Flavors for milkshakes in McDonald’s Finland are vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and pear. Pear milkshakes are very good. They taste like pear, a crisp, not-too-sweet flavor. The stripes of fudge that they put on the inside of the cup add a nice zing. Pear milkshakes are the only reason I’d set food inside a McDonald’s. As there is a McD’s in the Prisma where we do some of our shopping, pear milkshakes will be an occasional treat.
When Roger Corman got into filmmaking, he knew what he wanted. He wanted to make movies, but he also wanted to make money. As an artist he had things he wanted to say, as creator he had things he wanted to try, but he recognized that your artistic integrity doesn’t matter if you don’t have an audience to connect with your message. You can’t make art if you can’t pay the rent. Rather than compromise, he figured out ways to do what he wanted and pay the bills at the same time.
Something I heard repeatedly in my corporate career, and again in business school, was how this person or that person it it big by rejecting conventional wisdom and rethinking the way things are done. In school, at least, the overarching message to this was that you need to understand the rules in order to know when and how and (most importantly) why to break them. In the corporate world, in spite of all the talk, no one really wanted to eschew conventional wisdom. That involved risk, and risk is bad; best to always play it safe.
But what Corman did was use out-of-the-box thinking to to mitigate risk. He figured out how to do nearly everything cheaper and, therefore, increase his bottom line and insure that he made a profit. No big-name stars, no well-know directors, no award-winning screenwriters. Tap the up-and-comers, the undiscovered talent, the people looking for a break and willing to learn. You may think of Corman as a purveyor of schlock and exploitation films — that’s only partially true — but if you look at the talent that came up through Corman, well, you’ll see he was doing something right. Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdonovich, Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Sylvester Stallone, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Gale Ann Hurd, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, all got they breaks from Corman, all came up through the Corman system.
Don’t shoot in Hollywood, where the overhead is high and even scale wages can cripple your budget. Shoot in out-of-the-way locations across the United States and around the world, where you can get more production value for your buck. Shoot two or three movies at a time, using the same sets, the same costumes, the same props, even some of the same actors and crew, so you can spread your costs across multiple movies. Make the most of what you have from people to physical assets to stock footage. Use the hell out of it. Use it up. Squeeze every last drop of value from it.
Corman learned tricks to make movies look bigger and more expensive than they really were. He made films that looked great, and competed with head-to-head with big-budget studio pictures. He realized that he didn’t need to be in direct competition with the big names, though, a lesson most creatives need to embrace. He didn’t need to be number one at the box office, or to win awards, or even garner critical acclaim. He needed each film to turn a profit, to do better than break even, so that he could afford to pay the rent and continue creating.
Since we didn’t have much in the way of kitchen items yet, our groceries on Day One were limited to things that don’t require cooking and can be eaten by hand. That means fresh fruit, yogurt that we can eat with the two spoons we current own, and sandwiches.
Rye bread is ubiquitous in Finland; it’s what they each. I tried to pick something that looked like multi-grain wheat bread, rather than the typical dark, dark rye. It as also the cheapest loaf I could find. I figure, start low-end, and work up until you find the least expensive kind that you like. It’s bread. It’s pretty good.
We’ve been told we have to try the mustard, which comes in tubes like toothpaste or oil paints. The Finns love their mustard. Katie insisted on the “mild” variety, which tastes sweet like a honey mustard salad dressing. I tried the “hot” variety, which I was warned is basically a lot of horseradish with some mustard in it and will blow my head off; it tasted like normal mustard to me, not really all that hot. Disappointing.
The lunch meat was more challenging, because we don’t really read Finnish well yet. I know Havarti cheese, so that was an easy pick. The meat itself, well… most of what was recognizable was expensive. Katie picked out something that we hoped was chicken bologna — it looked like pale-colored bologna, and had a picture of a chicken on it. That’s a sound basis for making purchasing decisions, right? It’s not bad. It tastes like chicken lunchmeat you’d find in the US, but far, far less salty.
