Self-made owl toys & etymology of the Finnish word for aspic

Self-made owl toys & etymology of the Finnish word for aspic

Greetings from my “Polish adoptive family”, the family renting the flat in the ground floor of my house! I was doing these stern-looking paper owls with their 10 year old girl using her mum’s leftover nail polish and toilet paper roll cartons. Loved the creativity, a kid making some toys herself! The chicken-egg-vegetables aspic was the other thing to give me kicks. The first time I saw this kind of aspic dishes with vegetables was in supermarkets in Baltic countries, so for me it’s an Eastern European thing.

Lately, when travelling across Europe I read Julie Powell’s Julie&Julia so I know now that the English name for this interesting dish is “aspic”. Julie cooked her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The point she reached the part about aspics the blog readers were suggesting she could perhaps just skip them.. I can totally underdatnd why. Personally I like this dish – not because of the taste (the gelatin is quite icky…) but because it looks funny. I also find it astonishing that somebody has the dedication to make food with so much effort, myself being more of the type “fling vegetables, some protein, some oil and some spices in a wok pan/ oven dish and let be for 40 minutes”.

I probably like aspics also because my late grandmother used to have in her fridge a piece of meat aspic that she would cut on her bread. I Finland we don’t really do aspics, the only one is this the meat aspic called “aladobi” (or as my grandma would have said: “alatoopi”).
I was always thinking the word “aladobi” comes from Swedish, as Finnish language doesn’t originally use the letter B and the letter D is also quite rare. I was right: the Swedish word is “aladåb” …. but what I didn’t know was that the Swedish word comes from French “à la daube”. Thank you once more, Wikipedia!

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“Mum, would you PLEASE change your ring tone? That Nokia tune is so embarrassing!”

Funny thing about being abroad is hearing the Nokia tune a lot. You know, this one.

If you didn’t know, Nokia comes from Finland. NOT from Japan. In Finland Nokia used to be more famous of its rubber goods than of its technology branch.  Almost every Finn has possessed a pair of Nokia’s rubber boots at some phase of his/her life. Nokia’s car and bike tires are still very popular.

After 1990’s Finns have practically stopped using Nokia tune as ring tone. So the fact that abroad you hear the tune quite often feels weird and some way nostalgic. Even so as also the young and trendy people have Nokia tune as their mobile phone ring tone. Because in Finland it’s considered as something totally not cool. Something your parents used to have when they got their first mobile phone in 1990’s and didn’t know how to use the settings to change the ring tone. And of course your parents were (and sometimes still are) fully ignorant that it was the most embarrassing thing possible.  So having a Nokia tune implied that you weren’t fully able to cope with modern technology.

Nokia phones have Nokia tune as default setting, so if you don’t change it you’ll just go around sounding like a Nokia commercial. That might also be a reason why Nokia tune has become so lame: it’s was so overused in the commercials that people got fed up with it.

So free advise for you who would like to give a cool impression in Finland: Avoid the  Nokia tune ring tone unless you want to make association to something like this Nokia commercial from 1990’s.

Extra treat for Finns (this is such a cultural thing a foreigner — or a younger generation of Finns — might not get it):

Nokia tune ring tone used to be known also under the name “Mäkitorppa” according a company selling the Nokia products and doing a lot advertising. The company then merged to another company, named Elisa –  “Elisa” does sound much less hillbilly (“juntti”) than “Mäkitorppa”, doesn’t it? Normally I’m against Finnish companies changing the name into something “more international” in order to make it sell better and be “more understandable for foreigners” (the notorious case of the national post chaning it’s name: “Posti” -> “Itella” ).

I was thinking about the association “Mäkitorppa” makes as a word: mäki = hill, torppa = in old times a small cottage for poor farmers renting the lands they cultivate. So no wonder “Elisa” sounds nicer. But Mäkitorppa still has a huge nostalgic value….at least for my generation.

A Nordic individualist meets the Polish unofficial system

A characteristic Finn? – cultural differences inside my own country

I never thought myself as a typical Finn or typical Scandinavian. Unlike the stereotype of a silent Finn I am extremely outgoing and talkative.

