Monday, May 28, 2007

A real Finnish wedding!

Now comes the fun part. We slept in quite a bit, got an expensive (about €7 apiece) breakfast of coffee or smoothie and croissant at a local starbucks equivalent (though they serve beer and cider, which many were enjoying on a cool Saturday morning), and got ready for the big wedding.

Much like the preparation, the wedding ceremony itself was relatively casual and short by American standards, though it was in a beautiful old church in the very center of the city. The ceremony was similar to a basic American wedding (just enough to be classy without any overkill on religiosity and hymns and prayer and such), though Uuso (guitar) and Rasmus (snare) were kind enough to help play the recessional. The married couple made their getaway in an old green Fiat (similar to a VW Beatle) and the rest of us boarded the busses to the reception.

The reception was at a beautiful old farmstead (though I suppose there was far far more woodland than farmland) about 20 minutes outside downtown (which means way out in the country). We were first invited into a very old, historic wood building to drop off presents, greet the newlyweds and families, and make a traditional toast with sparkling red wine.

Then, at about 3pm, we were ushered into a slightly newer, but similarly designed building about 50m away for dinner. We started with some delicious black root soup with croutons, then moved onto a buffet of pasta salad, potatoes, smoked salmon, and roasted and smoked moose (which Tuukka's father had killed and prepared). I have to admit, I was very surprised to find that I loved smoked moose! After some time and plenty of wine at our tables, we enjoyed some wedding cheesecake and coffee with either Bailey's or cognac. I was seated at a table with Wilma, Uuso, Tuukka's twin cousins (5 weeks older than Tuukka), all their significant others, and Tuukka's French friend JB. They all were very good at translating for me and teaching me what to expect from Finnish weddings: people get very drunk, dance a lot, and become more and more willing and excited to speaking English with you. Man, were they ever right.

We went back and forth between the two houses over the next few hours for various games and traditions (having games is a tradition, though the specific games are up to the bridesmaids). The games included the bride and groom picking out which pile of random objects the other one bought them at a flea market. The traditions included a long speech from the father of the bride, which Tuukka's father decided to follow with his own speech about Tuukka. Oh, and did I mention all activities involved more eating and more drinking?

After some slideshows and mingling and such, the night turned into drinking and dancing in the older house, with music provided by Uuso, Rasmus, and some of their friends. It was fun to watch my parents relive their younger years, cutting a rug to The Beatles and many other favorites from their hayday (perhaps helped by my mom's insistance that it was impossible for her to to get drunk off Finnish beer, and subsequent efforts at it).

After a few drinks, though, I couldn't believe the friendliness of the Finns. Countless people would just come up to me, introduce themselves, and start talking about whatever it is they felt like talking about. I was blown away by the friendliness, and their English abilities! I met a former World Cup skiier, an advertising executive, a former head of the last surviving Finnish shipping company, and a marketing executive for a software company (among many many others). Saaku (Nana's husband) was even so kind to lift me up on his shoulders (beer in hand) so I could get a clear view of the traditional first dance--a Finnish waltz. They were all so happy and amazed that we made the trip all the way from America to Jyväskylä. I was just happy and amazed at their abilities and friendliness!

After the wedding (the busses left at around 1am), dozens of friends I had just made (mostly in their late 20s and 30s) insisted that I come to the club with them. Oh, did I mention it's okay to have open containers in vehicles over here, as long as it's not the driver drinking? Anyway, I sent my parents to bed (though they said they struggled to sleep thinking about what I was getting myself into in this foreign land) and hit the club. Juha (the advertiser) brought me in, bought me a shot and a beer, and gave me the tour of the place (introducing me to as many girls as he could as "coming all the way from America").

The club had four areas (far bigger than any bar I had ever been to): a main bar by the front door, a euro-pop/rock dance club, a "suomi-pop" (Finnish pop) bar area, and a discoteque (with both european and american classics and current pop) upstairs. After the tour, we wound up spending most of our time upstairs, and after a couple more drinks I wowed a few of the fellow wedding-goers with my American white-boy moves (you've never seen a more intense rendition of "YMCA"). Among others, I met the back-up goalie for the Finnish national hockey team (who had just won silver at the World Cup) and a Spanish girl with her upper-gum pierced.

Rasmus (who I hadn't seen much at all, but who is nearly my age) apparently had some drinks and then told a friend (or maybe Uuso) "Okay, now I am ready to use my English." He found me in the upstairs club and we hung out for quite a while. His English was incredible, especially since, as he said, he's never had a chance to use it (except a very little at my brother Jed's wedding). He's a very very cool and nice guy, a drummer in the Finnish army at the moment, and insisted that he show me a real Finnish time (this was after 2:30am). We went back to the front bar area (a little quieter) where he bought me a Jaeggermeister shot and a "long drink" (a delicious sort of grapefruity drink), the combination of which he insisted was most Finnish.

When the club closed at 4am, we went with his bassist to a friend's nearby apartment to hang out more and have a bit of a snack (which I didn't need or want, but Rasmus insisted "you must eat like a Finn!"). We finally left around 4:45, making it back to my hotel around 5am, sun fully shining. I have to say, it was one of the most enjoyable days and nights of my life, even though I couldn't understand 98% of the words I heard throughout the day. The Finns are so friendly people, and strikingly similar to Milwaukeeans (perhaps why Finns that move the US tend to congregate around the Great Lakes).

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