Finland is home to the annual Air Guitar World Championships.
There are many approaches to promoting world peace — giving Nobel Prizes, developing diplomatic agreements — but none are quite as awesome as playing air guitar. In fact, that’s why the Air Guitar World Championships were created: The organization’s official website proclaims that “wars will end, climate change will stop and all bad things will vanish when all the people in the world play the air guitar.”
In keeping with that (perhaps overly optimistic) outlook, each competition ends with every contestant playing the air guitar “all at once to save the world.” For more than 20 years, people have traveled from around the globe to Oulu, Finland, to participate, but not without first winning their respective National Championships. In most years, there are about 10 National Championships, with participating nations including France, Thailand, Chile, and beyond. The 2020 event was canceled, but in 2021, a virtual event pitting past champions against each other crowned Justin “Nordic Thunder” Howard of Chicago the “Champion of Champions.” The 2021 event’s “air-judicators” judged performances using a 4.0–6.0 Olympic figure skating scale, with points awarded for technical merit, artistic impression, and “airness”; the latter was defined as “the extent to which an air guitar performance exceeds the imitation of guitar playing and becomes an art form in and of itself.” Howard has been honing his skills — and winning competitions — since 2006, and according to his website, his mission is to share “his message of world peace, love, and understanding through invisible guitar licks and head banging hair whips.”
While standard Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish are similar enough to be considered mutually intelligible, Finnish is part of the obscure Finno-Ugric language family, along with Hungarian and Estonian — three tongues with grammatical structures that make them notoriously difficult for non-native speakers to learn. That’s especially true of Finnish, which consistently ranks among the world’s most intimidating languages. If you find yourself trying to converse with a Finn, you may need to ask them “Puhuisitteko hieman hitaammin?” (“Can you speak more slowly?”)