Why Canada and Finland are Secretly Siblings, Separated at Birth

photo-3

Hockey. Need I say more?

But just in case: Finland’s huge telecom communications company, Nokia, is responsible for a large chunk of the country’s economic activity. Nokia had some trouble with its handset business and now, seems almost invisible. Our telecommunications giant – Nortel – actually did disappear.

Reason #3: winter.

Finland knows what it’s like to live close to overbearing, powerful neighbours. Think the United States makes life difficult? Try the Soviet Union, which Finland had to fight off in its terrible Winter War in 1939-40. Or the Russians, recently flexing their military muscles in the far north. Or even the Swedes, with whom the Finns have a love/hate relationship not so different from our own with the Americans. Recently, the Finns concluded a deal with the Swedes to share military hardware. ‘That’s smart. If anything were to happen,’ I said to a Finn at the time, ‘you would have the Swedes here to help you.’ ‘Are you kidding?’ this Finn replied, only half-jokingly. ‘For Sweden, we’re just a handy buffer zone.’

#5: forests. Birch trees. Lots of them.

Finns are polite to a fault. When I was recently in Finland, they would – almost without exception, apologize to me for how unfriendly a country Finland is. Then, in the next breath, they’d invite me for dinner. Like Canadians, Finns probably even apologize for being so polite.

#7: lakes and rivers (rivers are called ‘joki’ in Finnish). Lots of them, too.

Finland is a country with a future. The land in Finland is actually rising up out of the sea, an effect of the rebound since the last ice age, as the land ‘springs back’ from the weight of tons of ice no longer there. As the ice melts, there’s more land to Canada too. Unfortunately.

#9: our poutine, their karjalan piirakka. Just as unusual, just as tasty.

Finland is a safe, relatively happy country with a small population, largely ignored by the world. It has a winter that’s not as bad as its reputation (I was north of the arctic circle in February and it was warmer there than in Montreal). It struggles to do justice in relationship to its aboriginal population (the Saami). It has a linguistic minority in one part of the country and official bilingualism (Swedish-Finnish). Finland has blueberries and black bears, good universities and friendly people. Both countries have a history of social democratic movements that, occasionally, overlap: the most famous Finnish pancake house in Canada is the “Hoito” (Finnish for ‘care’), opened as a workers’ co-operative in Thunder Bay.

There you are: ten reasons why Finland and Canada are siblings separated at birth. I could go on. But of course, like any siblings, sometimes it’s the differences that are also interesting. Whatever else you can say about Finland, you’ve got to love a country that invented the sauna. Imagine visiting during a midsummer’s evening when it stays light into the early hours, and when there are bonfires waiting, with a sauna, perhaps some singing, a cold beer and a swim in the ocean or a shivery northern lake. That’s not just any sibling. That’s a sibling worth getting to know better.

Where is Home?

Here is an article that was published last weekend in two papers in Finland, about my new documentary on Finnish Canadians and Americans and the impossibility of ever going home. Thanks for Mari Tiensuu, reporter, for taking an interest in the film! (click on the link below to see the full article in Finnish)

Mari Tiensuu Finland Aug 2014

filming last daysand btw, you can see the 90 second trailer for this film by clicking on the link at the top of this page: Trailer: Under the North Star

 

Under the North Star

sauna

Taala Pohjan tahden alla, on nyt kotomaame.

Under the North Star is your homeland.
Not mine, but yours. Your homeland. Kotomaamme.
A rich word, a rich world you share:
granite and birch, heavy rye porridge and Jukka’s freshly-smoked whitefish,
oil on our fingers.
This homeland a rich dish,
bedrock rolling to the sea.
Marja-Leena and Tuula doing yoga, the long day stretching with them into gold-red evening,
Matti’s quiet sauna wisdom and Liisa’s raiki helping
set tables settled stomachs, well-fed for bed
heavy snacks, bone-tired to the bone,
16 CDs, say Anneli and Mirja.
But there must have been a hundred hugs:
old friends, neighbors, family coming from miles.
This land, a reunion, like the smiles,
dense as the egg on our Karjalan Piirakka.

Mo mo mi mo mi mo ma.
You Finns. You sing, you sauna, you laugh (more than Swedes!) you dance,
Summer’s chance, a precious balance,
Each bringing something: smile like Tuulikki, sing like Tanya,
Niilo listening with tears, Paul’s quiet humour, Helen tracing our journey,
Eila hugs, Kristiina quietly joining in, Dianne so happy to speak French,
Hans’s shoes. We lose inhibitions, learn our tunes.
Dominic, Suomi-fanni, plays spoons
while Erkki jumps from magnificent aria,
to tux-free, bare-bellied accordion prance.
And down the bus aisle Marja and I dance as Markku answers his phone,
finding our next home, the women tapping their sternums.

Times taught tight as the chords of Siipeni Murtuneet.
From the piano our director’s outstretched arm directing, resurrecting, confecting harmony,
the one “we” Terhi brings from so many individuals,
the details, schedules, worries forgotten.
Heal our broken wings, we sing.
And don’t forget, she adds, bending at the waist to show us,
fingers plucking her hair as she straightens: Sing from your heart.
And up from the top of your head.

In two months this bay will be ice all the way to Sweden.
But for now it’s the sea, and the rock, the lingon-berries Ismo and Eeva-Liisa, Seija and Marjatta
bend to pick.
Three miles to the Russian border, says Pirkko. This is my home.
And we, these late summer sunshine days, happy pilgrims under Leo’s care across the land of the north star.
Taala Pohjan tahden alla, on nyt kotomaame.
The same North Star, Vaasudbury, Alskat Hemmontreal, Turkkubellingham.
Our home both here and there. Split citizens. Homeward bound, but which direction?
Meren tuolla puolen toisen kodon saamme. This is also true.

Taala on kuin kukkasella
aika lyhyt meilla.
Then comes the day. The final chords, the binders closed, the last programs handed out.
No more dressing in washrooms. We make our way. Away.
But wasn’t it just yesterday
we shook hands in Vaasa?
Now hugs, hands held, a tear, a sigh.
Sometimes if you can’t say what you feel,
You can still sing it.
Sama taivas sama maa. The same north star, wherever you roam.
This is your land. Not mine.
But I almost felt at home.

gathering
with Liisa