Aside

21 things to know before moving to Finland

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Inspired by this great post: 21 Things You Should Know Before Moving To Italy (Or visiting Italy)

This is my personal take on what you should know before moving to Finland.

1. You always take off your shoes before entering somebody’s house (and your own). There may be some very formal occasions when you don’t take off your shoes but it has not happened to me yet. So, always wear cute socks and be mindful of holes. People even bring slippers to their workplace, which is sensible when outside the roads are covered in snow and gravel.

2. Take vitamin D every day is a very good idea during winter. You don’t get enough sun and may end up suffering from vitamin D deficiency, so take your tablets. I personally take 50 mg. as a higher dosage is not recommended.

3. Italian breakfast will make you look like a weirdo. Many people have porridge, others rye bread with cheese or eggs, but eating cookies with tea or caffellatte is unheard of. Corollary: cookies are not meant for breakfast so packages are usually small and super expensive. These cinnamon cookies, however, are delicious!

4. Icy roads can be very slippery so get sensible shoes with good soles and if you are very scared of falling (like me) also anti-slip rubber covers.

5. The first snow always melts quite quickly.

6. November is the worst month of the year. If you need to know why read Tove Jansson’s Moominvalley in November and learn how children’s books can be gloomier than Thomas Stearns Eliot. Plus, try to ask around: everybody will all tell you November is evil incarnated.

7. Privacy is sacred. Don’t assume people want to hang out and spend time with you as much as they would back home. Interacting with strangers is something many Finnish people dread, and forcing social interaction is a mortal sin. Being introvert is not a personality trait but a life philosophy.

8. People are honest. This doesn’t mean they are rude but there is not as much superficial cheerfulness and approachability as in other countries. I personally like this, I may still struggle with boundaries (like physical contact, even though I think my friends secretly like being hugged) but I truly appreciate how refreshingly honest Finnish people can be.

9. Sauna is sacred. This means that being invited to sauna is a big deal, that you respect all the rules and don’t act disrespectfully (I am looking at you exchange students) and you don’t make a fuss over nudity. Being in sauna is a spiritual experience and often the place for open discussion, meditation, sharing and family bonding. If you are interested in learning more I recommend this beautiful documentary about Finnish men in sauna.

10. Finland is the best country for vintage lovers: there are an insane number of flea markets, second-hand shops, vintage boutiques and so on. Buying second-hand is completely normal and I definitely recommend it. You can find some amazing deals and since shopping is so expensive I suggest to always check your local second-hand shop before buying anything brand new. Moreover, many buildings have also their own recycling room where you can get things for free and also leave objects you don’t need anymore for your fellow neighbours.

11. During the summer months people disappear in their summer cottages and reaching them can be impossible. In my University, talking to a Professor from June to September is more difficult than finding fresh ricotta.

12. The cabin experience is valid only if there is no water or electricity, you have to break ice with an axe to get water, warm the cabin by fire and basically work all day to avoid freezing during the night. (Do you have any idea how long does it take for a cabin to warm up in -30?)

13. There are lots of reindeers in Lapland and they tend to show up on the road unannounced so drive carefully. Mooses are even more dangerous.

14. You can go pick berries and mushrooms wherever you want. Freedom to roam

15. Hunting and wearing fur are socially acceptable activities. You don’t need to buy brand new fur, though. Citizens are trying to criminalize fur farming and there is plenty of vintage fur.

16. If somebody offers you Mämmi just say no.

17. If a Finn tells you they love you they really mean it and will be ready to jump in the fire for you.

18. Finnish language belongs to the Finno-Ugric languages, which means that unless you come from Estonia or Hungary you will not understand a word. However, it’s a beautiful language and it’s worth trying to learn it.

19. Finnish people have sisu: a mix of determination, perseverance and facing adversities that is roughly translated in English as “having guts”. The Winter War is a great example of sisu, but surviving winter is not a bad achievement either.

20. Supposedly, there are four seasons in Finland. I have only seen three: fall, winter and summer, and I think spring is meant to be those two weeks between the ice melting on the roads and the explosion of summer.

