I have to confess, car culture is completely strange to me. I didn’t grow up in the United States and never took part in that age-old rite of passage of getting a learner’s permit and then a driver’s license. I didn’t get my license until I was 18 years old and never had a car until just before heading off to college. In fact, I don’t have a car or a driver’s license right now. I haven’t needed them because I’ve lived most of my adult life in cities with extensive public transportation.
Growing up in Southeast Asia, I either walked or took public transportation. For me, cars don’t mean much. I’d still rather take public transportation and not deal with oil changes, buying new tires, parking fees and so on. But seeing their importance to other people and how some cultures are wrapped around them is fascinating to me, whether that is here in the United States or in places as far away as Finland.
I went to high school with people from all around the world, including Finland (Suomi!). And though I did take driver’s ed at the high school I went to in Taichung, Taiwan, our class never drove in actual traffic on a road. Instead, we drove around the cinder track where our track team ran laps. One of my classmates in driver’s ed was from Finland. It was astonishing to learn that her preparations to get a Finnish driver’s license were far, far more stringent than the ones we kids from the United States had to go through.
So it’s even more interesting to me to think about Finnish photographer Jussi Puikkonen’s recent project on youth car culture in northern Finland. According to Puikkonen, there’s a tradition in which Finnish youth gather with their cars in the center of a small town to hang out. I suppose this is similar to the American pastime of “cruising,” though I never did that.
According to Puikkonen, this custom is starting to fade in most places in Finland but is still easy to find in the country’s northern towns. Puikkonen describes the ritual:
“The phenomenon is often thought as symbolizing social exclusion, but I see it as a Nordic subculture and way for young people to connect in remote towns. Owning your first car symbolizes the moment of becoming an adult, giving you the freedom of moving around and having access to places where your parents used to drive you.
“With a Nissan Bluebird you can drive with a girl or boyfriend sitting on the passenger seat, playing Finn hits as loud as you wish from the car stereo. Many of the drivers I met drove 40,000 km in their first year, not even leaving their hometown, which amounts to driving around the world.
“Known for being anti-social, connecting from the inside of the cars fits Finns perfectly. I asked one of the guys, ‘So you all know each other here?’ ‘Nope, we just know the cars,’ he answered.”
You can see more of Puikkonen’s work on his website.
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