Well, in East Finland (where I grew up and where my family comes from) people are more talkative. After 10 years in Southwestern Finland I am willing to state that the Southwestern part lives more up to the reputation of the Finns as Bertol Brecht put it in 1940 during his exile in Finland: “Volk, das in zwei Sprachen schweigt“; “a nation that stays silent in two languages”.

  • Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish.

When in East Finland, the Southwestern Finns get intimidated when the strangers start talking to them. I must admit, though, that even in the East Finnish scale I’m way over the average talkativeness – but my geographical & genetic origins are a handy excuse in Southwest!

You might easily think the difference is due to the differences between small village vs. big city. But it’s more than that. Last November I participated friends’ birthday party in small Southwestern village. We drove through countryside and forests towards the party locals, winter evening growing dark around us. In front of us we could see the backlights of two cars heading to the same direction. There was no one else to be seen around the village. We all pulled out to the same parking lot, indicated in the party invitation. As everybody got out of the car I greeted the strangers in the other cars: “I guess you’re also heading to X’s place?” One of them answered: “Yes. I think it’s that house over there with the lit lanterns”. I waited for a moment that we would walk to the house together – after all we were going to celebrate our common friends and our hosts would probably want to introduce us to each other. But no. My friends started towards the house as the strangers stayed put at the parking lot. As I followed my friends – all of them from Southwest – they quided me with a mock reproach: “Hey, try to remember we’re in Southwest Finland now: we don’t talk to strangers here!”

For me it would have been such a natural thing to walk to the house together and a small poll among my Eastern friends stated the same. As even the least outgoing of my friends put it: “Well, it could have been awkward and I might not have come up with any small talk. But still I would have walked there together.” But my invitation to walk to the party locals together was interpreted as a question which one of the houses was the right one.

So it’s kind of relief to sometimes notice that I am a true Finn, after all!

Nordic individualism & buying train tickets

If I never thought myself as a typical Finn I definitely didn’t think myself as a Nordic individualist. I have been more like the hippie who lives in a shared apartment even though the student phase of life has already finished and the real job&salary would permit an own apartment.

So then I arrive to Poland. I’m planning to travel to Ljubljana, by train. I have checked the international train timetables in internet (here). So now I just need to know if I can buy the tickets at the nearby town’s railway station. Bravely I try to call to the station (keep in mind I my Polish is very elementary!). The number I dial is for some kind of railway security services and as I’m trying to stammer something about timetables they just hang up to me.

So I ask a colleague if could she make the call for me. Not so simple as I thought.

First my colleague starts to look information in internet for internet sale of international train tickets. As she can’t find it she tells me she will call a friend whose father works in the Polish railways. The friend will ask her father if it’s possible to buy the tickets in the nearby town. Then next Saturday the friend can come with me to the railway station to buy the tickets. Or, I’m informed, I can just go to the train station and when I start to talk in English everybody will know who I am and what I want and they will have prepared everything for me.

For a brief moment there I felt like “Would you just make the freaking phone call to the station and if it’s a yes I can just go there this eve and buy the freaking ticket myself?!”

But it was only a brief moment. Of course it was really sweet how everybody was willing to help me. And  when I finally went to buy the train ticket with this friend of a friend we went afterwards for lunch and got to know each other a bit. So now I know one more Polish person.

  • I wanted to offer her the lunch but she insisted on paying it. When I tried to keep my stand “Yes, I will pay!” this quiet young girl took me by surprise by starting yelling “No!” so loudly that I got shocked, and as I didn’t want to disturb the other customers of the small grandmother’s restaurant any more than what I had already done I just whined meakly “Ok then”. My Polish friend informed me, that if you want to pay you should go around at least 3 of these yes-no rounds. And then if you actually manage to pay you should be prepared to face the fact that people will be “mad” to you for paying it.

But this whole ticket buying episode made me realise that such a thing as “Nordic individualism” really exists!

