald away from the Helsinki museum devoted to the life of Carl Gustav Mannerheim, the Finns’ celebrated military leader of the war years. Both Trump and Putin are not slow to voice their opinions, and a visit to the Mannerheim Museum might have riled the latter, and even led to a stirring-up of old Cold War enmities between the pair.

So perhaps we’d have simply strolled the streets of Helsinki, or spent time shopping or eating salmon dishes at the shoreline market place. Given the innumerable visitors that congregate there both presidents might have expressed a fear of pickpockets. I could have countered their concerns with a mention of the Reader’s Digest experiment of a few years ago in which the magazine’s staff planted ‘lost’ wallets around cities worldwide to see how many might be returned to their ‘owners’. Helsinki came out top of the honesty stakes.

All this, of course, is a ‘might have been’. My time in Finland predated theirs by twelve months, and Presidents Trump and Putin missed out on spending time with me in Helsinki. But gentlemen, don’t despair. The Honest Tribe: Travels in Finland is available now, so reach for your wallets. If you’re in Finland, at your summit, as you read this, they’re likely to be safe and sound in your pockets.

This guest post was written by Max Boyle.

book cover image: The Honest Tribe by Max Boyle

Everything you need to know about the Honest Tribe that quietly minds its own business in Scandinavia

2018-07-10

The Honest Tribe refers to people of Finland in Max Boyle’s travel book that explores the culture of this Nordic nation. The author visited a number of cities and villages in different parts of the scarcely populated country, crossed lakes, and tasted the local beer. What was it that made an Englishman travel to Finland multiple times and what happened when he interviewed local people? Here is what the author Max Boyle told us.

What made you pursue the deep mysteries of the Finnish culture?

book cover image: The Honest Tribe by Max Boyle
My mother was Estonian, one of the ten per cent of the population who fled the country when, near the end of the war, it became apparent it would fall into Soviet hands. Through her, and my travels in Estonia, I became interested in Estonian national character – supposedly very quiet and insular – and wrote a travel literature book, The Indrawn Heart: An Estonian Journey, which incorporated an enquiry into how Estonians think and behave.

This task done, I began looking for another writing project. It seemed logical to turn to the Estonians’ neighbours and cultural cousins, the Finns. A reading of Richard D. Lewis’s Finland, Cultural Lone Wolf cemented the idea in my head and, in the autumn of 2016, I took off for the first leg of my Finnish journey.

What techniques or tools did you use during your field research?

When I travelled in Finland I had with me a photocopied page from Lewis’s book which presented alleged Finnish characteristics – sisu (the Finns’ famed never-give-up attitude), modesty, honesty, and so forth – in diagram form. I used this as a prompt to get my interviewees to offer views on Finnish national character. As far as possible I simply invited comments, though, without using leading questions, I would guide respondents towards specific attributes on Lewis’s diagram if they were struggling for something to say. This is especially true of Lewis’s ‘ultra-honesty’ verdict on Finns, and his attendant sobriquet ‘the honest tribe’, which I chose as my book’s title.

Was there a place or an episode during your travels that left a permanent trace on your mind?

During my final couple of days in Finland I was relaxing at an outdoor table of a Helsinki bar. I was joined by a young Finnish couple, who kindly bought me a drink, a cognac-vodka mix. ‘During the war there was a shortage of cognac,’ the gentleman commented. It was merely an aside, but it astonished me that a Finn of no more than thirty could refer to World War II with a degree of familiarity that suggested the conflict was within living memory for him. A preoccupation with the war, and the sacrifices it entailed for Finns, had also come through during an interview I’d conducted with a young woman in the town of Joensuu a week or two earlier.
You’d never find this in my country. For young Britons, the Second World War is as remote as the Middle Ages.

What is your key advice to travelers who arrive in Finland, and may occasionally find it difficult to understand local customs?

If Finns you encounter occasionally seem distant or stand-offish, don’t misconstrue this as unfriendliness or hostility. Finland is a ‘mind-your-own-business’ culture, and leaving you to get on with your own affairs is seen as courteous and considerate. Should you ask for help, however, you’ll find Finns more than obliging. This is especially true of those employed in service industries, where Finnish pride in doing your job to the best of your ability means the assistance you need will be readily forthcoming, and often with a smile and not a little charm.

Can you name five travel books that you would recommend to other travelers?

