Don’t Mess with a Boy Named Sue; Don’t Mess with a Finnish Sissi

August 6, 2009


It is unnerving that I have outlived my old treadmill. Just as there is something wrong with white lavender, there is something wrong about lasting longer then my treadmill.

When we originally purchased it, we expected the treadmill to outlast us and told the salesman our expectation. He assured us the company made quality equipment, mostly aimed at the professional gymnasium market, not the gimcrack home market. I expect the cheap treadmills sold at Wal-Mart and Costco to fall apart after a year or two. However, the fitness equipment shop that sold me the treadmill is no longer in business.

The manufacturer is still in business and still makes treadmills as well as other exercise equipment.

The motor expired on my old treadmill. When I called the manufacturer’s technical support line, the representative first told me he wouldn’t talk to me if I were not working for a gym and after I became insistent, told me they no longer provide motors for the model I bought and indicated complete indifference to my situation.

I sent the company’s President a letter expressing my opinion about their unwillingness to support a device I purchased for several thousand dollars with the expectation it would last longer than I. I did not get a reply. I was not surprised.

Despite efforts at resuscitation by a repairman, my old treadmill now rests in a landfill. I was not surprised when a CD player I bought for a couple of hundred dollars failed and could not be repaired, but the complete expendability of an exercise device costing thousands of dollars still horrifies me a bit.

We bought a new treadmill a few months ago after quite a bit of research into the reliability of the company and the equipment they sell.

Our new treadmill came with a heart monitor. The treadmill just isn’t happy unless it is displaying my heart rate on the monitor to inform me if I am in the proper cardiovascular “training zone” for my age.

If my heart is pumping too slowly, I am not developing enough heart strength for when I will need to flee pursuing coyotes this winter. If my heart is pumping too vigorously, I may collapse on the treadmill.

The premier heart-monitor company is named Polar. (As you will shortly see, this name is quite apt.) Polar is located in Finland.

I have had doubts whether the country of Finland actually exists. It sounds like a country that Dr. Seuss might invent. However, my daughter assures me that Finland is indeed a real country. One of her best friends, Annina, a college schoolmate for two years, is Finnish. I have also doubted that the language of Finnish actually exists. Annina, for example, speaks six different languages. I have met Annina. She speaks English better than quite a few Americans speak it. I have no doubt that her French and her German and her Spanish and her Russian and, of course, her native Finnish are equally fluent and impeccable.

Finnish is supposed to be one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn, perhaps even more difficult to learn than Chinese. My cousin Joanna Nichols became fluent in Chinese and as a result became a millionaire. I presume that if child genius Random Granddaughter some day becomes fluent in Finnish AND Chinese, she will become a billionaire.

However, Joanna never learned Finnish. My brother, who majored in linguistics and became fluent in French and German and Wolof, never learned Finnish. I have never met a non-Finn who knows Finnish.

Anyway, my theory was that there is no actual Finnish language. Finns, I figured, are cuckoos who pretend to speak an incomprehensible language as they insert themselves into other countries, perhaps engaged in a sinister plot to take over the world.

However, both my daughter, Mama, and her partner, Mommy (as they are known to our granddaughter) spent a week in Finland with Annina and her husband, and they heard and observed Finns all speaking Finnish to each other and accomplishing useful tasks of everyday life, indicating there is a real language and not just a charade to con gullible non-Finns.

Finns are also known for a characteristic known as sisu, the only Finnish word I knew (until a few minutes ago).

Wikipedia describes sisu as follows:

“Sisu is a Finnish term translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. It has been described as being integral to understanding Finnish culture. The meaning is equivalent in English to “having guts”, and the word derives from sisus, which means something inner or interior. Sisu has a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain it.”

In trying to look up the Finnish term for “sissy” I discovered that “sissi” in Finnish refers to elite military forces in the Finnish military, more or less equivalent to units in the United States military such as “Green Berets,” “Special Forces,” or “Seals,” or in England as “SAS” [Special Air Service], in other words, people you don’t want to irritate by referring to them as “sissies.”

