Sunday, January 29, 2006

Who does Sauli look like?

tarja vs conan
Originally uploaded by johanna__.
Yesterday we celebrated the birthday of a Portuguese collegue by having dinner in this Portuguese restaurant. One of her friends (actually Portuguese-American) turned to me after hearing that I was Finnish and said:

"You have elections, right? How's the red-haired woman doing?"

I was quite amazed. The guy has studied European Studies but still, honestly, no one knows that there is an election battle going on in Finland.

Well, the picture may have spoiled the punchline already. The fact that Conan O'Brien did Tarja Halonen jokes in his show on NBC has made more people aware that we actually have a president. Not that often that the face of the Finnish president is on NBC. I know this is old news for all Finns because the issue was fully covered in Finnish media when the show was aired. But this restaurant discussion reminded me once again that we do live in a shared media landscape here in the West.

Well, the evening continued by taking a trip down the memory lane with questions such as:
"What was the song of Meatloaf?" (and then loudly with the entire group: I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR LOVE BUT I WON'T DO THAT. WHAT'S THAT?"
"What was the film with Molly Ringwald? BREAKFAST CLUB!"
"Kylie Minoque did this duet with this guy, right, Jason Donovan. ESPECIALLY FOR YOU!"

It is clear, we are entering our 30s.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Spreek Nederlands!

Originally uploaded by
Sorry voor all mensen Nederlands niet verstaan. Ik moet nu in Nederlands schrifjen voor ik in Amsterdam woon. Mijn Nederlands is niet zo goed maar ik heb nu geen alternatieven. Minister Verdonk (Integratie and Vreemdelingenzaken) zei dat allochtonen (ik ben een allochtoon) moeten Nederlands op straten praten. Haar partij wil dat mensen zich veilig voelen.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Quest for leadership

Smokin' Cheeba Cheeba
Originally uploaded by hfb.
The Finnish presidential elections are in full swing. The latest polls show that the gap between Halonen and Niinistö has narrowed significantly. I think it was a commentator in the election blog of the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat who said that we are now seeing a real battle where Halonen has everything to lose and Niinistö has nothing to lose.

I watched last night the first television debate between them after the first round. I found it intriguing. Halonen was clearly tense and she was relatively easy to provoke whereas Niinistö was alert but stayed calm.

They both seem to have an image problem. Halonen started her campaign as the president of the entire nation and is trying to stick to that although she has been forced into a real political battle. Niinistö has a reputation as a precise and no-nonsense economist and is trying to broaden that. The supporters of Niinistö are trying to highlight the fact that Halonen is still a socialist whereas some supporters of Halonen are reminding that Niinistö was ready to make people pay for public libraries.

For me the situation is troublesome. I think that Halonen has been a superb president but her campaign has not been that good. As I wrote in an earlier post, her campaign has had a tendency for depolitication (is that how you spell it...) whereas Niinistö's is trying to remind that there are alternatives.

Halonen's problem is that she was elected as one of us. As a president she was like an improved version of the good things seen as Finnish (genuine, sincere, straight to the point). In the campaign, however, she has taken the role of president which does not really go together with the former image. Niinistö then again has never strived for being one of us. He plays the card of being A Leader, a charismatic man. Niinistö's economy-driven campaign is highly masculine.

From a point of view of rhetorics the debate on YLE was interesting. The candidates did not seem able to decide whether they should stick to formal Finnish or talk casually. Especially Halonen slipped even inside sentences. Niinistö, then again, is still so appallingly stiff in his articulation. But I guess several Finns interpret this as professionalism. In the elections 2000 one of the reasons Esko Aho lost for Halonen was that he was seen as too smooth. The debate reminded again that our political tradition is not a spoken one.

The second half of the debate concentrated on globalisation. I think this was an excellent move because that is an area where the views of our president can make a difference. I was disappointed once again. I find it alarming that both candidates still play into the hands of populists by starting their answer on immigrants by talking about Finnish mass unemployment.

Halonen especially is in a difficult situation with this subject. She seems to genuinely believe in fair globalisation (for instance her work in the ILO Committee) but she must make sure not to irritate the unemployed or trade union people on the left.

All and all, I think the feeling of a real competition has been good for Finnish democracy. President should be a position that you really have to fight for. It has become clear that Finnish voters have realised that they do have power.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Democracy Day

Ballot box
Originally uploaded by knautia.
It is so funny at times being between cultures, now meaning the Finnish and the Dutch. I spent the first part of the day in meetings with Dutch people which means that you have to fight for getting your turn to speech.

Well, the mood changed when I cycled to the consulate to vote in the presidential elections. Today was the only option for voting for us emigrants. This is how it went.

A Finn comes in to the consulate. He or she starts speaking Finnish to the woman at the reception.