  • I told about my realisation to a Finnish friend who spent 9 months in Slovakia. Her opinion was that in East Europe you can just forget stuff like that. “Individualism? What is that?”

I‘d say it’s about preferring to make the things yourself instead of relying or believing on somebody else taking care of it. You feel more sure when you know that it’s you who has asked the questions and heard the answers. It might also have something to do with counting on the officials: in Finland even if I knew somebody working at the railways I’d still make the call to the officials. I wouldn’t disturb my friend on his/her freetime with a call about trivial workrelated business.

My Polish friend, who’s been living in Finland some 5 years had the opinion that in Poland the official information is out there, but as it’s hard to find (chaotic websites etc.) the unofficial way is the easier way to find things out. So it’s not about mistrusting the officials (which I guess might be the case in some other countries), it’s about the society working in a different way.

Officials, helpful strangers & buying bus tickets

Which reminds me of my first day in Poland.

I arrive to Warsaw airport and want to take a bus to central railway station. At the bus stop it’s indicated that the tickets can be bought either from the vending machine at the airport or from the bus driver. When I get to the bus

1) the driver is too lazy to sell me a ticket and tells me to use the vending machine in the bus. The machine works only with coins. Having just arrived to the country I only have bills.

2) TWO of the other passangers buy me a ticket: first a young man (who was also trying to buy a tickets from the driver and was rejected as well) and a young woman. The woman doesn’t speak English, so she doesn’t understand when I try to explain that the man already bought me a ticket. An elderly lady sees the whole episode and chuckles. When leaving the buss the young man smiles and wishes me good continuation for my day.

Neither of these two things would have happened in Finland.


Knowing myself & my culture again a bit better  – and feeling myself a bit more Finnish than before.

I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts and experiences about individualism, unofficial information and offering lunch in your culture or in the countries you have lived in / visited! Anglo-saxons: Do you recognise yourself in the individualism description?

I’m missing “vappu”! (May Day / Walpurgis Night)

Following the people updating about the First of May celebration and picnic with friends made me feel a bit homesick. I just love First of May, which in Finland is not only an International Worker’s Day but more Walpurgis Night by English missionary  Saint Walburga, canonised on 1 of May (ca. 870) . In Finnish the first of May is called Vappu (also a female name), in Swedish Vappen. I guess Walpurgis Night is celebrated also in Sweden, perhaps also in Norway and Denmark? Iceland?

I consider First of May the only carnival Finland has! It’s a party especially for students and in general to everybody celebrating the spring – a party filled with picnics, balloons, colours, market, little trumpets and other noisy stuff kids can buy from the market, homemade mead and donuts (and with a lot of sparkling wine or other alcohol…)

I made also my own “sima” here in Poland. Here you can’t find the special sugar we use for “sima” (fariinisokeri, a soft mixture of white sugar and dark sugar syrup), so I used demerara sugar instead. The result was a pit paler, but the taste was ok. I also made donuts, but I didn’t have my own recipe with me and the result was not as good as I hoped for…

Ingredients for “sima”. On the background the typical Slavic lace curtain in my kitchen window.

Bottled “sima”








I guess “mead” is the best translation to “sima”, this fermented bubbly drink made of sugar, yeast and lemon – although Finnish “sima” isn’t made of honey and is very low in alcohol, so children drink it as well.  I was quite amused to notice that in different language the names for alcoholic honey or sugar drink are probably of same origin.

  • mead
  • miód pitny (Polish alcoholic honey drink)
  • mjöd in Swedish (same drink as Finnish “sima”)
  • mesi? Old Finnish word for honey

Wikipedia states, that the word mead derives from

  • Old English “meodu”
  • Proto-Germanic “meduz”
  • Proto-Indo-European “médʰu”
  • Slavic “med” / “miod”, (Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Croatian: med vs. medovina
  • Polish “miód”
  • Baltic “medus”/”midus “
  • Proto-Indo-European root (cf. Welsh medd, Old Irish mid, and Sanskrit madhu)

Gosh, my humble little sima bottles feel now connected to centuries of human kind’s history!