If one is trying to learn Finnish in Finland, it would probably not be a good idea to get these words mixed up.

The Finnish word for “sissy” is nynny. As this word is close enough to the English word “ninny,” I can remember it in case I suddenly find myself in Finland. I will point at myself and say loudly as soon as they approach me with cross-country skis and parkas: “Nynny! Nynny! American nynny!”

My new treadmill came with a sensor belt for detecting my heart rate. As the belt picks up the heart rate, a radio transmitter sends it to the treadmill. The treadmill then displays it on the console.

Here is the problem. In the morning, before I start using the treadmill, I take my shirt off and strap the Polar sensing belt around my my chest. The strap is COLD. Even after I hold the strap under running hot water–recommended by the Polar Corporation, as the sensors work better if wet so they conduct the electrical signals from one’s beating heart more effectively to the sensor–the belt immediately feels icy cold to my bare chest–I then squeal and whine in agony as the cold strap hits bare my bare skin.

Actually, truth be told, after a few minutes my body gets used to the strap and then I laboriously plod away on the treadmill watching my heart rate get up to as high as 130 beats per second. This chart from the American Heart Association shows recommended heart rates for exercise and training for different age groups.


However, I dread that initial moment of icy contact and put off engaging it as long as I can, muttering “Nynny, nynny, nynny,” to myself.

For age 65, the training zone is 78-132 beats per minute. I usually plod along at about 120 bpm. The maximum is 155. I don’t know what would happen if I went over 155 bpm; I am not planning to test it.

I went to the Polar Corporation web site to see if they might be able to help me.

The Polar Corporation has web sites for many languages. Finnish, of course. English, naturally. I am not surprised there is a Chinese language site as well. On the web page for English speakers (and I presume for the web pages for all the other languages) Polar Corporation has a discussion section where customers can ask questions and discuss training problems. The typical question runs something like,

I am training for a marathon cross-country ski race where all the competitors cross the tundra during a blizzard, pursued by polar bears. My polar heart-rate monitor is not holding up very well under these conditions. It tends to freeze up and stop after only two hours or so of sub-zero skiing or if chewed by a bear.

The Polar Corporation has a corporate slogan on their web site: Listen to Your Body. I don’t think Polar Corporation wants to hear my body whining and kvetching about how their sensor strap causes me to squeal from a moment or two of chill.





7 Responses to “Don’t Mess with a Boy Named Sue; Don’t Mess with a Finnish Sissi”

  1. woo Says:

    That is the funniest post I have read in some time. I’m actually getting funny looks here in the office for chortling at the screen.

    Luckily, I get funny looks a lot, so I think I’ll get away with it.

    “I will point at myself and say loudly as soon as they approach me with cross-country skis and parkas: “Nynny! Nynny! American nynny!””

  2. modestypress Says:

    That’s my job. Bringing chortles to homes and offices all around the world.

  3. Cameron Says:

    Classic! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Juha Says:

    Thanks for the post! it’s brilliant. a little light beam to warm up the dark Finnish winter down here.
    By the way i sense some Sisu in you and believe me i know cos i am sitkeä sissi!(tough as a sissi) an finnish army sissi.

    Juha Finland.

  5. modestypress Says:

    I never expected to actually get a comment from Finland. I am very pleased to hear from you and send greetings back across the ocean.

  6. Cameron Says:

    I have no idea why I didn’t mention that my father’s side is Finnish–my maiden name was Suhonen. The “nen” functions much like “son” does in English, from what I understand.

  7. Juha Says:

    Greetings and happy new year for you too guys! Yeah cameron it means… kind of. Originally it was usually like “Suhon poika” but it was chanced to “Suhonen” being simpler and meaning more like a part of croup/family named “Suho” If there is anything you guys want to know about Finland just ask me at e-mail or here and i will answer to the best of my knowledge. by the way you might be interested about guy named Larry Thorne alias “Lauri Törni” his very rich happening person and John wayne acted as him on a movie The Green Berets.

    PS. my spelling may not be the best, but i think it does the job.

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