"Toimii kuin junan vessa" -- it works like a train toilet. This is supposedly a compliment in Finland, a land where everything presumably works.
But when I heard this saying today in Helsinki, I couldn't help but think of that train toilet I once came face to face with in Italy that was caked with the abominable stench of humanity. If Finns are thinking of functional train toilets, they certainly aren't thinking of that one!
Like a greenhorn in the big city, going from Tallinn to Helsinki takes your breath away. Tallinn only has some big buildings; Helsinki is mostly made of big buildings. Tallinn is built like an inflatable Scandinavian tourist getaway; Helsinki is built to last. In Tallinn, a sizable percentage of everyone you meet knows someone you know; in Helsinki, you are but a small speck on the impeccably functioning toilet called Finland.
The Finnish and Estonian languages are similar enough that I am tempted to speak Estonian at every juncture. But even trying to speak Finnish can get you in trouble. For example, the Finnish word for "eight" is written as "kahdeksan." The Estonian word for "eight" is "kaheksa." But when I said "kahdeksan" to my taxi driver, who said he spoke "little English," he gave me a weird look and said, "kaheksa?" back at me. I am told that the Finnish spoken around Helsinki is quite similar to Estonian in some respects.
And nobody says "terve" or "näkemiin" -- both of which I use because I equate them with "tere" and "nägemist." In Finland, it's "moi" this and "moi moi" that. "Terve" is for old farts. "Moi" is what the guys from Lordi say to each other when they show up for band rehearsal. In Estonia, a "harbor" is called a "sadam," but in Finland it's a "satama." The tabloids look almost identical, the only difference being the longer, screwier looking headlines in the Finnish editions. I walk into a supermarket and the products are nearly identical; even the bakery sells rice "pirukaat." The open air markets offer up heaps of mushrooms and berries.
Estonia and Finland also share a lot of brands. Estonia is in some ways an extension of the Finnish market; an extra 15 counties, if you will. Finns and Estonians both have R-Kiosk and Anttila and K-Rautakesko and Seppälä and, most importantly, Stockmann. This common commercial environment leads one to feel as if they are still in the same country; just a slightly different part of it.
Finland, though, seems more uniform. The street signs in a city like Turku are all the same. In some Estonian cities, though, including Tallinn, you'll find all different sizes and shapes of street signs, some still bilingual, some not. It's just a mess, and it's a mess that is reflected in the eclectic mishmash of architectural styles that are erected not to serve some greater purpose of Estonianness, but because the developer could save money that way.
If there's one thing that irks my inner pinko, it is the rejection of society, period, in some veins of Estonian thought. It's just mina, mina, mina -- my suvila, my BMW, my shopping center. I'll make my snail tower as ugly as I like it, because it's all about my vision -- screw the city skyline of Tartu! If there's one take home message from this country for Estonia, it's that a little more meie can help make things better for the entire country, which ultimately trickles down to sina ja mina. In other words, the train toilet should work for all of us.
Oh well, forgive me my moment of preachy indiscretion. Maybe 48 hours in Finland is a little too much for someone like me.