Monday, October 31, 2011

People seem to have a lot of assumptions about librarians.  Of course everyone thinks we're all spinstery old ladies who like nothing more than to shush teenagers and gyp people out of quarters, but I don't mind that one because my beard pretty much proves I'm not a crotchety spinster.  We're also assumed to be a giant pack of squares but again I'm not super worried about that one since I spent a bunch of money on tattoos and that seems to get me a little street cred.  (Why this is, I have no idea.  You don't have to pass any sort of Cool Guy Test to get tattoos, you just go make an appointment then spend a couple hours in pain.  It's pretty much like the dentist except you'll probably hear a few more swear words.)

One that kind of bugs me is that everyone assumes that because I'm a librarian I've not only heard of whatever book they're currently reading, but I've also read it and formed an opinion of it and my opinion is probably going to be the same as their opinion.  Most of the time it astonishes people when I tell them I've never read anything by whoever their favorite author is.  I suppose I should take it as a compliment that people think librarians read every single book that comes into the building, but I think at least sometimes people look at me askance when I don't have a working knowledge of every book in the library.  Like I haven't been doing my homework or something and they're considering telling on me.  There are a lot of books in libraries, people.  Can't read 'em all.

On a different subject, this past weekend we attempted to bring a bit of Americana to Finland and we convinced our friends to throw a Halloween party.  Our friend Lyndsey adapted one of my wife Lyndsey's (yes, two Lyndseys, it is very confusing) old costumes and dressed up as a gnome, complete with a peaked red hat made out of posterboard and a beard made out of a sheet of cotton.  Our friend Brad wrapped himself in an orange blanket and cut some pieces of felt into eyes and a mouth and went as a jack-o-lantern. I think they made quite an impression on the other bus passsengers, who were mostly dressed in what I am starting to think is the official Finnish chilly weather uniform of a black or grey jacket, a scarf thrown dashingly around the neck and an impossibly stylish haircut.

Our Finnish friends Elena and Maija hosted the Halloween party.  It was very American.  It included bobbing for apples, hot dogs (hot dog buns here come in packs of three with American flags on the wrapper) and Twister (which I won twice, NBD).  Then we went to a fashionable tiki bar called "Kokomo," which is of course a strange juxtaposition to anyone from Indiana since Kokomo is also the name of one of the more economically depressed cities in the state and was listed in 2008 by Forbes as America's third fastest-dying town.  However, the same magazine recently called Kokomo one of America's "best cities for jobs" and both unemployment and crime have fallen steeply in the last few years.  Hopeful signs of economic resurgence aside though, when someone at the party told me that "we're going to Kokomo" it took me several seconds to figure out why anyone would suggest such a thing.  The Wikipedia entry for Kokomo, Indiana tries hard to make the place seem fun but the section on "culture" stretches the meaning of that word to its absolute limits.

This week Lyndsey and I have plans to visit an island called Seurasaari where the birds and squirrels are tame enough to be hand fed.  There are also plans to go mushroom hunting this weekend in the forest with Elena's family.  Nature!

Friday, October 21, 2011

So the other night I went to the sauna.  I didn't, like I originally thought I would, end up going with two Irish dudes.  I ended up going with two Irish dudes, two Americans, a German, a pair of Russians, and the half-Finnish son of one of the Irish guys.  I have to say, being nude in a roomful of people that I barely know who are also nude was somehow not nearly as awkward as I thought it would be.  It was certainly less awkward than, say, one of those public restrooms where instead of urinals they have a big long trough.  (Putting ice in there doesn't make it better, Wrigley Field.)  For example, there were two or three lively conversations happening in the sauna at any given time whereas carrying on a conversation of any kind with the guy at the next urinal is a pretty good way to achieve weirdo status.

I was expecting it to be hot, of course, but it was next level hot.  When I first walked in they had just thrown some water onto the stones and the air was so intensely hot that it was a bit painful to inhale.  If you didn't drink your beer fast enough the lip of the can got so hot it was uncomfortable to drink from.  It. Was. Hot.  I could only take it for about 15 minutes at a time, at which point I had to take a shower to cool down.  I didn't look at the thermometer but apparently it's not unusual for the sauna to be between 170 and 230 degrees.  When it was over and I had a chance to cool down I definitely felt relaxed.  Overall:  I enjoyed the sauna very much and I at least have gained the knowledge that throwing beer on the sauna stones smells not unlike burning hair.

