Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sauna and Sausage

I write to you now from the hallway the University of Eastern Finland in Savonlinna, Finland, where I am currently supposed to be in class learning how to use the passive voice in Finnish. But I had to get out. The teacher, though being incredibly sweet and nice and well-meaning, is terrible. Today we had to examine a text about what kids do during summer vacation in Finland. Instead of us reading the text aloud to practice our pronunciation (which in the case of 99% of us is somewhere between "bad" and "awful"), she read the text. Then, instead of asking us what various words meant and trying to get us to think about them, she explained all the words. Then, instead of making us look for the passive voice constructions and identify them, she pointed them out. And finally, instead of having us try to explain what these constructions meant, she explained them. So needless to say I am currently taking a "bathroom break" which will probably last in the neighborhood of 15 minutes.

This is not to say the class hasn't been productive. It has. I have been drawing a beautiful drawing using thousands of small, alternatingly spaced hyphens, sometimes switching the directions of the hyphens or their density, and what started as a simple mindless doodle is now taking the form of a beautiful chalice, which I will undoubtedly give to one of my new CIMO friends as a gift and a token of American craftsmanship and hospitality.

Yesterday we went in the sauna. I was excited because it was supposed to be a true Finnish sauna experience, but it was basically like any other sauna in the United States. The only thing different was that Bo and I ripped branches off a birch tree and formed them in the shape of a sort of mini broom with which traditionally the Finns rap against their skin to clean themselves and further exfoliate their pores. But of course Bo and I just ended up whipping each other as hard as we could.

The sauna was accompanied by a "traditional" Finnish meal, AKA dishes stolen from other countries like pasta salad topped off with something "truly" Finnish in the form of various types of sausage, even though the sausages were just store-bought and resembled something you might see on a hot dog cart at a baseball game that has been sitting there for several hours.

But hey, who am I to complain? Free sauna, swimming in the lake, free dinner? We roasted the sausages ourselves over an open fire and sat and talked and ate till our heart's content. Even though it was a school outing we were encouraged to bring beer if we wanted it or cider or whatever we wanted to drink. If people wanted to smoke they could as long as they put their butts in an appropriate receptacle afterward. This would never happen in the US. You could never have alcohol on a school outing. But the Finns treat it as no big deal, expect us to be responsible and I think people appreciate that responsibility and respect and respond accordingly. No one getting hammered drunk and falling over or trying to put their hand in the suana coals. People are a lot more benign when you take away the taboos involved with drinking that exist in the US, but that is an entirely different story.

Anyway, I better get back to class. It's been at least 10 minute and probably more. Today is a great day because I am fasting all day which means we will have a feast at midnight and also because today I am going to make a very concerted effort to submit the required forms to apply for my Russian visa.

But for now back to class!

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