Finnish Christmas – from a Spanish point of view

I know many of us have already started a new year and have probably forgot Christmas, but I’m still sharing a little throwback on our Christmas in Rovaniemi.

This year my boyfriend decided to come to Rovaniemi for Christmas, instead of going home to Spain, like every year. The point of that was to not leave me alone for Christmas, because I was working during the holidays, and couldn’t leave the city.

I knew it would be his first Christmas in Finland, but also only the 2nd or 3rd time of his life  far from his family for Christmas… So I wanted his Finnish Christmas to be perfect – despite the fact that I was working the 24th the whole day.

My boyfriend is not living in Spain, but in South of Finland. He knows everything about cold, skiing, darkness etc. And he has been in Lapland before, so any big cultural shocks were not expected.

But, as in Finland the food for Christmas is traditional and always the same, I spent the previous week by cooking. I tried to impress him with home-made Christmas bread and I even agreed to do a home-made gingerbread dough and we were baking them for 2 days!


Expect that Christmas is important for him, his family is very… Spanish, and they are many. The loud, talkative, close to each other, touchy, loving local Spanish food – family changed to be only me. Even that I talk a lot, no way I can do the same noise than his whole family!

To fix that, we called his family on Skype the Christmas Eve. After about 20 mins of people talking and shouting in Spanish, we hang the call and started eating our Finn-French-Spanish Christmas dinner.

The menu included canapés with foie gras, salmon, fish egg… Green asparagus with ham and cheese, Finnish Christmas ham and sweet potato casserole as well as rosolli (beetroot salad) and mushroom salad. Traditional Finn dishes were easy to do and to find ingredients, but for the foie gras and green asparagus we spent some time and few desperate moments.



I was very happily surprised that he enjoyed all the food so much, and honestly liked each dishes. (Good, because we were eating them for 3 days!)

In my plans I also wanted to bring him in Christmas church on the eve of 24th or at least on a Christmas carols concert… But actually, despite eating and cooking, our Xmas activities were about doing ice-lanterns and having a walk under snowfall at midnight.


We also opened some gifts already on the Xmas eve, even that in France that’s done on the morning of 25th, and in Spain traditionally they  get gifts only the 6th of January!

Traditions are made to be broken, and to spend Christmas in Finnish Lapland is one of the best places to get a real Christmas feeling. The days after Christmas we went skiing and walking and  enjoyed a lot the snowy landscapes before going to the South of Finland for New Year.

The Spaniard enjoyed Christmas in Finland, but is already asking if next year we will go to Spain… 😉

Naked Angels in the Snow

As an honor for my 99 years old homeland, I’m going to share my very Finnish weekend from few weeks ago.

As I live in Finland, but study in English and use a mix of English, French, Finnish and Spanish in my every days’ life, I was very pleased to get an invitation for a cabin weekend from my Finnish fellow-students. A whole week-end speaking only Finnish! 😀

The girls had rent a small cabin in Pyhä, a tiny ski-resort at 130 km from Rovaniemi. We had borrowed my moms car and were four Finn girls leaving Friday afternoon from the University. First thing was of course to buy food for the whole week-end. We didn’t have any list of what we wanted, but we had agreed our menu for the week-end earlier, so after a not very organized shopping, we had a cart full of food and drinks. The most important were glögi (Finnish Christmas drink), the dough for the traditional Christmas cookies and blue cheese, as well as beers for the sauna and wine for the food!

The road, until Pyhä took almost 2 hours and wasn’t very pleasant for the driver (me!) as in this period of the year at 4 pm it’s already dark, and in Lapland there are no streetlights. It was also snowing or very cloudy and foggy, and during the whole road we had to be aware of reindeers who might have appeared from no-where on the road. Luckily my passengers were very supporting and not in a hurry either. So we arrived on our cabin safe and happy, ready to have a relaxing week-end.

So what do a group of girls do in a cabin for a whole week-end?

The first thing we did when we arrived, was the fire in the fireplace, and some cups of glögi, with a drop of red wine in it. A perfect start for a week-end!

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Obviously for a relaxing week-end, food was an important thing. We ere cooking everyday, tortillas, soups, pies, salads, and having amazing breakfasts, but also snacks every time it was possible.