Colin Thubron’s Among The Russians is a long-standing favourite of mine. This 1980s journey around the USSR (and among many of its peoples, not solely Russians) is now a historical document of sorts, and a sobering reminder of this repressive state. The book’s chief merit, however, is its eloquence. Thubron’s writing has a poetic touch. Some find his style too wordy, but there’s barely another travel writer who could emulate it.

Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is also a joy to read. This account of his journey through Spain shortly before the country’s civil war is remarkable for being written from the perspective of the author as a callow youth who knew nothing of the land in which he was travelling. You’ll find no background or historical information on Spain in its pages, yet the book has long been a travel literature classic.

The Great American Bus Ride by Irma Kurtz is similarly unorthodox in that the book is devoted to the experience of riding Greyhound buses around the country, rather than any exploration of the USA per se. With many writers, such a book would become tedious and repetitive, but not with Kurtz, who holds the reader’s attention throughout the 314 pages.

Another engaging American journey is Jim Keeble’s Independence Day. The author’s travels are prompted by his being rejected in a love affair, but the book has a light and entertaining feel. I enjoy the way it reveals how travelling, and the change of environment and new stimuli it provides, can act as an antidote to one’s troubles and cares.

Tony Hawks’s Round Ireland With A Fridge is as unpretentious as the title suggests, and relates the tale of the author accomplishing the said feat in order to win a bet. It’s a daft yarn, and purports to be nothing more, and there’s nothing wrong with that. A fun read.

More information and sample chapters from the book can be viewed here. book cover image: The Honest Tribe by Max Boyle

The new library in Tianjin, China is simply amazing

2017-11-18

Public buildings, and in our era, especially libraries often have a significant role in positioning a community or an entire nation to the world. Looking at the images of the recently opened (October 2017) library in the city of Tianjin in China, the wow-effect is instant. The new library is simply something you can’t take your eyes off of.

Tianjin Binhai library designed by Dutch architects MVRDV
Tianjin is a metropolis on the coast about 100 km from Beijing. Dutch architect firm MVRDV designed the amazing library in cooperation with Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute (TUPDI). The new library has 1.2 million books on its shelves, ready to be loaned. The size of the building is 33,700 m2.

The architects of MVRDV describe the building as a cultural centre with a spherical auditorium. The bookcases that cascade from floor to ceiling make it an educational centre, and also social space.

The five-level building also has educational facilities along the edges of the interior and accessible through the main atrium space. Subterranean service spaces, book storage, and a large archive are working spaces for the employees. Reading areas for children and the elderly, and the auditorium are on the ground floor. The first and second floors consist primarily of reading rooms, books and lounge areas. Upper floors have meeting rooms, offices, computer and audio rooms and two rooftop patios.

The building project was completed in three years, which can be regarded as some kind of miracle for such a complex building. The fast construction schedule came with some sacrifices, though. For instance, the bookshelves located high up in the library don’t have books, but plates that look like books. The reason for this is that there wasn’t time to build public access to the bookshelves at the top.

View the video of the library filmed by New China TV:

Looking at the images of the Tianjin Binhai library also makes one think. What is the meaning of the new library? Perhaps one of its missions is to tell us that today, China is one of the most powerful nations in the world that has the wealth and the will to show that the society values education, culture and books.

The following photos by MVRDV.

Tianjin Binhai library in China, designed by MVRDV

Tianjin Binhai library in China, designed by MVRDV

Tianjin Binhai library in China, designed by MVRDV

Tianjin Binhai library in China, designed by MVRDV

What is the Finnish way of doing things? American author reveals it all in the 6th edition of his book about Finland

2017-02-10

Author, journalist Russell Snyder moved to Finland from California in 1982. He has spent over 30 years exploring and enjoying the Nordic country. He has traveled far and wide searching for experiences, but has uncovered many cultural treasures right in Helsinki where he has mostly lived. “Finland is both a great place to visit and to live. The longer you stay here, the more you become hooked on the Finnish way of doing things.”
cover image of book: The Lighter Side of Finland 6th Ed
Here is what the author had to say about the new edition of his book about Finland.

You have just launched the 6th edition of The Lighter Side of Finland. When was the first one published?

The first edition was published 22 years ago. It reflected Finland as it was back then. However, Finland is constantly changing and redefining itself, so the book has been updated and revised to reflect those changes.

Why have you picked this year to publish this new edition?

Finland is celebration its 100-year anniversary of becoming an independent nation, so I wanted to celebrate the occasion with this book.

You use a lot of humor in your writing.

