I’m done rooting for soccer teams

I just can’t do it anymore. This world cup has been awful as far as the teams I’m rooting for are concerned. First, Germany got knocked out in the group level games. They played so miserably I began to wonder if their water had been switched out with vodka, a cruel prank by their Russian hosts. Awful, all around.

Then, Mexico got knocked out. I started rooting for them after they beat Germany soundly and I figured since Mexico had never won a world cup, this could be their year! Since their celebration after their win against Germany registered on the Richtor scale, imagine what the celebration after winning the entire cup would do (world jump day, anyone?) And then they went ahead and got knocked out.

Indefatigable, I switched to Uruguay. Uruguay has also never won a world cup and they’re notable for having a team of unusual skill given their country’s size and economic development. So why not Uruguay? I was a late, but unenthusiastic supporter of Team Uruguay. And now I just watched them get trounced by France. Freaking France. Ugh! I’m so annoyed. I feel sorry for their goalie, who just barely let a score in and looked like he was going to cry afterwards. I also feel sorry for the six year old fan, shown on the German broadcast of the game crying in the stadium. Poor kid. Losing sucks! I also feel sorry for the Uruguayan player whose head slightly hit the free kick ball and knocked it more towards his own goal. Whoops.

Who am I going to root for at this point? I feel like I can’t adopt anymore national loyalties. I mean, I already spoke German so that was easy. I’m pretty good at Spanish, so no problem.

I’m going to support Belgium (aka, France, Jr. or the Netherlands’ Little Brother) in the game against Brazil later on. And Croatia (one of the Little Slavs) against Russia (Big Slav).

I hope to god not all of them lose.

Speaking of losing, Finland apparently has one of the best national soccer teams that has never made it to the World Cup. My husband wants nothing more than to see Finland qualify for the World Cup. They don’t even have to win a game as far as he’s concerned; it’d be enough for them to make it into any group. Beating Sweden would be a plus, though. I told him he could start training them up when we move to Finland. It could be like a sappy underdog movie: He, down on his luck, returns to his home country to help train the perennially down on their luck Finnish National Soccer team. After making several obvious changes (no ice skates on while playing soccer, save the drinking for after the game) and a few not so obvious ones (aim for the other team’s goal and and have some freaking self-esteem), he coaches them to get into the group rounds of the world cup!

At that point they get knocked out (this would be a Finnish movie, not a Hollywood one, so we have to keep things realistic), but they’re fine with that.

Barring this film being made, I would settle for a new world cup tradition: The Drunk World Cup: rematches of all the games, but with all the players being slight inebriated.

Finland kind of started this in 1912 in the Olympics where their team came in fourth. They would have done better, but no one told them exactly when their game was. So they went out drinking the night before and played the next day either still slightly drunk or extraordinarily hung over. Since they came in fourth, it doesn’t appear to have hurt them too much. But then again, in the Edwardian era, it seems that most sports were played after having a few tipples and were probably more entertaining for it.


Achtung, Baby Review

American moves abroad and raises children has become a genre unto itself nowadays. This is unfortunate because it means that by the time I get around to moving abroad, the market will already be saturated. I read Bringing Up Bebe when it came out in 2011 (it was instrumental in encouraging me to give up attachment parenting) and now I read Achtung, Baby, about an American woman who spent about 5 years living in Berlin.

As soon as I heard about the book, I bought it. I’ve observed a lot o German parenting and wanted to see others’ observations. What I didn’t expect was for the book to leave me feeling pretty depressed.

The fact that Americans are a bit….intense (other words: dedicated, single-minded, hovering, helicoptering, etc) when it comes to their parenting isn’t new. Lenore Skenazy has been writing about it since I became a parent. But few are the authors who spell it out quite as clearly as Sara Zaske: Americans are very controlling of their children. Even when trying to be permissive parents, we manage to do so in an authoritarian way. Our children are supervised pretty much all day long. They move from highly supervised classrooms with little time for free play to highly structured and supervised after-school activities and then head home to be supervised by their parents. In a country where people think kids shouldn’t play in their own front yard until they’re 13, don’t expect to see a lot of kids playing in their neighborhoods or with neighbor kids.

I’ve known this, but I’ve never heard it spelled out as being controlling and authoritarian. And it has me wondering how on earth we can expect children who have never been allowed to be free to grow up and respect the concept of freedom and participate in maintaining a liberal democracy.