21. Don’t assume Finland is like other Nordic countries, because it isn’t.

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The end of summer

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ant hill

ant hill

At the end of summer there are still surprises to enjoy. I have never seen an ant hill before and stumbled upon many of these while walking in the forest. I find the idea that a whole world is hidden inside what looks like a meaningless hump fascinating. There must be a queen somewhere inside this small, swarming universe and every action is clearly purposeful and impeccably efficient.

free apples

free apples

People offer their apples in baskets outside their gardens: branches so full they look on the point of breaking and worms being fast eaters result in free apples for everybody. Etiquette requires you pick a handful rather than carrying away the whole basket. Going around the neighbourhood looking for apples is definitely a fun way to end any late summer afternoon.

kitchen window display

kitchen window display

Towards the end of the summer I became obsessed with collecting fresh flowers almost daily, and when flowers started to become scarce, herbs and branches. I still have no idea if the red ones are seeds or fruits but they will hopefully brighten my kitchen decor through the long winter. They seem to be preserving quite wonderfully and I have bottled dried flowers and leaves in mason jars as an additional touch (also to prevent the cat feasting on them).

The end of summer means that your mood starts to change, following the shorter days and the colder nights. While you can still enjoy warmth during the day, nights are chilly and dark. Days can be rainy and grey and the leaves start to change into that wonderful spectacle that is ruska, the autumn foliage, an explosion of reds and yellows that makes fall a very special season.

This year I was not ready to say goodbye to summer. I have never particularly liked summer while living in Italy, but I simply adore Finnish summer, never too warm, bright and relaxing (at least in the good years). But..winter is coming. The precious last days of summer are gone and now it’s time again for cookies and tea, rain coats and candles.

My fall mood is a little gloomy and between listening to Welcome to Night Vale, watching movies without a happy ending and finding it harder to keep a healthy diet I am embracing the moodiness the best I can.

I recently watched Martha Marcy May Marlene, a good movie with an intense performance by Elizabeth Olsen (don’t be fooled by her surname, the girl can act), During the movie the charismatic leader of the sect, Patrick, sings his own version of Jackson C. Frank’s “Marcy’s Song” and I personally found that moment the most haunting and intense part.

Relics of St Pancratius, Church of St Nicholas, Wil

Relics of St Pancratius, Church of St Nicholas, Wil

Autumn is the time to think about change, decay and jewelled corpses.

Goodbye summer.

Days decrease, And autumn grows, autumn in everything.”
Robert Browning

Summer in Finland – How to

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Finnish summer is short and precious. It is implied you have to enjoy every minute of it, and this is my personal list of what to do, Finnish summer edition.

  • Travel. Lapland in winter is beautiful but don’t overlook the possibility to explore Finland during the summer months, when there is no real night and the weather is much more forgiving. Eating waffles outside, having picnics, visiting parks, everything is much easier in summer, when enjoying every sunny day is a duty. 
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Oulu

  •  Meet all the animals who have been sleeping through winter. Summer means spotting giant rabbits, hares, squirrels, hedgehogs, and if you are lucky and go deep in the forest you may meet a bear and all the other beautiful wild animals ImageGo to the lake, swim and enjoy the sunlight. There are those glorious summer days, when the sun at 8 in the evening is so strong it burns, when the beach is literally covered in ducks and children, when the sauna is so full you have to take turns before jumping from the trampoline after a good sweat, when people drink, laugh and the city seems suddendly infinitely bigger and more lively than you thought possible

 

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  • Go pick mushrooms and berries in the forest. I was really lucky the other day and gathered so many delicious porcini. Bonus: we met a guy running barefoot in the forest, a rare sight even in a country where it’s not uncommon to meet barefoot people at the supermarket (never at Stockmann though).

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Porcini

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Dangerous fairytale mushrooms

  • Spend as much time outside as you can. This is a no brainer really, after the long winter your body really craves sun and outdoor activities. The only problem is that everybody shares the same need, and this is why some places can be crowded.
  • Summer sales can be great. I love Stockmann and Sokos sales because they have expensive products and with the sales you can score some pretty great deals, especially on luxury makeup and designer clothes during the final days.
  • Bike around. I finally bought one today and cannot wait to explore the town by bike and skip the insanely expensive buses.

In conclusion, Finnish summer is a beautiful season with some small downsides: mosquitoes, sudden showers, and those unlucky years when you don’t get a real summer but a very rainy, grey four months long spring. Another reason to enjoy the good ones as much as you can. And if you get bored by the sun, no worries, he is going away sooner than you think.

The summer grew prettier and prettier, a long series of calm blue summer days. Every night, Fluff slept against Sophia’s cheek.

“It’s funny about me,” Sophia said. “I think nice weather gets to be boring.”

“Do you?” her grandmother said. “Then you’re just like your grandfather, he liked storms too.” But before she could say anything else about Grandfather, Sophia was gone.

 

Tove Jannson, extract from The Cat.

