Monthly Archives

January 2017

[The Hieno! Suomi 100] Interview with Michaela Istokova, a super talented visual creative.

Finnish People, Finnish Society, Foreigners in Finland, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100, we have the huge privilege of featuring Michaela Istokova.

Michaela Istokova is our amazingly talented designer-cum-illustrator for the The Hieno! Suomi 100 official e-book. You can view her portfolio here and here.

Enjoy this interview! 🙂


TH: Hello Michaela! Can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing in Finland?

Michaela Istokova: Hello Wan Wei, or should I rather say “Moikka”? 🙂

I am a graphic designer and illustrator from Bratislava in Slovakia, and I am now working in an international development X design agency M4ID as a Visual Creative.

I moved to Finland about five years ago when I found a part-time job and a Finnish boyfriend Esa.

Since then I’ve been here sort of on and off, employed, unemployed, freelancing, everything.

TH: What are the three things you appreciate most about Finland?

Michaela Istokova: I am comparing Finland to what I had experienced in the three countries where I lived (Slovakia, Czechia and Malaysia). These three things stand out for me:

  • The way this country is governed and Finland’s admirable lack of scandalous corruption.
  • Quality of living in terms of the high quality of apartments and the services they offer. For example, there are communal washing and drying rooms, communal saunas, tables outside houses, etc…
  • Gender equality that I feel the most when wearing shapeless, potato bag dresses and nobody is judging me!

In my home country I would be definitely judged, most women there strive to look very feminine…Here in Finland it’s alright to look whatever way you want to look, and not just in the cosmopolitan Helsinki, but even in the countryside.

This may be different for, for example, Muslim women that are veiled, but in my case of a ¼ Asian white person, nobody judges my questionable fashion choices and the ways I choose to present myself as a woman. 😀

TH: Who inspires you the most? 

Michaela Istokova: I am inspired by people who do their own thing and create something amazing and beneficial.

For example, in Slovakia I have two friends – Miska from Puojd and Janka from Froggywear – who both create clothes but each has their own target audience. They are both successful at basically, being themselves and executing their vision and that is very inspirational to me!

So, generally I like fearless people who are going after their goal. 🙂

TH: What do you think are the unique aspects of Finnish design?

Michaela Istokova: Finland has a lot of textile design brands that create patterns that are mostly very bold, big and very bright.

Mostly it’s very graphic, maybe just Pentik does a bit softer, gentler design from the well-known brands.

Then I have also noticed that Finns like contrasting black lines, like you can see in the designs of Finlayson and the Arabia Moomin mugs for example – but obviously, Tove Jansson drew Moomins like that, and so it’s a wonderful established style.

I also like the Finnish designers’ use of motifs from the nature and Finnish cities (again, Finlayson) and their nice sense of humour evident in many designs. For example in Lapuan Kankurit’s design with many naked men in sauna!

Excellent stuff, I bought it for my mom.

TH: Ohhhhh many, many naked Finnish men!! *pervs* That being said, if Finland were a person, how would he or she look like?

Michaela Istokova: The illustration you see here is actually something I did as a personal project for the 99th birthday of independent Finland, just recently.

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I decided to illustrate a lady, let’s call her Marja Lumi [which means Berry Snow :)]. This is because it’s good to be a woman in Finland. She is also blonde, because once I read somewhere that Finland has the highest percentage of blonde people in the world.

Marja Lumi is enjoying a bit of löyly in sauna, having her saunakalja nearby and wearing a wreath made of flora commonly found in Finland, including the national flower, lily of the valley.

She has hairy legs, because really, people don’t care much and that’s great!

Be hairy here, my friend, it’s alright – we are all equal in sauna. 😀

TH: Haha, and who would her enemies be?

Michaela Istokova: I think my Marja Lumi would be very annoyed at sexist, patriarchal idiots who are intolerant to her freedom, her beer drinking, her meh attitude towards shaving, her general independence and high level of attained education.

TH: What do you think are some of the popular misconceptions of Finland that foreigners might have?

Michaela Istokova: A lot of people seems to think that Finns are introverted metal lovers with alcohol abuse problems that sit in sauna all day and then swim in icy lakes.

I find that kind of funny, especially the alcohol and metal part – at least in my circles not so many people drink too much or listen to metal!

Finland is also associated with suicidal behaviour, and sadly here I actually know several Finnish people who either had someone close to them commit a suicide. Or, in one case, one friend of mine did it a couple of years ago too.