Part of my goal with homeschooling was to give my children more freedom than they would have at school. More free time, more time to explore their own interests, more time to play outside and less supervision. But I can only do this sort of thing at home. Outside the house, they are subject to the prevalent cultural norms. No, they can’t go to the park by themselves because I don’t want the cops called on me or CPS. No, they can’t run into the shop and grab some milk or me run into the shop while they wait outside. And I have had the cops called on me for leaving my kids in the car when I ran into pick up a fast food order I’d already placed, so it’s not like this is an exaggeration. I came out with the food to see an angry man standing outside my car yelling into his phone. I spoke in German to my kids to make sure they were okay and he yelled at me to “Go home.” I did just that (though he was probably not referring to my house) and the cops came by to do a welfare check on the kids (I suppose to make sure I didn’t have them locked in the car still?).

Reading her book and seeing it jive with what I’ve witnessed in Germany made me feel a deep sadness. Granted, German norms have changed over the years. When my host sister was little, she used to walk to school in first grade. Now they do it in second. But these feel like minor quibbles when you consider that American kids can’t even be trusted to walk to their houses from a school bus stop. Instead, the school bus stops five times in the space of a half-mile to deposits each dickes Quarkbällchen in front of their very own house. Even if they’re in high school.

Zaske also dedicates a portion of the book about Einschülung to the fact that homeschooling is illegal. Being a homeschooler, this is a major sticking point with me. While I can understand the arguments behind forbidding homeschooling and the fact that even children have the right to be away from their parents, I think it overlooks the fact that some children simply do not do well in a school environment. While Berliner parents may protest against things they dislike against their schools and advocate for change, they lack the most significant form of protest: the ability to vote with their feet. American parents have this ability and it’s one I’ve opted to take. I dislike the prevailing culture in American schools and I don’t want my kids to experience its negative aspects and lose their initiative and joy of learning. German parents who find themselves unable to affect change in their schools have very few options, aside from providing emotional support for their miserable children and assurance that it will end eventually. But that’s a sucky way to spend 12 years of your life.

Notably in this book, Zaske includes a chapter detailing their family’s adjustment after returning to the US from Germany. This helps give them perspective about the things they like in the US compared to Germany, but there really doesn’t seem to be a whole lot. Zaske seems determined to effect some sort of change in her California neighborhood, but quite frankly I’m not holding my breath. Compared to Bringing Up Bebe, she dedicates part of each chapter to suggestions on how Americans could change how things are done in the US to improve it or make it more like the Germans do. I can see this rubbing a lot of Americans the wrong way, especially if they’re convinced that the way Americans do things is just fine and they’re sick of being told they need to do things the way foreigners do. A certain segment of the American population shows a disturbing lack of curiosity about the outside world.

The book could have used a bit more editing. Zaske definitely suffered from a lack of German knowledge. She states her the bakers called her daughter “Prinzesschen” when she went to the bakery by herself for the first time and that means “little princess.” It doesn’t. As far as I can tell, it’s not even a word. But the word for princess is “Prinzessin,” so I”m guessing that’s what they said. It would be easy to mix up the two. I also hope to god she stopped yelling “Achtung!” at some point in time. No one says “Achtung.” If someone needs to watch out, you say “Pass auf!” Achtung is like “Attention!” in the military sense. Or in the “Achtung! Achtung! Hier spricht die Polizei!” (Attention! Attention! This is the police!). I feel acutely embarrassed thinking she ran around yelling Achtung for five years in Germany. It reminds me of how I thought the correct response to “Schön Tag noch” at shops was “Jedenfalls” (Cashier: Have a nice day. Me: In any case!) I misheard “ebenfalls” (you too). Cringe.

She gets bonus points from me for including a whole section on how much attachment parenting sucks. Granted, she doesn’t say it like that, but it does suck. It makes parents miserable and turns their children into clingy little parasites who will suck the life out of you if given the opportunity. I’m actually surprised to learn Dr. Sears’ Baby Book has been translated into German considering the fact it advocates mothers quitting their jobs and staying home with their children (NOT the fathers!), even to the point of going into debt and financial ruin. Because, as we all know, only mothers are able to bond with their children. Fathers can’t. Grandparents can’t. And trained Kita Erzieher certainly can’t. According to Sears’ beliefs, all of former East Germany should be a complete basket case full of sociopaths thanks to generations of damn near all kids being in daycare there. Wait! I may have found the origins of Pegida!