Edit: I added the receipt if you want to try to make it!

It’s really easy to make “sima”, it’s a nice, cooling summer drink with a bit of character in it! And if it happened that it would not work out, e.g. you wouldn’t get enough bubbles in it don’t worry: that happens sometimes to even the best cooks!

Receipt for “sima” (Finnish low alcohol sugar mead, also for children)

8 l water
500 g sugar
500 g “fariinisokeri”, dark sugar or normal sugar
2-3 lemons
¼ teaspoon of yeast (amount about a size of a pea)



10 l bucket

1. Pour all sugar in the bucket. Boil half of the water, and pour it in the bucket, stir so that the sugar melts. Add freshly squeezed lemon juice. (If you want, you can wash&brush well one or all the lemons, peel and add the skin as well). Add the rest of the water, stir.

2. Take a little bit of water from the bucket in a cup and dissolve the yeast in it. Pour the yeast mixture in the bucket, stir.

3. Let ferment in room temperature for 12-24 h.

4. Bottle the “sima” (: at the bottom of every bottle add 1 teaspoon of sugar. In every bottle add 2-4 raisins. Leave the bottles to ferment either in room temperature for  approximately 3 days or in fridge for 1 week. One way to see if the drink is ready is to keep on eye the raisins: when they get up, there’s enough bubbles in your “sima”. However this can also happen before the drink is ready, so wait at least those 3 days/1 week.

If you use plastic bottles you might need to open up the corks a bit every now and then to let the pressure out. I prefer to use rubber corks: I don’t close them too tightly and they just pop off on themselves when the pressure gets too high. Then you just need to find the cork and seal the bottle again…

Foreign keyboards and letters with teabags – keeping in contact before Facebook & Skype

My first longer period abroad was nine months in France 2004-2005. Studying at university I spent most of my time with other exchange students, with who I made really good friends. But of course I also wanted to stay in contact with friends and family in Finland. Now, when I compare year 2012 to 2004 a lot has changed when it comes to keeping in contact with your close ones.

2004-2005 only a few of us had laptop and even fewer had internet connection at home. This might have also been due to the fact that there was no student housing, we had to find accommodation on our own from private sector. And back then in France it didn’t seem like a simple thing to do to fix an internet connection yourself. Especially if your French wasn’t that fluent. So we were using the computer classes at the university to write emails.

  • Foreign keyboard, argh!!! Letters might be in different order on the keyboard. It’s hard to find the right punctuation marks as they are situated in different place on the keyboard.  Punctuation mark and sometimes even number might have different shift key function that what you’re used to… but during those 9 months I got used to the French keyboard. And when I got back home I had to find some time to get to know the Finnish one again…
  • It used to be really exotic to get email from your friends abroad: foreign keyboards don’t normally have the Finnish alphabet “ä” or “ö”. Of course you could type the dots separately but no one bothers do that… So you just write those letters without dots.

But now…I have my own familiar laptop, so comfortable! My written Finnish is perfect! No cultural shocks regarding the keyboard … but for the rare moments when I need to use laptop or computer at my work, in a hostel etc.

At the time Facebook didn’t yet exist. So we wrote emails. In that computer class which wasn’t open during the weekends.

  • Now, following my friend’s status updates or chatting away a bit while working on my laptop I’m wondering if I’m detaching from Finland at all – I was even a bit worried that I’d only stay in my “Finnish bubble” instead of plunging into the Polish culture. Well, luckily that didn’t happen (I’m living in a small town and the Polish people (at least in small towns) are really hospitable inviting one for dinner or tea).

Real letters! I’d say during my year in France even half of my correspondence with my friends was through old-fashioned snail mail letters! (But my friends and relatives are writing snail mail more than average person, I guess). Even nowadays I’m sometimes exchanging letters with my friends (living abroad) and sometimes with my family as well. I really like snail mail, letters especially!

