Wednesday, April 7, 2010

We Might Be Illiterate, But At Least We're Stupid

Today is a very special day. I’m going to tell you a little story about Finland, about Russia, and most of all, about sisu.

Many years ago, when man first realized that we don’t actually have to stay in the trees all the time and are free to roam the earth, a group of people made the long trek from the mountains in Russia, although I think it was called the Soviet Union back then, to Europe. Around today’s Estonia, the group encountered a road sign. One arrow pointed south, saying “Over here you’ll find fertile soil, warm summers and mild winters. You will be able to grow anything you want, and you won’t ever have to hack a hole into the ice to take a swim.” Another arrow pointed north. This one said “Here you will find land that is uninhabitable during winter and inhospitable in the summer. You will have to work hard to grow even a single potato. Only idiots go here.”

Now, you’d think that the group took their collective asses south and went on to live happily ever after. But the problem was, like any decent African country, a small part of the group didn’t know how to read. They were stubborn and foolish, and decided to go north. They swam across the Gulf of Finland, some turned around, others drowned. Only a handful of people made it to the other side. What these people found, was Finland.

They immediately invented the sauna. Some would say this is the only contribution Finns have made to human life as we know it. Others might say Nokia is pretty nice as well. However, Finns soon realized that sauna wasn’t enough, and they had to come up with an advanced form of self-deceit, sisu, often mistaken for a property of character.

Sisu does not translate into any other language. It’s not just a form of courage. It’s the ability to persevere in the face of adversity. To keep going even after 2012. It’s the ability to live next door to Russia and say “Yum! This Chernobyl Chicken is delicious!”

Sisu is the ability to keep going against all odds. (Maybe Phil Collins was actually Finnish?) Sisu is to keep going even after you failed. Sisu is the sole reason why Finland is called Finland and not Russia. During the Winter War the Soviet forces had three times as many soldiers as the Finns, thirty times as many aircraft, and a hundred times as many tanks. The Finnish army resisted the Soviet invasion far longer then anyone expected. Long enough to retain their sovereignty. Which is awesome, because I don’t know a word of Russian and it would suck to live in country when you can’t even say “get me outta here!”

Sisu, in all its glory, is also completely made up. It’s the only way we can deal with living so close to Russia. I wake up every morning with a scream and a sense of doom. Then I tell myself I’m a Finn. I have sisu. I can make it.

I’m off to bed. Perhaps I’ll wake up with a smile on my face tomorrow.

I doubt it.

Oh well, it could be worse. We could live next to Sweden. *


  1. LOL!

    I think Chernobyl chickens would be good fried. I love the legs and the more the merrier, right?

    I think you have to have sisu to own a cat.

  2. Ziva, you seem a little down, and I’m concerned about you.

    Is it the cold and snow? Did M forget to push his chair in again after breakfast? Are moronic foreigners you don’t even know leaving crazy-long, rambling, largely incoherent comments on your blog when you’d actually hoped your prose would attract a close circle of literate, well-educated readers?

    I won’t pretend to be able to help you because only you understand what you’re going through. Your struggle is personal and private, like a person’s private parts or that spot in the middle of your back that you can’t reach.

    But I think a quote from the great Finnish long-distance runner Lasse Virén might inspire you. When Virén fell in the 10,000-meter race at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, he said: "Oh fuck, that hurt like a son of bitch! Why the fuck did I take up running when I could’ve played hockey and made some real money like that asshole Teemu Selänne? I hate this fucking sport!"
    Fortunately, none of the television crews caught Virén’s words.

    And then something amazing happened. Virén tapped his inner sisu, picked himself up and went on not only to win the race, but to set a new world record. And even though he was still pissed as hell about skinning his knees in front of an international audience, his publicist helped him write a quote that’s been repeated by at least six or seven runners all over the world: “Dream barriers look very high until someone climbs them. Then they are not barriers anymore.”

    Nobody cared about what Virén thought, of course, partly because quotes like that only makes sense to Oprah, and partly because nobody gives a shit about long-distance running. It’s not hockey or soccer, or even Pesäpallo, for fuck’s sake. It’s just a bunch of emaciated guys in short-shorts running around in circles until they fall over from exhaustion.

    But that’s not the point.

    The point is this: Finland is very cold and dark most of the year, it’s constantly threatened by attack from Russia, and it has a very limited supply of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups compared to warmer, brighter countries like America. Living there is like running through waist-deep snow, wrestling every day with the Grim Reaper, eating extra-fatty glow-the-dark chicken, trying to pay your fucking Nokia cell-phone bill every month on a limited income, and having to deal with those anal-retentive Swedes, who not only live right next door (I’m sorry to tell you) but also think they’re better than everybody else in Scandinavia and have had it out for Finland ever since they annexed Finland in the 13th century but had to give it back 300 years later.