Overall, some good sandwiches were had. Nothing fancy but good, cheap, and filling. I’ve since acquired basic cookware and dishes soon, though, and have gotten back to real cooking. Meals have always been a part of our routine, and cooking is a one of my favorite leisure time activities. It will help us reestablish some sense of “normal” here in our new home.
Many Americans think of the bathroom as a sort of oasis, a spa, a retreat. It’s a place where you can have a relaxing bath surrounded by candles in a beautifully decorated setting. This ignores the basic fact that the bathroom is, at its heart, a utility closet where the accoutrements of necessary hygienic needs are stored and shuttered away. The bathroom in our apartment is decidedly of a utilitarian bent.
On the upside, it’s certainly spacious. It’s one open, windowless room. There is no cabinet or storage space, which is probably because this is a glorified dormitory and roommates tend to keep things in shower caddies in their rooms. Not a huge problem, especially since it supports the minimalist lifestyle that Katie and I are trying to maintain. There seems to be plenty of hot water. And there’s a radiator in there, which means it has its own heat source in the winter.
On the downside, well, I don’t know that it’s a downside as much as it is different from what we’re used to. It’s a big room with a drain in the floor. There’s a shower head in one corner, a sink and mirror in the other, and a toilet. The toilet paper holder and light switch are, blessedly and logically, on the side farthest from the shower, as are hooks for towels. It’s certainly going to be easy to clean.
The sole drawback is that it’s a step up to walk into it. Not a big, noticeable step either, maybe half an inch. Both of us have tripped and stumbled over it. We have a running bet as to which of us will biff it and fall down first; we’re each betting on ourselves. I may try to find some orange duct tape or something to put on the edge to serve as a visible reminder.
It’s not a personal spa center, but so what? It gets the job done and is low maintenance. We’re here to get work done, and to get out of the apartment so we can meet people and see things. The fact that it’s kind of stark and uninviting forces us to focus on other, more important things than weird concepts of luxury.
Our apartment, as nice as I think it is, is still student housing. Aside from having a nice kitchen and its own bathroom, it’s a dorm room. There’s no living room, but it’s got two bedrooms. Each was equipped with the standard dorm-style bed, desk, chair, bookcase, and small table. I say was, because to make the place more homey, we rearranged the furniture.
We took the room closest to the bathroom and declared it to be the bedroom. We pushed the beds together in there, and used the two small tables as nightstands. That’s all that fits in there. That closet is Katie’s closet, and we’ll add some lamps and rugs and decor, but it’s a nice little bedroom.
The other room now has both desks and both bookcases, and we’ve dubbed it the studio. I will write there, Katie will do her school work and art there. The closet in the studio is mine. We’re going to supplement with lamps and an area rug, but it’s a comfortable workspace.
The only complaint with either of these rooms is the lighting. It’s weak. That’s why we’re going to supplement with lamps. They say that Finns suffer a high level of depression because of the long winters with very little sunlight. I think it has to do with the fact that they haven’t seemed to advance beyond florescent lighting. Seriously, people. Brighter lights and maybe some of those “grow light” bulbs that simulate sunlight.
The bedroom and studio are important spaces, and these are going to work. I think we’ve already seen progress in making them not feel like dorm rooms, and more like a home. As we go along we’ll add more little touches and bits of decor, including some live plants; there’s a long shelf in front of the windows in both rooms that are perfect for plants. This is our home for a while, and we’re treating it as such, and not just a space to crash and study.
We got a clock radio on Day One because we needed an anchor against jet lag. It’s still hard to keep track of what time it is, between our body clocks being messed up and the very short period of nighttime darkness. We wanted a visual reference to let us know where we were on the timeline. We also wanted to get back into a routine of going to bed at a set time, and setting the alarm to wake us up at a set time.
I didn’t figure we’d be listening to the radio, so I set it to the first station that came in clearly. At the time I was setting it, they were playing Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. It turned out to be a station that plays nothing but 70s and 80s American rock and roll. I’m guessing it’s a college station, because there are few commercials and about ever 30 minutes someone comes on and mumbles a couple of sentences in Finnish.
