Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Impressions of Finland

Varkaus, Finland

It is white with fresh snow here, clinging to the shapely evergreens, and very beautiful. The terrain in Finland (at least in this part) is flat, forested, and mostly rural. It is a totally modern country, heavily industrialized and very prosperous. Finns are technically savvy, and have a high work ethic. My hostess Prof. Tuula Linnas tells me that in several recent years, Finland has led the world's nations in export value per capita. Hence, Savonia University of Applied Sciences is much in demand as a place for future engineers from around the world to train, and in one of my lectures yesterday 13 countries and all the populated continents save Australia and South America were represented among the students and faculty members present.

Finland this week is not nearly as cold as is New Hampshire: -1 C. today in Varkaus, versus -8 C in Plymouth. Of course, that can change quickly in both places. But the -20 F. temperatures in Plymouth of one week ago would be -29 C, and I don't think weather that cold has occurred here this winter, in spite of the fact that Varkaus is almost 19 degrees of Latitude north of Plymouth.

They tell me that the North Atlantic Current brings remnants of the Gulf Stream's heat to the West Coast of Northern Europe, explaining its climate, milder than New England's. Still, I see how it is that Europeans are more concerned about climate change than the Americans. To be 19 degrees of latitude north of NH and this much warmer is surprising. I brought longjohns to Finland, just in case, and find myself wearing not even my topcoat.

While they are friendly-enough folk, culturally the Finns seem a bit reserved at first meeting, again reminiscent of New Hampshire natives. I may have surprised Professor Tuula Linnas with a bear hug at the airport Monday night. But I was tired, extremely glad to meet her after a month of pleasant e-mail exchanges, and culturally still in my Romanian mindset. (Tuula, who has been to Romania, expressed gratitude that I did not go for the kisses on both cheeks.)

The Helsinki Finns, other Finns and Northern Europeans and many Russians have summer homes in the small towns around the many lakes in this part of Finland. There are numerous spa towns, and in the winter one can ski (also in the summer, in underground ski-domes). The skiing, of course, is Nordic, for mountains for downhill skiing are lacking here. In fact, one point in Finland is over 1300 m above sea level (in NH, we'd call it "a four-thousand footer"), but that cold mountain is up in Lapland, above the Arctic Circle. Where most Finns live, the country is flat, but dotted with a reported 60,000 lakes. Eat your heart out, Minnesota.

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