Q&A: What’s the weather like in Finland? (February/March 2018)

This year we’re having a rather cold end of winter, with some nights as cold as -20C in the city center, with loads of wind making it feel much colder. Earlier we had some decent snowfalls although the snow was on and off the ground up until around mid-January. As an example, we had a day where the snowfall was such that it was difficult to walk in the streets but the next day there was almost nothing left because it had rained overnight.

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Of course, more than the weather, it’s the darkness that characterises winter here. I like to joke that on an average December day, the only reason you know it’s “day” it’s because it’s dark grey outside instead of being pitch black… and even that only happens for a few hours. More than just the shortness of days in winter, I find it very difficult to keep a positive attitude during the months of October and November – the days aren’t that short yet but you can visibly see that they are getting shorter and you start anticipating the full-on darkness and bad weather to come. Everything goes back to normal in my head in February – it’s the coldest month but it’s when days get visibly longer and there usually are only blue skies (hence the cold) and it’s time to bring out sunglasses as not to get hurt by the glare from the snow.

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BLOG: A running streak in winter seemed like a good idea three weeks ago

Three weeks ago I thought I’d give watching curling a chance and somehow I also decided to start a running streak. The two are absolutely unrelated except that they happened at about the same time. I watched about 10 minutes of curling and saw that they yell quite a lot and it gets old really fast – I switched over to luge/skeleton/bobsleigh events as they’re more stressful but much easier on the ears.

So yes, I gave up on curling after 10 minutes but I can gladly report that my running streak is still going after 20 days and, oh boy, have we had some interesting weather in those 20 days!

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The last time I attempted a running streak it was in September during my holidays in Montreal, that lasted a bit over a week. Before that, there was a 50+-day streak in May/June in Seville with temperatures staying in the 30Cs even during evening and night runs.

This time around I’ve had days with nights at -20C but that got up to -15C during the day, making the running a bit less harsh. I’ve had days with important snowfalls that thawed the next day, leaving a nice ice coating. I’ve had quite strong winds that would seemingly change direction right when I turned around to get back home. Many of the runs were done after work in the dark because the sun still sets early (I hate running on treadmills even more than I hate the cold, hence why I don’t go to a gym even though there is one 200m from my hours). But hey, let’s look on the bright side, I’m now practically certified in the art of layering for any type of temperatures! Five for when it gets below -12C, four if it’s above and it’s not windy.

BLOG: My love for mämmi knows no bounds

Finland has some foods that might appear strange to foreigners, some so strange that some foreigners will refuse to eat them. Yes, I am talking about mämmi that apparently reminds people of poo but is really the best thing about Easter around here (I’m not huge on chocolate). But it’s not poo, not even close! It’s rye-based dessert that’s been through a very slow cooking process and that you eat with milk or cream.

Technically you can get mämmi year round in bigger supermarkets but it will be frozen, there will be only one kind and it will be on some random hidden shelf. Around February mämmi will appear more prominently in the frozen food section and that’s my cue for getting exited* – soon there will mämmi in the refrigerated section and there will be choice! There will single-serving cups and those biiiig cardboard containers and there will be no need to waste time on thawing.

(* by “excited” I mean excited to the point of instagramming the aforementioned prominent frozen food section)

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I personally prefer to get the no-added-sugar kind and eat it with full-fat cream. I’ve heard rumours of there being flavoured mämmis but why would anything want to eat that?

Q&A: Where did you learn the languages you speak?

I am quite lucky to have been able to pick up French, English and Ukrainian as a child because of where I lived (and my parents always sending me to the local public school).

Throughout most of my school years (kindergarten to the end of high school) I usually picked either French or English as my main foreign language, depending on where I lived. It was a sure way to get a decent grade with relatively little work although grammar is no joke, no matter when or where you’re studying. I also attended Spanish and Russian classes because of requirements for the baccalauréat exam (two mandatory foreign language classes for a “bac S” and a third foreign language will get you extra points). In engineering school (in France) I continued with English but switched from Spanish to German as my second foreign language on a whim. In hindsight it was actually quite a good move because knowing a bit of German helped me during my first months in Finland, as written Swedish does resemble German somewhat (at least a lot more than written Finnish) and all food packaging in Finland must contain both a Finnish and Swedish description/list of ingredients.

For Finnish, I attended official classes when I first moved here in 2008 but grew frustrated with that class (and having other classes to teach and attend). Sadly most of my current (not very good) Finnish is due to what I can only describe as osmosis – eventually I just assimilated some words… and it’s a very slow process and, in many situations, I definitely rely too much on GoogleTranslate and the average Finn speaking English rather well. That was the case when I first lived in Finland and it’s still the case these days. Every once in a while I promise myself that I’ll start proper classes again but I always have excuses – too little time, too tired, none available when I’m free, I’d miss too many classes because of travels, etc. Excuses, excuses, excuses!

I must also note that during my years in Spain I was lucky enough to have been able to attend Spanish lessons organised by my previous employer – I got up to level B2 there (my work was all in English, the classes were there to make our everyday lives easier). Unsurprisingly, although my high school Spanish lessons allowed me to skip the introductory course, the stuff I learnt in school a decade prior was definitely not enough to get me by in actual Spain!

At one point I also attended a few Arabic lessons as we had a school offering Arabic, Persian and Hebrew lessons close by. While most classes were during my work hours, there was an introduction to Arabic at 6pm… and, boy oh boy, learning a new alphabet as an adult is something! On top of the new alphabet it was also really interesting to learn the actual words on which many Andalusian names are based (e.g. the Guadalquivir river/canal comes from al-wadi al-kabir) and also see the origin of some French words (e.g. a “toubib” means “doctor” in Arabic is also a slang term for doctor in French and, if I recall correctly, made its way into through the military).

BLOG: The drying cupboard/shelves above the sink

I am back to living in Finland and I have, once again, a drying cupboard above the sink! So simple yet so effective! Those shelves drying and district heating – how I missed you in Seville! No more wasted counter space next to the sink for a drying rack! No more towel drying dishes!

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I know I get excited about small things but honestly all kitchens should come equipped with this… especially tiny kitchens that come in the rental places that I can afford.