At any rate, this has me more determined to move to Finland and Germany in order to give my kids a real taste of freedom. I want them to be able to explore without being warned to be careful, or other parents giving me major side eye because I am not living up to cultural norms.

How to get by without a dryer

I don’t use a dryer. I have a dryer, but about 95% of the time it stands idle. I prefer to line dry my clothes. Whenever I tell people this, their reaction follows a predictable pattern. First surprise. “How can you do that with six people in the family? It’s so much laundry.” Next comes defensiveness. “Well, we could never do that. I don’t like the crunchy feel.” “It takes too much time.”  “It isn’t worth it.”

So I thought I’d take some time to explain how we make line drying work for us and why it’s completely awesome and you should do it, too.

First off, why should you line dry? Dryers are easy and convenient, it’s true. But they are also horrendously energy inefficient. So much so that the energy star program took one look at dryers and decided there wasn’t any point in trying to come up with an energy efficient standard. They use a lot of energy and there’s no getting around it. Even worse, you have to pay for this energy. So basically, you’re using a lot of energy and some money to accomplish something that will happen with just a bit of time and patience. Line drying is also more environmentally friendly. Looking to decrease your carbon footprint? Look into line drying. Additionally, your clothes will last longer if they don’t go in the dryer. All that lint in the lint catcher? That was part of your clothes.

So here are some tips on how to make line drying work for you.
1) Wear your clothes more than once.

When I was leafing through an IKEA catalog, I came across one of their “helpful tips.” They showed a chair with a pair of pants draped over it with the suggestion that customers do this to air out their clothes so they can wear them again the next day. I showed it to my husbands. “Americans will never go for this.”
“Why not?” he asked, puzzled.
“Because they don’t wear their clothes more then once. They wear them and they throw them in the laundry.”

“But that makes a lot of laundry!” he protested. “Why wash them when they’re basically still clean?”
Why indeed. But this is how Americans roll and this is why they have so much laundry. This is also what I used to do until I went to Germany for a year. After a few weeks with my host family, my host sister pulled me aside. “Stop putting your pants in the wash after wearing them once,” she told me. “My mom’s complaining that it makes too much laundry.” So I stopped. And I’ve stopped every since. In Germany, jeans can be worn until they’re actually physically dirty. Shirts as well, but it’s more common to switch those out daily.
Finns do this as well, but they take things a step further. They tend to wear junky clothes, like sweatshirts and t-shirts at home and change into ‘nicer’ clothes, like jeans or whatever, only when they go out. This keeps their nicer clothes clean longer, so they have even less to wash. Once my in-laws asked me to take a picture of their whole family together and I obliged. All of them are in sweatpants and t-shirts, except for my mother-in-law, who quickly changed into something nicer for the picture.
Since living with my husband, I’ve adopted his habit of wearing shitty clothes around the house and changing into nicer ones when I leave. My shitty clothes I can usually wear 2-3 days before they need washing. In the evenings, we hang them up on a chair to let them air out so we don’t smell horrible the next day. Most of our kids are too young to do this; their stuff gets dirty every day and we don’t try to arrange wardrobe changes when they leave the house. But Alpha is getting to the point where his pants can be worn more than one day at a time before they’re dirty, so we remind him to hang them up after he takes them off so he can wear them again.

2) Do your laundry in the evening or according to the weather.

In the winter, we use two drying racks we bought from IKEA to dry our clothes. These take up a lot of room, so in order to use them most efficiently, I wash the clothes in the evenings and Alpha and I hang them out before he goes to bed. By the time morning rolls around, most of the laundry is dry. After breakfast, I can take it off, fold it right on the racks and we put it away. No laundry baskets full of clean laundry waiting to be folded.
In the summer, things work a bit differently because I hang them on my rotary clothesline. I do one load of laundry before I go to bed. When I get up in the morning, I take it out, start the next one and hang them both up after breakfast. They usually dry within an hour.
In the summer, I also keep a close eye on the weather forecast so I can plan my laundry according to what the weather is going to do. I’ve noticed you need at least two of three factors in order for laundry to dry well outdoors:
1) Warmth. By which I mean 50F or above.
2) Wind.
3) Sun.
I consider 50F to be the minimum temperature for hanging clothes outside. While clothes do dry in freezing weather, I’ve never managed to make that happen before the sun goes down and once that happens, I no longer have two of the three. It’s also really hard to tell if clothes are dry when they’re cold. Rubbing them against your check helps.