I believe humor is the best way to encourage people to keep reading. And if people are entertained and get a few laughs, they may even remember something.

What have been your favorite experiences in Finland?

Sledding on a hill with my kids. Walking around in a forest in Lapland during the autumn to experience the fantastic colors. Fishing on the Ruunaa River and smoking the freshly caught trout on a campfire. Dancing on a Saturday night in a small village and meeting new friends. Trying out the magnificent smoke saunas the Sauna Society. And many more.

You have also written Analysis of the Finnish Tango and I, Helsinki. Any plans to write another book?

I hope to write a book about Estonia soon.

sauna etiquette in Finland
The book covers the basics of sauna etiquette as well as many other unique Finnish customs.

Spaghetti and Sauna is a survival guide to Europe’s vastly different cultures: Italy and Finland

2016-03-28

Finns are from Neptune and Italians from Mercury – that is what someone moving from Italy to Finland (or vice versa) might think. The differences in culture, behavior and socializing – not to mention weather and food are so great that it can drive a normal, healthy person to believe that the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy correctly defined the meaning of life.
sample page from book Spaghetti and Sauna
Fortunately, everyone who is planning to move to Europe – particularly to Finland or Italy – can now read a book that tells everything about the most common pitfalls that a traveler, student or an expatriate may encounter in a new environment.

Irene De Benedictis moved from Rome to Pori, a relatively small town in Finland to study and work. She survived. Even though it didn’t go as smoothly as she would have liked, the best thing is that she wrote a book Spaghetti & Sauna about her culture shock and how she learned to cope with the Scandinavian weather, food, and people.

Spaghetti and Sauna tells an entertaining and educating story that is worth a read for everyone who is interested in the cultures and customs of South and North Europe. If you don’t know what a personal bubble, sauna evening, umbrella ride or onion-style fashion is, you better read the book.

book cover image: Spaghetti and Sauna
More about the book Spaghetti & Sauna – Discovering the Rational Finnish Culture through the Eyes of an Emotional Italian here.

Research: Literacy culture is critical to the success of individuals and nations

2016-03-13

For more than 40 years, John W. Miller at Central Connecticut State University has analyzed the reasons and consequences for literacy and illiteracy from the society’s point of view. When he decided to analyze all the countries of the world, the result was a ranking for the World’s Most Literate Nations. Nordic countries top the list.
Apple iPad, ebook, eyeglasses, books,
Top 10 literate countries in the world are:

1. Finland
2. Norway
3. Iceland
4. Denmark
5. Sweden
6. Switzerland
7. United States
8. Germany
9. Latvia
10. Netherlands

The research didn’t measure the usual yardstick – percentage how many citizens in each country are literate, but literate behaviors and supporting resources in each country. The criteria for the analysis were:

– Number of libraries and their book selection.
– Number of newspapers, their circulation and online availability.
– Education system resources.
– Education system results, especially concerning literacy.
– Number of computers at homes (not tablets or smartphones, but only computers).

Miller intended to analyze data on 200 countries, but was able to collect reliable data from 61 countries. He concludes the importance of literary culture: “The factors we examine present a complex and nuanced portrait of a nation’s cultural vitality. And what the rankings strongly suggest and world literacy demonstrates is that these kinds of literate behaviors are critical to the success of individuals and nations in the knowledge-based economies that define our global future.”

It is quite remarkable how European countries, especially Northern European nations, hold top positions in the ranking for the most literate nations.

The report World’s Most Literate Nations by Connecticut State University is available here.

Via Takepart.

Accidental cultural conflicts are often excused for tourists, but in some countries, serious consequences await

2015-10-19

Experiencing and learning about foreign cultures is one of the best things when traveling overseas. The further away from home you travel, the more you should pay attention to getting familiar with cultural issues and local habits in the destination. Often, accidental poor behavior is forgiven to tourists because everyone understands that it is impossible for foreigners to know all local habits. There can be, however, serious consequences if you happen to break a local law that you would never believe is a crime.

Home exchange service Love Home Swap has created an infographic that explains a few good-to-know and especially, must-know cultural items from popular travel destinations across the world.

cultural risks, love home swap infographic

Thailand was mentioned in the infographic, but there are many more pieces of cultural knowledge travelers should be aware of. For instance, what is the real reason behind the famous Thai smile? The Best of Pattaya, Thailand and the Essentials of Thai Culture has the answer.

