Life in England has once again stopped because of heavy snowfall. Schools have been closed, flights have been cancelled, motorists were told to stay at home and public transport was disrupted, all because of 25cms of snow. The problem in the UK is that we don’t get enough bad weather to be able to deal with it efficiently and by the time action is taken the snow has become ice causing further difficulties.
This is my second winter in Finland and I am beginning to really admire the hard work of the snowploughs and gritters that keep Finland moving, except when they are scraping the pavement outside my bedroom window at 6am. Just in my local area the logistics of clearing roads and paths amazes me, but it is incredible to think the entire country does this for nearly six months every year.
One individual who has caught my attention during the winter months is our talonmies and his never-ending toil outside. I interviewed Neil Hardwick recently and he said, “The talonmies would keep the street clear from ice, and for an old guy like me, it sort of puts 20-years on you because you are terrified of falling and breaking something.”
Mr. Hardwick is right about being terrified of falling because not only does it hurt but it is very embarrassing when it happens in front of a group of people too. The talonmies not only clears the ice, but he shovels snow, raises the Finnish flags, then come the spring he is repairing, mowing, painting, fixing, cleaning, and making me feel very lazy while I sit and watch.
In my experience in England the only places you would find a talonmies are in nursing homes, schools, hospitals and on rare occasions in a block of flats. During my time in Finland I have grown to love the idea of having a talonmies, especially one who speaks a bit of English because despite helping my dad on his building sites I don’t feel that comfortable dealing with the Finnish alternatives, such as the fuse box.
Before Christmas all the locks in our building were changed but for some reason our new key wouldn’t work so we had to wait for the talonmies to let us back inside. Later that evening a fuse blew so the talonmies had to return once again to restore light and power. The next morning he returned again with ant poison to kill our unwanted pets and now we greet each other with first names.
The talonmies has become a lifeline when dealing with some problems and that is one of the reasons why I love living in a kerrostalo. Kerrostalos are great places with their playgrounds, laundry rooms, recycling facilities, communal sauna, surnames on the letterbox, strange cooking smells in the stairwells and beating rugs while a neighbour tries to have a grilli.
Ok, there are some complaints like the front doors automatically locking at night. I understand that this is great security but when I was dating Päivi I went to visit her one night but I couldn’t get in and I didn’t have a mobile. I threw snowballs at her third floor balcony window but that failed to get her attention, eventually I wrote a message in the snow and returned home – she loved the message!
When I moved to Helsinki I knew that one characteristic of Finnish culture was not talking with strangers, which became evident the evening we were locked out of our flat. The neighbours who passed us sitting in the corridor in the dark acted as though it was the most natural sight in the world, and nobody offered us a cup of tea!
I’m sorry; it isn’t only Finns who don’t talk to strangers or their neighbours. I couldn’t tell you the names of my old English neighbours and I doubt that many other Brits could either, which is one of the reasons I enjoy returning to my wife’s hometown of Virrat. She was lucky enough to grow up in an area where a large majority of the neighbours were all friends and still are, and one of them even operates the local snowplough.
Written 13 Feb, 2004