This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.

Tuomas "Rosoboronexport" Jalonen

Porvoo, Finland

"You know you've been Finlandized when you walk down the street and someone smiles at you, you immediately assume he's either drunk, insane or an American."

Welcome to Porvoo.

The common Finns see the regular stereotype of an American: obnoxious, proud of themselves and ignorant of the rest of the world. Those of us who have met Americans or been in the US tend to like you. In the media USA is usually portrayed quite negatively, especially on the current foreign and environmental issues.

Finland has been a vassal country most of its time, and a buffer between east and west. Until the 19th century, Finland was an autonomous part of Sweden, and after a short skirmish, continued the same ol' with Russia. Finland declared its independence in December 6th 1917 and fought against Russia in World War 2, being one of the few countries to sustain its system of government.

The average Finn has 2.4 children and house with a mortgage, and will most likely die of heart attack because of the risen fuel prices. We think that all the Swedish are gay, Russians and Estonians are thieves, prostitutes and criminals and Norwegians bathe in oil and money.

Everything is expensive in Finland, you have to pay for a car in terrible condition. Finland has been in the international news lately -- it arranged the yearly Eurovision Song Contest, which we won last year by sending some KISSish metal band Lordi. And our Idol contest winner this year worked as a heavy karaoke host.

If you arrive in Finland, and travel 50 km east from the capital, Helsinki, you arrive at Porvoo. A rather small city, around 50 000 inhabitants. It has a long history, as the Russians held the Diet declaring Finnish autonomy in 1809, and our national poet, J.L. Runeberg, was born here. You might have seen it too, as it played a small role in the 1997 remake of The Jackal.

We are amongst the only countries in Europe (and most likely in the world) to learn mandatory minority language -- in this case Swedish. Recently it's dropped from the mandatory A levels and its future in Finland is becoming less significant. Porvoo was mostly Swedish-speaking area until the Kilpilahti refinery area was built, and with it came a lot of Finnish-talking workforce. Now it's pretty much divided: the Swedish-speaking have their own schools, and mostly move in their own cliques. On the outside, Porvoo is all Finnish. Swedish is mostly heard when the youngsters talk "finlandssvensk" in which they mix Finnish and Swedish words fluently.

If you wish to visit this city, I recommend coming in summer for half a day. The old city shows its best sides, there are open-air bars all around the Porvoo River, and you can take a steam train or a boat back to Helsinki. It is also mandatory for every foreigner to visit a sauna, preferably one heated with firewood.


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