I frowned in response to this question. Cows – in brassieres? Why couldn’t the cows in Finland embrace the Nordic/Scandinavian morals and just go Woodstock?
I was soon to learn that it was indeed true - dairy cows in the countryside wore bras for udder support. Although it wasn’t my first visit to Finland, there was much I’d learnt in the past 3 months, living in the suburbs of Nivala as an intern for a mining company, that I’d been deprived of as a tourist.
For those to whom it is unfamiliar, Nivala is a town in central Finland, described by Wikipedia as unilingually Finnish, with a bustling population of close to 10,000 people, although I’m sure the most I’ve ever seen at once is 100. It has a karaoke bar, a pizza shack, and lest I forget, a statue of a woman milking a cow.
It was there that I got my first taste of Finnish cuisine, drank first of many sauna beers and spectated in competitive sports such as laptop throwing and high-heel relays.
Since I’d moved to Finland from Canada, where camps for exploration geologists are anything from actual camps (with tents, no running water and no Internet), to trailers, to cabins (the latter two having limited Internet connectivity), I came to find my quarters in Nivala more than liveable. Not only did I have my own room, but I had cable television, a fully stocked kitchen, and Internet. What was more, it had a sauna - a feature I was soon to learn was considered a necessity in all Finnish houses.
Although I was no stranger to the idea of showering, sweating your skin off and then repeating the process, the idea of taking beer into the sauna was one I hadn’t really taken too seriously. It was recommended to me by a friend at work, and on a weekend when I was home alone with little to do, I decided to do some Internet research and try it. Less than 10 minutes into a second bottle of Karhu, I remember feeling pretty pleased with life.
About a month into my stay, my preconceived notion about Finns not being overly sociable was proved false when my work friend invited me over to spend the weekend with him, his wife and a couple of their friends- all of whom were extremely chatty.
That weekend, I visited a javelin museum in the wee lakeside town of Pihtipudas, learnt that the stereotype about Finns and potatoes was indeed true (that they eat a lot of them, I mean) and got my first taste of Jalokola. The latter is a cocktail made with Jaloviina (Jalo), a cut brandy with spirit, and cola (kola). Although I was forewarned about the drink, I have to say I quite enjoyed it.
Another tick off my bucket list was sampling the local cuisine, so to speak. I sampled homemade blueberry pie or mustikkapiirakka and reindeer meat with lingonberries, stewed vegetables, pickles and, heaven forbid I should forget, potatoes.
The highlight of my summer in central Finland was, without doubt, the European Laptop Throwing Championship. Men and women alike competed in their respective categories for the title of “Best Laptop Thrower”.
Approaching a throwing platform (like you would expect to see for discus or shot put), most competitors had a glove on their throwing hand and selected their laptop by weight, much as one would a bowling ball. After a few stretches, spins or squats, they would fling the duct-taped laptop across the field, accompanying the action with a groan. And depending on if the throw was considered a success or a failure, a yelp or moan would follow. The winning throw in the men’s category was over 30 m.
The high-heeled relay that followed was, however, a bit of a disappointment in my eyes. Women in teams of four sprinted in their heels, dressed up in Marilyn Monroe costumes, as cowgirls, cats, and as something else that I’m still not certain of, loosely resembling drag queens. While their costumes were highly entertaining, there was no standardisation of heel length or shape. Should there have been a heel committee I would have motioned for the dismissal of wedges, and a heel shape and length under the “pump” and “four inch” categories respectively.
Although Nivala wasn’t the most hopping of towns, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and shall miss it sorely. For anyone planning a road trip there, I’d definitely suggest hitting up the pizza parlour, the karaoke bar, the farms with cows in bras, and the statue of the milkmaid and the cow. Finally, if at all possible, a visit during the laptop throwing season would be recommended.