A quick note: I was able to snap lots of photos over the past week I spent in Tampere and Helsinki which I am keen to share along with some musings over language, food, airlines. Although I was there for a conference, and thus didn’t have too much time to have a look around, I had enough time to snap a few things to think about. I will be back soon with a more ‘official’ account of the conference. In the meantime, languages fascinate me!
I was very fortunate to spend this past week in Finland- even if the last day was a bit of a surprise. This trip was a very special one. In addition to seeing a diverse group of friends I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with (because of geographical issues), I also was able to reflect on several issues- both personal and professional. There really is nothing quite like a language barrier to create a smothering feeling of difference which calls to the mind the politics of language on a very basic level.
These jelly beans are a small example. The purchaser is informed in four languages that these pink beans are Hello Kitty’s favourite flavours. Not to go full-Saussure on ya, but there is something symbolic in a fictional character having favourite flavours. Particularly when we consider the fictional Japanese character is being used to sell sweets in the United Kingdom which were manufactured in the United States by German immigrants. Furthermore, that a friend requested I bring these because she cannot source them in Finland (and Finnish is not one of the languages on the pack) brings forth several points about culture, values, capitalism/globalisation, and taste which I cannot get into here. Suffice to say, some things are lost in translation. Like reindeer sandwiches.
Unlike the Swedish subtitles beneath this particular sandwich, the Finnish name is incomprehensible to those only familiar with English. Sure renkött doesn’t look much like reindeer, but there is at least a resemblance in letters- a likely leftover relic from Middle English. Fascinating to trace the history of language through sandwiches. Om nom nom…
More so than language, this little gem represents an odd way to sell sweets. I don’t quite understand why the donkey is blonde with breasts, or indeed why the sweets are the same colour as the aforementioned breasts, but hey ho. I very much doubt the package for these sweets has anything to do with Finnish culture and everything to do with a …’creative’… marketing director somewhere, but I could be wrong. Feel free to correct me in the comments. 🙂
The problem with not being able to read the language of the country you’re in are multi-fold. Particularly as when you do find words in your language, they seem to stand out ten times more. In fact, I bet the only word native English-speaking readers will remember from the donkey sweets pack is the word ‘Lady’ because it was the only word in English.
Anyway, I laugh at the Fat Lady nightclub every time I walk down Hämeenkatu. Although I have never been, a review calls Fat Lady ‘classy and sophisticated’. Huh. As much as I hate to admit it, the interior is well designed and they have a Spotify link to their playlists- shockingly cool for such a crude name.
Likewise, when you see something which is slightly rude in English, but used in a totally innocent way, it is also giggle-inducing. (I know it means Viennese coffee, but I can’t help it!)
As I mentioned before, a airline error meant I had to spend an extra night in Helsinki. The airline put me up in a rather modest hotel which featured the ugliest chair I have ever seen and this lift which looks like it was built in the 1960s and left to rot in its avocado glory. I have to admit, it has an aesthetic appeal, which is why I’m including it in a blog post mostly about language.
I had to take a selfie with it in my airline-issued-pyjama glory. Yeah, they also lost my luggage. But no matter! Totally worth it to spend the night with early 90s chairs.
The interior of the lifts were a cool idea, but unfortunately freaked me out a little. Anyway, enough pictures for now. Expect a proper conference run-down soon.