Tuesday, August 28, 2007

i love the finns

Last year I climbed Kilimanjaro with a Finnish couple who rocked. Over the six days it took to climb up and down the mountain, we complained to each other about the altitude, the food, the climb, the equipment and every little bit about life as we knew it. My favourite complaint from my new friends was about Americans. As friendly people, the Finns always asked other travellers they happened upon where they were from. Inevitably, the Americans would always answer "Milwaukee" or some other random city, assuming the Finns would know exactly where that was. So my new friends started telling Americans they were from Tapulikaupunki. Period.

(In case you're wondering, it's a suburb of Helsinki. That still makes me howl.)

Well, the Finns have made me howl again. Two Finnish artists have spent the last couple of years creating complaints choirs in various cities. They started in Birmingham, spending two weeks recruiting volunteers through ads, canvassing for general complaints, writing a song, and then performing and recording it in public.

From there they went on to create the Complaints Choir of Helsinki, the Complaints Choir of St. Petersburg and the Complaints Choir of Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg. And then other people sought their help creating new complaints choirs in Pittsburg and Juneau (see, now I'm listing random American cites--I can't help myself!), among other cities. Canada's national broadcaster, the CBC, also got in on the game.

Common themes carry through most or all of the performances, regardless of the place of origin of the choir. Most complain about public transit, the weather in their respective country, not having enough money, laundry turning out badly, men who are afraid to commit, limited career opportunities for women, and crappy tv.

However, what's more interesting about the complaints choirs is how the complaints differ.

The Birmingham choir's best moments are complaints about a peg leg "gone all weird," slugs eating lettuce (?) and, my favourite "Sometimes you get bananas that don’t ripen. They just kind of go pale and whiten. I think they are dead bananas."

The Canadians complain about manners (somewhat predictably, methinks), Conrad Black, hidden cell phone fees and spam.

The Russians fluctuate from the mundane to the existential, complaining about a lack of money for acne cream and how crappy whiskas is, and then lamenting that "life is a permanent artistic crisis." And my favourite: "A bear stepped on my ear." Huh?

Finally, the Finns. They complain about losing to Sweden in hockey, lots of stuff about saunas, how dreams are boring, and how all ring tones suck. But the best: "When you buy furniture all you get is a pile of boards."

Now the Finnish artists are planning a performance in Chicago, and the artists are inviting locals to submit their complaints and share their voices in belting them out. For all of you complainers in Chicago, submit your complaints or register by October 1. I for one can't wait.

And when can I get myself to Finland? Need to plan immediately.


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