01.06.2009 - 30.08.2009
Boring stuff first: In 2006, there were 475 051 summer cottages in Finland. 475 051. So when I tell people that we have one, they assume we're rich. We're not. We're Finnish.
There are just over five million people in Finland, which means that pretty much every extended family has a summer house, summer cottage or a little wilderness hut of some sort. We're far from the rest of Europe, and so we sometimes have to spend holidays at home. A summer house, in fact, is nothing fancy- a little hut or house by a lake (preferably), outdoor toilet, no running water. Most have electricity, some have heating, all have a sauna. Because in Finland, a house is only worth as much as the sauna in it.
Having spent the whole summer in Finland, I got invited to a lot of them. A lot, I tell you; as a Finn, you're also obligated to like it, even if you don't. You have to row a boat on the lake; you have to light up the wooden grill and grill a sausage; you have to chop wood and play board games and drink strong coffee with pulla, a sweet dough-like bun. Telly is not permitted, neither is the internet. Everyone takes their turn in emptying the outhouse (ugh) because everyone works at the summer house. It's not leisurly, no. There are chores to be done, and so urban Finns with all possible appliances at home, spend the summer hand-washing clothes in the lake, heating their water on stove and raking leaves. Because that's what you do on holiday; that's what everyone does on holiday, and the country grinds to a halt for pretty much the whole summer.
Famous and wealthy Finns have summerhouses too; they might have running water and a three-car garage, but nevertheless, it's a summer house, a small timber cottage painted in cheery red or yellow. In what other country can you see a famous athlete, IT millionaire or even the president standing infront of a tiny house, wearing wellies and an unflattering, baggy jumper, whilst the headline screams, "Even so-and-so carries in their own bathing water from the lake". Being average is desirable in Finland. Even the super-talented, super-rich feel the need to take themselves down a notch and promote their normalness by having a little summerhouse, completed with fishing rods hanging off the wall whilst the garden gnomes look on from the front porch. Forget Big Brother; Finland is controlled by the ubiquitous garden gnome.
Nevertheless, I like summer houses. They're dotted all along the countryside, especially around the lakes, and they do provide a great get-away from the city. I even like swimming in the lake and knowing that a world-famous racecar driver has a little cottage very close to where my parents live. Not Monaco, not St.Tropez, but Nowhere, Finland. But I've had my share of melted ice-cream (because summer houses never have freezers) and internet black-out. I've always been an urban kinda person, and welllies and tracksuit bottoms don't really suit me. And so I'm dusting off my stilettos, because everyone, next week I'll be in London.