Saturday Night

in Helsinki



affect struggle reputation
sober screwed tear apart
harbor weed (2) surrounded
liquor hangover hard liquor
allow restrict flashback
shy random survey (2)
hostel shot (2) affordable
taboo rehearsal melodramatic




Night time in Helsinki. Winter is coming but they’re still plenty of people on the streets having a good time.

And maybe others who’ve had too good of a time.

I’ve come to Finland. The country has a reputation for fun and music.

And also for alcohol.

I’m on my way to a bar to meet a young women struggling with her drinking. Emma is one of three young people whose lives have been affected by drugs.

They’ll tell me and my fellow reporters during the show.

Emma’s only 22 years old but she already has a long history of drinking. From the very start, she knew she had a problem.

Emma: “It was tearing me apart inside because I felt like there was no way out. I couldn’t drink, but I couldn’t stay sober. I was like, I’m screwed, you know. I’m really screwed, you know.”

People here can have one beer and that’s it. But if I have one beer, I probably end up smoking weed, doing cocaine, waking up surrounded by a bunch of random guys.”

Emma wants to show me where her drinking started.

She takes me to one of Finland’s state owned liquor stores — the only shops in the country allowed to sell wine and hard liquor like vodka.

But restrictions didn’t stop Emma from starting to drink at a young age.

Emma: “My first drink was half a bottle of Red Cat and half a bottle of Green Cat. And I was soooo drunk. I was 13 and my hangover lasted for three days.

All of my money basically went to drinking, and I didn’t really buy food. I didn’t really care about that stuff. And for a year I tried to control it but then I realized it’s everything or nothing.”

Saturday night in Helsinki.

And I’m heading out to the bars on my own, without Emma.

I’m having a beer or two like a lot of people here. But true to their reputation, as the night goes on, it seems like almost everyone around me is getting drunk.

In Finland, people drink differently than in the two countries I’ve lived in. Over half of Finnish drinkers in a survey said they’ve recently had more than five drinks in one night.

In the US, where I’m from, it’s 25% of drinkers, and in Germany, it’s only 15%.

So Finns, when they drink—they drink a lot.

Woman One: “We take a couple of shots and a couple of drinks and then a couple of shots and then a couple of drinks and so on and so on, and at the end of the night….”

Man One: “People like five shots and seven beers and then psht.”

Woman Two: “We’ve come to know that we’re really drunk to interact with people or something. And that’s why we did it. I think it’s like a shyness we have.”

Journalist: “Does that make people alcoholics?”

Man: “No. Not really.”
Woman Three: “Yes.”
Man: “Not true.”
Woman Three: “Yes.”
Man: “Well not here.”
Woman Three: “Yes they are.”

Woman Four: “They have a drinking problem. They just don’t want to think about it. But then again everyone does this.”

I visit the harbor, where every day, boats come in from Estonia. Many Finns make the trip there for one reason only: to bring back cheap alcohol.

Finland has some of the highest alcohol taxes in Europe.

While that make drinking here less affordable, it doesn’t seem to stop anyone.

I meet up again with Emma.

She shows me some old videos from her past life.

Journalist: “When was the last time you saw these?”
Emma: “I think many years ago….okay this is me. What the hell? Totally drunk.”
Journalist: “What made you come to that point?”
Emma: “We had a class trip and then we had been drinking for two days in a row. And I just kind of fell apart at the hostel shower.

So melodramatic, but I was like ‘Oh my god. What is happening?’ These flashbacks kept coming to me and I kind of realized where my life was going and I was like ‘oh my god I can’t do this anymore.’ And then I started to quit drinking on my own.

But obviously it didn’t work out and then I realized that ‘okay let’s ask for some help you know and I ended up in treatment. Yeah.”

Now Emma is sober. She hasn’t touched alcohol in more than three years.

Journalist: “It great.”
Emma: “Thank you.”
Journalist: “I would love to know about this picture.”
Emma: “All this drinking and drugging made me go further away from the person I really am. And when I look at that picture, I feel like ‘okay you know what?’ That’s who I am these days, I mean I’m that three year old girl all over again.”

This is Emma sober. I’m sitting in on her band rehearsal. She wants to be a singer and says it wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t quit drinking.

Emma: “Yes, I guess I will always be an addict and alcoholic and I need something in exchange. I’d rather die than have a boring sober life. So I have to do this to stay sober.

And it feels like a dream. This is better than any drug I’ve ever taken. This is better than alcohol. This is better than my best drinking night, ever.”

Emma has built herself a new life, where few of her friends—not even her bandmates—know about her addiction.

Even though a lot of people drink in Finland, alcoholism is still taboo. But if a topic comes up, to me, it seems she’ll be confident enough to handle it.


*     *     *     *     *     *     *


1. In the past, did Emma drink only one glass of beer and go home?

2. People can buy wine and hard liquor in any small shop or store. Is this true or false?

3. How old is Emma? Did she start drinking when she was 21? When did Emma start drinking?

4. Finns drink the same way as Americans. Is this correct or wrong? How do Finns drink?

5. The clubbers say people there are alcoholics. Yes, no, both, neigther, in middle or it depends?

6. What do they say about Estonia?

7. What happened during the school trip?

8. Is Emma still drinking and getting drunk?
A. What is the culture of drinking where you live? Are bars, pubs, cafes, clubs, discos, tea houses and coffee houses popular? What happens there?

B. Name and describe the popular drinks in your city. What are the traditional drinks in your nation?

C. Is drinking a problem in your city? How can people recover from alcoholism?

D. Do you know any alcoholics or heavy drinkers? Describe their behavior or lifestyle. What is their occupation? Why do some people drink a lot?

E. Are there any people who do not drink in your city?

F. Though Finns may be considered “alcoholic”, they are good in sports, science, technology, business and government. Explain this.

G. Many great and famous people have been heavy drinkers: Ernest Hemingway (author), Winston Churchill (statesman), Alexander the Great (king and general), Charles Dickens (writer), Buzz Aldrin (astronaut), Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso (painters), Karl Marx (philosopher), Nikola Tesla (inventor).

H. What will happen in the future?


Comments are closed.