Dog beaches, phone throwing contest all very ‘Finn things’ (Letter from Helsinki)

August 3rd, 2008 - 10:37 am ICT by IANS  

By Azera Rahman
Helsinki, Aug 3 (IANS) Joey, Jamie and Czar stood in a queue, waiting for their turn to visit the dog toilet in one of the parks in this picture-perfect capital of Finland. While their owners stood by them sharing a laugh, the well-mannered canines, who meet everyday during the morning walks shared a good natured “woof!” While it may be common to see people walking their dogs with a plastic bag in their hands to collect their dog poop just in case he feels like it mid-way, especially in Europe, them sitting for their turn to use a toilet - built exclusively for them - is probably not.

Nor is it common to come across an exclusive dog beach, again in the vicinity of Helsinki, where the dogs make merry on the sand and then relax with others of their kind.

Often called the “Belle of the Baltics”, Finland is a country dotted by lakes - nearly 180,000 of them. Its summers are as vivacious with the midnight sun lighting up the skies as the winters are pristine.

Even as the darkness takes over through the night and the day, the warm glow of the lights dotting the entire landscape brings in a magical cheer to this land of Santa Claus and reindeer.

In its rich wealth of flora are Finland’s sumptuous berries. Cloudberries, Lingon berries, Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries…the state boasts of more than 15 varieties.

And what makes the natural beauty of this place accessible to all is an age-old concept called “Everyman’s right”. According to this, one has the right to pick berries and mushrooms from anywhere, go rowing and canoeing in any water body or go hiking anywhere in the countryside.

“Therefore, if one is poor and hungry, he can go and pick up berries and mushrooms and sell them to sustain himself,” Papori Bharati, an official of the Finnish Tourism Board, told a visiting IANS correspondent.

The concept however takes into consideration the responsibility of the visitor and there are restrictions. One can’t pick flowers and definitely not one of the many plant species that are protected. And littering is a big no-no.

In a country where the population is just over five million, the presence of around one million saunas says a lot about the Finns’ love for it.

“We are a cold country and there are times when the temperature, in the winters, can go down to minus 30 degrees. A sauna is therefore a must in almost every household,” said Antti Tuomaala, a resident of Kuopio in eastern Finland.

“But there are other cold countries and they probably don’t have as many saunas as we do…Here sauna is a ritual, a way of life. I guess it’s a very Finn thing!” she added with a laugh.

And it’s not just their love for saunas that is a “Finn thing”. The Finns love sports - from motor sports to ice hockey. But now the country is earning a reputation of having some of the world’s most unconventional to downright eccentric ones.

For instance, where else can the World Cell Phone Throwing championship take place but in the homeland of Nokia? This year’s competition will take place Aug 30 in Savolinna in eastern Finland.

Then there is the wife carrying contest, air guitar playing competition, swamp football, mosquito squatting (mainly in Lapland) and table drumming (in bars and restaurants).

And of course is it any surprise that in the land of sauna loving Finns, there is also a sauna bathing contest? Incidentally, more than 80 participants from 16 countries will compete in this contest this month.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at

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