3) Getting rid of that crunchy feeling.
This is probably the number one objection to line drying I hear. People just don’t like the fact that their clothes are stiff when they’re line dried. To that, all I can say is, “Kaikkeen tottuu, paitsi jääpuikkoon perseessä – se ehtii sulaa ennen.” You can get used to anything except for an icicle up your ass because it melts too quickly. In other words, you’ll get used to it. At this point, whenever I’ve worn clothes dried in the dryer I feel like they aren’t clean. Like I’ve pulled them out of someone else’s closet and they’ve already been worn.

 There are, however, some things you can do to minimize how stiff your line dried clothes feel.  A good rule of thumb is that the slower your clothes dry, the less stiff they’ll be. Shaking them out before hanging them up helps loosen the pile. It also makes them less wrinkled.

The last solution is the most labor intensive: iron your clothes. My host mother irons all of their clothes, even their socks and underwear. A bonus side effect is that their clothes are always very neat and nicely folded. But she used to get up at 5am to start ironing and would iron after dinner while watching TV. My host sister and I would pitch in as well. Germany is actually where I learned how to iron. At my house, we didn’t iron anything. If my dad needed to iron his dress clothes, he did it himself. But in Germany, ironing is common enough that my sociology teacher asked the class who did the ironing at their house and singled me out specifically. I stared at him blankly. “No one. We don’t iron.” He didn’t quite know how to respond to this, so he just moved right along. In Germany, however, I would go home after school and stand in my host sister’s room, ironing the clothes.

 My mother-in-law in Finland also irons everything. But she has an advantage over my host mother: she has a clothes press. You lay the clothes inside it, clothes it, and it irons them. It’s pretty nifty.
Using these methods, line drying is not only possible, it’s actually quite easy. It does take some time to adjust, so give it a try for about a month or so to see how you do. And let me know if you also make the switch from dryer usage to line drying.

Finished with Finnish? Considering Future Options, pt 3

So my in-laws have come out against us continuing trying to get our kids to speak Finnish. This is a surprising development because 1) They speak Finnish 2) They are Finnish 3) They’ve raised multilingual kids, so they’re familiar with the struggle.

But, in their opinion, Finnish is a pointless language. Nobody speaks it except for the five million people living in Finland. It would make much more sense, according to them, for us to just concentrate on German and English, both of which are much more important languages internationally.

Part of me feels like this is the Finnish low-self-esteem expressing itself again. Finns have a long ingrained sense of “our country will never be as important as all those countries around us.” Their culture? “We don’t have one. We took everything we have from the Swedes.” Their language? “It’s very hard to learn.” Their food? “It’s awful.” At the 100th Anniversary of Finland’s independence party we went to, everyone had to talk about what they liked about Finland. What followed were muttered responses about the nature and, uh, the education system while the uncomfortable reality of none of the people there actually living within the Finnish nature or its education system.

But Finns do admire the Germans. My husband told me this story about a consultant he met who was in Finland consulting to a Finnish firm. All the recommendations he would make, they would just ignore and tell him that those are American ideas and they would never work in Finland. Then the consultant found out that Finns really admire Germans. So when introducing changes, he would preface it with, “I know this German firm who does this.” And the Finns would nod and agree to the change because hey, those Germans! They know how to get shit done! When Finland won independence, they originally wanted to import a German nobleman to be their King. They didn’t though; they probably realized it’d be cheaper to just be a republic. A lot of Finns are still upset the Germans lost world war 2. I’m not joking, though I wish I were. Maybe they’re just even more upset that the Russians won.