For me, the best thing was baking the “piparkakku”, gingerbread! I realized that I actually hadn’t done that in years… Because I was living so long time in France and spending my Christmases there, with other kind of traditions, it must be at least 5 years from the last time I was making ginger breads. (I did get some, every Christmas, but haven’t make them by myself). So thanks one of the girls, we had all the different molds with us and I was really enjoying doing the cookies… Feeling like a kid again!

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As sauna is the a very important thing in Finland, all the cabins you can rent, should have a sauna. And for us, it was also the thing we had waited the most. The sauna from this cabin, was so small that it was hilarious. But luckily it fitted all the four of us, even that one had to sit on a lower seat, and we had to make tours for that…  So, both evenings, Friday and Saturday, after we had dinner, we put the tiny sauna on and uncorked some beers. We were also lucky to not have neighbors in the cabins around, so we could really enjoy the sauna and snow very freely. We were bathing for few hours in the + 90 C, going in and out from the sauna, talking a lot, drinking the cold beers, and doing angels in the snow! It must have been a very funny view, if someone had seen us, four naked girls coming out steaming from the sauna, and rolling in the snow, screaming, making angels and then running back in, and coming out again… But it felt so good and we had so much fun!

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During the week-end the girls also took care about my common knowledge on Finnish tv-culture. We were watching Finnish stand up, and now I finally know who is ‘Ismo Leikola’! But we also watched Saara Aaltos x-factor show and some episodes of ‘Vain elämää’. The latter one is very famous show about Finnish singers, which started when I was living in France, and everybody were talking about it very much, but I had never watched a single episode. I also got tips for other Finnish shows that I could follow…

I found it funny and interesting at the same time, that even after almost 1,5 years in Finland, I could still learn about many things that I’ve been passing by when I was abroad.

Just to make it clear, as Finns are very outdoor people, sporty and loving their home countries landscapes, we were not only eating and drinking the whole week-end, but also had some walks around Pyhä :).

Next time we hopefully can bring our fellow foreign students to experience real Finnish traditions ;).

Happy Independence Day Finland! Hyvää Itsenäisyyspäivää Suomi!

Student advantages in Finland

As I already have one research proposal to finish, one essay to write, one Business Ethics exam to come, and one Spanish exam to come – I can as well use my time to write a blog post about student life in Finland… Right? 😉

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Some of my readings at the moment….

Last time, almost  two months ago, I wrote about getting an apartment in Finland compared to Paris. As it was the beginning of the semester, and I had just started the studies, I was very thrilled about all the student advantages Finnish students get!

Well, on that time I didn’t realize yet, that I wouldn’t have time to enjoy all those advantages as much I thought… But, they are still worth to mention, because after being a student in France for three years, I think it’s much better to be a student in Finland! (Even that I loved my studies in Paris too <3).

So here comes my list of Finnish-student-life-benefits:

  1. Free studies. For everybody, Finns and foreigners, in all the educational institutes (college, universities, high-schools…..). But there’s coming a change on this, since next year students outside Europe will need to pay  a tuition fee, which is estimated between 5000 and 20 000 eur per year (source here) . I feel very sorry for that, and I hope we will still get international students in Finland!

2. The student allowance – Like some of my friends abroad once said “Finnish students are actually getting paid for studying”. Yes, we can see it like that… All the Finnish students are allowed to get that allowance from the security social institute. It includes a monthly student grant and if you’re living on your own (like most Finnish students do) the housing supplement. Also, if you want, you can get the student loan, which is very low rated and not needed to paid back before you get your first full-time work.

There are of course few criteria to get the allowances, but the most important ones are to fill a certain amount of study-credits per month or per yer, and if you work next to your studies, not to earn too much money from there. These facts are constantly checked and if they notice you don’t fill the criteria anymore, you will probably need to pay back something…

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Sunset at 6.pm on my way home. 

