|(L to R ) Juan, David and Mimmu find yet another word that can’t be found in more traditional Finnish dictionaries.|
This trio finds nothing to fear (and plenty to smile about) After Dark with the local lingo.
SITTING with David Brown, Mimmu Takalo and Juan Hernández, stories and jokes flow thick and fast. Language trainers in English (Brown) and Finnish (Takalo), two thirds of the trio are responsible for 6D’s ongoing Finnish After Dark column for the past few years. Now it’s time to unleash their alternative dictionary to the masses, with Hernández providing visual interpretation for their new book, which compiles a number of their more memorable entries.
We sat down with them to hear how it all came about, what words they have not been able to use for the column and discover just what constitutes a boy-man-girl.
You’re all from outside of Helsinki, what originally brought you all to the Capital Region?
David Brown: [laughs] Need you ask?
Mimmu Takalo: Love.
Juan Hernández: I came as a student here – but I have stayed because of love.
MT: I met my spouse on a train from Tampere to Jyväskylä. He was from Helsinki and came to Tampere for six months to live, and then it was my turn. And here we are.
DB: The same with my wife. We met in India. She came to New Zealand for two years and now 12 years in Helsinki, so yeah, very fair, balanced and equitable.
MT: Your locations are a bit more exotic than mine. But the same thing. [laughs]
JH: I was a student in Aalto University. I was there one year and then I met Georgia, from Greece. Then I decided to stay as she’s studying her master’s here.
Where did the idea come from for Finnish After Dark?
DB: Well, we were in a bar…
MT: No we weren’t.
DB: Okay, we were not in a bar.
MT: It was an official work-related thing. We were working as language trainers at the same company. Finnish After Dark was a work-related workshop. They wanted us to come up with new ideas for courses.
DB: [somewhat incredulous] Really? This is different to how I remember it.
MT: There were a couple of drinks involved. We came up with this whole concept of a Finnish course that could be sold to anybody. First would be grammar and then these field trips into the wild to practise your taxi queue vocabulary and how to avoid being beaten up. We designed the whole course, intermediate to the advanced level. The advanced level you need to drink quite heavily but still pronounce well. A little bit of slurring is okay. I would have given assignments like go and talk to the bartender girl and can you make her smile in Finnish. What did she reply? Could you conjugate the verbs you were using?
DB: Also using silmäpeli.
MT: Silmäpeli, yes. It was a whole concept for a course. It could be expanded to a whole language school.
|Finnish After Dark is out now.|
DB: Some of the conversations we had got wilder and wilder, such as starting to export to schools. At the same time, the idea was quite serious. If you take some language courses here, as most of us have done, when you come out of them you know a lot of grammar, but you know absolutely nothing about what they say when they are in the bar. If you think, for instance, of going up to a girl in the bar and what you are going to say. You know none of that stuff.
MT: Yeah, because you guys introduce your friends like, ‘Tässä on ystäväni Mike’. It sounds so kirjakieli and so much like The Bible – that’s what kirjakieli was invented for. I start all of my courses and lessons usually asking people what they want. Do you want to sound like The Bible, or a normal person? Or a young girl from the Helsinki area? That’s a special accent you can have. Most choose the middle option.
So, can I come to your course and learn how to speak like a helsinkiläinen gimma?
MT: If your employer pays for it, there’s a course that is totally tailored for your needs.
MT: Yeah, we really need to start launching this idea.
DB: It was one of those ideas that was really serious and silly at the same time. . Finnish language is so difficult with those kinds of conjugations. Other languages that I have studied, Danish and Spanish, you don’t have those kinds of differences between the written language and the spoken language. Also you don’t have the kind of mistakes where you are going to get beaten to a pulp if you use the wrong preposition.
MT: That’s why Finnish is the best language to teach. Because from the very beginning you make such crazy mistakes that it makes my life so fun. Everyday. I was told today that I taste very good. A male student of mine actually referred to me as meat. It was nice [laughs].
DB: Not in the lihatiski sense?
MT: Probably a bit. [laughs]
DB: With my clients studying English, very rarely do they make a mistake that’s actually funny. It happens, but it’s rare. In English, if you walk into a bar, you can use any phrases you learnt at school and get a beer.
MT: Even my students on higher levels make these sentences that sound very good, but the little mistake with case means something different.
DB: It’s an unforgiving language from that point of view.
MT: But it’s fun.
Juan, have you taken any Finnish lessons?
JH: Actually I was studying for six months, everyday. But, it was too hard. I took a really basic, boring course.
MT: That’s what many people say. Occasionally I use study material during my classes that is K-18, R-rated. It works for adults, as my clients are adults. It sticks in your head. When you have K-18 material people don’t want to leave the classroom. They want to sit. I collect all kinds of material. I have a list of the most erotic foods, according to Finnish women and women. It’s a long list, but beginner students, they really learn their foods. [laughs]
DB: So is it makkara?