I guess mental health is not in so much in focus here, and people are just encouraged to “have sisu” but that’s not always cutting it. :/

TH: Can you share some of the most memorable experiences you have in Finland? They could be funny, weird, offensive or out-of-the-world.

Michaela Istokova: My boyfriend Esa and I went on an extended business trip (for him) and a totally cool roadtrip (for me) to Lapland last summer and that was just wonderful.

My home country is small, hilly and rather crowded, so when I experienced the vast taigas of Lapland, I was in love. In particular, approaching Kemijärvi (the town) on the bridge above Kemijärvi (the lake) was a total highlight and now I platonically love this town!

I also had a nice experience last summer in Joensuu when I was buying two woven baskets from a lady on the market. I speak (badly) in Finnish. However, she didn’t mind and she was really curious about me. Also, she was very delighted that we can talk together in Finnish. Somehow that made me feel quite integrated and accepted in this often puzzling society haha 😀

Oh and one last experience – when we lived in Tampere, there was a totally enchanted forest behind our apartment where excellent mushrooms grew in unbelievable quantities. We were picking them and drying them and at one point we had so much that we had to dry them in our apartment sauna…oh, what a dream!

TH: What is the one birthday wish you have for Finland this year, since it is its 100th birthday? 

Michaela Istokova: I wish Finland to loosen up a bit in certain aspects.

Namely, the hostile attitude towards street art and the severely restricted sale of alcohol in grocery stores.

I also wish Finland can keep up its excellent work in many other aspects.

And I wish that more people would visit here and beyond just Helsinki and Rovaniemi, because Finland has a lot of lovely places to offer!

TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Michaela Istokova: If you can, visit Northern Karelia, it’s wonderful.

Swimming in Lake Pielinen, picking blueberries and cranberries in the big Karelian forests. And admiring the view from Koli National Park should be a must for every visitor to Finland.  =)


The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feature photo by Jenni Aho. We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did!🙂 Feel free to connect with Michaela on LinkedIn or view her portfolio here and here.

[Guest post] Book Review: The Helsinki Book, by Marc Aulén.

Finnish Culture, Foreigners in Finland, Helsinki sightseeing

Today we have a book review of “The Helsinki Book”, written by our lovely guest writer Sarah Laaru Mwaawaaru.

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Images are by Jaeseong Park and Marc Aulén. Enjoy! =)

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Text by Sarah Laaru Mwaawaaru, images by Jaeseong Park and Marc Aulén.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

One thing is for sure: when visiting or moving into a new city in a foreign country, we all want to make the most of our stay. Hence there is a need to ask a local for pointers.

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So, you look to a city handbook or travel guidebook for a glimpse of your new city/country. There are other sources of information, also.

However, while there are many travel guidebooks and handbooks of great cities that promise you a good time during your stay, I have come to find most of them either too “touristic” for my taste or just lacking that interesting-factor for me to stay clued.

But hey, that’s just me.

Some of these travel guidebooks/handbooks are either too exhausting a read, or may not excite your senses. The obvious fact being that some of these traditional travel handbooks are a battle of “the must-dos and must-sees”, and they can leave you disappointed, since you miss a few important details.

Some of them lack one thing–the insight of a local who is so passionate about his/her city, urging you to check out all the cool, indigenous and inexpensive spots in town, museums, art places, market squares, festivals and other fun activities in hopes of their beautiful city taking your breath away and leaving you with wonderful memories and a priceless experience for a lifetime.

Of course, there are those unconventional guidebooks out there; edgy, straight to the point, contemporary if you like but none compares to the brilliance, humorous, and informative fun of Marc Aulén’s The Helsinki Book.

The list can go on…

But in a city, that is reinventing itself and constantly changing, how can one encapsulate the beauty of a city, yet be modest and edgy in just a book?

Yes, there is. Behold The Helsinki Book by Marc Aulén, photos by Jaeseong Park.

What is The Helsinki Book?

CAUTION: The Helsinki Book is not your traditional, the top “must-do, must-see, must-try and must-eat” guidebook.

Nope! It is even better.

The Helsinki Book gives you the entire “download” on what you need when and should you ever visit Finland’s capital city Helsinki.

Marc Aulén’s The Helsinki Book is a fun and easy-to-read illustrated book introducing Finland’s capital Helsinki, with beautiful pictures captured by the camera lens of his friend Jaeseong Park.

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The book also features some personalised autographs and notes from some of Finland’s familiar names like Sunrise Avenue’s songwriter Sam Huber, Tove Jansson and amongst others. It also includes over 10,000+ pictures and is a project that took a year and a half to complete.

I must say this book is a real beauty that will put a smile on your face.

