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Comparison of Different Construction Cultures


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I had already dreamed of visiting America during my study time 40 years ago. Now I am retired and have a son Peter who spent 4 summers in that country, and can speak the language. To write about the trip I have to go back 10 years.

As an active master builder I did the drawing and planning work of a builder. One day an American, Per Kronquist with his brother Carl-Gustav from Portom, came into my office in Yttermark. He needed a drawing of his farm home that he intended to renovate. My son Peter, who then was attending trade school, came home from school and sat in my office.

When I heard that Per did the same sort of work that I did, I began to discuss with him what was required in America to be a builder. My son Peter listened attentively to our talk. In the fall he entered trade school to be come a master builder. There he learned that he had a chance to use his foreign language via an organization Cimo in Helsingfors. When he came home over the weekend, he said to me: "Pappa, can you call this Kronquist in America and ask him if I can work for him next summer." They got along so well that it was four summers that he spent in America. He also sought to have a permanent work permit after he became a master builder, but it was only for a few months. So he gave up and now lives in Sweden where he has his own building firm in Stockholm.

The Trip to America

Since I had worked a lot with local TV, my little video camera was the first thing I packed. I started my journey by flying from Vasa to Stockholm. After an hour in Stockholm, I went to Arlanda airport. There I met my son Peter and we began our trip to America. After a nearly 9-hour flight we landed in Newark, NJ. From the airport where we met Ricky, we drove to Wilton, Conn. where Per Kronquist lived. We would stay there with him.

One can nearly become lyrical when I describe my observations and experiences in America. Everything was so large and powerful. There is nothing of these proportions in Närpes, Finland.

Everyone we visited invited us to visit them. They were so friendly to us and we were well-treated. Because of lack of time, we couldn't visit all of them.

During my visit to the working site, I met many people from home that I haven't seen in 30 years, such as Tore Lillbåsk from Rangsby, Bengt Granskog from Nornäs and Bror Erik Granskog from Böle. We also visited where the very wealthy live. Kronquist had contacts there so we slipped past the guard. I have seen luxurious houses in Stockholm, but these here took the record. Many houses had their own movie theater and a large picture TV. It was mostly business people who lived in them. Many of them were in the marble business. I didn't think they would have it so easy all the time with the drop in prices at the stock market.

We also visited several building warehouses. I can say that building material is significantly 30-50% cheaper than in Finland. Concrete is 50% cheaper in the US than in Finland. One thing that surprised me was that all the nails were round that are used here. In Finland all the nails are square - only those used in nail guns are round.

I also think that the carpentry used in windows and doors is of high quality. They were also much more decorative than at home. A good example is that a window could be ordered with outer trim already assembled. Various outer trim is standard which explains why your houses are so decorative and beautiful, compared with houses we build in Finland. There they are more simple and modest.

I did not notice any unit building in Connecticut. That sort of building is very common in Finland. Unit building means all the houses are exactly alike. You have more variation in the shape of houses. The large American Angle with numbers is unknown to us. My son visited 4 summers in the US so he can use this American Angle. I was struck with admiration when he demonstrated it for me the first time several years ago. I'm not aware of the possibilities to be found through the use of this. It should be in the trade school study program where they teach tomorrow's builders how it should be used. They would then be more effective in their work and unit manufacturers would have it difficult to compete with them. Local builders would once again be more common.

Christer Krook who is from Kalax in Närpes, drove us around and showed us many exclusive houses. He had a home on the Atlantic with a fantastic view of the sea. He also took us to a stone business where they produced marble slabs, wash bowls, water closet stools, bathtubs in marble. Slabs for kitchen sinks were also in marble. It is the well-to-do who have the means for such luxury. He showed us several impressive houses he had built during his time in America.

We went to a party at the Scandinavian Club which was a great success. Here we met many emigrants, for example Hjalmar Granskog whom I visited the day before. He works at violin making as a retiree. During the years he has made 132 violins. We also met Bjarne Grannas from Sideby, Rolf Granskog and wife and Stanley Bjurbäck and wife. The orchestra, Atwood Express, played 50-60 numbers for dancing, but it was a little different music than we were used to at home at that time. The Scandinavian Club began with Nordic emigrants. Membership has decreased because no new emigrants have come from Scandinavia.

An Entire Day in New York

When one visits America it is a must to see New York. We took the train from Connecticut to the center of New York City. The train went under the river, under all of Manhattan. To see everything one would need an entire year, the city is so large. There are 8 million people in the city. We rode the red tourist buses around. We went on our first stop to the Empire State Building. It's an impressive skyscraper that was built in 1931. It was over 100 stories high. There were long lines of people waiting, and also safety regulations. After 1 ½ hours we were up in the skyscraper. The view from the top was enormous and we saw all of New York. I was very impressed by the city and the sights.

From the Empire State Building we continued to tour New York. I was impressed by the very tall buildings and how beautiful they were. Then we drove to Central Park, the world's largest man-made city park that is estimated to be a masterpiece of engineering. It had a beautiful waterfall and pools with running water.

The next stop in our tour was by boat around the harbor. No one had not forgotten 11 September when the airplanes flew into the twin towers. When we at last went onboard, we saw the Statue of Liberty, a symbol for New York. It was what the emigrants first saw when they arrived in America by boat - a symbol of freedom in the new land. We went to the Emigrant Museum on Ellis Island. Over 12 million emigrants passed through there - about 5,000 per day. In 1954 the borders were closed for free emigration and Ellis Island was closed for emigrants. Visas and work permits must be arranged for by the American ambassador in the respective countries.

It is an amazing museum. And entire day is needed to see it all. The names of most who passed through are found there. There is data that can be used for family research. We looked and found our forefathers. A large globe with a lighted arrow pointed to where the emigrants came from and where they settled in America. On the walls were large lists with the names of all the emigrants. Old photographs from those olden days were also displayed.

When it was dark it was a beautiful sight to see New York with its lights and advertising signs from the seaside. Then we took the train back to Connecticut.

Then came the day to go back home. It was evening when we flew home. New York was beautiful to see from the air. We left America with a certain sadness. The trip home was 1 ½ hours faster because we flew toward the earth's rotation. It took a whole week for my biological clock to adjust. But was was an interesting and worthwhile trip. We thank all who took care of us and showed us around the US. Especially Per Kronquist with whom we stayed.

Elof Sänkas Norden 13 Jan 2005

Translated by June Pelo

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