Thursday, November 5, 2015

How to party like a Finnish university student

So maybe you remember my Italian friends Federico and Alexandria from my posts about Copenhagen? My Danish friend that I stayed with, Victoria's host brother and girlfriend from Torino? Well if you remember really well, they studied abroad in Helsinki for a semester. Before coming to Helsinki, I asked them what Finnish people were like. They told me Finns were a little reserved toward foreingers unless they're drunk (which is pretty frequently), then they're the most talkative, friendliest people ever. Well, Federico and Alexandria weren't wrong.


As I mentioned in my previous post, a Finn consume on average 10.1 liters (2.67 gallons) of alcohol per year. Which isn't actually that much (only #14 on the list of countries that drink the most) but the thing is that Finnish people drink it all on Friday and Saturday nights. And when Finns drink, they drink. Similar to Denmark, they're not the type to casually sip on a beer or glass of wine during dinner. They're the type to chug straight vodka. Seriously. One of Sanni's friends brought a small bottle of vodka with him when we were pre-gaming and drank it plain, directly from the bottle. He said to be a true Finnish man you have to drink vodka without mixing it or chasing it. I took one sip and almost puked. Ew. I guess I'll never be a true Finnish man... darn.

But why is this excessive drinking so prevalent in Nordic countries (namely, Iceland, Finland and Denmark)?

Everyone jokes that there's nothing else to do in these frigid cold, dark places so they resort to binge-drinking to avoid boredom. Well, this could be partially true, I guess, but I found some other explanations from a book I'm currently reading called the Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner (the author travels around the world to the happiest countries in search of happiness; it's reallllyyy good so far!). He visited Iceland and learned a bit about why Icelanders like getting so trashed, Weiner writes, "During the harsh days of yore, people never knew when the next catch of fish or crop of vegetables might arrive, so when it did, they devoured it greedily. Of course, nowadays there isn't a shortage of anything in Iceland, except sunlight, but the old binge mentality remains". The same could be said for Finland, the harsh climate didn't make it easy for survival back in the post Ice Age times so the Finns probably pigged out too whenever they had a chance.

Weiner also mentioned that the minuscule population of Iceland (323,000) could have something to do with their hobby of getting so wasted on the weekends: "They see the same familiar faces, day in and day out. By the end of the week, they need a break, but getting off the island isn't easy. So they drink  – heavily – and suddenly all those familiar faces look a little less familiar... It’s sort of like putting on a new pair of glasses, with a different prescription, the world looks a bit different". Now this theory might not be quite as applicable to Finland because its population is 6 times as big as Iceland (5.6 million), however I still think the explanation could apply to some of the smaller, more remote Finnish villages. 

Anyway, the main culprit of binge drinking in Finland has definitely got to be the teenagers and university students, which I was lucky enough to spend all of my time with! ;) The best thing about Finnish universities, though, is not the binge drinking but rather the crazy traditions they have. Freshman are inaugurated through some themed parties, games and challenges planned by the older students. I heard a story from one of Sanni's friends about a 24-hour bus trip through Finland where the freshman are forced to drink, at least a little bit, the entire time. Talk about car sickness. Then there's Laskianinen (Shrove Tuesday) in February where all of the university students in Helsinki slide down Ullanlinnanmaki hill using their own umm, how do I say this?, creative inventions. Check out some photos from last year's even here

Another cool thing is that each department (engineering, biology, history etc.) has their own color of university overalls. Some programs have an event called "haalarinkastajaiset" (roughly translating to "baptizing the overalls") where the new students put their overalls on for the first time. Some even dip into a pool of water! Freshman at the Tampere University of Technology dunk themselves into the freezing Temmerkoski river wearing just a kastepaita (baptizing shirt). Not exactly sure why they're nude on the bottom half of their bodies when I thought the whole point of this ritual was to baptize the overalls but whatever! If the teekkaris (tech students) don't want to wear pants (or underwear for that matter) who am I to judge!? Anyway, this tradition allows the freshman to transition into "real and actual Teekkaris ", a Finnish tech student herself, told me.

Students can also buy patches at each party/event they attend to sew onto their pants. Some of these patches have really funny pictures and captions too. I seriously love the university overalls so much!! They kind of remind me of American sorority/fraternity t-shirts but waaayyyy cooler. Ugh, I wish I could be a Finnish university student. Then there's May Day too, the biggest student event of the year, with different traditions in every part of Finland. In Helsinki, everyone, adult alumni included, come to the center of of the city in their overalls for a huge drinking party! 

Sanni's friend, Veronica, is a second-year environmental science major at the University of Helsinki and took us under her wing to two different parties (since Sanni goes to college in Italy). The first had a costume theme: to wear clothes that you wouldn't normally wear to a party. Unfortunately, I'm stupid and didn't partake in the theme (mainly because I don't have many crazy clothes in my limited packing for a year around the world) but I saw some interesting costumes! There was also a dance floor, DJ, beer pong tables, bar and outdoor sitting area. I spent most of my time conversing with the drunk Finns! From one drunken conversation, I learned that Finland is not part of Scandinavia. Maybe you already knew this and I'm just dumb or maybe it's new for you too. Only Denmark, Sweden and Norway make up Scandinavia and if you add Iceland and Finland to that list, those are the Nordic countries. Check out this article to learn more (maybe you're curious or maybe you could care less, idk!?). Oh yeah and remember that disgusting licorice shot I drank in Denmark? Yup, Finns love that crap too and Sanni tricked me into drinking one with her... I immediately bought some cheap hot dog that they sold at the party to get rid of the taste. Bleh.

