Monday, February 28, 2011

Interview in Jyväskylän Ylioppilaslehti

I was recently interviewied by the Jyväskylän Ylioppilaslehti (University of Jyväskylä student newspaper) which will begin publishing a regular column that I'll be writing. Here is the interview:
(If you prefer, you can read the PDF version (page 13).


Local bartender gives advice to his fellow immigrants.
”I’d like to imagine that both of these great-grandfathers would be shocked to find out that I’ve moved back to Finland. I don’t think they would’ve ever dreamed that”, says Willie Männikkölahti sipping his coffee in the bar Vakiopaine. Willie just received Finnish nationality a few weeks ago. Two of his great-grandfathers immigrated to the United States from Finland back in the 19th century. One of them – Willie’s mother’s mother’s father – used to write columns for Amerikan Uutiset, which is one of the original Finnish-American Newspapers.

Willie is writing about his experiences in his new homeland as well. He has a blog and he writes articles for the New World Finn – one of those Finnish American newspapers in the US. Now he is also writing pieces for Jylkkäri. ”I’m referring to them as Finnish Cultural Assimilation Lessons. Just some little things that I’ve noticed that can make a foreigners life in Finland that much easier. Especially if the foreigner is planning on staying here a little longer and wants to get as much out of living in Finland as possible”, explains Willie Männikkölahti, or Willie Lahti as in his writer name.

In his blog Willie has written about decoding Finnish potato bags, public defecation and also quite a lot about Finnish popular music.
”One of the things that I really truly believe is that one of the best ways to get inside a culture that isn’t your own is through popular cultural references. Especially through the music”, he says.

He tells he’s ”gone out of his way” listening to Finnish artists who have made some sort of impact on the Finnish psyche. ”A lot of times they are things you’re not going to pick up just hanging out with Finnish people in a bar, but on the other hand, you might notice how a song affects somebody when you’re sitting together in a cafe or a bar somewhere. Then that song is definitely worth looking into”, he urges. His examples of influential Finnish artists include Rauli Badding Somerjoki, Irwin Goodman and Leevi and The Levings’ songwriter Gösta Sundqvist. ”Badding’s Paratiisi feels like summer to me. When you have lived in Finland for a while you definately realize how important summer is for the Finnish psyche”, says Männikkölahti.

His advice to immigrants is to learn at least some Finnish. Popular Finnish music offers valuable help in that as well.  ”Not only you are motivated to learn the language because you want to know what’s going on in the songs, but you’re are also going to understand things about the culture you’re living in”, he says.

He currently works at bar Vakiopaine. He also paints in a studio at Kivääritehdas. He is now doing his Master’s degree in English. As a part of his graduation thesis he’s translating the novel Äidin hauta – Mother’s Grave – by a local author Keijo Siekkinen in English. ”I guess the plan is I’m writing a graduate thesis about dealing with cultural references in Finnish to English translation”, says Männikkölahti.

Willie lived between the two countries for a couple of years before he finally got married and came to stay in Jyväskylä in 2005. His son Reino was born a year and a half ago. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Scandinavian Languages and Literature from the University of Minnesota. It took him eight years to complete his degree, because he was already working as a bartender back then. ”After that I was actually making such good money tending bar that I didn’t bother to continue my education or look for work in my field”, says Männikkölahti.

He’s not going to abandon his bartending career even after he has completed his studies in Jyväskylä. ”My plan is to become the most overeducated bartender in the city of Jyväskylä. I’ve been bartending so long that I know this is what I like to do. It’s a good job. It fits my personality perfectly”, he says. He says he likes a job that brings new challenges every day. ”Although sometimes the new challenges in this business are not so welcome”, he laughs.

Jarno Liski
paatoimittaja(at)jyy.fi

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