Teaching Tuesdays: Finland in passing

Aurora borealis in Finland. (Creative Commons)
Aurora borealis in Finland. (Creative Commons)

I don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not Irish, and dislike parades, corned beef and green beer. Instead, in honor of MY heritage I shared stuff all day on Facebook about Finland because I’m 1/4 Finnish, so here’s a recap.

I plan to visit one day. Whenever I make it to the capital city, Helsinki, I have to see the Design Museum. Helsinki has a design week and a design district, consisting of 25 streets peppered with art and antique shops, boutiques, museums and exhibitions.

In addition to objects, Finns also are way appreciative of design in places. Helsinki was named World Design Capital 2012 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. The project got HUGE and continues in Design Driven City, a two-year project to promote the use of design in cities of the larger Helsinki area. The construction of Helsinki itself was designed almost solely by renowned architect Carl Ludvig Engel.

The Muuratsalo Experimental House includes experiments in “building without foundations” and “free-form column structure.” In addition, the Alvar Aalto Museum building in Jyväskylä houses a specialist museum of architecture and design, plus an international center for information on Aalto. Jyväskylä would be another stop for me, because that was my great-grandmother’s hometown.

Finns are tech-savvy and smart, inventing Linux and Internet Relay Chat. It surely doesn’t hurt that in 1963, the Finnish Parliament decided on public education as its best shot at economic recovery. The graduate program in education is fully subsidized and harder to get into than medicine or law. There’s a nifty overview called 26 Amazing Facts About Finland’s Unorthodox Education System, or for a much more detailed explanation see this Smithsonian magazine piece on why Finland’s schools are so successful.

Musically, Finland is home to Apocalyptica and Lordi … and “Finlandia.” Whether you know it or not, you’ve heard this song. The melody (at 6:09) also is used for at least six Christian hymns (and “Die Hard 2”). Jean Sibelius’ music is one of the keys to Finland’s national identity. Words were added about 40 years later and while it’s not the national anthem, some citizens have petitioned for it to be.

Finland has some unusual things, such as a heavy metal children’s music band and an Angry Birds theme park. Some embrace the “Finnwacky” tag and others disdain it.

After a successful Facebook campaign to get Anthony Bourdain to Finland, they performed bloodletting in a sauna on him. Among the other wackadoo activities there are a karaoke minivan taxi service ice swimming and Nordic walking with ski poles. Finland hosts “world championships” for both air guitar and cell phone throwing, as well as eukonkanto, or wife carrying. That one has spread to North America, retaining the traditional prize of her weight in beer.

See? Way cooler than leprechauns.

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