One of fascinating things about other cultures is the exploration of different habits. This can be either fun or terrifying depending on how you experience it. More often than not it's both. Today I like to compare the Dutch and Finnish ways. Although we have much in common there is some things that are simply different.

Kahvia ja Pulla

One of things I had to get used to in Finland was that in Finland you can't drink coffee just like that. Something good (Pulla) always has to be accompany it. When offered a variety of goodies you are kind of expected to sample everything. That can lead to strange combinations. At parties a salmon cake with sweet strawberry cookies are no exception. Personally I would not think of offering both at the same time. In the Netherlands one does not offer salty things with coffee at all. Instead we ask another question to the guest.

Kahvia vai teeta?

CookiesCoffee or tea? You are expected to choose either one. You can also refuse, but that's not a good option if you do that out of modesty. Your host will not ask again and you will not get your coffee. (this really happened at Utrecht university to a Peruvian girl. In her culture you are rude when you answer yes immediately. After several times being left without coffee she decided she could be rude among these barbarians herself). Also when you are offered coffee or tea you are not expected to ask for something (like beer or snapsi). Finns usually take the coffee, as do the Dutch. In fact both countries are competing for the honor of being world's biggest coffee consumer. The Dutch being on top with just a slight margin. After coffee and tea are served your host will around with a bowl of cookies. These are usually of better quality you find in Finnish shops. You are expected to take only one (except when you are a kid). When ready, the bowl is put on the table. You can take another after a while with your second coffee if you feel like it.

Rude or straight forward?

The diplomatic scaleSo many unwritten rules for drinking coffee or tea. And that while the Dutch usually pride themselves in being straight forward. The Finns usually don't have a problem with that although the orientation is a bit different. Finns don't pretend. If they feel lousy, they are not putting on their best smile. We Dutch value that. But when discussion erupts we behave differently. Finns usually are shying away in order to avoid conflict. Dutch people revel in it. In Finland you don't let yourself being provoked when you are provoked, but the Dutch take that to another level. In the Netherlands you don't take it as insult when you are insulted. From the Dutch you get immediate feedback when your speech stinks, your choice of clothes is lousy or the hair color you took is really for those under age. Finns are often scared off, when this happens to them. It is one thing to speak your mind in Finland, it's another to say something negative to someone else. It is to the Dutch living here awkward when their straight forwardness is not met a similar response. They expect feedback in whatever form like they would get from another Dutchie. Then it does not come. The Finn is not provoked (or at least very hard trying not to). Lack of feedback. That's something we in the Netherlands are not used to. In Finland you might take it as a hint you have gone too far. Stepped on the wrong toe. But reading that sign takes some practice. You can do a lot of damage before you notice the consequences. By that time you are excluded from the group. People have made arrangements without you knowing. You are out! That's not beneficial. Neither to the Finns as to the Dutchie in question. It's for reasons like this that migrants have clubs which brings people like themselves together. It is not meant to separate them from society. It is meant to make integration smoother.

It's a nice day in Forssa when I visit the Vesihelmi spa. After a 40 minute swim I relax in the jacuzzi. Opposite to where I sit a 5 year old boy is playing with his sister. He is obviously enjoying himself. And while I don't have kids myself I like to see a happy child. It would not have caught my attention otherwise, but now that I take a closer look at the boy I see spots on his skin in several places. Studying the spots I begin slowly to realize that they look a lot like cigarette burns. My stomach begins to turn itself around. Is it possible?

business man shrugThe boy's mother is also sitting in the jacuzzi overlooking the things her kids do. She is a bit fat and ugly, but that's not a crime as far as I know. I can't really talk to her. Even if I knew Finnish well enough what would I say? Should I notify the personnel in Vesihelmi? That could take some time. The only one who speaks English well enough to understand me is the Thai woman who sells food. A quick look through the window tells me she is not on duty.

What can I do? Is the situation as I think it is? Is the woman really the boy's mother as I assume or a substitute care giver? The boy is happy. There is no doubt it, but what about the marks on his body? I realize I feel pretty helpless in this situation. Star trek prime directive tells me “Don't meddle in situations you don't know anything about”, but is that not a lame excuse for doing nothing?

I decide to talk to a friend in sauna. He knows at least enough English to know what I am talking about. But when I try to talk it over he shuts down. At first it's like he really does understand what I mean, but when he does, he makes me understand that I should do nothing. None of my business. It is not a very satisfying answer. I try to swim and clear my head. The only conclusion I reach is that without means to talk to someone in authority there is really nothing I can do.

At home I read about cases in the press where child abuse has led to torture or murder. The authorities are to blame of course. They have to judge on daily basis if some case warrants action or not. I wonder if I had that kind of power and training I would have made the right decision. Also now I still don't know that. Did I do the right thing by not acting? There is no evidence that says I did the wrong thing. Let's hope for the boy's sake that I don't read about him in the newspaper.