Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Dark Side of Mökki-life

No Finnish summer vacation would be complete without spending time at a mökki (summer cottage), and indeed sharing pictures on social media.

Mökkis are invariably lovely photogenic wooden buildings, set in the woods and close to a lake, a river or the sea. They are places to relax, go to [the] sauna, swim, barbecue food, drink beer, and enjoy life with friends and family.

But there is a dark side to this idyllic summer setting…

That dark side is… the outhouse.

Many of those mökkis are set in such rural locations that there is no proper sewage system. And so one has to do one’s business in a shed at the bottom of the garden.

Until I visited a Finnish summer cottage for the first time some years ago, I had only ever heard of outhouses in a historical or 3rd world context. The idea of them filled me with both disgust and pity.

In actual fact, Finnish outhouses are not quite as unpleasant as one might anticipate; but they are not that nice either.

However the Finns, who never miss an opportunity to laugh at the ancient plumbing in British houses, paradoxically seem to rather enjoy using the even-more-primitive outhouses. I have been to summer cottages where there was both a nice modern sanitized indoor toilet (connected to a septic tank) and an outhouse, and where Finns chose the outdoor option. Does it make them feel at one with nature, I wonder? Do they enjoy, like the bears in the tautology, doing it in the woods?

For those readers who have never had the experience (and for the Finns who might never have paused to think about the silliness of it), allow me to share the modus operandi:
  1. Head for the outhouse. 
  2. (Optional) If you don’t like mosquitoes, make sure you put repellent on before setting off.
  3. (Optional) If it is dark (obviously not at the height of summer, when it is never really dark in these Northern latitudes), make sure you take a torch with you. If you are lucky, someone will lend you one of those torches you can wear on your head (at this point, you will have already given up on any concern for dignity). 
  4. When you get to the outhouse, call out just to make sure no-one is in there (I have experienced outhouses with no locks).
  5. Enter the shed. Before your eyes lies a wooden bench, with a polystyrene seat covered with a polystyrene lid. 
  6. Remove the lid, trying not to look down. Note that the outhouse does not really smell bad – that is one of the not-quite-so-unpleasant surprises of using a Finnish outhouse.
  7. Sit down and do what you have to do. Note that the polystyrene seat is actually quite comfy (and warmish even on cold days) – that’s the other not-quite-so-unpleasant surprise of using a Finnish outhouse.
  8. Fight off mosquitoes and other insects.
  9. (Optional) If you hear someone approaching, sing loudly to yourself to indicate your presence.
  10. Upon completion of the business, use the toilet paper provided.
  11. Clean your hands with the antiseptic liquid provided.
  12. Take compost from a nearby container using the little shovel provided, and throw it into the pit to cover your tracks. As an aside, the compost is known as hajusieppo in Finnish, which can translate bizarrely but appropriately to "smell flycatcher".
  13. Put the polystyrene lid back on.
  14. Walk out of the outhouse to rejoin civilization
Easy, huh?

Well not if you don’t know.

A few years ago, while on a trip to Lapland, our local guide Ate told us the story of a couple of French tourists who had been using outhouses for the first time. After a few days, they complained to the guide that, well, their nether regions were getting rather sore. It turned out that they had been using the compost to clean themselves. Oh là, là!

As for me, I don't think I will ever really get used to outhouses, even if I know what compost is for and have never had displeasure of emptying the pit (yes, that has to be done sometimes!).

I am just relieved I have now been able to lift the lid off this dark side of mökki-life – so to speak.


  1. One of the reasons for the popularity of outhouses is that composting dry toilets are more environmentally friendly than a normal water flushing toilet. Using a septic tank is actually illegal in many groundwater areas.

    But there are options that combine the comfort of a regular toilet with a composting toilet:

    1. I am learning new things on this subject every day! :-)

    2. In case you weren't aware, your blog post was featured in this weekends Iltalehti:

  2. Of course, an actual outhouse is less of a hassle than plumbing. We are talking about a comparatively rarely used property usually located in the middle of nowhere. You don't want to go there to fix plumbing problems, frozen pipes, broken septic tanks, etc. or even have to find out you have to deal with them when you arrive there.
    Outhouse is a simple thing that is difficult to brake and won't brake by itself or by most of the things mother nature throws at it. And when it's filling up, you simply dig a new hole next to it, move the outhouse there and cover up the old hole. You might also have some sort of a container there, but that's not difficult to deal with either: Dig a hole, dump the contents, cover up the hole, or something to that effect.

  3. My experience is that outhouses have a latch both inside and outside. If it isn't latched outside, there's a good chance it's occupied. Then again, you can simply try the door, because they've probably used the latch on the inside.

  4. If you think using an outhouse is an ordeal, try emptying one when it is full. I am sure any mökki owner will be happy to let you do the honours.

    1. I have had the pleasure of digging a hole near the outhouse to put the contents of the outhouse into, but sadly (?!) not the chance to empty it.

  5. Hi, Telefinn! :D Im 12 years old girl from Finnland. When i go next time to my granny's house, or mökki, i must use the outhouse... :S In the mökki, there is outhouse, but in my grandmom's "real" house has insidebathroom... Or what ever it is. But i mean that "inside house bathroom" - thing. When i go to in outhouse in my granny's mökki, i take whit me there:
    - phone just for that i can call, if neighboors god is waiting me right in the door... And if i cant get out off there (You see, that outhouse is like 12+ years old...)
    - thorts (one or two. If its night time, i ask mom too... Cos that mökki is in the forest, and there is som wolfs and meaby bears in out side so...)
    - Meaby som cookeys com im gonna be nearvous about moskeytous in outhous and really im gonna be soooo nearvous about spiders.:S

    So cos i dont I realy dont like spiders, i go to outhouse only when i realy need to go there.....

    I hope that you'r gonna have som awesome and wonderfull memoyres about Finnland.:D I live in Tampere, so I cant go to my grandmom's home to visiting so ofthen i can be there like just one or two time in one year or som years i cant go there at all.:(:'( But have soooo nicee year in 2016!

    ~ Pilkku

    P.S In social media im not enyverhe, but im in Englis, and Finnish servers in Howrse. In this same name, Pilkku. Its horse game. And im rider so dont mind me....:P

  6. Oups... I did mean that dog is waiting...:S

    ~ Pilkku

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences Pilkku. It did make me smile!