Her face tells immediately that this is not the first time and she says:"Sorry, meneer, maar ik spreek geen Fins." And smirks.

The Finn turns around and sees the comrades who queue for getting their vote cast. The Finns smirk. They all did the same mistake so they definitely are not going to help the newcomers. You live and learn.

Voting is a nearly religious ceremony for us Finns. It is serious business which Finns communicate by waiting silently.

I was in a social mood and started talking (IN DUTCH) to the woman at the reception. Like asking whether it's been busy, saying that it's not the most exciting election, we all know who wins etc.

All the Finns stared at me like they were they were thinking of informing the authorities. I took all the fun from the situation by starting to be supersocial with comments like:

"It didn't hurt, did it?" (to a girl who just voted - reaction: smile)
"Well, civic duties carried out. Your turn, madam." (after coming out of the booth - reaction: smile)
"So nice that we can vote here and we do not have to travel to the Hague." (to the election worker - reaction: no reaction)

Such a funny nation we are.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Second round for all Finns, please

Tarja Halonen
Originally uploaded by greenpointlife.
Today was election day in Finland. Luckily we shall have a second round because the current president Tarja Halonen got only 46,4 % of the votes.

I say only because her popularity came dramatically down during the last weeks. It is rather clear that she will be elected but I still think it was brilliant that it turned into a decent fight. I found it really odd that Halonen's campaign chief said publicly that Finns could have saved a lot of taxpayers' money by selecting her on the first round. There were also several commentaries in left-oriented media saying that Finns would have a historical opportunity to select a president on the first round. Historicaly opportunity to do what?

I shall vote for Halonen on the second round, that is for sure. But I found it alarming that there was a strong tendency in the campaign to de-politicise the elections.

Oh, by the way: we are not an insignificant country. BBC World covered the Finnish elections saying that the election debates were dominated by the neutral country's relationship with NATO.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Oh, the good life

When I started this blog I made a decision that I would not go personal. Well, I am going to slip. So those who dislike the personalisation, emotionalisation and social porn of the modern society may want to consider skipping this entry.

I have had a Brilliant Life moment now for 36 hours. I have only been doing nice things. It is now one o'clock on Saturday afternoon. I just returned from the gym. I never ever make it to the gym like this, I mean early in the morning.

Sun is shining in Amsterdam for the second day in a row. While cycling back from the gym, I could not help smiling. And the funny thing is: people do smile back.

Yesterday I had my normal freelancer Friday. Or to be honest, it was a deluxe version. I sat 3,5 hours in the corner table of my favourite cafe (Villa Zeezicht) drinking coffee, eating a tuna sandwich and a piece of their famous apple pie, made one phone consultation to Finland and wrote an article for Suomen Kuvalehti. I also answered several emails from friends. Again, I was smiling and the people smiled back.

When I got home I first started watching the last Finnish presidential debate but after fifteen minutes realised that it was not what I wanted to do. I closed the stream and instead of heavy politics spent three hours watching the second part (meaning three episodes) of Mike Nichols' superb Angels in America. All the people in the series are imperfect and genuine. My favourites are clearly the prophet Prior and the loony Mormon wife Harper who travels to Antarctica through the fridge. Prior's monologue in heaven moves me every single time:"Bless me. I want more life. I can't help myself, I do. I want to go back."

I just realise that I spent the day basically alone. Well, if one does not count text messages with a friend of mine on the presidential elections and Angels in America.

I think a perfect life would be one like this where work meets pleasure in a smooth way. For me a perfect life is one where pop mixes with politics. I guess that's why I have Sugababes' catchy discopop hit Push The Button on repeat in my head.

Oh, my career as a columnist has started here, in Sonera's Ellit. Have a look.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

There is nothing like it

Yes, another praise for the BBC. BBC Two showed yesterday three superb programmes in a row.

1. Up in Town: Drunk, stoned and blunt. That is how we remember Joanna Lumley as Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous. After living for a year with the BBC, it has become clear that she is a highly regarded actor (conscious decision not to use the word actress) in British television. Up in Town is a series of ten monologues where she plays a former wife of an executive who speaks to the mirror while putting on her heavy make-up. You cannot move while watching. This is what they call charisma and presence.

2. Thick of It: Entertaining, yes. Clever, not really. BBC´s political satire of spin fails badly in being witty. Cynicism is such an easy way to go. I do not find it that clever that the most powerful person in the series is the Communications Advisor of the PM. Alastair Campbell is old news and an out-of-date joke.

3. Bigger Picture with Graham Norton: Hilarious stand-up comedian commenting the week with guests (this time for instance Rupert Everett) Humour as follows:"Talking about gay weddings...I WAS IN THE ELTON WEDDING! Well, the evening ended by my falling asleep in the corridor. The power of free alcohol is too much at times even for someone as rich as me. James Blunt played his ´You´re Beautiful´ hit and was trying to make eye-contact like...´you´re beautiful´...ooh, no...´you´re beautiful´...yuck...quite a challenge in Elton´s wedding."

