Children eat for free in Helsinki in the summer

Helsinki. Summer. The playgrounds are overflowing with children and around noon someone starts serving free food to them. Every day. Fiction? No, Finland.

Kids in a Helsinki park
A park in Helsinki. Source (CC: by)

The children eat for free in Helsinki during the summer

Every child under 16 years old can eat for free in the capital of Finland at any of the more than 50 designated points – parks – throughout the city. Most of them open every day during the months of June and July. And we say every child: it doesn’t matter if they have more or less resources. It’s like the Finnish baby box: it’s for everyone.

Food is served to the little ones during the weekdays. There is no need to register to attend, and the only thing the little ones need to enjoy this service is to bring their own utensils: bowls or soup plates, spoons and forks.

The menus are designed by the city authorities. Specifically by the Education division of the city council.

playground in Helsinki
Plenty of kids. Source (CC: by-sa)

What kind of food do they serve?

For example, the very Finnish rice porridge, various kinds of creamy vegetables, and several other Finnish classics, such as pea soup, sausage soup (some say that sausage is Finland’s national vegetable, and we don’t contradict that) and many kinds of fish soup. Also Italian-style stew or Archipelago Soup made with rainbow trout . If we talk about desserts, the traditional rhubarb pie was served last year during Helsinki Day.

If you want to take a look at last year’s menu (in Finnish), here is the link. On this website there is a link to the daily menus and the allergens contained in the meals so parents know exactly what their child would eat.

kid with Tupper
Bring your own Tupper. Source (CC: by-sa)

The history of free food service for children

This 2020 marks the 88th anniversary of this measure. According to the website of the City of Helsinki (FIN), this service began in 1942 during the Second World War. At that time many of the inhabitants of the Finnish capital were suffering from food shortages. Therefore, a solution was found that was mainly focused on the smallest ones: they would be guaranteed at least one meal every day.

Today the service has evolved, as people clearly do not have food problems. The service is now more focused on nutritional and social reasons, like making summer days easier for families.

And there is another reason: normally children have one free meal a day at school but not during the summer holidays. Thus, the municipality helps while the parents still have to go to work.

Swings in a kids park
Playground for kids. Source (CC: by-sa)

Only in Helsinki?

And it seems Helsinki isn’t the only city who does it. Vantaa tried this concept last year as well, and it seems they’re repeating it this year again Last year they made a video about the experience that is very illustrative for this post. YLE’s article on this subject is also good.

And you, what do you think of this almost hundred year old Finnish initiative? Would you go or would you like to see it implemented in your city?



Takatalvi – when the winter is back during Finland’s spring

Where I am from we have an idiom. I’ll write it in Spanish: “hasta el cuarenta de Mayo no te quites el sayo“, which translates to “until the 40th of May, don’t take the coat off”. Yes, May doesn’t have 40 days, but if you say “June 9th” it doesn’t rhyme. Anyways, in Finland – with the same spirit – they have the Takatalvi: the winter weather and temperatures that come back during the spring time.

This year, concretely, it is warmer than usual, as it is happening all around the world. Be sure, nonetheless, that there is a Takatalvi waiting for you in Finland, when the temperatures will drop again and might be more snow coming. Always happens.

It’s back.

Takatalvi: the winter that comes back

Of course, is not winter per se that comes back, but the low temperatures and the snow that are the landmarks of the Finnish winter, due to the climate in the country.

Something Takatalvi, but inverted, happens as well, and is called in Finnish “intiaanikesä” – Indian summer of North America would be the translation. These are the few days in autumn when the temperatures rise above average and it is warm and sunny… before the real cold autumn comes.

Takatalvi is that moment when you feel that the spring is already here, and that the temperatures ks finally above 0 degrees Celsius in a constant manner (although less than 10, of course: we are talking about Finland in Spring)… but then suddenly it starts snowing.

Finnish temperatures
Average temperatures in different places of Finland.

In Finnish languagetaka-” is a prefix that means “rear, back or posterior” and “talvi” means “winter”. The word definitely makes sense.

When does Takatalvi happen?

The Indian summer doesn’t have a fixed date, nor does the Takatalvi in Finland. It could happen in any moment of the spring, when winter already seemed to be over.

Takatalvi: snow over fruit.
There were some fruits on these branches… then Takatalvi hits.

Usually, on the years where the winter lasts longer this phenomena comes quite late. The Takatalvi, usually, comes in April but in even stranger years it can snow up to May. In Joensuu I remember such thing happening in May.

And these are the characteristics of this special meteorological phenomena. If you are planning a trip to Finland or you are in the country right now and the temperatures seem benign… remember not to put away the winter clothes just yet.

Does this phenomena only happen in Finland?

No, it is also common in other countries of the Northern Hemisphere. In USA they call it Blackberry winter , as it happens at the same time blackberries grow.

Have you experienced a Takatalvi in Finland? What’s the weirdest date you’ve seen snow falling from the sky?



Personal space in Finland (compared to other countries)

It is well known that personal space is sacred in Finland.