 

Things I love about Finland

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This is a small and incomplete list of things I love about Finland. More to come!

Disclaimer: these are my personal opinions and I am not assuming everybody shares them or they are 100% true/representative of Finland. You may have experienced things differently and I’d love to hear about it, but please don’t assume I am trying to speak about other people’s lives.

1.  NatureIMG_7355 IMG_7364 IMG_7368 IMG_7376 IMG_7461 IMG_7473

These photos are from my last trip to Lapland. -25 and being in a cabin with no running water and electricity may seem a bit crazy to many people (including me before coming to Finland) but the beauty that surrounds you definitely makes it worth. The light is just indescribable, and like nothing you may seem in the Southern hemisphere. The sky so full of stars, it seems it may explode. The silence of mornings covered in snow and how scary it is to venture outside when it’s completely dark and the forest seems animated with noises you don’t recognize. Tracks everywhere, of every kind (and did you know kids in elementary school have to pass an exam on how to recognize each?) and reindeers trying to decide whether to flee or stay when you walk close to them.  In short, nature in Finland is beautiful in every season and my advice to anybody coming here is go North, go to Lapland, escape towns and civilization and head to the first (or last) cabin you can find. Finland’s true beauty is its nature, its forests and lakes, and if you have the chance you shouldn’t miss out.

2. People

I know, I should be complaining about Finnish people, how cold they are, how hard it is to make friends. But my experience (and many other expats’ as well) is that this is just a stereotype. I met a lot of warm, friendly and kind people and made many friends that I am going to miss a lot when I move away. Of course some people are not interested in getting to know you, but that happens everywhere and I appreciate Finnish slow but honest and straightforward approach to friendship. Moreover, people are not interested in how you live your life and are respectful of your privacy. This is so valuable to me: one of the things I disliked the most about Italy was the constant request of strangers to know about me and my life. Stepping on a bus or train and knowing it is very unlikely somebody is going to pester me all the time is a relief. You can have great conversations on trains in Italy, and I met some wonderful people this way, but most of the time you have no choice: many people do not care about your clear desire to be left alone and demand your cooperation (which can be taxing in long trips) or spend all their time talking on the phone/with other passengers. Trust me, on a 9 hours trip, silence will become very valuable. Plus, I may have been very lucky and I am sure many people have different experiences, but everybody I met have been welcoming and happy to help. So I can only vouch for Finnish people.

3. Kahvilla

d This is a very small selection of some of the cafés I visited since I live in Finland. Despite drinking only tea and usually finding Finnish cake disappointing, I love the fact there are so many cafés and tea houses where you can sit in a warm and comfy environment and relax. It is very common to go out for coffee and cake, especially on Sunday and it’s one of those habits it was very easy to adopt (thanks also to my sweet tooth)

4. Sauna

Akseli Gallen Kallela In the sauna

Akseli Gallen Kallela In the sauna

Sauna, of course, couldn’t be forgotten. I have to admit I have become quite addicted to sauna (I usually go three times a week) and I cannot imagine how hard it is gonna be when I am going to move to a country without sauna. I have also internalized a little bit of Finnish mindset towards sauna: I get upset if people don’t respect the unwritten rules and when I was living in a student dorm full of exchange students I was adamant they had to respect the rules and even scolded some. Sauna is a holy place where you cleanse your body and mind and it makes you feel incredible. It’s a life savior in winter, but it is always pleasing, even in summer.

5. Finnish attitude to bodies and beauty

One thing that really surprised me was how unfazed people are by different bodies, and variables like age and weight, maybe because I have struggled with body image and self-esteem my whole life. My surprise diminished when I looked at Finnish magazines, and saw they were full of women of different sizes and ages, with very little Photoshop. Not enough diversity to represent the changing Finnish population, but still very different from Italian magazines, that are not only 100% white but also push for a very specific image of female beauty. Also, from what I can gather, the focus is on what these women can do, not on how they look like: they are often not dolled up, and nobody sees the need to cancel their wrinkles or alter their appearances. There are also fashion magazines which tend to be more similar to international ones, but at least there is some variety. Then I saw the way young and older women act in swimming pools and sauna, confident in their bodies and just nonchalant about them, obviously not caring too much about their appearance in a way that would be impossible in Italy (I remember looks, comments, general uneasiness and discomfort). I don’t know where this different attitude comes from, but I think sauna and the exposure all kids get to different bodies can only be a good thing. It seems like women are taught they can be much more than their bodies and this is a wonderful thing.