See what I mean about the interesting costumes!?

The other party was really cool. Veronica and the older students set up little stations all around the center of Helsinki and the freshman had to find them and complete the games at each one. Sanni and I stayed with Veronica at her station and watched the freshman play charades and drink. The best part was that it was a Monday night and here we were drinking wine straight from the bottle on the side of the street... but that's the thing, no one really cares in Finland! It was hilarious, we accidentally bought a bottle of wine that needed a bottle opener but we didn't have one so we spent a good 30 minutes getting it open! First we asked people walking by if they had a bottle opener then finally some guy shoved the cork inside the bottle and it opened, yay!

One of the stations

After all of the freshman completed the tasks at every station, the freshman, older students and us tagging along (party-crashers) met up at a designated location in the city. There, the older students mixed together some jungle-juice like concoction and passed out cups to everyone. Then they recited a chant/song and everyone had to repeat it. I did my best to imitate the insanely-difficult Finnish words but probably ended up sounding like a moron because a lot of Finns looked at me with "wtf?!" expressions.

Next, we walked to an apartment where the final party was held. There was a small bar run by the students with cheap drinks and food. So apparently, these university parties are really easy to sneak into (the uni buildings don't have a lot of security) because someone made an announcement to watch out for random, uninvited people that might be trying to roofie your drink... when I heard that I looked at Sanni, alarmed, and asked "Is he talking about us!? Do they think we're trying to drug them!? What the heck??". But she reassured me that he wasn't referring to us but rather shady adults who've snuck into the parties in the past and slipped stuff in peoples drinks.

Lastly, in groups, the freshman performed little skits where they danced, sang and acted. I didn't understand any of the Finnish (and every time I asked Sanni to translate she'd just say, "Oh, what they said is stupid, it doesn't matter" lol) so I honestly can't tell you exactly what was going on in these performances but it was entertaining! I guess they had practiced them a bit because the older students judged and chose a winning group.

The famous university overalls! I want some...

One of my favorite patches

One of the first days I was in Finland, Sanni said to me, "Thursday I think we'll go to Estonia, if that's okay with you?". I immediately answered "Of course!!" Add another country to my list, heck yeah! Sanni said the boat trip to the capital of Estonia, Tallinn, only took 3 hours and cost 20 euros. Wow, even cheaper than when I went to Malmo, Sweden from Copenhagen! Little did I know that Tallinn is the place for Finns to buy alcohol.

Alcohol in Finland is super expensive (just like everything else... but I'll get to that in my next blog post about how to live on a budget) so Finns go to Estonia to stock up on booze where it's waaaayy cheaper, then bring it back to Finland and either save it for later or sell it. I swear, every single Finn has a stash of bottles in their closet (Sanni and her younger brother both do). So it's not illegal to buy alcohol in Estonia and bring it back just for just yourself but if you re-sell it in Finland, that's illegal. Yet many Finns still do it anyway. They just claim the 10 cases of beer they're carrying is for "personal consumption".

Sanni's stash!

The drinking age in Finland is 18 for alcohol under 20% and 20 for over 20%. I was surprised to discover the relatively old drinking ages (in Italy it's 16 for beer & wine and 18 for liquor) considering Finns drink so much. But this is why a lot of Helsinki teens go to Estonia because the drinking age is 18 for everything. They can buy booze and then re-sell it to their underage friends and make a decent profit.

Once our ship docked in Tallinn we walked out onto the harbor and some of the first things I saw were 24 hour clubs, bars and liquor stores. Sanni said some Finns don't even bother going past the harbor, they just step off the ship, get plastered, buy some booze and go back home. I bet these people had unforgettable vacations (haha get it? Irony because they probably don't remember anything, I'm so funny!).

We, however, actually made it farther than just the harbor, yay! We went to a flea market that Sanni found online (of course... she's seriously addicted), a park with the parliament house and a palace, bought some food from a grocery store and had a picnic, climbed some really steep steps to the top of St. Olaf's church for some awesome views of the city, walked around Old Town and then stocked up on booze! I honestly really liked Tallinn! Mainly Old Town was my favorite, it was a really well preserved medieval town! Definitely make a stop if you ever have the opportunity :) We didn't buy a crazy amount of alcohol though so we could easily conceal it in our purses and backpacks. But I saw some other people getting stopped by officials when we were boarding the ship on the way back to Helsinki. These people literally had carts full of cases and cases of beer! Maybe they were planning on opening their own liquor store when they got back? Not a bad idea... haha just kidding.

Here's some pictures from our Estonia trip! I hope you enjoyed reading and don't miss my next post about how to travel on 20 euros a day! Oh & if you want to follow me on snapchat just leave your snapchat username below and I'll add you! Plus don't forget about Instagram and Twitter ;)

Estonian parliament building

Someone got married!

Kadriorg Palace

Picnic lunch!

Less than 1 euro per bottle!

Carrying our precious cargo ;)

Our purchases!

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