If you have been in the country and have not seen a bus stop where each person is at least three meters away from the next, you haven’t been in Finland long enough. And this happens under rain or snow – literally.

Personal space in Finland
Perfect illustration of the phenomenon. Source: reddit.

But does this happen only in Finland or is it something Nordic? How does it compare to other countries? That’s what we are going to outline in today’s post.

It all started with some online photos: reddit, twitter… in them you could see a group of Finns waiting for the bus in a curious way: leaving quite a lot of space between each person. A photo like the one we put above or like this one.

Finns like to keep distance, also in the normal dealings. The issue of transport, however, is almost iconic, as Finns wait for the bus or tram in the manner seen, and also once on the transport they will invariably prefer to walk to the other side of the car to sit alone, rather than sit with someone.

The bus stop, though, is what has become famous. Under all weather conditions. You better take an umbrella with you because even if the bus stop has a roof, if there are 1-2 people at most you will have to – if you want to respect personal space – wait outside:

And, as with drinking alone at home in your underwear, there is an emoji that the Finnish government itself brought out to show the phenomenon. This is the one:

Personal space at a bus stop

There are other everyday things where Finns persona space remains inviolable. For instance, it is common for neighbours to not say hello when they pass each other in a building. And they are not very good at kissing when they meet someone, either. On the contrary: the two-kisses-in-the-cheek greet can be a scary thing for them. Ah, I still remember the first time it happened to me…

Finns are well aware of the perks of being alone, and they designed park benches for just one person.

Personal space in Finland VS other countries

But it is clear that personal space is something we all need, although the degree – and actual distance – does vary by culture.

In addition to this, a study called “Preferred Interpersonal Distances: A Global Comparison” caught my attention. We’ll get to the conclusions in a moment, but if you want to read the whole thing, it’s here (PDF).

Personal space by country

The data comes from interviewing 9,000 participants from 42 countries. The closest comparison point with Finns would be the Norwegians, as Finland wasn’t part of the study (and we have to rely on the bus-stop-distance for guidance).

The people interviewed for the study were asked how far away strangers, acquaintances and close friends (in this order on the table) should be to feel comfortable during the interaction.

The countries that need more personal space with strangers are Romania, Hungary and Saudi Arabia. Norway, which is in the middle of the table for distance with strangers, between South Korea and Canada (with less space needed than Portugal, for example, and more than Spain). Surprisingly, the Norwegians prefer their good friends at 30 centimeters, and the Germans are also very close with friends. Who knows if it’s because of the coolness in those latitudes.

Something interesting, and which can also be read in the study, women in all countries prefer to have more personal space than men, and the older they are – equally in all countries – they prefer the others to be at a greater distance.

However, even if Finland does not appear, we can rely on this unofficial diagram of what personal space is like in Finland, which I believe is quite correct.

Besides, in Finland even ducks have their own personal space, as Luis Puerto commented on twitter.

However, personal space in Finland does not apply in the sauna… or in pubs.

What do you think of the unwritten rule of personal space in Finland? How much space do you feel comfortable with friends, acquaintances and/or strangers?



Fazer Mignon: the most Finnish Easter egg

Easter in Finland has different rites and traditions that are unique to this part of the Nordic and Scandinavian countries. Today we are talking about the most Finnish Easter egg in the world: the Fazer Mignon.

Fazer Mignon egg
Continent and content of a Fazer Mignon. Source (CC: by-nd)

The Finns: they have a sweet tooth

Fazer is Finland’s quintessential chocolate and candy brand. Since the master chocolatier created his brand, Fazer and Finland go hand in hand. The brand is so important that the “Fazer Blue” chocolate is considered the most Finnish object in the world by many people.

That, and the fact that Finns consume about ten kilos of sweets per year, it is not surprising that Fazer is one of their favourite brands.

And now that Easter is coming, Fazer Mignon is the icon of this time in Finland.

Fazer mignon box
One of your packs of Fazer Mignon eggs in egg cups. Source (CC: by-nd).

The one and only: Fazer Mignon

A real egg shell filled with chocolate. That’s the Fazer Mignon, which is the company’s second oldest product and was created by Fazer himself when he imported his recipe from Germany. This was in back in 1896, and since then this Easter sweet has been a classic of Finland’s Holy Weeks.

Every year 2.5 million of this Finnish egg with a German recipe and a French name are sold (“mignon“, as I remember from my student days, is “handsome” or “pretty” in French). The children peel it like any other Easter egg and take a few good bites as it is completely filled with chocolate, almond-nut chocolate, to be precise.

pure chocolate egg
Peeling the chocolate Easter egg. Source (CC: by-sa).

The price of these Easter eggs in Finland is between 3 and 4 euros (some years ago they were more or less half the price) per egg. They are somewhat expensive because it is pure chocolate (it is not hollow and filled with air that is inside as in many other eggs and chocolates) and they are handmade in the factory in Vantaa. This is the process of their creation.

Have you tried any Fazer Mignons? What do you think?




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