  • It’s more personal: you see the characteristic handwriting of someone who thought about you.
  • It’s more creative: you can sketch the floor plan of your new flat (got one letter like that that) or draw a mind map about the potential guys in your life right now, their characters, their relationship to each other, where did you meet etc. (got one like that as well, I guess she was sorting it out also for herself)
  • It’s more concrete: you can send a photo, drawing or a little lightweight object, which is ready to pin up on the wall or put on the fridge door or take in use. (I got some letters with one or two teabags in them and drinking that tea felt like drinking it with the one who sent them)

And now I got some snail mail, too! Although not as many letters as when I was in France.

“Every chance is a possibility” – one of the legendary quotes from the notoriously legendary Finnish former ski jumper Matti Nykänen

In 2004 I had not heard of Skype.  I think it was the years 2005-2006 when I first learned there exists such a programme (but hey, I’m that kind of person who got her first laptop in 2007 and even after that spent many periods without internet connection at home) (which was good for the concentration when working on your master’s theses…)

  • So during the days in France sometimes my parents might have called to my French mobile phone. (I surely wasn’t calling anyone abroad, as it was far too expensive!). With friends abroad I just kept in contact by written messages.
  • …when talking about mobile phones I must mention that in 2004-2005 (at least) two Canadian exchange students didn’t even have mobile phones. The other one had luckily a landline in her flat! With these people you should agree on meeting well on time, when you met them on lectures, as Facebook or chats were not used …
And now (not only in Poland but also when living in Finland) I’m sharing my Sunday breakfast or evening tea with dear friends from the other side of Europe (“Hold on, I’ll go and get some more coffee!”), seeing how my niece is growing and learning new words … and practicing my spoken English and French!

I think it’s fun to be part of the generation that has lived the period without mobile phones and internet. But I guess when it comes to keeping in contact with the close ones  it’s the relationship that matters the most – not the ways, frequency or how long it takes for the message to be delivered!

Why have I thought to give a go for a blog?

I guess I have three main reasons.

1) The first reason is to share my observations and thoughts about different cultures and social phenomena  – and if possible to hear others’ views on these topics.

As I’m currently doing an internship in a small Polish town I’ve been lately thinking a lot about
– cultural differences
– how is it like to live & work in a foreign country and foreign culture, especially when you speak only few words of the local language
– my own culture & my habits; which part of it comes from my personality, which from the customs of my family, which from Finland, which from Scandinavia and so on.

Especially regarding the last one I’d be really interested to hear opinions on Scandinavian/Slavic/European culture. If there happens to be someone who’d like to comment Finnish culture the views are of course more than welcome also on that topic!

I like to get to know different kinds of cultures and people and think about the reasons behind the action. I like to do this as well abroad as back home in Finland, but when you’re abroad you’re paying more attention to your surroundings and seeing more things.  The same thing happens when you have a (foreign) friend visiting your home town and you take a walk with him/her … and that’s when you start looking your own home town like a tourist and seeing things you had never  noticed before( … like a statue of Lenin, in my case…).

When I’m abroad I love to notice some small details that are different than back home. I also get my kicks of noticing how some far away countries and cultures may surprisingly share some customs or beliefs that might be unknown for their neigbouring countries! You can then see if you like best your own way or the other way of doing things – and in some cases you might be able to import the good practices back home with you!

2) The second reason for my blog is that I thought I could share some tips and thoughts about travelling. Some useful links and some places I liked.

3) The third reason, less precisely defined, would be just sharing in altogether the things which give me kicks! It would be great if someone reading my blog found there new ideas or new sources of inspiration. And vice versa – I’m always interested in new ideas what to do and how to do the familiar things in a new way,  so I would be interested to read your comments!

There’s also the “extra reason” that a blog gives me an opportunity to work on my written expression (especially in English), as nowadays it’s limited in writing emails and sometimes a diary (in Finnish). In addition to Finnish and English I also speak French, Swedish and German so you’re very welcome to comment also in these languages! (although my written expression in those languages is more on the “emailing to friends” level!)

I hope you will enjoy the travel with me!