So from that perspective, it’s not exactly surprising that my in-laws are more supportive of their grandkids learning German than Finnish. But they also point out that the kids’ German is so much better than their Finnish. And it is. At this point, they will have to learn Finnish as a second language because their knowledge of it is so poor it can’t counted as a first language anymore. A lot of this is due to my husband’s inconsistent teaching of Finnish. He speaks it to them, but not enough. He doesn’t sit down with them enough to really enforce it. And even worse, when they don’t understand something in Fnnish, he’s resorted to speaking to them in German to get his point across. He’s actually put forth the idea of dropping Finnish and just having both of us speak German to the kids, which is a horrible idea. His German is worse than mine and while I’m technically fluent in German, as the kids have grown I’ve found my German to simply not have the vocabulary necessary to keep up with them. I have to use English anyway for homeschooling, but even if it weren’t for that I would need to use English. This makes my husband very unhappy because if he can’t do Finnish, he’d at least like for them to learn German. So I have to keep reminding him that German isn’t my native language. And while it may hold a very solid place in my heart, my vocabulary is lacking. It is much, much harder for me to maintain speaking German with the kids than it is for him to do Finnish…simply because Finnish IS his native language. Even if the kids don’t understand it, if he would just keep up with it and take the effort to build up their vocabulary, they could learn Finnish.

So sure, we could drop Finnish if he really wants to, but absolutely under no circumstances do I want him to do German.

Whether his parents realize it or not, keeping Finnish has a lot of benefits, aside from the fact they’re Finnish citizens. Unlike German and English, Finnish is not a Germanic language. Its grammar is so wildly different, it really forces your brain to think in different ways and they would benefit from that alone.

So in the short-term, we’re keeping all three. My husband is putting forth more effort with Finnish and has actually sat down with them twice a week to do Finnish for the past two weeks and the kids have actually used Finnish in those times. We have some other plans afoot to increase their Finnish exposure (labeling things in Finnish, copying our Finnish language DVDs so they will work in our van). And we’re keeping a short-term stay in Finland in the cards because no matter what we do, the best way for to learn a language is to live.

Finished with Finnish? Considering Future Options Pt 2

(Find the first part here)
Our second option to improve the kids’ language ability would be to move. This is counterintuitive at first, so bare with me.

We have long planned on spending a year in Germany and Finland in order to improve the kids’ language abilities and their understanding of Finnish and German culture, though we alternate between staying half a year in one country and the other half in another or staying a year in each. But our discussion the other day opened up a few other options.
“Part of me is thinking,” my husband began, “that if Igot a job that required commuting into Boston every day of the week, we could enroll him at the German school and he’d go with me every day and I’d drop him off there.”

Boston German School is a school that offers bilingual instruction based on the state curriculum of Thuringia. High school students can take the Abitur and end up with both a German and Massachusetts high school diploma. It also costs $18,000 a year and, with sibling discounts, that means we could educate all of our children there for the low price of $60,000 a year!

I’m being sarcastic there.

“It’s too far to drive everyday,” I told my husband. “We’d have to sell this house and buy one closer to Boston.”

“We can do that!” he insisted.

I looked up real estate prices around the Boston area and, no surprise, they were high. Really high. “It would be cheaper to move to Germany than to move closer to Boston and send our kids to the German school there,” I argued.

“Well, we’re already planning on doing that for the year, right? Or do you mean long term?”

An important question and one whose answer varies based on my mood. On the whole, I like living in the US. I like living in New England, but when I look at the future of the US, I find myself less and less optimistic, especially when looking at the current administration. It just signed a tax bill into law that has a good chance of driving the federal government into bankruptcy by the next presidential election unless spending is drastically curbed (which it won’t be). The healthcare situation is getting worse and worse. Our employer provided plan’s costs are going up by 20% next year (that’s on the premiums we pay, not what our employer kicks in) and that’s a low number among people I know. And they still don’t cover my asthma medication, which costs me $300 out of pocket every month. The US is opting out of the Paris Climate Agreement (which, while I have problems with, overall I support its goal) and seems to be trying to move toward increasing our CO2 emissions more than decreasing it. So in the best case scenario, we can look forward to living in a country experiencing more adverse weather events, more flooding, extremely expensive healthcare and a bankrupt government that is still theoretically supposed to be taking care of all this stuff, but won’t be because it will be broke and no one is interested it a solution that would get the government out of these areas so we individuals can actually make shit work ourselves.

And I haven’t even mentioned the net neutrality repeal, so add shittier and more expensive internet to that too.

Looking at all these downsides to the US, I have to echo a lot of my friends when they read articles about how great Finland’s educational system is: “Why do you still live here?”