I am going to keep posting things I like about Finland, and if any of you want to join the dialogue I’d love to hear about yours.

punakettu5

Jenni Saarenkylä

Winter in Finland

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Actually, spring has supposedly come to Finland, since the bears awoke from their winter sleep.
However, you are not gonna notice any difference for many more weeks. Snow is still covering everything, the days are short and the sun shining is a very rare occasion. Winter and Finland are almost synonymous. Winter is a long, dark time that lasts from November to March, and often even April. There is a whole mythology of Finnish winter, and much of the country’s identity is connected to winter, how to survive it and its beauties.

IMG_6724First of all, winter is a state of mind. It doesn’t means only children wrapped up in snowsuits, darkness and few hours of dull greyness, vitamin c and d supplements, icy roads, snow storms that can turn everything white in just a few hours, ice skating on the frozen lake and silence.

IMG_6725Winter is slow. It’s so long it has to become part of your consciousness, to be integrated in your perception. Winter is not wanting to get out of the bed because everything is still dark outside, is going out only at lunch because those are the few hours of sunlight, is eating lots of chocolate and pulla (delicious Finnish bun), is taking a walk in -20° and wonder at the beauty of the frozen trees and worrying you have gone too far from the house and you are going to freeze before getting back. Winter is encountering winter lights decorating houses, spotting a dog that looks like a wolf being taken out, candles trembling, crystallized windows, getting rid of all the outdoor layers in the entrance and be welcomed by warmth, lost gloves or hats in every corner, people rushing home to drive the cold winter away (from their bodies? from their hearts?)IMG_6690Winter is called Talvi in Finnish, and since Finnish language is beautiful and crazy, in winter is talvella. Talvella I check the weather report everyday, and wear studs on my soles to avoid slipping on the ice. I eat too much chocolate and sleep a lot. I read comic books on Saturday afternoon after visiting the library. I wear a scarf, and gloves and woolen socks. I sometimes wonder at the beauty of Finnish winter and sometimes curse the lack of sun, the omnipresence of snow and ice everywhere, and how snow turns into mud and gets dirty far too quickly. IMG_6700 And Christmas (Joulu) is happy food, and happy thoughts, and a Christmas market with knives and Lapland chips and caramelized apples. IMG_6735

IMG_6720I am not new to winter, but this is much longer than what I have experienced before, even in Denmark. It makes you patient, it makes old people chatty at the bus stop, it makes children and teenagers unfazed by the outside temperature. While I would probably die if I ever dared to do so, many young people go around without scarves, with light jackets and high heels and I admire their carefree easiness around winter. I don’t have that, and maybe I never will. I don’t even like winter sports, so what’s left of winter to enjoy for me is its naked, intense beauty. And, of course, sauna. The remedy of all evils, an old friend you can always count on. IMG_6722I love winter. Talvi may be a little too long and extreme for me, but I think of him as a old bear who may be grumpy but has a lot to teach. You can cuddle next to him in his den, and get warm and wait for spring. Outside the world hasn’t stopped but it is going much slower than usual.

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Gennady Spirin

Things that made me happy part II – November edition

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November is supposedly the worst month in Finland. Everything (and everybody) is getting ready to hibernate and days are getting shorter and darker. Snow, rain and all those things in between for which Finnish language has dozens of names, are part of the package as well. However, I found out that November had some surprises in store for me.

First of all, when the sun shows up the light is pretty incredible. Around 2 or 3 p.m. the sky has pink and violet undertones, like a belated dawn, and the way the light enhances colors and casting shadows is unique. I love how Finland is one of the few countries where seasons (and mid seasons) are really a thing, and not a mythical entity from the old good days.

Waking up and seeing the light peeking below the curtains makes me excited like cake on a festive day, it means going out and bathing in a light that I have not seen anywhere else. It means enjoying those precious hours of sunlight like there is no tomorrow.

These flowers made me happy. The colors, the bench covered in iced remains of last week’s snow, the idea there is still life bursting at the edges of winter is a happy thought when I am dreading the arrival of darkness and ice.

At first the idea they covered the fountain for winter made me sad, but then I had to appreciate how it mirrored the buildings and the sky, in a way that reminds me of trompe-l’œil.

Fountain at Keskustori

Dawn or sunset? Pastel colors seem to make even familiar building more whimsical.

Keskustori

I love Christmas, I get excited when decorations start to show up and even if Finland does not seem to be as in love with Christmas as Denmark, there is still a lot of pretty to be enjoyed.

It’s Christmas time!