MT: No. [laughs]
Not HK Sininen?
MT: Actually, mustamakkara was mentioned. But I think there was something like shamppanja, mansikka, suklaa, things like this. Then there was this one other example: jälkiruokka naisen vartalolta. But one of my students read it as vartalosta, which means ‘eating food out of a woman’s body’, instead of ‘from on top of a woman’s body’. We have lots of fun. Sometimes they think I am a traditional teacher and worry about what they just said, but quite soon they realise that I am not that kind of a teacher.
How did the Finnish After Dark evolve from the original course idea to the column, was there something in between?
DB: No there wasn’t. I discussed the idea for the column with Laura [Seppälä], when she was managing editor at SixDegrees. I think that she had this idea that there should be a column where we explain a Finnish word each month. As soon as she mentioned this I realised that explaining a word in itself isn’t interesting. Nobody would read it if it was ‘cat’ or ‘wallpaper’. It only makes sense if you wouldn’t have heard of it from anywhere else. Then I suggested that we do these idioms. It came together really quickly. It has proven to be a good concept, one with a lot of longevity. We certainly have a lot of words left. We have enough for a second book, anyway.
How does the process work? Mimmu, do you present a word and David, you come up with the text, or what?
MT: I think mostly the words come from my head. [laughs]
DB: Yeah, Mimmu has more of a kind of party, drinking…
MT: I’m the mother of a two-year-old now, come on.
DB: I’ve been quite curious where you get the words from.
MT: They just come.
DB: Given that I’ve known Mimmu’s partner for about ten years, when she has stuff about one-night stands I start wondering.
MT: Hey, I was single there for six months. Yeah, I come up with most of the words. Sometimes you come up with something, and you write the definition and I come up with some type of dialogue. I have fun with the dialogue.
DB: In a way it’s quite complicated, as Mimmu comes up with the words then I write something.
MT: Sometimes I can tell you didn’t get what it was.
DB: Yeah, sometimes not.
MT: Don’t get into my head, it’s crazier than you think.
DB: It’s true! Sometimes I have asked my wife and she hasn’t known either what you meant. Some of them are so open to interpretation, or could have possible different meanings anyway. Those have been fun. If I ask my wife, ‘What does this mean?’, and she falls about laughing. Or says, ‘What? Where did you hear that?’
MT: But, I’m a safe source. It’s okay if it comes from Mimmu.
DB: Actually yes, there was one, kiertopalkinto, my wife really dislikes that word. Thinks it is really vile.
MT: But it can be. Is it the feminist in her?
What does it mean?
MT: Kierto is to circulate, palkinto is a trophy. But it’s not a trophy.
DB: It’s like the town bike.
MT: ‘Trophy’ in English is a good thing, but in Finnish it is something that you give to the next guy and the next guy, or woman.
DB: My wife’s doing a PhD in gender studies.
MT: I’m almost always trying to break traditional gender roles by using examples.
DB: In that sense I think we have achieved good equality of the sexes. The book isn’t sexist.
Juan, how have you managed to sketch out some of these ideas?
JH: Because everything is almost new for me I wanted to meet with David and Mimmu and maybe we could come up with an idea together. Some of the words I didn’t understand, they were totally different for me. But, no problem, I really liked to draw them. I learnt also.
Which words have made an impression on you?
JH: Silmäpeli, räkälä.
DB: My favourite word that was new for me was morkkis: a moral hangover. When you wake up the next morning and you think, ‘Shit, I did something really fucked up last night’.
MT: Morkkis doesn’t come without alcohol. Finns don’t do crazy things without alcohol. It goes together with krapula, but krapula can be by itself. But yeah, I like Juan’s pictures. I didn’t know what to expect, really. I’m a visual person myself and wondered how can someone draw these kinds of things. But after we saw the first couple I realised that they were really good.
Have some been easier to draw that others?
JH: Yeah. Normally I try to put the same amount of time to each. I made something fast and sketchy, to pick up the idea to complement the story. Here is one of the roiskeläppä pizza. [shows image]
MT: No, I think this is krapula, because the roiskeläppä pizza is the type that you get in a plastic bag from the supermarket. This one here is a real pizza.
JH: It’s hard to find good pizza here in Finland.
Puttes does a really good pizza in Helsinki…
MT: Everybody says that, even my Italian students. I have the advantage: I ask every single one of my students, where is the best restaurant of their culture. The Indians say this one and not that one, the Chinese say none of these. [laughs]
JH: What’s the pizza place called again?
JH: Wow, in Spanish that sounds really bad.
MT: It actually doesn’t mean anything in Finnish.
Now you will remember the name. Just be ready to explain to your partner if you go there – oh, she’s Greek, it’s okay.
JH: Yeah, but putana is in Greek also.