Why “The Helsinki Book”?

Why not? This book…

  • …doesn’t bore you with an overload of familiar tourist pictures, leaving you wondering if you conquered the city or not.
  • …is vibrant in enriching you with either that familiarity or urge to explore more.
  • …adds to the already information you might have on Finland or Helsinki.

It is funny, descriptive and has done a wonderful job of marketing Helsinki and Finland at large.

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The Helsinki Book tells you nothing but the truth in an entertaining way. It amicably prepares you, for a bit of “strangeness” like why Finns might go to the sauna naked with strangers yet some have a hard time holding down “small talk”.

The book clearly outlines some of the brilliant achievements of the nation of Finland in a fun and accurate manner. It hasn’t left out weather tips, what to expect in summer and winter and some few Finnish humor.

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This book contains topics on famous places in Helsinki to go for a drink, best restaurants to eat, and some famous cafés where Finns enjoy their famous beverage; coffee. One of my favorite places is the Café Regatta just located by the sea. To explore town and enjoy a drink or two, you could ride around in the finest pub-tram, the Spårakoff.

And also remember to check out some of the important happenings in Helsinki like SLUSH, music festivals, concerts and the myriad summer activities that make the city, the best place to be in.

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Marc is a restaurant owner, so he has taken the patience to check out and list some of the familiar and interesting places to grab a bite. And to top it off, he adds a couple of his own recipes at the end.

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When it comes to travel guidebooks about Finland, irrespective of the city of choice, the lack of insight of a passionate storyteller pointing you in the right direction can be difficult.

Finland is home to some of the most amazing lakes, rivers, sights, sounds and beautiful spots, but then again which city do you travel to? If you pick Finland’s capital Helsinki, this city is beautiful and vast—and so you will need a navigating guide and a friendly hand.

Who is Marc Aulén?

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Marc Aulen is a storyteller and restaurant owner of a wonderful place called Qulma in Kruununhaka district. Upon visiting his restaurant Qulma, you can’t help but leave with a full tummy and a content smile. A food and a music lover, he also sings in a band called Seven Mugs, a cover band focusing on The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Pink Floyd just to mention a few.

The Helsinki Book has sold over 2,000 copies so far and is not Marc’s only book. His first book is a collection of some of his best soup recipes called Sopat! (Soups), which turned out to be a good seller in Finland.

Who should get this?

Whether you are a newcomer or a local like myself looking for new adventures in Helsinki city, this book offers you a piece of Helsinki.

In my opinion, this will forever be a perfect gift. Better yet, just visit Marc in Qulma, enjoy a meal, have a chat and get a signed copy of The Helsinki Book.

An online version of “The Helsinki Book” is upcoming.

For more info, do visit Marc Aulén’s website.  =)

-Sarah Laaru Mwaawaaru

Finnish Men in Bed: Sultan’s Somewhat Irritating Marketing Campaign

Finnish Culture, Finnish girls, Finnish men

Have you seen the latest marketing campaign by Kaalimato? This company sells Sultan Condoms and its tagline is “sex without surprises since 1967.”. The marketing campaign irritated the hell out of me since it kept blasting before my youtube videos could play.

QUOTE: “These exclusive product kits set the mood by providing a glimpse of Finnish sex, all the way from midsummer bonfires to the long and cold winters.”

And then:

“But what makes Finnish sex so great? We’ve broken it down to six simple steps that can help anyone f*ck a bit more like a Finn. With the help of this toolkit, you, too, can create a sexual culture worth bragging about.”

Finnish Men in Bed: THE MYTH.

Well I have no idea how true whatever is on their landing page, including the citation of “Finns are the most active condom users in the Nordics”. Perhaps these claims are all storytelling–The marketers did not cite ANY sources! However, my gut-feeling tells me that it is this sort of story-telling that a lot in the (stupid) masses will fall for.

Obviously this is myth creation– Read Dr. Gareth Rice’s and Dr. Alf Rehn’s accounts on how Finns are the best myth spinners on Earth. And no, Dr. Gareth Rice did not mean “myth creation” in a positive manner, and he substantiated his statements with solid data.

No wonder Finland needs more good marketers. For example, in selling condoms, the marketers at Sultan wrote a contradicting point: “Finns really take care of New Parents”. And yeah they cited the legendary Finnish Baby Box.

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If mistakes are so easily forgiven and there are few negative consequences, then why do we need to buy Sultan condoms?  *Roll eyes*

What a waste of time and money. At any rate, I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep blasting youtube ads before youtube videos because NOW I have a really bad impression of this brand.