At one point in my public school education, the Powers That Be decided that competition was bad for children. Actually, they also decided that new math was a good idea, spelling would no longer be necessary thanks to computers and that geography was a waste of time. Thus, my entire generation grew up believing that 8 x 5 = Eurupe.
But I digress. The 'competition is bad' school of thought held that children's self-esteem would suffer if they lost at something and so it was better to pretend competition didn't exist. What educators didn't account for, sadly, was Finland.
Finns seem to be born competitors. They enter every international sporting competition on the planet, and where there isn't a contest, they make one up.
For instance, they have hosted contests for doughnut eating, karaoke singing and wife-carrying. I'm not sure how much the karaoke judges or “cargo” wives get paid, but I'm sure it's not enough.
They also have contests for mosquito killing, but I'm not exactly sure how this sort of thing can be judged. Do mosquito hunters have to display row upon row of little mosquito head trophies? Do they have notches in their flyswatters that need to be counted? Or do judges have to come and inspect mosquito smoosh marks on the walls of your house? If so, they probably don't get paid enough either.
Finns are also well-known for their love of saunas. In case you didn't know, a traditional Finnish sauna involves sitting around in a closed room full of very hot steam for long periods of time. Once you've turned the color of a pickled beet, you're then meant to roll around in the snow, or take an ice cold shower, at which point you turn the color of a frozen pickled beet.
I believe that this long standing tradition in Finland is responsible for the large number of Finnish names and words that have double or repeated letters, like Eetu, or Roosa, or verkkoasioinnissa and VÃ¤estÃ¶rekisterikeskuksen (which, translated, means 8 x 5). That is:
1) After so many hot saunas, Finns are permanently sticky and their fingers stick to keyboards.
2) After a roll in the snow, Finns have a horrible case of the shivers and they hit the keys multiple times.
Anyway, it should come as no surprise to find out that Finns have sauna-sitting contests. The rules call for temperatures up to 110C and you must sit upright with hands on knees. As far as I can tell, the object is to: get poached without passing out. Or in other words, the last man (or woman) got slumped over in a beet red heap, wins.
Given their history, I would not be surprised to see the Finns hold contests in the following areas:
Hold endurance: A contest to see who can stay on hold the longest. Special categories reserved for repeating voice messages (“Your call is important to us. Your call is important to us. Your call…”) and horrible hold music (“And now, Lionel Ritchie's greatest hits performed on the tuba…”).
Government offices: A contest to see who can go from department to department in a government buildings, being told to fill out forms in triplicate, taking numbers, waiting, and being spoken to in governmentease without going stark raving mad.
Cell phone: The ultimate modern test of endurance, being seated in a movie theatre where people are not made to turn off their cell phones. Special prizes for contestants who can endure a single, never-ending call, the call that keeps getting broken up, or especially annoying ring tones.
Why are the Finns so competitive? I really don't know – as a product of the public education system, I wasn't allowed to compete.
And since I also don't know how to spell VÃ¤estÃ¶rekisterikeskuksen, inviting me to a spelling competition to help me understand… is probably not a good idea.
To read more of Chandra's work, visit www.ChandraKClarke.com.