Monday, October 24, 2016

Three Aliens Go to a Finnish Sitsit

The other night, we were going back to home, from an Indian festival, with *A and *E. The wind was back and forth. First caressing our cheeks softly, then slapping us without a warning. It was acting like an erratic lover. Ain't nobody has patience for that darling! That ten minutes of walking from the bus stop to our building,  it was just so tiring. My home city has a reputation as not to be trusted in its weather and its girls. I assure the part about girls is a lie, yet its true that rain comes without a notice sometimes. At least, wind doesn't play mind games with you.

"Winter is coming..." This is no longer just a catch phrase from Game of Thrones anymore. Nope, not for me. In Helsinki, it is the truth. Perhaps the winter for most of us, already started. I used to wear my cardigans in October; now I am with my wool coats. Layering is the key event of my days: a t-shirt, a sweater, a cardigan, and then the coat -don't forget the glows and the scarf-.

If the winter is here; where are you snow? Make me happy and come soon... When the snow comes, point out the girl who builds snowmen and be happy all the time. It will be me! Until then, I am in search of other distractions. Let's be honest, and say that I will be able to show interest in these till my thesis starts. I hope I would have time for all because I am enjoying my time here very much.
Exhibit A: Going to a Finnish sitsit. First, I need to explain what a "sitsit" is. Imagine a dinner party where you barely socialize or eat. They are arranged by Finnish/Swedish student organizations. It is a traditional evening when students come together, have a three course meal, drink, and sing all together.

About a month ago, I signed up for the genetics club in Viikki, Helix. I don't know why, I forgot to sign up for their e-mail list. I was looking forward for their annual rapusitsit (crayfish sitsit) and I would almost missed it. I remembered it was coming up and went to club room to ask its date. Apparently, registration was closed a day ago and the event was on 23.11 (yesterday). However, they were so sweet to add us at the last moment. They replied to my hundreds of e-mails about the sitsit with a great understanding. After that, what we needed to do was simple: Just find a rapuveitsi (crab knife) and show up on time!

Correction: Finding a rapuveitsi wasn't as simple as I thought. Every store we asked, said they were out of stock. Finally, we got our knives and went to the sitsit. Alan, me and *E were the only international students. Maybe because it was a more formal occasion, for the first time, I felt very misplaced in Finland. Price of being determined to blend in a new environment; you should be ready for the fact of being the alien in the beginning.

Everything seemed to be in perfect order and for me, most of the people were dressed up more than casual smart. In addition to the dress code, accessorizing with crayfish theme was suggested. Challenging one indeed, not many people were catching up. Among some crayfish hats and crab aprons, I especially liked a girl's  apron -looking really cute-. She was so nice to let me take this photograph for my blog post.
There were three long tables in the room so I am guessing we were about 40-50 people. They showed us our seats at the middle table. I really loved the crab shaped name tags. Sadly,  we actually didn't have name tags due to our late registration.

I know the table picture isn't perfect, but I wanted it to be zero filters in order to keep the natural aspect of the ambience. The knife at the right edge is the rapuveitsi, and it has a hollow at the metal part to break the tips of the pincers. I will come to the crayfish part later, first more about this fun tradition.

It may be a student event, but sitsit has very strict rules apparently. It is very normal since it is a huge part of the student culture here. And since Finnish people are serious about many things in life, why not about dinner parties? So, these are the some rules for this particular student organization's sitsit:

(1) No late arrivals, or else you may be punished. Such a shame we didn't see an example, maybe next time.
(2) When you sit on your place, meet with people who are sitting around you. You need to make a toast with each of them twice, at the end of all songs.
(3) During a song or a speech; you cannot leave the room, eat, drink or stand up (last two have exceptions).
(4) Sing so many songs so that no one can have a hot meal!

Within the few months I have been here, I definitely learned that Finnish people equals to a singing nation. All these karaoke bars seem to be a bit fake to me at first, but this sitsit proved me that they love to sing a lot. I don't know how many songs were sung yesterday -mostly in Finnish, sometimes in English-. They have lyrics books with a special repertoire, and they gave us two books too. We started our Suomi lessons, so reading was not so difficult. Though, we literally sang most of them without knowing the meaning. I am very sure of one thing: Songs were mostly about drinking. A song for each alcoholic beverage to be exact! From the ones I got the meaning slightly, my favorite one was the song which basically says: "French drink wine, Germans beer, Russians vodka. Finnish drink all, so raise a toast!" It can sound a bit racist, but I am sure they mean well.

Since dinner party doesn't resemble a dining event, of course singing should be more than just singing (!). Sometimes, we stood on top of our chairs or go under the tables while singing. And everyone took a sip of their drinks when someone randomly said "Mellansup!". I really love singing and the whole activity turning into a game: Just bizarrely fun!