3. There’s one thing that we have to pay when we start our studies in the University, it’s the Student Union fee, that costs (at the moment) 105 eur for the full year. By paying this fee we get several good benefits:

  • The student card – Lunch at 2,60 eur every day in all universities in Finland. The lunch includes salads and hot meal with bread etc. So actually many students even eat twice per day at the university, as it’s so cheap and handy. With the student card we also get several discounts in some shops, restaurants, coffee places, theaters, events  and from transportation, as VR (the national train company), and Matkahuolto (national bus company)… The list is long, and as it’s impossible to remember where we get discounts, the best is to ask each time we transact in a new place…
  • Services of the Finnish Student Healthcare Foundation – All the students that have paid the union fee, have access to the student healthcare. And this is really good, especially for dentists and specialists. The price that we have to pay for a consultation is usually only between 18 – 26 eur. Even that Finnish healthcare in general is almost free, the dentists and gynecologists for example cost a lot! We also get totally free of charge consultations, in the general practitioner, laboratory examinations, vaccinations, physiotherapist etc….
  • Better prices (or free) for student events, legal advice for free…

4. Student Housing – Like I wrote in my previous post, I got an apartment in Rovaniemi very easily. It wasn’t a student apartment, as they were full already and offering especially shared flats. All big student cities in Finland has their own student housing foundation, which offer flats for students from studios and shared apartments to 2-3 rooms family apartments. Depending on the city and your needs, you can get a furnished flat (good solution for exchange and foreign degree students)  or an empty one and furnish it by yourself. Some buildings include the wifi automatically, some not.  The prices are usually cheaper than on private markets and you get help and support for all housing questions.

5. SportPass – This is also something that I was very excited about. It costs 35 eur per year, and with the pass you get access for several gyms, climbing, group sport classes, yoga, swimming pool etc. On some places you have to pay a small fee for the class, sometimes you can buy the card for a longer period, but the prices are usually 30 – 50 % cheaper than without the pass.    I paid the semester for the Lappish Astanga Yoga school with -25 % discount. And as I haven’t had time to enjoy as much the other sports, at least I’ve been going for the yoga classes every week!

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On the well-being sport-appro-day we tried crossfit and yoga for free. 

6. Library services – Well, that’s something that already works very well in Finland, but I still want to point it out, because I think the system is very good. Here in Rovaniemi for example there are three higher educational institutes, and they all have their own libraries, but we can use the 3 of them mutually. Of course everything for free.

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Library of university of Lapland.

So here were few of the advantages that we have as a student in Finland. I have to point out that I have been happy about these benefits, even that many Finnish students are complaining at the moment. The benefits have been decreasing slowly every year, because he government is doing a lot of cuts in the student system. Last year there was a lot of protests and noise about this and I totally understand students were not happy bout the cuts.

For me, I think it would be important to remember, that compared to many other countries, we are still very lucky and enjoying about advantages, that most of the students in the world don’t have. But of course I hope the system will stay like this, and will not get modified more!

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Sunrise at 8.am. on my way to Uni ❤

Getting an apartment in Finland VS. Paris

Few months ago I wrote about my flat researches in Rovaniemi and moving plans there. Well, time went super fast and I always started to write something and then never finished. Now I am actually already settled in Rovaniemi in my new flat, but I can still give you a little shortcut about looking an apartment in Finland, and tell you how easily things work here…compared to Paris at least!

Some background information: When I moved to Paris in 2009 my first apartment there was a 9m2 “chambre de bonne“, in the 6th floor (without elevator!) of a very hype building in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. The rent was 615€ per month. And to get that ‘awesome’ apartment I spent about 2 months of visiting places and learning how to make a proper file with all the documents that landlords were asking… From working contracts to tax-informations…. I also had to ask my French grand parents to caution the apartment and to help me on paying the 3 months of rent that was asked at advance!

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The only picture that I could find about that tiny Parisian apartment, was from the day that I moved out from there!

This is to give a little sigh on what looking for an apartment in Paris, can look. I made the same thing few years later with my ex boyfriend and even then it wasn’t much easier, but we were lucky and got some help from our workplace on that time…

Anyway, in Finland no-one asked anything, when I confirmed the first apartment that I was offered.

