A Note On Scandinavian Hospitality

A Note About Scandinavian Hospitality

Although I’m sure it comes as no surprise to many of our followers that the Scandinavian peoples are a generous lot, our team has been lucky enough to be the beneficiary of this trait on many occasions. What may come as a surprise however is the extent of this generosity. What follows are a few examples of the lengths that our countless new friends have gone to help us out.

The day before our big, epic crossing, we wanted to stay at a nice, comfy campground in order to get fully rested. Our maps indicated that there was one available in Grisslehamn, the town which we would be using as the launching point for our crossing. Upon arrival however, we were informed that the campground was geared more for RV camping and generally did not allow tents. However upon hearing what we were attempting to do, the campground manager immediately decided to make an exception for us and allowed us to set up our tents in an available trailer spot (the irony being that it was an absolutely perfect grassy lawn for sleeping on the ground. As if that wasn’t enough, he also locked up our kayaks in the boat storage warehouse on the site.

Midsummer is a very important holiday in Scandinavia. For a bunch of countries which get only a scant few hours of sunlight during the winters, the longest day of the year is definitely something worth celebrating. The Holiday itself is a lot like our Fourth of July. Although Sweden celebrates the event on the actual solstice, the Finns do it on the following Friday and Saturday. We shot to be in Nagu, Finland for the event.

Looking for accommodations for the Saturday night, we had been told that there was a campground right on the water in the middle of town. What we hadn’t been told, however was that every youthful soul in a 50-mile radius was planning on using that campground as a place to party for Friday night. Needless to say, when Kris and Steph went to scope it out, there were still many, many poor souls recovering and it was slightly messy. It was just about then that our disheartened recon team struck up conversation with the person managing the event. Although he first told us that it was 40 Euros per group, when we told him what we were doing, he looked around and said, “For you, it’s free.” He then proceeded to reassure us that all but a few revelers would be gone that evening, then helped us find a clean spot for our tents, carry our boats over there, and promised to have people keep an eye on the boats all night. This all on but 4 hours of sleep over the previous 3 days. All in all, with the sole exception of a killer base line accompanying our dreams, the night went very smoothly.

Now I shared these anecdotes out of order because this last one, although it actually occurred on the Friday night, is hands down the best example of Scandinavian hospitality.

The Friday of Midsummer we left our campsite off the coast of Finland in the late afternoon, heading for the town of Nagu with the hope that some awesome celebration would be occurring. After several hours of paddling, we started pulling into town in the late evening. We paddled past many houses full of revelers enjoying the long day of sunlight. However around 10:30 at night, as we were looking for the campsite we would stay at the following night, we paddled by one house that was exceptionally friendly and struck up a conversation with us as we passed by. They were very excited to learn that we were from the U.S. and before we knew it we were out of our boats and sharing cake with them. Then, before we even finished the cake they so generously offered us, we were invites to just set up our tents in the back yard and stay the night.

Toni (our gracious host) and her friends were sure to inform us that to continue to paddle on Midsummer, the most important Finnish holiday, would be a little nerdy, so they decided to take us all into town and show us what the holiday was all about. We stayed up the night watching the sun rise over the ocean at 2am, having never really set, from the deck of the local pizzaria-cum-pub boat (America, why don’t we have these?). Then, tired out, they grilled everyone up some 5am sausages and we crawled into bed. When her parents sailed in the following morning, the attitude from the previous night was only accentuated even more, her parents seeming even MORE excited to meet some intrepid, bold American sea kayakers. But to crown it all, we discovered that the whole crew of friends are from Helsinki and offered to show us around when we get there.

These stories are by no means all of the awesome examples of Scandinavian hospitality, but some of the best. It all seems to stem from a larger philosophy of being a good neighbor (so to speak). We mentioned this in an earlier post as well, but both Sweden and Finland have laws that allow anyone to camp on anyone else’s property for one night, as long as there are no fires and you stay at least 100 meters from the house. It’s characteristic of the Scandinavian philosophy that we all need to watch out for one another. A very inspiring way of life, and something that has given us a lot of fuel for reflection these last weeks.

And in other news, we’ve just learned the fate of the honorable, glorious Celtics. Team morale has suddenly taken a nose-dive. We may or may not be coming back home.

Ben “Destroyer of Waffles” Swanson

    • Joe Lynch
    • June 29th, 2012

    Awesome post. I’m ready to help you start planning the 10th Reunion Kayak Tour in 2022!

    Joe Lynch ’85, alumni director

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