“Finland is flat, freezing and far from the pulsating centres of European life”

In our house, BBC Radio 4 is on almost constantly. One encounters little gems, like this one quoted below, on a daily basis. The programme is still available for five days on the iPlayer (works from abroad for radio, but not TV). The series is called Parting shots. It has been compiled from the very candid despatches that UK diplomats had to write when leaving their post, until the year 2006.

These very undiplomatic summaries by ambassadors were of course never intended to be broadcast on the radio, but the programme team has managed to unearth them by appealing to the Freedom of Information process.

Here’s a wonderfully indiscreet report by a diplomat who left Helsinki in 1972 (as transcribed by me):

It could plausibly be argued that it is a misfortune for anybody but a Finn to spend three years in Finland as I have just done. Even the Finns who can afford it are happy to make frequent escapes to sunnier climes. Finland is flat, freezing, and far from the pulsating centres of European life. Until yesterday the country was only inhabited by peasants, foresters, fishermen, and a small class of alien rulers who spend most of their money elsewhere. The rich cultural past of Europe has left fewer traces in Finland in the shape of public and private buildings of quality than anywhere else in the Western world, except perhaps Iceland.

Finnish cooking deserves a sentence for itself for its crude horror. Only the mushrooms and the crayfish merit attention.


About Johanna Vehkoo

Journo, speaker, fact-checker. Formerly Visiting Scholar at Wilson Center, Washington DC, and Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University. Wrote a book about the future of quality journalism. Founder of award-winning startup Long Play. Blogs in both Finnish and English.
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2 Responses to “Finland is flat, freezing and far from the pulsating centres of European life”

  1. Chris says:

    I am loving “Parting Shots”, but this one surprised me. A lot must have changed since 1972. Like the ambassador above I am British; unlike him I visited Finland in 2006 and 2007. Perfectly-prepared and presented reindeer, elk, salmon, herring, pepper-steak, potato-bread, berries, preserves and many more delicacies were consistent highlights of both trips. Yet as recently as 2005, Jacques Chirac described Finnish food as inedible and Silvio Berlusconi chipped in with some negative comment or other. Notwithstanding the fact that Berlusconi is a fantasist and should not be trusted on any subject, what clearly hasn’t changed is the closed-mindedness of creaking old government types. Somehow, I think we can enjoy it without their approval.

    Hyvää ruokahalua!

  2. Things have certainly changed, but I gather that back in 1972 Helsinki was no gastronomic haven. My previous post (in Finnish) is about some wonderfully tasty Finnish food I had at the Hel Yes! restaurant. The Finnish pop-up restaurant was a part of the London Design Week and only existed for two weeks in an old warehouse in Islington. Thanks for your comment!

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