Monday, January 09, 2006

Hangin´ with the kids

Originally uploaded by

The Finnish public broadcaster YLE showed yesterday a show where the presidential candidates were competing in teams formed from two candidates and two kids. Amusing and entertaining, I must say. The most interesting factor was seeing how the candidates interacted with the kids. So this is what one must choose from:

Sauli Niinistö (National Coalition, Conservatives, 2nd based on polls): awkward uncle who was embarrassed and wanted to get out of the kids’ room

Henrik Lax (Swedish-speaking party): jolly uncle who took the kids
seriously, sort of a godfather-like approach

Bjarne Kallis (Christian Democrats): older uncle, nice and harmless

Heidi Hautala (Greens): godmother who always means well and buys pegagogically useful presents but speaks a different language than the kids

Tarja Halonen (Social Democrats, current president): aunt who attempts to be nice to the kids but in the end mainly speaks to the parents

Timo Soini (True Finns, populist party): father who takes no crap and tells how things should be done

Matti Vanhanen (Centre party, current prime ministeri): supportive and energetic father

Arto Lahti (independent candidate): father´s awkward and stiff colleague who comes unexpectedly for a visit

Sunday, January 08, 2006


The Eurovision Song contest
Originally uploaded by Dwight Fry.
Sunday. Had a wedding of a good friend yesterday. The video on this site describes the humour that works for me today. It also explains why Finland never made it in the music world (best ranking in the Eurovision song contest ever is sixth or eigth). Some development has happened between this and Nightwish.

This song is relatively famous in Finland, although in Finnish.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

European unity has several obstacles

Originally uploaded by Robert Brook.

EU Observer - an excellent newsletter on EU issues - reported today that the Latvian government is opposing calling the euro "euro". They say that this is against Latvian grammar and therefore they wish to call it "eiro". However, there is a decision by the EU leaders that the currency should have the same name and spelling in all countries apart from Greece due to different alphabets.

The Latvian education minister went as far as saying that the issue threatens the fundamental values of the union, such as equality and identity. Latvia is willing to take the issue to the European Court of Justice. And now Malta wants to call it "ewro".

I think this is a classical situation where countries have to see across their national borders. And by following populist tones the governments keep feeding anti-EU sentiments.

To be honest, I dare to state that calling the currency "euro" does not threaten Latvian identity. The bigger change is joining the monetary union altogether.

Although Latvia was not a member of the EU when the decision was made (1997), I still do feel that in these sort of issues we have to stick to our shared decisions. Pity I do not have any Latvian readers who would be able to shed light on the issue.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I google, therefore I am

Originally uploaded by
First lunch break of the year. Back in Amsterdam. Yesterday was a concrete reminder what is the difference in heating here in Central Europe and back in the North. In Finland you do not freeze to death inside - you go outside for that purpose.

I also tried Skype for the first time and to quote my good friend, Ronald McDonald:"I´m lovin´ it." There is a sense of intimacy which I am sure I will get addicted to. My Skype is kiplekkerFI.

But the funniest thing I experienced yesterday was Google Fight. I presume most people know it already (and therefore knew it before me) but still: so much fun to test what beats what and who beats whom (for those who don´t know, it counts hits)

A few examples:

Madonna 50,500,000 results vs Britney Spears 31,300,000 results

Finland 405,000,000 results vs Netherlands 559,000,000 results

blog 993,000,000 results vs newspaper 462,000,000 results

sports 1,510,000,000 results vs arts 1,430,000,000 results

pop 498,000,000 results vs rock 494,000,000 results

young 848,000,000 results vs old 1,450,000,000 results

Monday, January 02, 2006

What's another year?

Originally uploaded by poulus.
- excellent modern Finnish literature in my bag (themes are the common ones in Finnish modern literature, mental illness, domestic violence and unhappy marriages)
- two new freelancer jobs (I have to admit, I am a consultant)
- a nephew and the status of a godfather (just realised that in Finnish I am only an uncle but in English a father)
- reconfirmed opinion that George Michael's hair was way too big in the 80s (they played WHAM DVDs at the New Year's Eve Party)
- update on Finnish pop (too many hours on my parents' couch watching The Voice)
- first experience with a digital television (or to be more specific, the device under the TV)
- decision to finally test Skype (my phone bills - especially due to foreign phone calls - is getting out of hand)
- new scarf (slightly tommyhilfigerish but home-made)
- reconfirmation that I have a 3-year-old friend in Porvoo who likes the same music as I do)
- new haircut (comments range from supergoodlooking and slightly military to Algerian 13-year-old)

Not too bad, is it. Let's get going.