It’s not a dragon, it’s a salmon snake.
The beauty of being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t share your native language is that every once in a while, you get to make them question your sanity while trying to make sayings in your native tongue work in English. My boyfriend gives me these wonderful looks of “what are you?” when I say something like “run like your head is your third leg!” as we are spurting across the airport to make our connection flight or “I think she has her own cow in the ditch” when we are talking about someone behaving a bit fishy. I love it! But sometimes I fear he thinks not all my Moomins are in the valley (or that not all the cereal made it to the bowl, or the screws are a bit loose, or some pens fell out the pencil case).
Finnish is a pretty odd language. Exhibit A:
Need I say more? I think not.
Without further ado, here are my 8 favorite Finnish sayings and phrases that make my boyfriend look at me like I’ve lost my mind when I use them:
Olla Matti kukkarossa
This saying is used when you are broke. A literal translation would be: “to have Matti in your wallet.” Matti is a common Finnish name. But who is Matti? Why is he in my wallet? Or anyone’s wallet? Did he take all the money and that’s why it’s empty? One will never know.
Keinot on monet, sanoi mummo kun kissalla pöytää pyyhki
“There are many ways to do things, said the grandmother as she was wiping the table with a cat.” Come to think of it, I have no clue what this means. I just feel very sorry for the cat. I guess it means be creative when faced with little options? If you can’t find a rag to wipe the table with, use something else? I think this is borderline animal cruelty though.
Kel onni on, se onnen kätkeköön
In a nutshell: if you are happy and successful, don’t show it to anyone else. This is actually not a saying, but an excerpt from an old Finnish poem by Eino Leino. In fact, the poem is older than Finnish independence!
Modesty is a common cultural trait in Finland. Showing others how happy you are might just depress and sadden those who have less than you, so better keep it to yourself. If you have a fancy car, hide it in the garage. Honestly, I think happiness should be spread instead of hidden, but whatevs.
Kuka kuuseen kurkottaa, se katajaan kapsahtaa
Ah, gotta love Finnish pessimism. Basically this phrase means: whoever tries to reach for the top of the spruce will tumble and fumble on the pine-needles and end up face down on the ground. So inspiring. So… uplifting and motivating! Forget reaching for the stars! Better not try even to reach the tip of a tree!
Häviää ku pieru Saharaan
This is my personal favorite! I think it’s quite genius. This phrase is used sort of the same way you would use “vanished into thin air”. Only it means “vanished like a fart in the Sahara desert.”
Älä nuolaise ennen kuin tipahtaa
This made sense to me before I started breaking it down. The phrase translates to “don’t lick before something drops.” The proposal is rather sensible; it’s good to be level-headed and not celebrate too early, as that might only lead to disappointment. But why should you let something drop if you could save it? Wouldn’t you want to lick an ice cream ball, for example, if it was melting and about to drop? Wouldn’t it be better to take care of a threatening situation like that rather than just watch the ice cream melt away? I’m so confused.
Se on helppo nakki
I guess the English equivalent to this phrase would be “a piece of cake”. I suppose cake didn’t quite fit the Finnish ideology, so instead we chose sausage. Like the little cocktail sausage. I mean, although I don’t eat meat, they are a pretty easy thing to prepare. You can’t go wrong with a cocktail sausage. They are the easiest thing to serve at parties or get-togethers! Much easier than baking a cake.
Oma lehmä ojassa
This is the cow in the ditch one. When someone has “their own cow in the ditch”, it means they have a second, or hidden, agenda. I tried to find where this saying originated from but came across nothing. Perhaps someone was looking for a barn to keep their cow in 200 years ago and was friendly with their barn-owning neighbors only for that reason.
Ahh, this list could have been so long. I’m a little homesick now. Should I make a part 2? By the way, the translation for dragon is “lohikäärme”. Lohi: salmon. Käärme: snake. Logic: none.