I was finishing off a bowl of lingonberry porridge yesterday morning when a helicopter suddenly swooped past my window. As it hovered, sirens began to wail. Air horns blared. Whistles whistled. Itching to witness some good old-fashioned gore and violence, I grabbed my camera, favorite Batman blanket and matching gas mask, and sprinted to the normally serene river where I witnessed a scene of profoundly disturbing perversity:

This was the annual Kaljakellunta or “Beer Float.” It has no official organization and doesn’t actually exist until the first raft hits the water. It’s illegal and theoretically dangerous as hell, since the point of the whole thing is to drink as much beer as possible while floating down a feces-hued river.

Sweating with delight, I sat and waited for the police to arrive and club a few revelers into sobriety. I waited. Then I waited some more. I fell asleep. Because the funniest thing happened: nothing. The floats floated and sank. Drunks imbibed and drank. People flocked and gawked. And the cops didn’t do anything except tell kids not to hurl themselves off the highway overpass (which they did anyway).

And yes, that is an open flame edging ever closer to the trees:

Whereas in the United States and other nations the National Guard would be summoned to corral, contain and eradicate the revelers, the peaceful Finns instead take the opposite tack. Instead of complaining about the trash generated by the ad hoc festival, they simply hire a fleet of dumpsters. Ambulances and medic boats idle by. Motorcycle cops roam the river banks making sure the hordes of tipsy girls are peeing in the grass and not in the middle of the bike paths.

Then everyone vanishes, leaving the riverbanks looking like an exploded carnival:

But volunteers will soon scoop up the aftermath. Because they know what summer is like in Finland: thoroughly unexciting. Finns also understand the best way to cope with hundreds of drunken youths celebrating the zenith of summer is by watching from afar and reminding themselves that in mere months all of Finland will look like this:

Though I’d personally rather give my pet polar bear an unanesthetized neutering than float down a sludgy, pissed-in and beer-stinking river, I enjoy witnessing things like Beer Float. It’s yet another reason why summer in the Republic of Finn is unlike anywhere else in the world.

Indeed, the point of summer here is that there is no point. It’s downright languorous. People take saunas and visit their cottages. Old men sunbathe beside the bike paths in pink undies or none at all. Children squish strawberries between their toes. Seagulls perch on your windowsill and belt out hour-long arias. If you want to entertain your partner with a sexy sunset dinner, you have six or seven hours in which to do so (and if you wait an hour you can cap off your date with a nice sunrise grope session.)

Of course with only a blip of quasi-darkness in the wee hours, summer is, for an insomniac such as myself, blurry and largely incoherent. And from what I gather – based on the ceaseless revving of scooters and smashing of bottles on our street – Finns generally don’t sleep much either. But that’s ok. We have winter for that. And then the drinking won’t be celebratory, but mournful, and the idea of sunburned kids on rafts will seem like nothing but a cruel, distant joke.

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CHRISTOPHER RYAN writes and lives in Helsinki, Finland. He received his MFA from Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and is the author of "The Bible of Animal Feet" (Farfalla Press, 2005). His debut novel HELIOPHOBIA is forthcoming, eventually, with a bit of luck, perchance, sigh, mumbles to self, etc. More info on this and that can be found at his website.

9 responses to “Go With the Floe: Reveling Without a Cause”

  1. dwoz says:

    The finns, besides their decidedly odd culinary quirks, are a cool, cool people.

  2. Becky Palapala says:

    Whereas in the United States and other nations the National Guard would be summoned to corral, contain and eradicate the revelers…

    Ah! But it is not so!

    This is cottage industry in Minnesota and Wisconsin where, like Finland, there are lots of Scandinavians (mostly Norwegians and Swedes, though), lots of drinkers, lots of rivers, and–indeed–lots and lots of winter.

    You can rent a tube. You can even rent a tube for your beer cooler. A free shuttle takes you up river to a good starting point.

    This is a summer pastime ’round these parts, eh.

    Behold: http://www.appleriver.com/

    • chris ryan says:

      but this an illegal event with hundreds of participants, as opposed to a few friends heading to the river. i’m not referring to the act of tubing per se, but to the act of amassing without permission and then getting smashed in the open air.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        Well, not just “a few friends”. I mean, we don’t grab our cane poles and go hee-hawing it down the slippery bank in our bare feet and homemade underknickers.

        Any given summer weekend, I’d be willing to bet no fewer than 1,000 people go down the Apple River. Most of them wearing crocs. It is choked with the young, drunk bourgeoisie.

        So the difference really is not the reaction of the authorities or turn out or the unquenchable party spirit (and thirst for beer) of the people, but that no one in Finland has managed to successfully commandeer and regulate this phenomenon for fun and profit.

        Has anyone tried? Maybe you should. Maybe it’s time to put some good old fashioned American entrepreneurial spirit to work.

        But I still must beg to differ on the prediction of police state behavior in the US. Seems to me like lots of things are illegal, and no one cares. Including jaywalking, sure, but also 4/20 smoke-ins and the like, and generally speaking, people manage those just fine in the states every year without the National Guard eradicating anyone. Like, comparable phenomena are entirely possible in the US, and even happen pretty regularly.

        • Chris Ryan says:

          Good points. I’m thinking of things like the University of Boulder’s 4/20 smoke-out, where tens of thousands of kids gather to get high. The cops and administration set about deterring, warning and then fining as many of them as possible until, years later, they realized they were facing too momentous a force. Now it’s kind of like, *shrug,* whatever. So I’m probably wrong. Or right. I’m not sure.

          You’re right about the entrepreneurial spirit. There’s definitely money to be made in providing suitable floatation devices. Many rafts were kiddie pools, and some were made to float with ample amounts of insulation foam (the kind you use to fill in cracks in your house). And some were blowing them up by mouth, which meant they were topping off the last air pocket around the time the event wrapped up.

  3. Leah says:

    My family and I do the same thing in Indiana every year. Pack the beer, the dogs and the kids and head over to Turkey Run’s Sugar Creek Canoe Trips. Get sloshed and hope no one drowns. It’s sort of our annual family reunion.

    • Chris Ryan says:

      “Get sloshed and hope no one drowns.” That’s funny. But it strikes a nerve, since I almost drowned while tubing – perfect sober – down Boulder Creek in Colorado. I also smacked my butt and couldn’t sit right for two months. I vowed never to do it again. At least not in snowmelt-runoff season.

  4. Really? says:

    Where are the police?

    I can not believe that the tax-paying adults of this town put up with this sort of ridiculous behavior!

    I can just imagine if this sort of thing happened here in Dallas, Texas–I would call 911 and demand that the sheriff come out and put a stop to this ridiculous nonsense!

    There really are three issues here: 1) the deviant behavior of these drunken youth influencing children to follow their heinous ways 2) the risk of property damage, injury, or death to both participants and bystanders from allowing drunken fools to frolic through town 3) the cost of policing, cleanup, damages to real property, repair of personal property, and harm caused by intoxicated people, danger to first responders needed to save these idiots from their own poor choices.

    I hope this community wakes up and throws all of these idiots in jail!

    If all known participants were rounded up by the police and charged with all crimes committed by all participants (like under an organized crime statute) then surly these morons could be locked up for at least a few years each and it would put a stop to this foolishness.

    I can’t believe that anyone would put up with this! I am writing a letter to my congressman to make sure that there is a plan in place to make sure these sort of low class shenanigans do not spread here to the great State of Texas!

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