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Lost in Helsinki: The Guide's Handbook
by Lesley Davis-Ojala
2010-01-29 09:40:23
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Rule 1: Establishing credibility
Honesty is the best policy

Your introduction should emphasise that Finns are the most honest nation in the world, according to OECD studies, etc., etc. This then means they will then believe whatever you say (suckers) however ridiculous or inaccurate it may be. You should also establish that Finns are known as being very quiet and reserved. They will then understand when you don't say anything for long periods (like half-an-hour) because you can't think of anything to say or you are having a much more interesting conversation with the driver, off microphone. IT IS ESSENTIAL TO DO THIS AT THE START WHILST THEY ARE STILL AWAKE.

Rule 2: Attracting the clients' attention
The Emergency Stop

Get the driver to hit the brakes. This never fails to wake them up/get their attention. Just ensure that you are in one of the older buses where there are only seat belts for the driver and yourself. Remember to duck as the odd, loose, tourist comes flying past through the window screen. Then shout into the microphone, "Moose!/Bear!/Reindeer! etc." By the time they have picked themselves up off the floor or regained consciousness, the "animal" has disappeared into the forest or down the Esplanade.

A less radical measure, to get their attention, is physical violence. Just slap them around the head. If they object then just say "I was swatting a mosquito, we have a lot of them in Finland".

Rule 3: Time Savers
Synchronise watches

This will ensure that guide and driver will get home early, i.e. you can finish the tour one hour ahead of "local time". Tourists can be sneaky, so make sure the bus clock is set correctly too, and tell them never to trust a church clock.

The circular route

Three times, slowly, around Senate Square or Railway Station Square. If anyone says "Haven't we seen that big white building before?" Your standard reply should be that "A lot of buildings in Helsinki look similar because they were built during the same period by the same architect". You can choose which architect - normally the first name you can remember - but it should be a Finnish person though. A good guide needs an excellent memory, as you will need to remember who the passenger was with the sense of direction. This person is a trouble maker and should be "lost" at the next stop.

Please note: Alexander's statue has his name on it (good if you forget) but the observant passenger may say "Haven't we seen that statue somewhere?" You can then reply: "Yes we have, but he was so beloved by the Finns that they wanted his statue erected in many different locations". It is easier in the Railway Station Square as Alexis Kivi´s name is not visible on his statue from the bus. This means that you can substitute him for anyone else, i.e. Sibelius/Mannerheim/Kimi Räikkönen.

Two locations in one

The Railway Station is particularly good for this as it has a lot of entrances and you can walk around to the other side and voila you are now in the Rock Church. You will have to go down to the metro though (make sure there is not a train at the time - make the guests run - tell them a service is about to start so the opening times are limited. You will only have about 5 minutes before the Vuosaari train so you will have to be quick. Show them the rock walls and cave paintings (graffiti) and if they are really lucky there may be a busker so they can enjoy the acoustics. Remember to tell them that the church does charge for the toilets (they will see Finns having a bathroom break so you have to do it) they can then give the money to you and you direct them to the closest corner. The Railway Station is also an excellent place to introduce local customs, i.e. the Siesta/päiväuni. This explains why there are so many Finns laying around on the station floor.


Porvoo is a popular destination, but does take a long time to drive there. To save yourself and the tourists two hours, just drive to the Stadium. There is one old, red wooden house on the hill there, point out the house and say that due to a fire (some idiot making soup ages ago) that there is only one house left in Porvoo. Try to find a Swedish-speaking Finn, who is walking by, as this adds authenticity.

Finland's Influence Abroad/The past is a foreign country

Tourists seem to be very interested in our neighbouring countries and may ask annoying questions about them. The most effective technique to discourage this is to point out "Sweden" as you drive through Kaivopuisto. Tell them it is just a fifteen minute ferry ride from the market and it will only cost two euros.

Rule 4: Keep in shape
A taste of local living

Drop off a few passengers (the fat ones only - they need the exercise) at the rug washing platform. Hand them yours and your neighbour's rugs. Give a quick demonstration and tell them you will pick them up at sunset (HEE HEE this is Finland only a few hours of darkness in the summer months). At the pickup, if there is no room for the passengers and the rugs, the rugs have priority.

Rule 5: Disguise
The Guide Uniform

Please ensure that this is worn at all times. It is a very effective form of camouflage. You can spot them (normally they have a numbered sticker or a tag so they don't forget their name) but they will have difficulty finding you in the mass of green-jacketed, guides. Under no circumstances let them identify you, as they may start asking questions about the city and/ or the location of the bus.

Rule 6: Public Relations
How to deal with difficult passengers

Leave them behind as soon as possible. Preferably at distant locations like Seurasaari or Porvoo, this means that their cruise ship or plane will leave without them. To do this effectively you will need to separate them from the group and there are various techniques to achieve this. One good way is to make sure you have bus number nine. This means that signs on the bus can be turned upside down ensuring that they will not get back on bus "six" If you are holding a sign and they come up and ask you where bus nine is, pretend not to know them and direct them around the corner, then make a run for it.

Rule 7: Foreign plumbing
The bathroom break

Annoying though it may be, on an eight hour tour, someone is going to need the bathroom (you and the driver are okay because you know about the toilet on the bus, but they don't). The standard answer to this is: "Finland is the most densely forested country in the world," and then direct them to the nearest tree.

Rule 8: Arts and culture
Open to interpretation

It is very often difficult to park at the Sibelius monument and it can be very crowded. An excellent solution to these problems is to take the tourists to the dockyards, which are handily located next to the cruise ship port. Choose the largest of the ten metal cranes, park next to it, and begin your commentary. Should one of the more observant members of the group ask what the other "monuments" are explain that these are Eila Hiltunen´s working models for the piece. Somebody artistic may also point out the remarkable similarity of the monument to a crane. Explain this is an abstract piece and the artist wanted you to find your own meaning in it its form. Tell them that some people even say it looks like organ pipes, even though Sibelius did not write any music for the organ.

Lost in translation

If a tourist asks you something you really don't know and you can't think up a credible lie for, the best tactic is to answer in Finnish. Just say anything you like and then explain that the answer is not translatable into English- as Finnish is one of the most difficult languages in the world.

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Get it off your chest
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Dr Merkin, phd2010-01-31 17:22:38
Totally Finn-tastic!

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