Thursday, April 30, 2015

Happy Mayday Holiday

April is that challenging time of year for anyone who wasn't brought up here as a child, when summer is starting to happen all over Europe, but Finland can't quite seem to make it happen. Not yet.

Still, I shouldn't complain. Not too much anyway. After grey skies and almost torrential rain all day yesterday, we were treated to sunshine and blue skies his morning. And this was good news, because pretty much the whole of Finland is covered in a sea of streamers and balloons at the moment as we await the arrival of one of the biggest holidays of the year, Mayday, or Vappu.

More than Mayday though, this national holiday is the start of a change of attitude over here in Finland. People gradually start believing that summer really is going to happen some time soon. And as though they are daring it to appear, they start swimming in lakes, even though the water temperature is still only around plus five degrees.

Children are gradually (although never early enough in my book) allowed to stop wearing mittens and hats and twenty layers of clothing and feel a taste of real air instead.

Whereas the trees have been green for some time in the more southern parts of Europe, here the buds are just beginning to appear, and wherever you go people are talking about it. Facebook postings frequently feature pictures of flowers in woods or gardens, in an attempt to encourage the whole country to hang on in there for just a few more weeks. The summer WILL come again.

And May is the last month of the academic year. The schools break up at the end of the month for the summer holidays. Finnish people may have weather challenges, but they are not stupid. Whatever summer there is over here, they will make the most of it. Holidays are long - both from school and from work. There will be enough time to catch up with everything during the long dark months of winter.

Here in Somero we met in the town square this evening and the male voice choir entertained us while the bull statue was decorated for the occasion.

Tonight, all over the country, people will be dressing up, partying, dancing, celebrating, going to the sauna, swimming in lakes, blowing up balloons, getting drunk and enjoying Vappu.

May is one of the nicest months of the year over here. There's lots of light, the trees turn green, the ice cream kiosks open, the sun (usually) comes out and the schools eventually shut down. The summer is not quite here yet, but as the Finns keep telling each other at every opportunity, it's not far away anymore. Happy Mayday celebrations, wherever you may be.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Koski English Club

Just like most people, as we entered into the new year a few weeks ago, I hoped that this year would turn out to be better than the last.

Well, although we are still only in week seven, I am happy to say that 2015 has started well and has already included several positive surprises.

One of them has its roots in a conversation which happened last year. Koski is a small (but very pretty) municipality which is 25km away from Somero. I was told that there hadn't been any language courses or clubs there for several years, and I was asked if I would be prepared to start a Koski English group.

We had no idea whether anyone would be interested or whether anyone would come, but we decided to give it a go anyway.

To be honest, my expectations were not very high. Sometimes when you start a new course in Finland, the reality is that you walk into a classroom where no-one is speaking and everyone is sitting in silence. It can take time for people to start saying anything out loud. I half expected this to be the case in Koski, where I knew no-one and was starting from scratch.

As it turned out though, I could not have been more wrong. Fifteen people turned up to the English conversation club and everyone of them was friendly and chatty. I certainly didn't need to worry about any embarrassing silences!

Just a few weeks later these same people already feel like old friends. Koski English Club has been one of the great surprises of the new year and every Tuesday morning I know for sure that we will all end up laughing about something.

This week we talked about the difficulties Finns face in trying to pronounce English words. They asked about the differences between pronouncing God, guard, cod and card. They wanted to know how to say "vehicle" We talked about the uses of the words cupboard and closet - coming out of the closet and having skeletons in the cupboard.

One thing I know about learning languages is that it is much more likely to happen when you feel you are amongst friends - and particularly when you are able to laugh together. That is certainly the case in Koski, where I have found not only new friends but one of the biggest plusses of the year so far.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Where is the sun?

I am fairly sure that most people who have moved to Finland from somewhere else have their reservations about the Finnish winter. At least some of the time. I know I do.

Yes, it's true that we have four distinct seasons over here, and that is a good thing. And on the days when there is a snow-covered landscape and the sun is shining, the scenery looks stunning.  People ski, skate, sledge, build snowmen and rave about how beautiful it all is.

But there is none of that right now. The weather has been hovering around freezing in the south of Finland for the last two weeks.  Something is coming out of the sky almost all of the time, but it can't make up its mind whether it's rain, snow or sleet. Driving conditions are unpredictable, the roads are slippery and walking the dog is a challenge.

It's cold, and the strong winds are making it feel colder. The photos I took yesterday in Helsinki looked bleak - like they have had the colour sucked out of them.

But on the positive side, it's February already. The days are getting longer all the time, Valentine's day is around the corner and spring will definitely arrive at some point or another.

Some may get excited about winter, but for my part I am looking forward to seeing crocuses, daffodils and sunshine. Until then I wish you all a warm and happy February, wherever you may be.