BLAST FROM THE PAST: Woman’s Guide to Europe (Fodor’s 1953)

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

Here is a gem of a book that I sometimes enjoy taking off the shelf and reread: Women’s Guide to Europe by Fodor’s Travel Books (1953).  If one reads the section on Finland, one of the first conclusions one makes is that they are writing about another country.  Below are some excerpts written by H. T. Kontiopää:

Invitations to native homes are readily forthcoming, even though the host may have to scrimp for a month in order to entertain lavishly. Be prepared for a plethora of coffee (coffee parties are the order of day and night) and a minimum of living space. In the present housing shortage the government allows but one room to a person, and that sofa you sit on is probably your host’s bed after hours.

This travel guide, Woman’s Guide to Europe, was published in 1953. The woman on the book jacket doesn’t look too excited.

Restaurants. Everywhere food is good and plentiful. Thanks to the Swedish smorgäsbord, re-styled by the Finnish school, you can eat as much as you like. Two or three servings are not frowned upon. Table d’hote meals are reasonably priced. It’s the wine list which can play hop with your bill…

Entertainment. If you’re coming to Helsinki direct from Paris, don’t expect a wild round of clubs and cabarets; Maxim’s and Monseigneur don’t translate into Finnish. There are no night clubs, bars are forbidden by law, and there is only one restaurant with a floor show. Concentrate on music and the theater and you’ll find the evenings full…

  1. Osmo

    Yes, Finland was a very different country in 1953 as were most of the post war countries of the era. Housing shortages are due to a total of over 400,000 Karelians that flooded into Finland twice: in 1939 and in 1944. My parents were among them, from Viipuri. My father worked for Valmet sending manufactured goods to Soviet Union, which amounted to over $500 million at that time. He would go and buy a case of beer for the guys to work longer hours just to make a shipment on time. As you know Finland pays its debts and, although far from perfect, has a reputation world wide as an honest and reliable country to deal with. Russia could learn a thing or two from us. Isn’t it funny how a country’s fortunes boil down to individual character of the people.

    Yes, Finland was certainly a different country then, and it is changing even now at an ever increasing pace…it is truly a “quickening” that is going on.

    Nice historical reflection though.

    • Enrique

      Osmo, a nice fleeting window of past Finland, no? I am sorry to hear about the loss of your parents’ home in Viipuri. My grandfather lived in Viipuri for a short while before moving to Mikkeli.

      I used to visit my grandparents in Finland in the summers. It wasn’t a cultural shock for me from my Southern California perspective. The first thing I did when I got back to the United States was savor some good old fashioned hamburgers. Back in the 1960s and 1970s there were no McDonalds never mind other international fast-food chains. We did have a “Meksikon Grilli” on Bulevardi in Helsinki. I was ready to eat a plate of chili con carne and, presto, beef stroganoff, which was a creepy mixture of Hungarian and Karjalan paisti! The only thing Mexican about the food was its name on the menu. Finland has come a long way from those days.