Finland: The Land of the End

The Happiest Country in the World? Well, happiness is subjective

It was quite a shock teleporting from the sunny beaches of Catalonia to the still half-frozen lakes of Finland, and I wondered for a while if I had not made a terrible mistake. To be honest, I still have not recovered. Today it’s not cold, 16 degrees, which I was told is quite warm for this period. In fact, the lady at the Museum told me that today was “the warmest day on record in all the history of Spring in Finland”. I think, or hope, that she was joking or exaggerating. But perhaps not.

So far, I am having a bit of a trouble understanding if Finns are joking or being serious. Yesterday I went to a local pub and I asked if there was any “typical Finnish shot” that I should try. The waitress wasn’t sure if there was a typical Finnish drink, but she said that I could try the house’s special shot.

“What’s it made of?”, I inquired.

“Liquids”, she replied.

If this was in Spain, I would have moved to another pub, but this is Finland so I took it as a joke. Also, I think it was the only pub in town. The next one was probably 5 or 6 kilometres away. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Catalonia anymore.

The shot wasn’t bad, but I still don’t know what it was made of.

The next morning, someone else told me that the ice was “almost all melted” and that she had gone to take a swim in the lake. Again, I am not sure if it was a joke or not. I assumed this time that the person was serious and that swimming in ice-cold waters is what Finns do for fun.

I am fascinated by Scandinavian countries and people, but it is a fascination filled with some kind of dread. It is like visiting an alien super-civilization. A super-civilization, where everything mostly works, and where there’s lots to admire, sure, but alien all the same. I confess that I feel more at home in my disorganized, noisy, dirty, confusing and less civilized Southern Europe. What can I do.

Still, people here have been very nice and polite, and the landscapes are awesome. Pristine forests and lakes all around. Not a single sign of littering, as I would probably see in Spain or Italy (and, to be honest, even Germany). Not a single plastic bottle or even a piece of paper, for miles.

Recently there was a poll saying that Finland is “the happiest country in the world“. I don’t know what are the metrics exactly, but I always take such polls with a grain of salt, especially when they are promoted by some spooky organization. I think it is really about how well a society functions — road construction, public transportation, trash collection, education, etc. In that sense, Finns are probably more satisfied than people in Spain, where construction work takes years, metro trains are crowded and someone can steal your wallet, and education is so-so.

But happiness? How can you measure that? I, for one, would probably be happier sitting in an average cafe in Barcelona than in the best sauna in Finland. To each his own.

And yet, the reason I accepted the invitation for a residency and teaching a workshop and came and will — if I survive — still stay here for a couple more weeks, is that for me Finland always had an aura of magic. Perhaps it was the name: Finland, which to me (in Spanish: Finlandia) translated as “Tierra del Fin”. Final Land, Land of the End. The last possible destination on Earth. A country unlike any other.

In a way, that may be true. And yet, it is not completely dissimilar from Argentina. I heard that tango is very popular here. They even have their own variation, Finnish tango. It is the same rhythm as in Argentina, the only difference is that the lyrics are in Finnish. Oh, and that they dance it out in the snow.

As I said, an alien super-civilization. May God help us all.