It may be the most eclectic station I’ve ever heard. Earlier this morning they played Billy Idol, followed by Frank Zappa, follow by Genesis. In the past few minutes, I’ve heard The Ramones, followed by The Blues Brothers, followed by AC/DC. Katie about did a spit take when they followed Metallica with Dire Straits. I’ve heard Elvis, the Doors, the Beatles, and Bruce Springsteen all played on this station. It’s kind of fun. I think it would give Pandora a stroke.
The station’s existence doesn’t surprise me. As I mentioned the other day, the first homeless person I met was wearing a KISS t-shirt. I’ve seen a lot of t-shirts with classic American bands on them. A street vendor in city center was selling old tour posters for classic rock bands. In a lot of ways, it’s hard to tell Jyväskylä apart from nearly any college town in America.
Of all the apartment kitchens I’ve had to live with, this is probably the best layout I’ve ever seen. Of some of the house kitchens I’ve had to live with, this is still one of the smartest layouts I’ve seen. It’s not huge, but it’s well-designed and functional.
The biggest difference between a Scandinavian kitchen and an American kitchen, and I’m told this is pretty standard in most homes and apartments, is the drying cabinet. Directly above the sinks is a cabinet with no bottom. The shelves are wire racks. You hand-wash your dishes and put them up in the drying cabinet. They can drip down into the sink and air dry. You can then either put them away, or leave them there until the next use. This is brilliant, and simple.
The fridge is small, about as narrow as an American mini-fridge but taller. There is plenty of cabinet space. There’s a utility closet with room for brooms and mops, and eye-level shelves for cleaning supplies so you don’t have to bend and crawl under the sink (that’s where the recycling bins go).
The stove is narrow, with three burners. The oven is big enough to maybe bake some cookies and maybe a large meatloaf, but I couldn’t fit a turkey in there. It’s all electric, which is both disappointing and comforting; as tightly sealed as this place is against the winter cold, a gas leak would quickly become tragic.
What I really like about the kitchen is that its incredible spacious. Even with a table and two chairs, there is plenty of room to walk around. The two of us can move about without tripping over each other, and we could probably add a couple of guests and still be comfortable and not cramped.
Our apartment is a 3rd-story walk-up. We’re on the 2nd floor, but that’s following the British convention where the 1st floor is called the ground floor, and the 1st floor above the ground level is what Americans call the 2nd floor. That’s just the start of the exercise we’ll be getting.
We have two front doors to our unit. Not two separate entrances, or side-by-side double doors. Two doors the way that American homes have a screen or storm door in front of the actual door. You open the door, and inside is another door. All Finnish homes are like this, we’re told. It must be for insulation and warmth, because it’s not for security; the interior door has no locks on it.
The windows are triple-paned and do not open. To get fresh air, there is a thick little door to the side of the window that opens to a screened vent. As we walked around city center, I saw that a lot of windows had this configuration. Our views are spectacular, though, because we’re in a heavily wooded area.
Our balcony is lovely. It’s off the kitchen and has double doors, of course. Because it’s summer we’ve kept it propped open to let fresh air in. The view, again, is lovely.
Recycling is mandatory. We have to separate glass, plastic, paper, metal, and organic waste (compostables, basically) and dispose of them in separate bins. The only things that seem to go into “trash” proper are food containers and potentially bio-hazardous waste like facial tissue and diapers.
Everyone has bicycles, and there are more bikes in the parking area than cars. No one locks their bikes, at least not with what Americans think of as locks. Honestly. There’s a read-wheel lock that keeps the tire from spinning. That’s it. No chains or steel loops hooking the bike to a rack or pole or other immovable object. It’s the same at the train station and in city center, where there are hundreds of bikes just parked. In the US, someone would just drive by and throw the bikes in the back of a truck, and pop the rear wheel lock off later.
We’re about 100 meters/yards from the bus stop that takes us to main campus and city center, but campus is about 2 km/1 mile away and city center is about 3 km/2 miles away. We can walk it, or ride bikes (once we get them) and save on bus fare.
The nearest shopping center is about an American city block away, shorter if you take the path through the woods. I’ll write about shopping in a separate post, but for American readers, imagine Wal-Mart, Target, and your regional supermarket all next to or across the street from each other. Everything is conveniently right there.
