Danes have hygge. Swedes have lagom. But the Finnish secret to contentment is faster and easier—”kalsarikänni” or pantsdrunk—drinking at home, alone, in your underwear.
When it comes to happiness rankings, Finland always scores near the top. Many Finnish phenomena set the bar high: the best education system, gender equality, a flourishing welfare state, sisu or bull-headed pluck. Behind all of these accomplishments lies a Finnish ability to stay calm, healthy and content in a riptide of endless tasks and temptations. The ability comes from the practice of “kalsarikanni” translated as pantsdrunk.
Peel off your clothes down to your underwear. Place savory or sweet snacks within reach alongside your bed or sofa. Make sure your television remote control is nearby along with any and all devices to access social media. Open your preferred alcohol. Your journey toward inner strength, higher quality of life, and peace of mind has begun.
Second, Finland’s official Ministry of Foreign Affairs produced a set of 56 emojis to “explain some hard-to-describe Finnish emotions, Finnish words and customs.” I can and cannot believe these are real:
The famous Baby Box:
The Aurora Borealis:
“Finnish Love”, which is so emo:
The concept of sisu:
And of course, the OG cell phone, the Nokia (which they call “Unbreakable”):
I started drinking coffee after college, and when I did I went straight to black, sometimes with sugar. It took me that long because my taste buds weren’t ready for the bitterness of black coffee. And yet when I did try to start drinking it regularly, it never occurred to me to use sweeteners, beyond a little sugar. I figured if I was going to drink coffee, I should like the taste of the coffee itself and not try to mask it with cream. Admittedly this logic is faulty, but it’s why this comic struck a nerve.
My wife, who’s part Swedish and embraces all things hygge, cherishes the coziness of the whole coffee drinking experience, special cream included. But I, embracer of my Finnish heritage and its concept of sisu, enjoy the pure, raw burn of good black coffee.
Steve K has a nice write-up about the wide-carriage Olympia on display at Moomin World in Finland that’s meant to stand in for Moominpappa’s typewriter. It does look like a wide carriage in the above illustration, though in this one it’s of normal size:
Finland alone, in danger of death—superb, sublime Finland—shows what free men can do. —Winston Churchill
And Trotter, the author of the superb book A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-40, shows what fine historians can do. Not sure how I found this book, but after visiting Finland last summer I wanted to learn more about the history of my distant ancestors. When this one popped up on Goodreads and had a good rating, I checked it out from the library, and am glad I did.
Like the “Phony War” of mainland Europe, which was playing out at the same time, the Winter War was a kind of prelude to the main events that would devastate the rest of the hemisphere. Trotter posits that Stalin didn’t actually want to go to war with Finland. Considering Russia’s close relations with Finland in the past and seeing Germany’s advance through Europe, Stalin saw Finland’s value as a buffer between Russia and Scandinavia, and thought his demands for some of Finland’s Baltic islands reasonable.
But Finland thought otherwise. After the rejection of Stalin’s ultimatum and a “who shot first?” controversy (it was Russia, who then claimed it was Finland to publicly justify their preemptive belligerence—they were expelled from the League of Nations for it) the Winter War was off and running. Or rather, lumbering. Though equipped with far more soldiers, artillery, tanks, and supplies, the Russians were an unwieldly force in unfamiliar terrain, making them easy targets for the dug-in Finns, who were well-acquianted with the snowy forests and much better prepared for the frigid siege. The Red Army had also been gutted of its senior officers and commanders thanks to Stalin’s “Great Purge” of the late 1930s, so it was partially a self-inflicted debilitation.
The Finns’ homefield advantage made sabotage and survival the keys to survival. The Finnish commander Mannerheim didn’t even expect total victory, knowing the disparity of men and munitions was against the Finns; “the most honorable annihilation” was what he expected. After a long battle of attrition between two armies unprepared for sustained combat—and a Russian surge months after they expected to win once Stalin was sufficiently fed up with the incompetence—that’s what they got.
But even on so brutal a battlefield, there were some funny moments:
Propaganda efforts by both sides were amateurish and negligible in effect. During the so-called January lull in the Isthmus fighting, the Russians began using loudspeaker trucks to broadcast propaganda programs toward Finnish lines. The Finns started looking forward to them, since the music was refreshing and the Red artillery had orders to cease firing during the playing of Kuusinen’s speeches so the Finns would not miss a word. The Finns used these interludes to “make a break for the head.”
The Finns also weren’t very impressed with the paper the propaganda was printed on:
Leaflets by the million were airdropped all over Finland, promising an improved standard of living. They were printed on such grossly inferior paper stock that the Finns, many of whom knew a thing or two about the paper industry, disdained to use them in their latrines. In the leaflets Finnish workers were promised an eight-hour day, something they had already enjoyed, by law, for the past twenty years.
Also thought it was funny how even on the frontlines the Finns wouldn’t be denied their saunas:
For many of the encircled Soviet troops, just staying alive, for one more hour or one more day, was an ordeal comparable to combat. Freezing, hungry, crusted with their own filth (while the besieging Finns, a thousand meters away, might be enjoying a sauna-bath), for them the central forest was truly a snow-white hell.
The war ended once the Soviets changed tactics and were finally able to overwhelm the exhausted Finnish troops. Though Finland had to cede some land, Stalin’s dream of annexing Finland as a whole wasn’t to be, and Finland would remain the only Baltic state to remain independent from the Soviet Union. Hostilities would renew three months later in the Continuation War, which coincided with Operation Barbarossa and would see Finland fighting with Nazi Germany as “co-belligerents” against Russia. The enemy of their enemy was their friend, I guess.
Like many a military history, A Frozen Hell often gets too far into the weeds of troop formations and movements for my taste. But it shines when focusing on the grander strategies and diplomatic endeavors of the belligerents, and especially the ground-level experience of the men in the trenches. Highly recommended.