Finns are drowning, getting drunk and crashing their cars this weekend. They are also building big bonfires, eating sausages, swimming naked in the sea or in one of the 155.000 lakes, heating up saunas - and some might even be collecting wild flowers and putting them under their pillows based on old love spells.
It's Juhannus (Midsummer) in Finland and I feel homesick. I miss some of the above. Not the drunken, drowning part. I miss the odd, golden haze of Finnish summer evenings. I miss Puffet ice cream sandwiches. I miss the way supermarket cash register staff don't look at you in the eyes and how you have to pay for your plastic bags. I miss the cheesy Finnish soap operas and reading old, yellowing Aku Ankka (Donald Duck) pocketbooks at the summer house. I miss having space to move around, even in the cities, without feeling suffocated.
I would love to go for a midnight swim, or for a stroll in the forest.
When I moved to England over 16 years ago, one of the many things I didn't quite realise was that I'd be swapping space for crowds.
Today the population density of Finland is 15/km2 and the population density of England is 392/km2. Even the numbers tell you that one place is crowded and the other one is not, but I made an image to illustrate the difference. Whilst the figures would have changed in 16 years, the ratio would have remained similar.
Of course one has to take non-arable land into consideration (there are all those lakes in Finland after all. And when you take a birds-eye view, the whole country looks like a giant forest, splattered about with water and the odd field and town). Most of Finns live in the cities and down the south. There is a tendency for city-dwelling Finns to huddle together for warmth and resources; it is normal and expected for people from all sorts of backgrounds to live in blocks of flats. Sharing the heat, sauna and laundry facilities makes sense in the harsh conditions that are the norm for majority of the year.
The Finnish summer is bittersweet; heart-breakingly beautiful, but so fleeting that half of it is spent recovering from the winter and the other half anticipating its return.
Even keeping all of the above in mind, one place is crowded the other one is not. There is a difference in how it feels to be here and how it feels to be over there.
But here's the real catch: I've grown accustomed to having lots of people everywhere. Visiting Finland makes me feel a little uneasy. Where is everybody?
Yet in my heart I crave space. The wonderful duality of expat psyche.
Finns are, generally speaking, rather homogeneous. There is the same stuff in the shops, the same aesthetic preferences, the same morals, the same political leanings. When viewed from the outside, that is. And when generalising rather broadly. Nevertheless, the homogeneousness is noticeable from this angle and is perhaps one of the other reasons why, after a while, staying in Finland makes me feel like I've been sealed in Tupperware. You have to get out and take a deep breath. And of course, living away from it all, I fill my home with reminders from Finland. The same stuff, the same aesthetic preferences, the same morals, the same political leanings. I finally found a guy with whom a relationship seemed easy and right. His mother is half-Finnish. Etc, etc, etc.
There is a deep comfort in being among people who, without any effort, think and feel like you do. Living abroad is a constant daily mental effort; I once assumed that this would be eliminated over time, but I'm not so sure any more. On the surface (spoken language, body language, writing, appearance, manners, rituals...) one can become very well adapted; almost indistinguishable from the real deal. A bit of an accent in everything you say or do, but almost, almost. I think and dream in English. I no longer accidentally offend people quite so often (reading "Watching the English" helped with that). I blend in locally, in London and almost anywhere in England and the UK as a whole. There are so many different types of people living over here anyway that this is relatively easy.
But your deepest feelings, memories and psyche remain rooted in where you came from. Ironically, when I lived in Finland, I never felt I belonged there either. Only once I'd moved away, I gradually realised just how Finnish I really am.
The summer holiday season will soon be over. The Juhannus-celebration marks the start of the real Finnish summer. This year I may be able to pop over in September, but by then, I won't find fresh berries on the market stalls or get to swim in a lake. But this year is different - my best friend is becoming a mother and her baby is due then. She only recently came to visit London with her mum, but I miss her already. And, as I've mentioned before, she's the only reason it truly sucks to be away. With everything else, one can make do.