First I applied for the student-apartments in Rovaniemi, but as they could offer especially shared flats, I also started to look on the private markets.  After many years of sharing my apartment with someone, this time I really felt that I want to have my place. As private markets in Rovaniemi were quit stuck, I also sent an application for KAS, Municipal Housing Homes. It’s a kind of real estate agent for the citys’ apartments. I just needed to fill the application online, and BIM! In two days they already sent me an offer! I was really surprised about that because I had heard that when you apply for the municipality, it always takes time… They sent me an interesting offer which I had to accept or reject within 5 days. Without seeing the apartment, being still in Kalajoki for my summer work, I decided to accept it. In France  I would have never-ever accept an apartment without seeing it first, but in Finland I know that they respect all the laws and do things very correctly. The only thing I was afraid of was that the walls would have had some horrible colors… (few years ago one of my friends moved in an apartment that she hadn’t seen before, and it was quit a surprise when one wall was pink!).

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I could only see pictures from outside, but any from inside, because there was still someone living…

 

But the most surprising thing for me was, how easily the processes went. We agreed everything by phone, the only document that I was asked to send to the agency, was a proof of my study place. I was almost about to ask “are you sure, you don’t need any other documents?” But I decided to stay silent and be happy that any incomes, tax returns or birth certificates were asked…  And the same day I got my lease by email, printed it, signed it and sent it back as an iphone picture. And that was it! I got they keys by showing my ID at the agency few weeks later.

I don’t know if that went so easily, because I’m a student now and because I rented trough that agency, but in general people who rent on private markets also, never need to show as much papers and proofs as in France. Of course I get the point of that in France, where is so much more people living, but it’s literally a hellish nightmare to rent an apartment in Paris.

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The first week I slept on air-mattress, but it didn’t matter because I finally had my own closet for my clothes!

Actually my positive surprises didn’t stop there, as the next thing I had to do, was the electricity contract. The KAS-agency gave me names of electricity suppliers and I just needed to contact them by email or by their internet-site and in 24hrs they sent me their offer and we made the contract trough internet. I didn’t see anyone or talked in phone with a single person, but I got my electricity contract, AND everything was working since the first day I got to the apartment.

And yes! When I got to see the apartment for the first time, after that I had signed the contract and already paid one month of rent, I was satisfied :). I have one small bedroom with a balcony, and one living room/kitchen + bathroom and entrance, around 40 m2 and the rent is under 450 e per month. By bike I’m 15 min from the university and the city-center.

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The next amazing things about Finland are the student offers ;).

 

One year since I moved back to Finland

I haven’t been writing a lot lately… compared to one year ago, when I posted new articles almost once per week. It was the time that I had a lot of things happening in my life and a lot of thoughts to write down. Lately, I haven’t found any motivation for writing, even that I’m in a very inspiring environment with beautiful landscapes and Scandinavian tourists all around.. There would be a lot of things to say about Kalajoki, and  the caravan-culture, that is totally new for me.

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Its also one year ago that I took the decision to move back to Finland and to find out if I could live in my first home country again. (You can read about that here).

The year have gone so fast, that I still haven’t really found out if I really want to stay here…  I was working in the magical Lapland for the coldest winter months, I was in Finland for the 1st of May, and for Midsummer, I’ve seen the incredible nature that this country has, to die for winter and to awake for summer. I’ve seen the northern lights and midnight sun, I’ve got to warm myself in the sauna and to swim in the lakes, I’ve been eating fresh salad and berries from the garden and making jams… I have also discovered that not all the Finns are quiet and a bit introverted, that there are regions where people actually talk a lot and are very welcoming !  Even that, it’s the coldest and (on winter) darkest region of Finland…

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And it’s also the place, where I’m moving for next two years.

So, even that I still hate the Finnish self service-culture and the fact that I can’t buy wine outside the very restricted alcohol-selling-regulations, I’m moving to Rovaniemi, the Lappish capital, for studying again. So, at the moment I’m staying in Finland.

This means, that at the moment I’m discovering how to look for a flat in Finland and how it differs from France (nothing can be worst that in Paris, right?!) and I’m trying to calculate how easily I will live as a student again, and discovering Finnish students amazing advantages as the student grant and -healthcare!

When I started to write this post I thought it will become a nostalgic writing about France and souvenirs, and complains about Finland… But actually I realize that I’m excited about my life at the moment, and I can’t deny how often I think that I really love my life and how lucky I am. So, even that the decision to leave last year, was one of the hardest I’ve ever took, I can just compliment myself, because apparently it was the right one. Since I left, I have done exactly those things that I wanted to do, and have been living the life that I needed… Now, I’m also very impatient to find my flat and to settle down at least for a year or two and to get to know my new friends at the university and to study and work for real again.