Most exciting for me, there is a lake across the street, on the other side of our building. No view of it from our windows, but I can walk across the street and go swimming or fishing. While it’s pretty far down the list in terms of things we “need”, and the proper gear probably won’t be acquired until spring, I have aspirations to spend a lot of mornings going fishing. That will be some zen happiness.
Eggs in Finland, as in most of Europe, are stored at room temperature. They’re not refrigerated in the stores, and you don’t put them in the fridge at home. Unrefrigerated eggs will keep just fine for 4 to 6 weeks in the cupboard. It comes down to the way eggs are treated for salmonella.
In the United States, eggs are washed in hot water, effectively pasteurizing them, and sprayed with chlorine to kill off bacteria. This is because, as anyone who has seen a documentary about factory farming, the conditions that chickens are raised in is often less than sanitary. The heating and cooling of the pasteurization process means that the eggs then have to be kept cool, or they’ll go bad rather quickly.
In Europe, chickens are vaccinated against salmonella so that it doesn’t get transferred to the eggs. Eggs also have a natural coating that makes them less porous and prevents germs from getting inside; the washing process in the US removes that coating, essentially making the eggs more susceptible to germs and spoilage and thus requiring the extra preventive measure of refrigeration.
I can tell you that there’s a huge difference in both taste and the way they cook. Regular eggs in Finland taste more like the expensive “organic” eggs in the US, although store-bought organic eggs are also subject to regulations that require the hot water-and-chlorine treatment and refrigeration. When I made hard-boiled eggs (actually boiling them, not baking them as I am wont to do) they peeled incredibly easily and were absolutely beautiful.
I think this is another area where the US solves for quantity rather than quality. What’s the cheapest way to mass produce eggs and, oh yeah, make them safe, versus what’s the safest way to produce tasty, nutritious eggs? I’ll take European eggs hands down.
Have no worries, I’m not going to talk about every single meal we eat and every place we go, but I will try to point out things that are noteworthy. There were a few things at Hesburger, Finland’s largest fast food chain, that I think are worth writing about. They’re things that, from what we’ve seen, are unique to Finland or at least things that do not exist in America.
Back on Day One, after acquiring communications, we wanted something to eat. There was a Hesburger nearby, and I’d read about them in my pre-trip research, so we decided to check them out. I got what was a near-clone of a Big Mac, except it had ketchup and sour cream in addition to “American dressing” the thousand island dressing that McD’s calls “special sauce”. Katie got a kebab burger, which came on pita with lettuce, tomato, special sauce, and pickled jalapenos. Both came with fries and a drink — and there’s only one size of fries, one size of drink, both reasonable but would be classified in America as “small”. That was just fine with us. Imagine that. No super-sizing or mega-combos, just a moderate portion of food.
One difference between Finnish and American fast food places is the presence of slot machines. Yes. Everywhere. I watched people come in just to gamble, from college boys to old grandma-ladies. It was strange, but that’s what normal looks like here.
The trip to Hesburger was also when I consciously noticed Finnish exit signs. They’re not red with the word “EXIT” on them. They’re green, which is why I overlooked them. They feature a figure running, a rectangle indicating a door, and an arrow pointing in the direction of the exit. If it’s above the exit, the arrow points down; if it’s ahead, it points up. If it’s to the left or right, you get the idea.
The most brilliant thing I discovered at Hesburger were the trash cans. No, I mean it. They have a little pan on the top where you can pour out leftover drinks and ice. Pop off the lid, dump it, then put the cup in the trash. Anyone who has ever worked fast food, or seen fast food workers wresting with heavy, leaking, messy trash bags, should see how brilliant it is. I don’t know how well it would work in America, though, because it requires customer compliance. I’ve seen Americans throw trash on the ground when they’re standing two feet from a trash can, so I don’t expect they’d take the time to empty their soda before pitching it.
Overall, the food and overall experience was not great, but not terrible. Hesburger is just fast food. It’s not ever going to be a destination for us, any more than any other fast food joint, but if we’re out and about and hungry and there’s one nearby, it’s a viable option for cheap, quick eats.