Posts Tagged ‘Baltic Sea’

Naked in Helsinki

Friday, June 12th, 2009

ice on baltic in finnlandAs a young man, I had often heard tales of the hearty Finnish appetite for vodka, for cross country skiing, and for swimming in icy waters. They all seemed like tall tales to me. Oh how wrong you can be.

When I was working for Real Networks a few years back, I was fortunate enough to inherit the fledgling games business. We purchased a company that made fun games to play on your cell phone. The company was called Mr. Goodliving, which seemed an odd name to me but I wrote it off as a translation error. Oh, how wrong you can be.

During my first visit to this business unit, I arrived after a nine-hour flight to Copenhagen which led to a layover that felt more like a hangover, and then another flight to Helsinki. I was so looking forward to settling into my hotel room. Oh, how wrong you can be.

Our hosts picked me up and took me to dinner. We packed five people into a small car, drove for an hour or so outside of the city to a small house—a shack really—where I was told there would be a locally renown chef to provide us highly personalized service. First came the vodka. Then came some beer. Then some more vodka. Then it was time to get naked.

You didn’t read that wrong. You see, the shack was actually a sauna house with a dining room. I got naked with my hosts, sat in a 160F heated room, and talked business, family, and other “getting to know you” topics. Of course they insisted on dousing the hot rocks with water to keep the air from drying us into Folgers crystals. I was sweating bullets or the vodka was condensing on my skin. I tried not to think about the fact that my first staff meeting was being held in the nude. This situation brought a whole new meaning to the term penis envy. Fortunately, I was sufficiently inebriated not to care too much about measurements. Besides, I was the boss, so my ego wouldn’t let me be embarrassed or act the least bit surprised by any of this.

Just when I thought I was going to die from heat exhaustion, jet lag, and alcohol poisoning, it was time to go swimming. It was December. The Baltic Sea is salt water. It has to be below the freezing point of water to become solid. There were chunks of ice floating in the sea. It was 10pm. Thus far for dinner, there had been only alcohol and heat and as yet, no food. My judgment was impaired. So I agreed to go swimming with these hearty Finns. They jumped in with glee. And yes, I jumped into water that was 30F and only a minute after having been in a cedar box blazing 130 hotter. I didn’t die. It actually felt refreshing, and brought on an appetite of epic proportions. I thought maybe my Dad’s Lithuanian blood did in fact still course in my veins.

We finally ate. We ate a lot of great food. We drank more vodka. We sang a few songs. And then we went to the bars to celebrate our new post-sauna-trauma brotherhood, where we found even more vodka, some of it dark black and tasting like a bag of licorice had been slowly dissolved in grain alcohol over several years of curing. The Mr. Goodliving gang lived up to its name. Until of course the next morning, when those Folgers crystals came in handy.