Embracing local language, food and traditions in Finland

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Paul Richardson

by Paul Richardson (VIMS technician)

Language and Culture
Before arriving, I didn’t realize that 75% of the people here speak Swedish and not Finnish.  I’ve heard it can be a problem for kids who don’t learn Finnish when they go to find work in the city.  One thing that is lucky for me is that most everyone speaks English. However, I usually have to warn people or they will assume that I speak Swedish. Apparently my Scandinavian heritage lets me blend in well here in Finland. Anyhow, I’m learning a few basic phrases and I even conducted an entire transaction at the grocery store the other day without speaking any English! Gå Svenska! (Go Swedish!)

A common language – food

Smoked fish, Finnish style

Smoked fish on the grill

After a hard day of fieldwork, Paul relaxes by cooking a delicious meal with the graduate students working on the ZEN project in Finland

Homemade ice cream with berries, chocolate and basil

I’ve been able to practice my Swedish and Finnish both when visiting the home of the Boströms, my wonderful hosts here in Finland. Three times now the Boström’s have invited me to their lovely country home for some of the most amazing meals!  The first one involved a “pastry” with chanterelles.  I would equate it to a much enhanced quiche.  It was amazing. I should also mention that they always also have an amazing assortment of cheeses, meats, olives and crackers as hour’s devours regardless of the main course.  Talk about host hospitality!

Then the other night, in a pure Norwegian tradition, we smoked some perch and white fish in the most amazing way.  Chris has a smoking box that he put aspen wood chips and sugar cubes into the bottom of. I brought some gutted and salted fishes that we put into the box on a grate over the wood chips. Then Chris put juniper sprigs on top.  Then he put the smoking box onto a wood fire for about 40 minutes.  The result was amazing.  You then take a fish and break it in half, revealing the entire skeleton which is then easily removed.  With it they served a crunchy brown bread that we put butter, the fish and then sprigs of dill onto.  This was served with beer and Norwegian anise liquor that was simply to die for.  I had visions of Vikings as these delicacies melted in my mouth on their lovely patio.

After every meal, the Boström’s always have some wonderful dessert.  With the fish it was a humungous and delicious blueberry pie a la mode, and after the chanterelle pastry it was just the ice cream but it had Finnish chocolate shavings and they made on the spot a sweet sauce with fresh raspberries, blueberries, and (I never would have guessed it) basil!  Oh my goodness!  I never realized before coming to Finland what wonderful culinary treats I would be in for.

Embracing local traditions – the polar bear plunge

Paul’s face right after he came up from his first “polar bear” style plunge into the frigid Baltic Sea without a wetsuit!

One Saturday while on a nice bicycle that Minna and Christoffer’s friend loaned to me, I got a flat tire about 10 km from my home base at the lab in Korpoström.  I walked back and so I was pretty tired and ready for a beverage when I quickly checked my email first.  Out of the blue Christoffer had emailed me to tell me that my trip to Finland would not be complete without doing two things: first, jump into the Baltic (without a wetsuit) and next go sit in a sauna, with a few beverages in between. It was such a niec day I thought, what the heck!  I did 4 cycles of this.  I think they call it a polar bear plunge or something like that back home. Wow, 16oC water will really remind you that you’re alive!  I won’t say it was nice, but it certainly was invigorating!  Marie later told me that many of the locals do it in the dead of winter by cutting a hole in the ice.  I think I might be a little too wimpy for that. But, give me a drysuit and some mesograzers to catch and I’m your man.

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