Mitä olen oppinut Suomessa … what I learn in Finland

I’m in Finland for two weeks, from May 31 to June 13.

And it’s not my first time in this Arctic country, located around the top of the world from northern Canada: when I was young I lived there and learned the language, which I talked about in an earlier “date.”

But here’s what I have learned so far during this trip — which I didn’t really expect to learn:

After years working as a broadcaster and journalist, I finally understand something I’ve been told, retold and then retold to others — that if you are writing a story about an issue, make it a story about people.

How do I finally really understand why this is so important?

Well, my reading skills in Finnish are at about a Grade Six level, so suddenly I’m in the situation of a person with low literacy.

But when I’m in Finland, I still try to practice reading.

A selection of magazines that can be borrowed from a library in Finland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

A selection of magazines that can be borrowed from a library in Finland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Here’s the kind of stories I read at first:

• a 22-year-old Finnish man is killed in Goa, India under mysterious circumstances;

• a couple’s premature baby struggles to survive;

• a woman who is overweight becomes a chaplain and then discovers she’s gay;

• Finnish celebrities, whose names mean nothing to me, talk about their divorces, affairs, tattoos, etc.; and,

• people who own and renovate a typical Finnish “mökki” or cottage show what they did.

Why do I read these? Because people-oriented stories are easier to read and far more interesting than others.

As my reading skills improve, I start to read stories about politics (Russia’s close presence makes Finns very nervous) and climate change (a journalist from the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper goes to California, where he finds a Finnish woman who talks about the state’s water crisis.)

If you want to buy Karelian patties, here's the place: but it still helps to know what the Finnish says. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

If you want to buy Karelian patties, here’s the place: but it still helps to know what the Finnish says. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

In the Nunatsiaq News, people stories also prove to be more popular — for readers, whose first language is often not English.

But we also have to encourage people to improve their reading skills, like me, so they’ll dare to read a story about something else, such as climate change, or even international politics.

Here’s what else I learn:

My brain keeps a lot of Finnish somewhere on its back-burner — but using the language and immersing myself in it is the key to bringing this out.

When I get on the airplane to go to Helsinki, I hear people speaking Finnish and the language sounds so strange, like Klingon almost… and yet, somehow, I understand it. But can I speak it after a year?

I don’t even ask the flight attendants for drinks in Finnish.

On Day One, I wish I’d brought a Finnish-English dictionary along as I stumble over the simplest explanations; by Day Two, I am able to baby-talk Finnish.

Someone asks me for directions on Day Three and I can answer. although I don’t know where they should go.

It's easy to stay up late when the sun doesn't set. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

It’s easy to stay up late when the sun doesn’t set. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

By Day Four I stay up with friends, until the sun is almost at the horizon (and ready to rise again.) I’m talking and making jokes in Finnish, with half-remembered  verbs somehow appearing again — verbs like cut down, suggest, disappear or suffer.

I also relearn, among many other words, the following: dandelion, rainbow, otter, design, crow, insurance, wheelbarrow and pine cone.

On Day Five I still look for right endings when faced with saying things like “in the house of my friend’s brother”  — ystäväni veljen talossa. Television, where everyone speaks fast, starts to make more sense, and I start to read magazine and newspapers more easily.

I talk to myself in Finnish sometimes and random words pop into my brain. Finnish now longer feels strange but more like the rushing water of a brook that I usually think about when I’m listening to Finnish or speaking it.

I wish I had more than two weeks here — what would that do for my language skills? I wish I had that same fluency in Inuktitut, which I’ve spent more than 20 years trying to learn. And I wish there were easy-to-read celebrity magazines in Inuktitut and more things that I would want to read — in Roman orthography.

Mint, lime, cucumber drink is a find from a Finnish magazine. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORE)

Mint, lime, cucumber drink is a find from a Finnish magazine. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

My best find from a Finnish magazine: a recipe for a cucumber-lime-mint drink.

Here’s how to make it:

Cut up four limes into circles and mash them in a bowl.

Add a bunch of fresh mint and continue to mash it up.

Press out the juice through a sieve. Put the juice in with a chopped up cucumber (English) into a blender.

The result is very green.

Kippis (cheers)

3 thoughts on “Mitä olen oppinut Suomessa … what I learn in Finland

  1. Wonderful post. My wife is yet today learning or keeping her German level by ordering one magazine from German to our home. Do You have possibilities to watch Finnish TV from your home? Nowadays it is possible.

    Welcome to see my blog and at same time to learn what to see and where to visit in Finland.

    Have a wonderful day!


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