“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?

International train timetables in Europe & a dash of national PR?

Here’s a link that has proved very useful to me: Deutsche Bahn (German railways) maintains a Travel service website where you can check ALL train timetables in Europe, also for international connections! http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en?ld=212.146&rt=1&newrequest=yes&

Here’s another site, where you find information on national timetables (and railroad museums, cute!) http://www.railfaneurope.net/misc/timetabl.html

And in case somebody needs it, here’s the search for train timetables in Poland (also in English and German)

My brother happened to mention this German webpage some time ago, at the moment I’m really happy he did! The site has quite a good selection of languages. I have also found there very accurate information e.g.  the platforms for the train s I searched – and this information wasn’t always that easy to find at the station itself!

However, someone I talked to about this site had found one minor problem with the search: Greek cities are written  in Greek alphabet*, so in order to find connections to Athens you should type Αθήνα (I tested copy&paste just for fun but it didn’t work). Search for cities written originally in Cyrillic alphabet seems to work better, you can find the cities in their Latin alphabet form. ( I found  Kiev and Kyiv (in Ukrainian Київ) as well as Belgrad (in Serbian Beograd/Београд**).

During the last months I’ve been very grateful to Deutsche Bahn! But I couldn’t help thinking WHY are they maintaining such a service? After all, it takes resources and it seems like no other country or organisation is offering anything like that (if you want info on international trains the Finnish State Railways’s webpage links you to the two All-European websites I put above).

  • German efficacy! (Good national PR this website, don’t you think?)
  • “We used to be THE European superpower and we are still big, all the European trains pass by us or if not then we are at least AWARE of their timetables!” (They are actually big and the trains do pass by them.)
  • There are 82 million Germans, so there are probably quite a couple of million of them travelling in European railways yearly – and I’d think they are assuming they get information&service from their state railway officials.
If somebody has more views on the topic I’d be interested to hear about them!

Enjoy your train travels in Europe!



*he suggested that the timetable data is uploaded straight from the national railways site of each country

**I just found out that Serbian is apparently the only European language using both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets.

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!