Ahead of tomorrow night’s Eurovision Song Contest Final, I’ve just been watching a tremendous documentary on SBS. Watching it has brought back some wonderful memories of a brief visit to Helsinki a few years ago which I thought I’d share while they’re still fresh.
The program described preparations for the contest, and theorised about the importance of last year’s Eurovision win to the Finnish psyche, locating it within the recent historical context of Finland’s emergence from being under the “watchful eye” of the USSR. Although an independent Western nation, Finland was, for many years, closely allied with the USSR due to its sheer geographical proximity. You can see it in some of the architecture around Helsinki. This meant Finland also took part in the Eastern bloc version of Eurovision. But as someone who won that contest for Finland explained, it meant nothing compared with winning Eurovision.
Over the years, though, Finland has had a terrible record in Eurovision, sometimes being awarded “No points”, a trait shared with another Scandinavian nation, Norway. Amusingly, one of the people on tonight’s program observed “Fins are just like Norwegians, only a little happier”. There must be “something Scandinavian” in my ancestry, because I knew exactly what he meant.
And this is perhaps why I enjoyed visiting Helsinki so much. We were only there a few days, but there was something very memorable about the experience. Perhaps it was because, even though it was only a few years ago, Finland wasn’t really on the regular “tourist trek”.
On the way there, for example, we were constantly confused with Fins, with flight attendants speaking to us in Finnish, while nearby Australians were always addressed in English. The bloke on the plane next to us explained that Damien “looked like a Sami”, one of the indigenous people of Finland. Although I’d learned enough Finnish to order food, wine etc, I remember English wasn’t all that widely spoken. I remember, for example, conversing with a Finnish man (with poor English) in our only common language, “Broken German”.
I also remember how immediately comfortable we felt on arriving there. The weather was great, the lifestyle relaxed, and we had few difficulties getting around.
Other assorted memories include eating reindeer, seeing some live music in a local pub, noticing the large number of words with double letters in them, noticing all the signs were in both Swedish and Finnish (both official languages), buying something in very broken Finnish in a pharmacy, and noticing the local gay bar, “Con Hombres” had a big “Gay Bar” sign outside (let there be no confusion).
I’d like to go back to Finland.