Maybe I will get new inspiration for the blog as well… As most of the students come from, and will discover Finland for the first time… 😉

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About double-nationality

I’m following a blog group of expat-Finns, and many of these bloggers have children who are growing in a foreign-country with at least two languages and cultures around them. It’s been interesting to read and follow the articles about their lives, and what do those parents wonder about their children growing with that kind of environment.

I am one of those children too, just a grown-up one,  and I’ve been often thinking about that richness I have, but also that feeling of being ripped on two parts my whole life… That feeling came back very strongly last week, when I was in France for holidays.

Just a little reminder, for those who don’t know me yet; I was born in Finland, from a Finnish mother and French father. I also grew up and finished my high-school in Finland.

Since I was a baby, my dad was talking in French to me, and my mom in Finnish. I have a two years younger sister, and at home, we all used to talk in Finnish and French. Basically we were supposed to talk in French with our dad, and Finnish wit our mom. Of course the fact that we were living in Finland affected our language-learning and Finnish became the dominant language for us. Before the elementary School we used to go for few years in a French kindergarten in Tampere. As all the kids were not half French, but some were fully Finnish, my parents still remind me how  already on that early age I used to translate to other kids, when they didn’t understand something…  And I did that a lot at home with my sister too.

When my friends in school spent holidays with their grand parents and cousins in Finland, we traveled every year to France to spend at least one month with our French grand parents and cousins.  Actually, we spent almost all our holidays abroad, in France, there was not really other choices as half of the family was there.

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In high-school, when I wanted to leave abroad for one year, I decided to go to France, to Strasbourg. I’m not sure why I choose France instead of England, Germany, Spain or Austria…I actually don’t even remember to have thought for other options, France was the most natural solution. And the year passed in a French high school taught me a lot. I finally learned how to write French, as in Finland I was always talking in French but never learning it at school. That also helped me to pass the more demanding French baccalaureate exam.   It was also the first time and occasion that I was getting real friends in France, who were not related to my family… And getting stronger liaison with the country. I also had my first serious boyfriend and love there, which made me to take the decision that once I’ll finish high school in Finland I’ll immediately move back to France.

Well, that relationship ended meanwhile, and there were others, but one thing didn’t change; Once I had finished high school in Finland, I moved to Paris and stayed there for 6 years.

When I was living in France I came for holidays in Finland once or twice per year for a short time. I also traveled other places and countries but Finland was the mandatory place I had to go. And when I was in Finland I spent the holidays by running everywhere, to see all my friends and family… As all the expats when they go home for holidays (I just never considered myself as expat, as I was at home).  Each time when I left from Finland back to France, I was feeling sad to not be able to stay more. But I was always happy to go back home. I always said that my home was in France and that I couldn’t imagine to live back in Finland any more.

Well, when I suddenly decided to move back to Finland last year, I’m not sure what I was expecting about the adaptation and feelings to be back “home”… But it have been surprising to notice that it takes such a long time to feel really at home. When I was in France last week, and talking with friends, my family, old colleagues… Everybody were saying “you are so French, you should live here instead of Finland”. And I was feeling so at home there, that I was also wondering why I ever left… But then I was thinking about all my friends and family that I’ve got back in my life when I moved to Finland, and also the new people and activities, as well as the quality of life, which I prefer here…

As France is the place where I feel REALLY at home; Today, what still bothers me, is that I can’t get rid of that little accent I have, when I speak French. People can say what ever they want about how cute it is, or how it makes me ME, or it’s my personality…etc. For me it’s not the same than to talk English or Spanish or German, for me French is my second language and I should be able to speak it as I speak Finnish.

Some moments I also really get tired about this so called richness of having two languages with two homes and cultures. Sometimes I would prefer to have one home country where I know I always want to come back, without missing anything else. I know I shouldn’t complain about this gift that I have, and of course I wouldn’t change that for anything… But some moments I just feel too ripped and tired, that I’m wondering how life would be if my both parents were only Finnish or just French.