Why not move…in this case to Germany because my husband is very much against moving permanently back to Finland.
Germany is a lot like the US in a lot of ways. Its tax system is similar to the US in that the code is convoluted and there are a lot of deductions and you have to spend a lot of time filling out your tax returns (In Finland, the system is very simple. Take your money and give the government most, but not quite all, of it). The climate is comparable to New England, so nothing new there.
But there are a lot of positive changes we could gain by moving to Germany.

Take our carbon footprint, for example. In the US, our family of six creates 484 metric tons of CO2 in a year and most of that is due to transportation. Just by moving to Germany and changing nothing but our transportation from cars to public transportation, we would decrease our footprint to 132 metric tons. And that’s just switching from driving a large petrol car to public transport, not accounting to the fact that we would actually be walking and bike riding more.

While I dislike the fact they summarily shut down all of their nuclear power plants after the Fukushima disaster (because if there’s one thing Germany should be concerned about…it’s tsunamis caused by the large and devastating earthquakes that regularly occur there except they don’t and Germans are worried about that for essentially no reason) and replacing the missing power with coal of all things, I really like their whole Energiewende. I like their environmental action. While I used to loathe the Pfand (I have an entire page dedicated to hating it in my scrapbook from my year as an exchange student), now I think it’s swell. The fact they finally made it universal makes it that much better.

I like the fact corporations have so much less power in Germany. Here the government and corporations work together so much, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between them. I like the fact that their healthcare system is an actual system and functions fairly well –although the government finds itself insuring an every increasing proportion of society. My asthma medication and my husband’s diabetes medicine won’t  cost an arm and a leg there.

And obviously, the kids can learn German in Germany. They also have a ton of Finnish schools and we could live pretty close to one even without living in a major city, or at least as far away from one as we currently do. The difference is we could ride a train to get there instead of driving ourselves.

The downside, of course, is that homeschooling is illegal in Germany and my kids really like being homeschooled. Alpha has declared he never wants to go to school, but this isn’t really feasible anyway. And if we were to immigrate, we wouldn’t homeschool simply because other countries don’t have the highly developed homeschool networks the US has. Add to that the fact that their schools aren’t mired down by tons of standardized tests and extremely long school days and we’re actually fine with sending our kids to school in Germany.

We could even send them to private school. I looked at the International School of Hamburg and it’s 10,000 Euros a year with some additional fees and some sibling discounts…so it’s still cheaper than the German School of Boston. We could educate our kids for the much lower price of $40,000 a year! Huzzah! (Still being slight sarcastic there…).
Of course there are downsides. We’d have four kids in Germany, which is the equivalent of having 10 here. It’s a lot of kids. Housing is much smaller in Germany and the kids would have to share rooms. While getting by without a car would be easier, we would have a hard time having a car that would fit our entire family. Unlike Americans, Germans don’t buy minivans when they have 2 kids. They rarely buy minivans at all. Electricity is godawful expensive there (thanks to the Energiewende, which clearly has its downsides).

But it’s something to consider and for us to keep in mind when we do our short-term stay abroad to shore up the kids’ language abilities.

All of this may leave you wondering…what about Finnish? My husband doesn’t want to live in Finland permanently, but we would like to do a short-term, 6-month to a year stay there as well. It’s really important to me that they learn Finnish since they have Finnish passports. They are Finnish and it would be weird for them to be citizens of a country whose languages they can’t speak. It’s even more important to me that they get to know their family members there. I really want them to have relationships with their grandparents because I never had that as a kid. My grandparents were either dead or horrible people and put no effort into being better grandparents than they were parents. This isn’t true of my in-laws. They’re good people. And they constantly make us jealous by spending tons of time at my husband’s sister’s house, helping out with their kids. Ahhhh how much more relaxing would our life be in someways if we had family a bit closer?

But they’ve advised us to to forget learning Finnish and concentrate on German, which brings me to part 3: dropping Finnish.

Happy 100th, Finland

Today is the 100th anniversary of Finnish Independence. Truth be told, if I hadn’t met my husband, I wouldn’t care much about it. But I did and as such, Finland has become my second adopted homeland.

