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Pole to Pole

Day 23: Helsinki

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThe dip is very refreshing today, and apart from possibly frightening a group of schoolchildren swimming near by, fairly harmless. In the winter they break a hole in the ice.

'You can only be there for half a minute . . . then you roll in the snow.'

Back in the intimacy of the sauna, we discuss Finland and Finnish attitudes. They're anxious to dispel the myth that Scandinavians talk about sex all the time, but Neil says that in the north of Finland the girls are very direct. At a dance or disco they will always make the first move. 'Even the old and ugly ones,' adds Lasse.

'You should have got off with someone by eleven o'clock.'

For some reason my mind went back to the elves toiling over Santa's correspondence and dreaming of the evening . . .

The Finns, it seems, are egalitarian, eschewing formality and anything that smacks of class. They have a sense of humour, but not much sense of irony. Humour is introspective and personal; there's no tradition of getting together in a theatre to laugh communally.

An example of all of this is perhaps their national AIDS campaign. The fact that they have such an extensive campaign when there is a comparatively low incidence of AIDS in the country is very Finnish. Fastidious about their health and efficient and far-sighted enough to attack the problem before it becomes a problem. But it's all done very seriously. Neil tells me that public figures have gone on television to advocate the advantages of masturbation, under the slogan 'Give it a hand!'

'These are country people,' says Lasse, 'this is not an urban society, not yet.'
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 23
  • Country/sea: Finland
  • Place: Helsinki
  • Book page no: 48

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