The worst   funniest thing in this, is that now I’m dating a Spanish guy, who’s living in Finland… And I don’t know about the future, but seems that instead of two, now I’m having three countries and cultures in my life! 😉

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When our first french cousin born, our Finnish grand-parents came to France with us. This is one of the rare pics that our both grandparents from Finland and France, are on the same picture…

1st of May, called “Vappu”

One thing that I missed in France every spring, was the Finnish Vappu. In France the 1st of May is also a workers day, and some demonstrations or politic speeches are organized, and you can find ‘lily of the valley – sellers’ in all metro stations and street-corners. It is also a way to celebrate spring, but in a very calm way. Streets are mostly empty and no-one is working that day.

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So, as in Finland the celebrations for the 1st of May start already the day before and include a lot of traditions I was very happy to be finally in Finland this year and able to participate on that big spring-celebration! 😀

As I’m an endless epicure, I will start about the food traditions:

Sima – a sparkling brew, made mostly about water, sugar, and lemon, and including some raisins in the top of the bottles. The thing with sima is that it’s made by fermentation, and is ready about a week after it’s been put in bottles.  When we were kids, my mom always used to do that at home, and I wanted to do some also this year… Only I didn’t realize I should have done earlier, and I left to France just before Vappu. So I didn’t have time to do it, and get it ready for the 1st of May. Maybe next year …?

Well, I had some home-made Sima in my aunts’ house, with freshly baked donuts ;).

Munkki (Donut) – is an other tradition for that spring-party, as well as Tippaleipä and Rosetti. I have to admit that I have never eaten Rosettes, they are traditionally Scandinavian Christmas cookies, but in Finland made also for Vappu…

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Besides the  sweets, Finnish Vappu traditions also include potato-salad and little sausages, or frankfurters.  And as we are in Finland, the celebrations include a lot of alcohol. Nowadays Finns preferred drink for Vappu is champagne or sparkling wine, but also all other alcohols are relevant.

So, when do we eat all this, and how do we celebrate exactly?

As I mentioned before, people start the celebrations already the day before, so the 30.4, by picnicking or having some party at home with  friends, by going out, and especially visiting the traditional Vappu-Market.  The market is set in all big cities for the 2 days. It includes a lot of food-stands, costume-stands, candies, plays for kids, and  some clothes and jewelries etc… And around the market we can always found tens of balloon-sellers. Those helium-balloons, called ‘Vappu-pallo’ are kids (and some adults’ also) best attraction for Vappu… The characters change every year, depending on the fashion-thing of the moment. This year it was ‘Elsa’ from the movie ‘Frozen’, and also the ‘Minions’…

Besides that Vappu is is the traditional workers day, and a way to celebrate the spring, it’s also a huge student-party. In Finland the university students get some different colors’ overalls (depending on their faculty department) and they wear them usually when they are partying… And those who have graduated from a Finnish high school have all a white graduation cap, which is also part of the traditional Vappu-accessories. That’s why on the May Day, the cities are full of students with colorfull overalls, and people wearing white hats!

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In Tampere there’s a special tradition for the student of the Technical University, that they get dipped in the rapid in the middle of the city. 

The way to celebrate also depends a lot about the weather. Finnish spring is quit unpredictable, and actually many Finns spend the week before Vappu by examining the forecasts. It’s quit normal, and a kind of inside joke in Finland, that usually it rains and is cold in May Day…  Anyway, this year we were lucky! It only rained a little the May Day eve, but then the 1st of May it was very sunny and warm (+16 C!) and for the first time this spring I had the feeling that maybe summer is really coming to Finland too…. 😉

 

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So, after hard partying on the May day Eve, everybody are having a little hangover the next day and having picnics and walks around the sunny city.

Well, like this it sounds that Finns really know how to celebrate the May Day and upcoming summer, but these celebrations have some dark sides too… For me personally, Vappu could be celebrated with less alcohol and in a cleaner way. By this I mean, that usually after Vappu the city center looks quit awful, and people still haven’t learn how to clean their traces after having fun.

One surprising and good point, I heard in the news this week, was that the sale of alcohol-free drinks have increased a lot this year!

And I had a fun Vappu with my friends, after many years that I hadn’t celebrate it at all! And now I do feel that spring and summer are coming in the north too ;).