A few countries that are not mentioned in the infographic at all are Finland and Mongolia. Stories about working and traveling in Mongolia give valuable insight on the culture of this exotic country. Two guidebooks: The Lighter Side of Finland and Analysis of the Finnish Tango explain the cool Nordic culture of Finland.

Google Field Trip App Guides You to Sights and European Cultural Treasures

2015-03-29

Your smartphone knows where you are, because its GPS receiver can calculate your location. Now that your phone knows exactly in which street corner you are standing, it could tell you something about nearby places and sights as well. That’s exactly what Google Field Trip application does.

google field trip application

The Field Trip is available for iOS (iPhone, iPad), Android (for instance, Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola) and Google Glass devices. The app is free, but you will have to give all your personal information from your phone and location information to Google (you won’t notice it, but the app asks for permission for it and then does it in the background).

There are two ways to use the Field Trip app:
1. Let the app determine your location and provide you with information cards about nearby places and sights. Obviously, this is a handy feature when you are standing in a street corner of a strange city and have no idea what to do next.
2. Search a specific place, and let Field Trip tell you what type of sights exists there. A useful feature if you are pondering if, for instance, Grasse in Southern France is a town worth visiting (it definitely is).

The Field Trip app has been around for a while already, but recently an interesting development was announced. Europeana, the digital archive of Europe’s cultural heritage, provides information on Europe’s cultural destinations directly to the Field Trip application. The first step was to add cultural information from Sweden (view a travel guide here), Poland and Estonia to the app.

google field trip europeana

Europeana writes: “Three Europeana partners – the Swedish National Heritage Board, the National Heritage Board of Estonia and the National Heritage Board of Poland – joined the pilot to share their curated and enriched collections. Their datasets are now available in the app history feed and guide tourists to beautiful and prominent historical buildings and monuments in Estonia, Poland and Sweden. Europeana is seeking co-operation with other European cultural institutions. More information here.

Finns can tango, but why do they do it? Book reveals the secrets of Finnish life

2014-03-01

Finns seem to be so enthusiastic about tango that they annually crown a new tango king and queen. Is there a secret of Finnish life that others don’t know about?

The best person to analyze it is naturally someone who isn’t a Finn, but knows them thoroughly. Russell Snyder, an author and journalist, has published a book titled Analysis of the Finnish Tango that kindly reveals the secrets of the nation, its culture and unique habits of people.

Download ebook: Analysis of the Finnish Tango

Analysis Of The Finnish Tango is a collection of flash fiction works and poems dealing with Finland, its society and its culture. These texts are not meant to be an accurate representation of the Finnish population. They are simply the author’s personal glimpses of people’s behavior, conversations around a dinner table, discussions in the sauna, chats in pubs, communications at the workplace and personal associations with Finns at large.

Interview: How to survive in Finland as an American author ?

2013-04-02

31 years ago, Russell Snyder moved to Finland from California. He makes his living writing and giving lectures in this remote Nordic country, and claims he enjoys it here – well most of the time, anyway. Find out what he has to say about his style of writing, and the country where he has had some many experiences (fortunately, mainly positive ones).

Russell Snyder

You are known for your entertaining non-fiction books such as “The Lighter Side of Finland.” How did you find your style of writing?

I try to use engaging and humorous texts whenever possible. People are bombarded with too much information these days; to get their attention you have to stand out from the crowd.

However, in many of my writing assignments, one can’t use humor. So I strive to make texts clear and concise.

What else have you written?

I’ve done lots of articles and columns on everything from culture and travel to business and technology.

My previous book, Finland – It Works, is very different from The Lighter Side of Finland. It’s an extremely positive coffee table book that focuses on the Finnish brand. I have also written a range of guidebooks, gift books, and textbooks.

What are your favorite non-fiction books?

There are so many. I enjoy Dave Barry’s humor books, Bill Bryson’s travel books, biographies and autobiographies if they are well written. And I read a lot of positive thinking books to inspire and motivate me.

You are currently using an Amazon Kindle e-book reader. Was it difficult getting used to this device?

Not at all. I use it while waiting in line, take it with me when traveling, and read in bed before going to sleep. It’s terrific having a book store that’s open 24 hours a day.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’d like to write more about Helsinki and some other cities in Finland. Shorts stories interest me as well as flash fiction and poetry.

What are your favorite things to do in Finland?

Swimming in a lake after a sauna, skiing on a well maintained track at my own pace, and attending as many Christmas parties as possible. And there are many more. Have you got any suggestions?