kolmapäev, september 10, 2008

toimii kuin junan vessa

"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.

11 kommentaari:

AndresS ütles ...

Well said Justin. Let's spend more time thinking about "us" rather about "me" or "them" (them being the russians :) )

stockholm slender ütles ...

Maybe you missed the recent comments by our esteemed president about Estonia that have now raised quite a bit of indignation there. I did not see the whole interview so have no idea whether the remarks have been blown out of all proportion in the customary and dearly beloved Estonian-Finnish way... About the train toilets - they have been way worse ever since the cleaning services were outsourced in a very non-Nordic and unfortunately increasingly typical way. It is of course more "efficient" this way which efficiency is translated into reality as much worse service with somewhat less money paid. The way of the world these days...

stockholm slender ütles ...

Ps. This is of course not to deny that our society is still much more collective than the Estonian (as far as I can understand from personal observation) which collectivity in the Nordic context actually manages to be combined with quite an open, dynamic and high-tech economy. So, in that sense I do support these current arrangements here and am sorry to see their gradual weakening. But I wonder if it would be practical for Estonia at this stage to try to implement this particular solution very fully. Maybe gradually some central social democratic (not in any party sense, of course) structures could and should be built?

Rainer ütles ...

"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!"

I'm definitely not a fan of architects Padrik & Künnapu, but thanks to Snail Tower Tartu is beginning to have something like a skyline.

Giustino ütles ...

Maybe you missed the recent comments by our esteemed president about Estonia that have now raised quite a bit of indignation there.

Halonen was right in some ways. Estonia does suffer from post-Soviet stress (see Bronze soldier crisis). I think this is coming to an end, though.

And, from an Estonian perspective, what the heck is the president of Estonia (population: 1.3 million, location: Baltic Sea) doing in Georgia? Where was the Icelandic president? Doesn't Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson care about the plight of the Georgians?

The truth is that Estonians see themselves in the Georgians, a small country beyond the pale. They would never slam the door shut on them the way so many tried to slam doors in their faces. They support a MAP for Georgia because it was given to them. How could Estonia seriously *not* support NATO expansion to Ukraine or Georgia?

At the same time, the reality is that only Georgia and Russia can make peace between themselves. All the third party meddling in the world isn't going to fix that situation. You can support Georgia, but Georgia, in the end, can (and must) speak for itself.

LPR ütles ...

We, estonians are a small nation. Small in numbers that is. We are big however in how we treat each other. We treat each other like there were untold millions of us. We act as we are weary of the untold multitudes of fellow estonians. Crawling and crowding our precious personal space.

That's why we don't smile or say hello. We are sick of ourselves.

In this respect we are a bigger than any other on Earth. We don't shed a tear when some of us dies.

Mingus ütles ...

I think someone moved into the Snail Tower. There were some lights on the other night, shaded by lacy curtains.

martintg ütles ...

Someone said if you put a Finn in a bag with 50 years of Soviet repression and shake it up, you will end up with an Estonian.

sofie ütles ...

Snail Tower is beautiful!

Juan Manuel ütles ...

I think in nordern Germany they also saz "moin" to say hello. I wonder who invented that word - the Sweeds?

Juan Manuel ütles ...

By the way, I am now listening to Pan Sonic. Perhaps Finnish music makes me think about the origins of Finnish words.