What do I like about Finland? Let me count the ways:

  1. The kebab. Okay yes, it’s a bit silly to include something that isn’t strictly Finnish on this list, but the kebab in Finland is unique. Germany has it’s Döner kebab and Finland has its rullakebab:
    My husband recently told me that the EU Food administration is trying to ban kebab in Europe because it has too much salt for it. If there ever were a reason to stand up for your national sovereignty, this would be it. SAVE THE KEBAB!
  2. The bike lanes. Finns love to moan and bitch about their bike lanes, especially when I talk about how awesome they are. Maybe they just haven’t experienced the average American bike lane:


This is horrible. Sorry, but painting a bike in the middle of a car lane does not make it a “bike lane.” I’m sure no car will hit a bike every, at all. Finnish bike lanes, on the other hand:


Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t it SAFE? Maybe what Finns mean is that there simply isn’t enough of them and I would agree with that. But they are a million times better than American “bike lanes.”

3. Moomin. Everyone loves moomin. When Gamma started going to preschool, his Japanese teacher asked me where I was getting his moomin clothes because she remembered watching Moomin on TV every Monday night at 5pm. She was surprised to learn that Moomin was Finnish, although the animation was done in Japan. A little girl heard our discussion and told me that her Grandma gave her moomin stuff, too, from Poland where her grandma was from. Moomin: uniting the world around strange, vaguely hippo-like creatures.


4. Their traditional foods. Generally speaking, traditional Finnish food is pretty bad, which is what makes it so great. Finns love sharing it with unsuspecting foreigners, maybe so they can a) laugh at the foreigners b) pat themselves on their backs for their higher levels of sisu and c) cry silently to themselves over the fact Finland isn’t located in a warmer climate so they, too, could be renowned for their cuisine. When France’s president talked about how horrible Finnish food is, the Finns were rightfully offened and Koti Pizza released a pizza featuring three native Finnish ingredients: Reindeer meat, blue cheese and mushrooms. Where else can you get reindeer meet on pizza?

Mustamakkara. I’ve eaten it. It’s good.

5. Their berries. Finnish berries are everywhere…in Finland. I’ve never had cloudberries outside of Finland, but they’re ubiquitous there. I always have to bring home some sort of Finnish berry jam or berry flavoring when I go there. My husband loves to talk about how he suffered through rounds of berry picking at their summer cottage as a child.


6. Mökki. Ah the aforementioned summer cottage…where urbanized Finns leave their cities to remember a simpler time, way back in the 1930s when they didn’t all live in cities, have running water and electricity. When a proper sauna was a smoke sauna with a lake not too far away to jump in. Where berries and mushrooms could (or had to be) foraged for food, accompanied by makkara and whatever’s planted in the garden.

Not my in-laws’ mökki.

7. Äitiyspakkaus. The box that every pregnant Finnish woman gets for her baby, containing (almost) everything the baby will need for its first year. I wanted one of these so bad, I really wanted to have at least one baby in Finland. The clothes are so darn stinking cute and serve as a kind of uniform by which you can tell what year someone’s kid was born (at least until they grow out of it.

Had Omega been born in Finland, I would have received exactly the clothes you see here.

8. The silence. Americans are loud and boisterous, and this can wear down the more introverted among us. The Finns, on the other hand, are “ein Volk, das in zwei Sprachen schweigt,” (a people who are silent in two languages) according to Bertholt Brecht. It’s almost like taking off an extroverted suit and getting to relax for a while when I go there. No need to be loud (though, comparatively, I probably still am), silences aren’t awkward, but enjoyed. It’s nice. Having said that, my kids are damned loud there.


9. The public transportation. Granted, it’s not nearly as great as what you find in Germany, but Finland is a country where you don’t necessarily need a car and it might actually be more inconvenient having one at times. Turku has an excellent bus system, as does Helsinki. Cities are connected both by long distant buses and trains (some trains even have dedicated family cars where there’s a play area for little kids!). Helsinki has a metro that I’ve only used once (and I figured out how to use it without the help of my husband, who has an odd form of public transport dyslexia), but it worked and was pleasant. Things are otherwise very walkable and or bikeable within towns of any respectable size.

Bussi joukkoliikenne föli turku keskusta puolalanmäki syksy
pick a bus, any bus

10. The language. Finnish is, hands down, one of the most beautiful languages in the world. Is it any wonder that Tolkien based Quenya off of it? The vowels may look intimidating, but it’s a lulling language that moves along slowly. I’m ashamed I haven’t spent more time learning it, but I’m determined that one day I will be able to have a conversation in Finnish.