After the soup, crayfish time had arrived. But first... Surely we sang some songs for these shellfish who sacrificed their lives to feed us. Hardest part of the evening was to learn how to eat crayfish -breaking the right parts and which parts to suck- and to sing at the same time. The guy sitting next to me was very helpful all night and he taught us how to do it too. Honestly, I didn't learn it well enough to explain. I am writing a YouTube link below. Please be my guest and watch that nice Finnish guy giving a lesson about crayfish. PS: I don't think that knife is very necessary; your hands will get dirty anyways!

YouTube link:

As for the dessert, it was a delicious carrot cake which I want to get the recipe. I will ask the baker of the night -if I don't forget in this busy schedule-. Apparently, the students also cooked all the meals. Finnish students and student life never stop impressing me. Especially their bonds with the culture is very sensational.

It has been a very long post I think. With it, I pretty much made up for the days I had all work and no fun. I want to declare my first sitsit experience as a success. It was a good start for this week, that I will be more flexible to have a breath before the second period starts.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Call of the Wild

If you are a foreigner here, there is this question which people keep asking you: "So...Why did you choose to come to Finland?" We all know they mean well, no offenses taken. They are trying to make a conversation like normal friendly people. If you are a student, you can just reply as "free education" -or you might have, sadly no more from next year-. In addition to the classic one, I have a long list of reasons to state. Yet, one of my favorites' is "forests, trees, green, literally everywhere". There isn't just one word to explain my joy being surrounded with nature at this intensity. At least it doesn't come to my mind. Maybe Finnish have a word to sum it up. I will share that if I it exists.

Last Sunday, weather was sunny and warm enough -it means proper layering is required-. Our already planned trip to Nuuksio National Park became perfect thanks to the weather. The trip was an event for a group of students from different faculties. We met at Rautatientori train station at the arranged time. It could be better if we hit the road earlier; we started our journey at 11.30 am smth. From the city center, it takes a train and two buses to reach the park from the Espoo side.  I think we started walking about 2 hours after. It was more like a relaxed trip with friends, so good for an introduction.

As almost everywhere in Helsinki, the park was nearly impossible to get lost. The walking trails were perfectly marked and in addition, trees on the road were labeled with colorful squares. Each color was representing a different path with a specific length. Follow the marked trees and check the arrows pointing the certain areas; you will be just fine. I am not so sure which route we picked, yet I am sure that we made a circle.

In the park, there were several areas for campers to take care of their basic needs. We made our first stop to see a small pond and to have a toilet break. One of the Finnish girls said that if we have bushes, we won't be needing any bathrooms. I was a scout in high-school so I got her and commented: "We used to say that we would go for 'flower picking' if we need to leave the group for a short toilet break." She found it pretty amusing and cute. I think it was my mom who introduced me with that phrase. She is a big-time nature lover too.

After checking the floating bridge on the pond, we kept on walking. At some point, half of the group got missing. Someone got lost and people were looking for him/her or they all took the wrong turn. I don't know what exactly happened. Self correction: Maybe impossibility of getting lost is my point of view. So anyways, we located to our resting stop in order to wait for them. We had our lunch by a beautiful lake and sun shine was creating wonderful plays on the water. I fell in love with Nuuksio at that point. Pure sereneness; the view let all my worries go away.

The girl who organized this trip was so well prepared.  On top of her good leadership, she also got marshmallows and chocolate for everyone. I sure did missed roasted marshmallows. We sat by the small fire and enjoyed our desserts. At the same time,  the crew of -mostly Spanish- exchange students were still singing and playing ukulele by the water. Laziness in the air, it took us some time to get back on walking. This time, we went from a slightly different road with a rougher terrain. Around the trees, under the fallen logs, on the rocks.  I was prepared with my boots for all that mud and slippery leaves. *E was with her sneakers so I couldn't say that she was happy about the mud situation -lol-.

Being in that huge forest felt so good. I would love to visit Nuuksio each weekend if I could. There are camping areas and also some nature sports available -rock climbing, canoeing etc-. Already started to persuade my friends for camping in spring. It will be gorgeous in the winter too. Only hiking maybe?!

One thing missing for me was the presence of more animals around. They wouldn't be coming out in such crowd, I know. Wishful thinking should be allowed. We only saw a few birds and ducks. Though, I heard that this area is habitat of the rare flying squirrels of Europe. What I wouldn't do, to be able to spot one.

Summary of the day,  definitely come to Finland if you want to be close to nature. So far, I only visited one of them but national parks here are worth to see. Finnish people really cherish their natural heritage. I wish that everybody would love and respect the forests this much.