Winter in Finland – 5

 My wife Mirja and I traveled to Finland last month. We continue our series.

 Hyvä asiakkaamme,
Ethän käytä huoneiston takkaa.
Se on tällä hetkellä epäkunnossa
Ja savuttaa sisään.

Dear customer,
Please don’t use the fireplace. It is for the moment out of order and the smoke comes into the apartment.

Ärade kund,
Vängligeninte sätta eld på spisen.
Der är ur function och skall röka in I huset.

Now wait a minute! We might need the fireplace. It’s LAPLAND and it’s -16C outside.

But the nice lady explained that they only manage these little apartments, they don’t own them, and fixing the fireplace involves a capital expenditure. That will require a meeting to authorize funds, and we’ll be gone by then.

Well, everything turned out just fine. The apartment was mightily insulated with a double door entryway and a great heater and sauna.

And I had fun with the translations. I took “Ärade kund” as a plea in Swedish to be kind and understanding, and in the Finnish, Ethän käytä huoneiston takkaa, I imagined they’d decided to confide to the natives that stupid Ethan had messed up the damned fireplace again.


FinnstoveFinns are a conserving lot, even when they don’t need to be. Like with space. The municipality of Inari, for example, just on the other side of the Ivalo airport, maybe 70 kilometers up the road, is Finland’s largest in surface area at 17,321 square kilometers. Which is about half the size of Belgium.

Finns live in a land bigger than Italy with a population density ranked 191st of 228 countries and territories and they make tiny, tiny, tiny stoves and fridges. I mean, I realize I'm from America, the land of the free and the home of the big, but c'mon, I'VE GOT A MEAL TO COOK, HERE.

The biggest carton of maito (milk) you can buy is a liter. And the loft in this little apartment, sure it’s for kids (please let it be for kids), but not only can you not walk in it, you can’t walk on your knees in it. A bloody death trap if there were ever a fire. Not that there would be, though, because our fireplace didn’t work.


You can understand why Finns have historically been part of Sweden or Russia, just as the Sami here in Lapland are part of Finland now. It’s because the world’s stock of Finns is perilously close to not being big enough to constitute a nation.

Here’s a country with no more people than metro Atlanta, and they’re the only people in the world who speak their language (although the language of their Finno-Ugric cousins in Estonia, whose country is even smaller, is similar). Imagine Atlanta as a national capital and Birmingham and Raleigh as capitals with distinct languages and cultures.

The whole ‘Finland’ proposition is fragile. Which makes me like it even better.

See photos in's Finland and Lapland galleries.

And see previous posts in this series: 1, 2, 3, 4


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