DB: It’s also in Italian. Actually, did you know that puttanesca means the dirty pasta fit for a whore. You could do a Spanish After Dark, Italian After Dark.
JH: We would have a lot of material.
MT: Actually, in Finnish we don’t have guys yelling after girls and shouting like in these Latin countries. We don’t do that. That’s why we marry foreign guys, because they do that we take it seriously. We are Finns. That’s what I tell my students. Actually, Juan, when do the guys learn to shout at women like that? When does it start?
JH: Well in construction…
MT: But it’s not just construction, it’s everywhere.
JH: Yeah, but in construction the best ones come from there.
MT: But our men in Finland sound like [makes incomprehensible drunk noise]. That’s the Finnish way. And we women are like, ‘Oh, that’s so sweet! He talks!’
DB: Yeah a guy can go up to girls here and say ‘mitäs tytöt’ and they say, ‘Oh you silver-tongued devil’.
MT: No, I don’t think guys come up to girls. Like we discussed, it’s non-verbal. Talking is breaking the code. Eye contact is the thing. If it’s long enough, then it means ‘let’s get out of here’.
DB: When I was studying in Guatemala you occasionally would see these guys going up to these beautiful blonde women saying, ‘You are so beautiful, I want to cry when I see you’. You occasionally would meet these girls who would say ‘really?’ They would believe it.
MT: They were Finnish probably. [laughs] A Finnish man wouldn’t say that, ever. Because it’s not true. Finnish men say, ‘I like your eyes, the other one is a bit funny, but I like them both’. It’s true, we don’t have the chatting up thing, small talk; it’s very different. That’s why we fall for foreign guys because they talk. Everybody agrees. I ask my students why they fall for Finnish women and they say, ‘They are aggressive and you don’t need to say anything’. Actually, one of my students, she’s from the Caribbean, said that she would recommend Finnish men for everyone as they stay at home and look after the babies, and are not embarrassed to push the stroller. She said she doesn’t know any Caribbean guy who would push a stroller on the street.
Have there been any words that you have really liked but have not been able to include in the column, maybe argued about?
MT: We haven’t argued, but I have suggested tonnes of stuff. There have been maybe 100 that have not been used. I think we haven’t used swear words. I think with swearing, we could use something that is a normal word, but can be used as a swear word. They are not really that fun.
DB: Yeah, like with the word vittu, all foreigners know the word, but what funny can you say about it? When we had this idea, it was that nothing should be too offensively sexual. We talked about words like stondis, but for one thing it’s hard to think about anything that’s funny to say about them. Also the tone of the magazine didn’t call for it.
MT: Actually, we talked just last week about the word poikamies. Everybody agrees that it’s a boy-man describing a single man. Then poikamiestyttö on the other hand, the bachelorette, the boy-man-girl is not really right.
DB: It’s just weird. Some of those have been useful and some people have been amazed that I’ve known these words such as poikamiestyttö. Certainly you’d get something different if you ask for that in some exotic countries. An extra gender.
MT: There have been some other words that I don’t agree with, some of the sporty ones.
DB: We ended up taking out the sporty ones. Originally I put that we should have more variety, but then we realised it wasn’t really ‘after dark’.
MT: Yeah, it wasn’t part of the original course concept.
So, what about the course concept, can you see it kicking off in future?
DB: The problem is, who would pay for it?
MT: We both work for companies that are very conservative.
DB: It’s a shame, because people would like the course and would benefit from it, but the companies wouldn’t pay for it.
MT: But then again, if we had the energy and time, it could be a nice idea. Every other weekend you meet up, and you practise in the meantime. It would be a very fun night out. Everyone has their handouts with them. Everybody in the bar is worried at the bar that ‘Here they are again, trying their lines out’. Then there’s the eye contact session and staring like crazy, and count how many seconds it takes before the Finns turn away, and those with the longest amount of time wins.
DB: It will be interesting to see if anyone reacts negatively to the concept of the book. Someone will think we are denigrating the language somehow. I expect the results will be mainly positive. Most people I know are very curious about it. Actually, next year my book on the great hellholes of the world comes out. It has a 30-page section on Finland, which a couple of my Finnish friends have read. One of them said it was the most blisteringly unpleasant description of Finland imaginable, but she also said that ‘unfortunately you are right’. It’s been a really difficult concept to write about. On the one hand it is very tongue in cheek, but on the other it is interesting to analyse societies as different as New Zealand, DR Congo, Azerbaijan and Finland from a fairly common, cynical viewpoint. As in – what is wrong with this place?! As I say in the intro to the book, some places are naturally hellholes, and others have hellhole attributes thrust upon them.
Of course, Finland isn’t a hellhole in the way that some places I go to in Africa are hellholes; there’s a whole different interpretation of hell. I had to use my imagination when it comes to Finland.