Author: Anna Ventola, Scandinavian Corner's correspondent from Finland
The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, visited Finland in August 2018. In between the official program, Sauli Niinistö, the President of Finland, took Macron for a cup of coffee. This was not the type of coffee break you would expect two presidents to have – it did not take place in a room with high ceilings and thick velvet curtains, nor was the coffee served from porcelain cups with gilded edgings. Instead, Niinistö took Macron to the market square for a quick coffee from one of the stalls. They enjoyed their coffee outdoors, with the smell of fish in the air and seagulls shrieking above. All around them the common folk were going about their day as usual, except perhaps this time stopping for a moment to stare at the two out of place customers and their entourage of security personnel.
Of course, this made news in Finland. The two heads of state having coffee among the public was newsworthy enough, but the news took an unintentional yet hilarious turn when a photographer managed to snap a picture of Macron right at the very moment he had his first sip of coffee. In this picture, Macron looks down at his cup with an expression of confusion or something that would perhaps be best described as desperation or even dismay. It is like he is suddenly suspecting if his coffee was spiked with arsenic since there really was no other explanation for what he was tasting. His face seemed to say what he was too polite to speak out aloud: “What the hell is this?”
It did not take long for the picture of Macron´s aversion be all over the news. Some people seemed horrified that we had offered this high-ranking guest only average coffee when we should have given him the finest. This then led to a heated debate on what “the finest” would have been. Different coffee brands and roast levels where suggested, but no conclusion was made. What the online community did seem unanimous about, however, was that Finnish coffee was “dishwater”, “undrinkable” and – as some described it – “acid”. When any other country would have been greatly offended by Macrons unintentional expression of dislike, for Finns it only seemed to confirm something we had long suspected: that our coffee is, to put politely, bad.
Still, this did raise a valuable question: why does Finland drink the most coffee in the world if, according to online conversations, they themselves do not consider their coffee any good? On average a Finnish person drinks about 160 litres of coffee per year, which makes 20 coffee packages per year and five coffee cups per day. This seems to be in conflict with the way Finns describe their coffee. If we hate it, why cannot we stop drinking it? Some have argued that the stimulating effect of caffeine helps Finns endure the long and dark winter months. Another explanation suggests that coffee suits Finns’ reserved personalities because a sip of coffee offers a natural pause from the conversation and makes it socially acceptable to stay quiet. Whatever the reason might be, coffee for Finns has become what tea is for the British, snaps are for the Swedish and what wine is for the French.
But why is it that Finns consider their coffee to be bad and yet continue to drink it in gallons? Finnish people take pride on their high coffee consumption rates but simultaneously feel ashamed that the quality of their coffee does not match the cappuccinos and café au laits elsewhere. Still, some secret appeal has allowed coffee to secure a special place in Finnish life from morning routines to the centre of political decision-making. And speaking of politics, the presidential chancellery of France made an official announcement that Emmanuel Macron did not find any problems with his coffee and had found it to be excellent. In reply, Finns poured themselves their fifth cup of coffee that day.
Anna Ventola grew up in a small town in southern Finland. She is doing her Master´s degree in geography and is interested in wellbeing and sustainable ways of living, which she believes are often connected. She gets excited by creative collaborations that broaden our understanding of the world and encourage positive change. She is an advocate for equality, courage and building bridges through communication. Like a stereotypical Finn, she does not do small talk well but thrives in deep meaningful conversations. On her spare time, Anna tries to balance her longing for outdoor adventures with her desire to stay indoors reading, writing and dancing. Anna believes in joy, humour and taking care of each other. If you catch her procrastinating, it is because she has found a cute dog video.