You could just say “koira,”but it might not be grammatically correct


11. Their reputation. Finns are almost universally admired. Their passport ranks third internationally as far as visa-free travel is concerned (tied with the US, Denmark, Itally and Spain) and traveling as a Finn doesn’t cause the same dislike that traveling while American (due to our current unpleasant reputation) or German (due to their past war crimes) does. Having said that, Finns aren’t known to be a traveling country to the same extent as other European nationalities. Their schools are internationally admired and have caused a strange sort of “school tourism” for educators. For the most part, they’re content to stay there and enjoy their excellent reputation by reading about it in the news.

12. Gender equality. Women got the vote in 1906 –11 years before Finland got independence. There is only one word in Finland to refer to he or she (hän) and women can go naked just as much as men do without being arrested (not so in the US!). They have high employment rates, high education rates and their husbands are helping more around the house these days than in previous generations.

This picture features Finland’s uglier language, Swedish

Alright, that’s enough. I could list more, but then I wouldn’t have any blog post topics for the future. Finland has some problems (structural economic ones, for sure), but it’s done pretty well for itself in the past 100 years. Let’s hope the next hundred are just as impressive!



I’m Happy


I’m not upset. I might feel upset, but I assure you I’m not.

Yes, sure it sucks that the friends I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with four years running have decided to spend this Thanksgiving with other friends. I knew this day was coming, so it wasn’t really surprising, just sad that I hadn’t adequately prepared for it. It’s also sad that I had to casually ask them if we were going to get together for Thanksgiving this year again and they had to let me down gently, assuring me that they had just received another invite “a few days ago” and accepted. I get the feeling that had I not asked they wouldn’t have told. Would that have been better? I probably would have figured it out eventually as the days ticked by.

I’m trying my best not to feel too hurt. We contacted other friends to see what they were doing for Thanksgiving. Those with family in the area are obviously going to spend it with them. Other friends who joined our little group last year for Thanksgiving told me they’re planning on a “low-key Thanksgiving” this year. I did not reply that that sounded perfect and how would they like to have a low-key Thanksgiving together? Because I know that they always say that whenever I’ve invited them to celebrate Thanksgiving together; they only go when my other friend invites them. The end result from all this, aside from looking a bit desperate, is that we are now chicken-sitting for some friends who are travelling to visit family for Thanksgiving.

So it’s a low key Thanksgiving for us this year. I’m not sure I see the point. My husband doesn’t really “get” Thanksgiving, not having celebrated it at all until he immigrated here. He points out that most Finns he knows in the US don’t celebrate it at all and it’s not that big of a deal. He doesn’t like turkey and, due to his low-carb diabetes management, doesn’t eat most of the food traditionally served at Thanksgiving.

In all honesty, the kids aren’t fans of it either. They like the turkey okay, they refuse to try the cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and any of the pie. Beta has since declared that she will try pumpkin pie this year because she saw someone on a youtube video and they really liked it because they put frosting and sprinkles on it.

“I am not putting frosting and sprinkles on pumpkin pie,” I declared stoutly. What kind of heathen is she??

“Well, can I have it with whipped cream?”
“Yes, it’s fine to have it with whipped cream. I always do.”
“Okay, I’ll try that!” I’m not convinced she actually will, but we’ll try.

In order to have a proper Thanksgiving, I like to have three pies: an apple, a pecan and a pumpkin. Missing one of these would just be wrong. But I can’t eat all three by myself. Forgetting the whole holiday sounds more and more appealing.

But I would feel bad about that. I would feel like the kids wouldn’t make the same happy memories around Thanksgiving that I did. My family didn’t fight on Thanksgiving. My dad made the turkey and we pitched in with the pies. We played Risk the whole day, moving it to the card table when dinner was ready. We got out the good China, the family silver and a table cloth. Everything was beautiful, and special.

But I can’t force my memories onto my family. I can’t make Thanksgiving mean something to them just because it means something to me. And the whole appeal of spending time with them falls flat: we spend every single day together as it is since we work from home and they’re schooled at home. What we really need is time celebrating with other people.

Barring that, I guess we can always celebrate it the Finnish way. That is, not at all, but with copious amounts of liquor.