    So move.

    For the love of God use what little is left of your sisu to get the fuck out of that frozen hellhole.

    Or I guess you could take a sauna, enjoy a nice baked potato and wait for spring.

    Sometimes a good sauna, a bit of baked potato and a little warm weather helps the attitude a lot.

  3. ReformingGeek - Damn, Reffie, I think it takes, not only sisu, but pure insanity to own your cat. It's Satan, for crying out loud. Satan beats Russia, albeit just barely. I'm sure it's lovely, though. The cat, I mean.

  4. Mike - You're a nut.

    I'm actually feeling fine. The snow is melting, we'll probably see some grass in May; we've solved M's chair problem with a little duct tape and a bottle of hot sauce; and I'm growing sort of fond of the moronic foreigners who leave ridiculously long comments. Because...

    ...I was going to write about Lsse Virén! How did you know that? You're not only a nut, but psychic as well. Although, I wasn't going to make the Teemu Selänne connection... He was like 2 years old when Virén had had one too many shots of Kossu before he went running.

    That said, I actually considered moving today, but decided on the sauna instead (before you suggested it! Psychic!!). It's less work. The sauna is also the reason why I'm still answering comments and not in bed, like I said I would be by now. Bad Ziva. Now, where to find a baked potato at this hour...

  5. That's three times you've called me psychic. Twice here, once somewhere else.

    Unfortunately, being psychic does enable me to know who would've been a big Finnish hockey star when Lasse (or Lsse, as you call him, probably more accurately) was a star. Teemu was the best I could do.

    Your solution to M's chair issues sounds innovative, if not painful.

    Anyway, I'm glad you took a sauna. Speaking of which, one more tip: You don't need a baked potato if you have a sauna, you just need a potato. You can steam it while you're sweating off the bad sisu.

  6. Does NOT enable me

    I'm not going to delete any more comments and make myself look like an idiot, although it might be too late for that.

  7. Ziva your conversation here with Mike WJ is hilarious! I do enjoy your blog, I just wish I had more time and energy to sit at the computer. Ah well, such is life.

    You know, a sauna sounds pretty good right about now. As it is, I just climbed out of the jacuzzi tub and don't have access to a sauna. Perhaps I'll have to get Silv to build me one ;)

  8. Ziva, I think Mike has a crush on you. Either that, or his sisu is defective!

    Finland sounds wonderful. Except for the mutant livestock. And the eternal winter. And the nasty neighbours. And the cold. And the lack of potatoes. And the snow...

    saunas are awesome.

  9. I loved your post. You had so many great lines. But I have one question. Can you see Russia from your house?

  10. Oh, thanks a bunch, Nicky. Nicky the Troublemaker. What are you, Yente?

    My sisu's definitely defective. Fucked up, in fact.

  11. Skye - I have a sauna in my apartment. I'll trade you my sauna for your jacuzzi.
    I'll even throw in some time and energy if you take care of shipping costs. (And don't tell anyone, but I count on Mike to leave amusing and witty comments on my posts, I'm pretty sure he's the reason people come back for more.)

    Nicky - I think Mike accidentally deleted his sisu with a deleted post the other day. On the other hand, men fall for me left and right. I think it's the arsenic. Or my Chernobyl Chicken. Wanna have some?

    Lauren - I really hate to say this, but Sarah Palin got me beat on that. I can't see Russia from my house, no matter how hard I try. Dammit.

    Mike - Vowels are expensive, we don't waste vowels here. And Lsse is just so much more to the point, don't you think?

    You're not a very good psychic if you didn't know the Selänne thing, but you could probably still make a decent living by finding people's lost dogs and whatnot. Or why not write a cookbook? Your recipe for sauna potato was great. Needs salt, though.

    And Mike, don't worry about the fucked up sisu, it happens to the best. You'll have it back in no time.

  12. Ziva, you sound like an awesome chef. Does the chicken come with cheese? If there's cheese, count me in!

    Mike, I'm just jealous.

  13. If you do cocaine is it called a Finnish line?

    That's all I've got.

  14. Nicky - The melted cheese is what makes the Chernobyl Chicken so special. It represents the insides of the Russians, melting from radiation.

    Moooooog - Ha! Good one. I know we can't call cocaine for snow, because if we did, no one would do it. And that would be a real shame.



This blog uses the Disqus comment system. If you see this message, please wait until you see the Disqus comment form or refresh your browser. Comments posted here will not show up on the blog.