IN THE past few years there has been an extremely tight competition between the Finnish surnames Korhonen and Virtanen (the equivalent to Smith and Jones in English). Where Virtanen once led as the most common surname in Finland, recent statistics from the Finnish Population Register Centre announced that Korhonen has taken the lead by only two people. In Finland there are 23,571 Korhonens and 23,569 Virtanens. These are followed by Nieminen, Mäkinen, Mäkelä, Hämäläinen, Koskinen, Heikkinen and Järvinen. Yes, this is the “–nen” country of the “–nen” people.

FINNS are proud of their linguistic identity, especially when it differs from the standard Finnish. Savo, in Eastern Finland, is a good example. People there are talkative, but in a confusing manner that gives no straight answers – and you might be confronted with speech and sounds similar to Finnish that leave you clueless.

My first attempts to understand a conversation were often commented on as such: “Don’t try to listen – we speak Savo now, not Finnish.” They take pride in disguising the words and changing the sounds so that perfectly simple sentences need detective work to be understood.

Learning the Finnish they don’t teach in school
David Brown and Mimmu Takalo


English translation:

(literal) Flower Hat Ladies

English equivalent:

do-gooder, busybody

I USED to hate mobile phones and always swore I’d never get one. Then I came to Finland.

Finland is mobile phone crazy, not to put too fine a point on it, and this is why there are practically no phone boxes/booths left in the capital region. In the 1990s there were 900 phone boxes in fully working order, but now the only ones left on the streets of Helsinki are antique pieces on Sofiankatu and the island of Seurasaari, according to Jukka Laine from Telephone Museum Elisa. In the rest of Finland, phone boxes have fared no better. “There may be a phone box or two bought from us still in use but we don’t have any ourselves,” states Carita Autio of telecommunications company Elisa’s Public Relations department.

GETTING people together to speak in many different languages may not be a revolutionary idea. Yet with the eagerness of one determined person in Helsinki a language café was born, which has served as the birth place of many lasting friendships.

Café Lingua was organised in 2005 as a site where anyone is welcome to come and join in conversations in a number of different languages. The event gathers together Finns wanting to keep up or improve their language skills and foreigners who wish to learn more Finnish, or simply talk to somebody in their own language.