I’ve just returned from a short break in Finland with my sister Silvia. One of the reasons that I love travelling to new places is that I learn so much. In no particular order, here are some of the things that I learned on this trip:
- Finland had a civil war in four months of 1918. It was between the Reds (supported by the Soviet Union) and and the Whites (supported by the German Empire) and the Whites won. About 37,000 people died out of a population of 3 million.
- As a consequence of the Second World War, Finland lost more than 10% of its territory to the Soviet Union, following the Winter War of 1939-40, the Continuation War of 1941-44 and the post-war settlement. We visited a fascinating military museum which told the story of the first war in which the Finns valiantly defended their country against Soviet invasion, but failed to mention the second war when the Finns temporarily recovered the lost territory and invaded the Soviet Union.
- Finland was due to host the Olympic Games in 1940 but, of course, the Games scheduled for 1940 and 1944 were never held because of the Second World War. The 1948 Games was hosted by London and Finland was host for the 1952 Games. We saw the stadium that was used.
- The Finnish language is one of the most complicated of all Western languages. Finns decline their nouns and there are no fewer than 16 cases.
- The Finnish national epic is a 19th century poem called the Kalevala. There are lots of cultural allusions to this work but very few Finns have actually read it.
- Although only around 5% of Finns have Swedish as their first language, all public signs in the country are in both Finnish and Swedish.
- Finland is one of the very few countries in the world with a unicameral parliament. Others are Israel and New Zealand.
- The most famous Finnish company is Nokia which produces world-class mobile phones, but many non-Finns think the company is Swedish. It actually started its life in 1865 manufacturing rubber boots.
- A famous Finnish food is reindeer meat which I sampled and enjoyed on our break.
- Another Finnish delicacy is a small fish called vendace which is served fried with potatoes and other vegetables plus garlic sauce. We had this for lunch in the open air fish market in Helsinki.
- A famous Finnish cartoon character is called Moomin which was created by the Swedish-Finn Tove Jansson. There are shops everywhere selling merchandise of every kind featuring this family of trolls and the Japanese especially are mad over the creature – but I’d never heard of it.
- There is mechandise everywhere featuring Angry Birds. And I thought it was just a game in the form of a smartphone app.
- Many people think of the Finns as a healthy lot and there really are loads of cyclists around, but many Finns – especially young people – are now seriously overweight.
- Finland has a serious problem of alcoholism with Finns of all ages and classes drunk in the streets at the weekend.
- Finland has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Those long winter nights do not help.
So, did you know all this?