Finland…almost like home! (Wisconsin)

Posted on August 20th, 2008 by BreAnn

From Spain to Jyväskylä, Finland

From Spain to Jyväskylä, Finland

Last weekend I went to Jyväskylä, Finland to Martti’s hometown for his sister’s wedding. We went for a few days extra—making it an extended weekend (August 7-11), which ended up being a REALLY nice relaxing getaway for the both of us. Getting there from Spain and coming back, however, was a bit of a BIG TRIP!

We basically left on a Wednesday overnight 8-hour bus to Barcelona, then we had about 6 hours to kill before we had to go to the airport, then a 2 hour flight to Germany, 2 hour layer, and then 2 more hours to the Helsinki, Finland airport. Arriving at 11pm Thursday night, we then had a 3 1/2 hour drive to Jyväskylä. Sheesh! And on the way back to Spain it was pretty much the same thing,,,, except when we went back through Barcelona we went directly from the aiport to bus station and jumped right onto a 7 hour bus back to San Sebastian without a break.

Anyway, it was a very enjoyable weekend overall. I was REALLY nervous because we were staying at his parents house–and I would be meeting them for the first time–and meeting all the rest of his family and friends. In addition, I was going to be the main person taking pictures for his sister’s wedding! At first, I thought it was strange Martti asked me to do such a huge task (being the photographer at his sis’s wedding), but apparently they really didn’t think pictures were a big deal for their wedding—NOT the way it really IS a big deal in the U.S. with professional photog’s that you pay thousands of dollars for. They just wanted somebody who could make sure to get a few memorable shots of their wedding day.

The wedding ceremoy was similar to that in the US–even though I didn’t understand a damn thing since it was completely in Finnish–but it was actually pretty short (under a 1/2 hour), starting at 2pm, and then directly after we walked right down the road to the reception hall–which was more like a log cabin kind of.  But the reception was soooooo long compared to those in the US. Probably from 3pm until about 10pm, with not much alcohol served, and only the last hour being dancing, yikes!  Entering the reception, the couple and their parents stood in a line and greeted their guests upon arrival.  People socialized for awhile, then the fathers gave speeches, then more waiting time, then dinner, then more waiting time, then a whole “wedding program.”  After each part of this “program” there was more waiting/ socializing time which made the reception lonnnng!  And EVERYTHING was in Finnish, so I ended up just staring at the wall a lot–or just taking pictures of what was going on.  The best man gave a speech, then Martti’s uncle played guitar, then a friend of the family sang, then a guy with an accordian played, then the grooms army buddies gave a speech, then we had cake, then there were a TON of games involving the guests, then they played games with the wedding couple (embarassing them a lot), and then they had the normal Finnish tradition of “robbing the bride” where guys dressed in black “kidnap” the bride, and the groom has to come up with a song and dance with some of the wedding guests to “win” her back.  After that, then dancing (which was actually the accordian player playing while the guests danced traditional waltzes, “old fashioned” dances, etc.), then throwing of the bouquet and garder belt, and finally the END!

Normally, when I’m brought as a date or as a friend to a wedding or event where I don’t know anybody… I do fairly well because I don’t really mind going up to people I don’t know, and having conversations with new people. However… with this language “gap” in Finland, I found it much more difficult. You wouldn’t think so, since most/all Finnish people actually know quite a lot of English—by the time they graduate high school they have taken 10 years of English classes–and can understand English fluently and can speak “decently” well. But—Finnish people, in general, REALLY look up to the U.S. and are EXTREMELY intimidated by a native-English speaking person. They think that since they’ve studied English for so long that they should speak the language perfectly, so they are shy/embarassed/intimidated to try to speak it with a native-English speaking person. I knew this before I arrived in Finland, and BOY–IS IT TRUE!! I would start talking with a group of younger people at the wedding, and once I started talking to a “better english speaking Finn”, within a few minutes most of the rest of the group would “slink” away quietly so they could avoid “embarassing” themselves with what they think to be “poor” English. They also had heard about “that American girl who’s at the wedding” so it was even MORE intimidating for them to meet me.  But I really didn’t care about how good or bad they thought their English was!!–I just wanted to meet people!

Martti and his family (without the sister who's wedding it was)

Martti & his family-without the bride

I tried to keep this cultural difference in my mind when it came to Martti’s family. He had told me in advance that his family is REALLY shy, except not as much for his father since his father works Internationally all the time and knows English pretty well and speaks it often. But obviously when you are meeting your boyfriend’s parents and family for the first time, you want to make a good impression and get along with them well. His family, in general, were very inviting and accomodating which was nice. However, for the entire 4-5 days I was there, the ONLY words his mother and two sisters spoke to me was “yes” and “no” and I avoided asking them any “big” questions that warranted a long response in English since I knew in advance they were so shy and scared to speak English to me.. and I didn’t want to put them in an uncomfortable situation. His father spoke a bit with me in English, and when we sat down as a group for lunch or dinner at their house, Martti and I would speak a lot in English to each other and everybody else… but as I spoke English and tried to use more simple terms and talk slower, I looked at them nod as I spoke and *HOPED* they understood. It was a bit awkward.

The night of the wedding (after the reception) we hung out with some younger people that had been at the wedding. They all spoke English pretty well and by now weren’t too afraid to talk to me—but I’m sure that’s also because everybody was pretty “tipsy” or drunk by then and had gotten their courage up.  This part was REALLY interesting for me because I basically sat on the couch while 5 or so people surrounded me with LARGE EYES, asking me question after question about America and what I thought of Finland, and EVERY and ANY story they could get of out of me and about my life and, “So are you and Martti the next to get married?”  Yikes. I felt a bit strange because it was like I was a celebrity or something!  But it WAS nice because once I sat around about 5 minutes while they spoke in Finnish, they would switch to English so I could be included.

Jyväskylä, Finland

Jyväskylä, Finland

In the end, I REALLY enjoyed being in Finland… it REALLY reminded me a lot of Wisconsin and where I’m from. The country is composed of a LOT of forests, lakes, and rivers, and they have many stores and malls just like in the U.S.  The restaurants and bars were also pretty similar to those in the US as well, and their open hours were the same too—although Sundays many things are closed like the rest of European countries/culture. It really didn’t seem like I was in another country except for the signs in Finnish and the people speaking Finnish. It was nice to be in a more “home-y” setting and it really made me miss my family and Wisconsin and the nice people and the comfort of being in “smaller city life.”

Which… I guess is GOOD since I’m now planning on moving to Finland after my studies are over and I have about 6 weeks to kill before I head back to the states . . . hmmmmmm 😉



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