We also went to a really awesome hockey game featuring HIFK and Jokerit, which are both Helsinki teams so it's a big rivalry game.  We were instructed by our Finnish friends to root for HIFK, which I think I probably would have done anyway because Jokerit has possibly the goofiest logo I've ever seen, a cartoony jester who is smirking and winking in a less than intimidating manner.  HIFK, on the other hand, sports a dignified crest that notes that they were established in 1897 (by a 15-year-old).  There were several fights, some blood, a puck that flew into the stands (which Lyndsey recovered after the game and is now sitting on our dresser), and HIFK won 3-0.  Also at Finnish hockey games you can buy a cup of hot dogs.  Literally, it's just a paper cup with like four hot dogs stuck in there vertically.  I don't know about the rest of you, fellow Americans, but I can live with America's fall from economic, military, and diplomatic prominence.  However, I am extremely surprised and depressed that another country has arrived at hot-dogs-in-a-cup before us.  Some deep soul searching needs to be done, America.  If we aren't leading in the way in crazy snacks, I ask you, where are we leading?

Tomorrow:  Finnish brunch.  I'm not typically a breakfast food fan but Cup o' Weenies (which is what I'm going to call it when I import it to the States and make my first million) makes me think the Finns will have some good ideas.  I'm sure you'll see a picture of it on Lyndsey's Facebook at some point.

Monday, October 17, 2011

One of the great things about Helsinki is that even though it's become a hotspot of design and fashion and everything is that it's still got a fair amount of nature.  Helsinki Central Park covers almost 2500 acres and runs the length of the city and beyond.  This photo was taken a ten minute walk from my apartment.

I started feeding the birds that hang out in the tree outside our apartment balcony a few days ago.  Eventually I decided to try to figure out what kind of birds they are.  I was highly amused (almost embarrassingly so) to discover that they are called Great Tits.  (NOTE:  I have googled this for you so you don't have to.  I cannot be responsible for you googling "great tits" at work or anywhere else.)  Needless to say, there was a period of about ten minutes or so where much entertainment was had.  "Wow, look at all the Great Tits on the balcony," etc etc.  I was very surprised to learn though that these cute little yellow songbirds have been known to kill and eat bats.  They are, literally, killer tits.

Of course, this comes with drawbacks as well.  Our friend Lyndsey was on her way back from a conference in Turku via train when she suddenly felt a sizable bang and the whole train shuddered, then slowed to a stop.  They had hit a moose.  The force of the impact was fatal to the moose as well as the train's brakes, so they traveled to the next train station at some ridiculously slow speed.  Finns on the train helpfully explained to her that it is currently moose hunting season, so apparently the moose are plentiful right now and presumably eager to keep on the move so they don't wind up with two people congratulating each other over their corpses.

Speaking of animals in their natural state, I am going to the sauna with a couple of Irishmen on Wednesday.  Saunas in Finland are a big deal.  Lots of apartment buildings have them, there are public saunas downtown, the new main branch of the Helsinki City Library is even going to have one.  They're a way to relax and bond, which to my American sensibilities sounds fishy because according to tradition you have to be completely nude.  In the rural areas you're supposed to sit in the sauna for thirty minutes or so, go jump in the cold lake or roll around in the snow (again, nude) and then get back in the sauna.  I'm not quite sure what to expect, but I do enjoy a nice long, hot shower so maybe it will be similar.  Except for the two Irish dudes who will be in there with me.  But hey, when in Rome I guess.

Monday, October 10, 2011

This last week was pretty awesome.  My parents were in town and I got to show off how incredibly worldly and sophisticated I have become by taking them to many, many different places to have coffee.  I'm really glad they got to come and see Helsinki, meet my Finnish friends, and generally be assured that I am safe and sound even though I have decided for some reason to live on a different continent than them (for a while).

Since they appeared on this blog last time, my parents were trying really hard not be the next one to do something goofy enough to be recounted here.  Mom lost.  We were walking by the Presidential Palace when she noticed two figures standing motionless out front.  "Look at those fake people!  They look so real," she said.  "Mom those are absolutely real people," I said.  "What?  No they're not, I bet you a hundred dollars."  I stuck out my hand to shake on it, she immediately slapped it, grabbed the iron bars of the gate with both hands and shouted over the traffic noise to the guards who are maybe 30 yards away (so really loudly, in other words) to "HEY!  WINK IF YOU'RE REAL!"  Needless to say, they were real, but they were professional enough (and Finnish enough) not to laugh at us.  One of them was definitely smiling though.  I haven't seen a penny of that hundred dollars.

Someone asked me the other day why I only blog about mishaps and stuff that goes wrong.  I told them it's because stuff that goes right is tremendously boring to read about.  For example, the things that went right today:  I spent most of the day in a cafe working on a PowerPoint presentation for a meeting I have later.  After that, I went to a comic book shop.  After that, I came home and made chili for dinner.  It was pretty good, but not great.  Boring, right?  That's because 99% of life is boring.  If life were truly interesting, no one would come to read this blog, or watch television, or take naps, because they'd be too busy doing awesome crazy stuff all the time.

Anyway I would love to continue blogging but Lyndsey is watching Jersey Shore and it's really hard to write when a bunch of juiced up spraytanned harbingers of American cultural death are on TV.  Whenever you feel like you've got the world figured out, watch some Jersey Shore.  It keeps you intellectually humble.