One of my absolute favorite things about Finland is that it’s totally normal that I walk around everywhere with a pretty substantial knife hanging off my person. When I glance at this portable evidence of my badass-ness, I think about my childhood crush on ‘Crocodile Dundee’, and wonder if more of Texas rubbed off on me than I was ever aware of. Anyway, sometimes when I’m feeling low about my crappy Finnish language and/or science skills, I focus on the fact that I live in place where it’s cool to take a visible deadly weapon everywhere with you. In Finnish, the kind of knife that you carry around strapped to yourself is called a ‘puukko’ (pook-koh). ‘Veitsi’ is another word for ‘knife’, but that would be a kitchen or butter knife, so if you’re wanting to be super clear about what you’re carrying about, you call your personal blade a ‘veitsi puukko’.
I’m not totally sure about the cultural fine print of this knife-wielding behavior, but based on personal observation, I think it’s far less common to carry a puukko outside of Lapland. But this is where the Finn’s almost pathological respect for personal space and freedom comes in handy. It means that even if you’re toting a knife about in a place that’s maybe not totally appropriate to weaponry, no one will say anything to you. Blades on trains/buses? Sure! In a college classroom? Why not!? This is the positive side of what I feel is otherwise a somewhat problematic cultural practice of ignoring the people surrounding you. As always, there’s a double-edged (oh!) nature to this protection of personal space – I enjoy the fact that things like personal appearance are not remarked upon and so wearing the same jeans for 10 consecutive days is cool, but am somewhat frustrated that this extends to things like not alerting someone when they’re dropping money or groceries on the street (both of which are things I don’t want to be leaking and would happily retrieve if only aware of their escape). American cultural analog?
Back to the blade! My puukko is a Marttiini, a famous Finnish knife maker from Rovaniemi. Fun historical fact: the old Marttiini factory is one of the handful of buildings that did not perish in the WWII fire that leveled Rovaniemi. It was from this resilient location that I purchased my knife, purportedly for field use (although in practice it does quite a lot of food-related duty). Because it’s for the field, it’s less decorative than a lot of the puukko kicking about, but a girl needs a rubber grip when she’s shoving the knife into near-freezing wetlands! It is already scarily sharp, but I’m taking lessons from a bona fide Finnish outdoorsman on how to keep it properly acuate. In Finnish there’s a saying about how if your puukko isn’t sharp, you must not be either… :)
As you’d imagine with something like a traditional knife, there’s folklore associated with the different blade/handle choices. For example, including bone (most often reindeer) in the handle is meant to protect all the food that you prepare, and symbols carved into the bone/wood/blade have meanings. Marttiini produces an ‘Annual Knife‘, numbered and manufactured for only one year, and this is the 2013 version (the symbol engraved into the bone is the symbol for the sun):
It’s common for both men and women to carry and use puukko, and your first puukko is often a ‘rite of passage’ type gift from your parents when around 8 years old. Over the course of your life, most people acquire a number of puukko, often of different sizes and decoration, and the practice of crafting your own (handle) is not uncommon up north. Before I leave Finland, I think it would be nice to take some time to pick out and purchase a nice, wood and reindeer bone handle puukko akin to the 2013 Marttiini one, although the difficulty in toting it around in America will make it a less functional souvenir than I would hope. Rural Ohio is starting to look pretty good right now, because if not there, where could I carry it around? Oh, wait. Texas! :)
And because I’ll probably never get around to doing a post on the perfection of snowflakes, here’s one of the good ones. This fell on my backpack when I was rocking a layover at the Oulu bus station on my last trip north.