Gold

I am also happy because I have been offered something special, and I am grateful for the chance to savor life in a different way and in a different place than I expected. Winter is sneaky, slipping behind our backs when we are not looking, and even though I am scared, these little things make it easier to try and welcome it. Will I survive the icy streets? Falling again scares me so much, but I’ll face Finnish winter once again, and hopefully this time I won’t have any broken bones to prove my survival skills.

For most people, Finland is not love at first sight. Casual visitors may not see its beauty, nor understand its spirit. Finland is like a fire growing slowly, it needs time and patience to be appreciated. It is mostly not concerned with appearances, it is not interested in showing off, but for those who stay there is a lot of beauty to find.

 

 

 

 

 

Fall in Finland

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Disclaimer: pictures are mine, please don’t repost them without permission, thanks.

The quiet transition from Autumn to Winter is not a bad time at all. It’s nice to gather everything you possess as close to you as possible, to store up your warmth and your thoughts and burrow into a deep core of safety where you can defend what is your very own, and laugh at the storms and darkness outside… but there are those who stay at home and those that go away …

Tove Jannson – Moominvalley in November

Finland is one of those places where Fall is actually a season, a full-fleshed time of the year with its own beauty and feeling. Fall is strongly associated with ruska, the Autumn colors, a parade of reds, yellows and oranges.

The sidewalks are often covered by leaves, crushing under your soles with resigned sighs. A very pretty death.It rains quite often, and there are mushrooms at every corner of the street. Sometimes big, the biggest I have ever seen, sometimes small and numerous.

I always get excited when I see one of these, which in my mind are associated to gnomes, and fairy tales, and the forests I dreamt of when reading Grimm’s gloomy tales. Fall is the moment where the whole country seems to be taking a collective breath, enjoying the last sun rays and starting to get read for winter. It’s the time for tea and cake, even more than winter. You just need a coat and an umbrella to go out, instead of an incredible amount of layers that make you suffocate as soon as you step inside.

Fall is also the time to start new things, after a long, lazy summer, spent enjoying the outdoors as much as possible. It’s phoenix time. Even Moomins feel the change, just before Winter and hibernation, the long sleep, a dream, death.

Tove Jannson

Hopefully, lights will guide us home.

Rune Guneriussen

Finnish summer

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Summer in Finland is:

  • People walking barefoot on the sidewalk
  • Air conditioning on the bus even when it’s only +15 and you are freezing
  • Picnics in the park
  • children taking a bath in the lake
  • walking in the woods

    Mushroom in the forest

    Raspberries

    snail

    in the woods

    • eating wild raspberries, blueberries and strawberries while walking home
    • enjoying sauna. Nobody was around during summer and it was amazing
    • having sauna twice in the same evening and falling asleep feeling as light as a feather
    • the sun. It’s such a simple thing but the whole world seems different when everything is illuminated
    • a seagull eating a dead squirrel
    • pancakes with maple syrup every Sunday
    • flowers and green grass
    • spotting rabbits everywhere as soon as the sun goes down
    • buying woolen socks for winter

     

     

     

     

Things that made me happy

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The parade in the city centre, with tango dancers, old belly dance performers covered in sequins, vintage cars and Finnish flags

Finding the shoes I have been looking for everywhere. I needed a pair of oxford shoes for an outfit to wear at the Juliette et Justine tea party in London, but it seemed like it was an impossible mission. But I found these at the second hand shop just few minutes before closing time. Super cheap and perfect for what I have in mind.

Oxford shoes by H&M

The ferris wheel and the sun

Ferris wheel

Eating chocolate while reading Persepolis for the second time

Again, my pictures, please do not repost wihout permission

My rose

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Disclaimer: all the pictures except the last one have been taken and edited by me. Please do not repost without asking for permission first.

Arboretum in Tampere is a really beautiful place, a big park with a lake, lots of trees and in this time of the year hundreds of roses in full bloom. Walking among the roses buzzing with bees filled me with wonder. Is this really Finland? I almost cannot believe it.  It also triggered other thoughts. Isn’t the life of a rose strange? Asleep, pratically dead, in winter, able to live only for a very short time, like other alive things in this cold land, like people. But when it is blooming it fills the world with such beauty, made even more precious by how shortly is gonna last.

Roses at Arboretum

Roses at Arboretum

Roses at Arboretum

Yellow roses

Bicolor beauty

black blossom

velvety beauty

The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.

“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”

And the roses were very much embarassed.

“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.

 

I wouldn’t die for these roses, as beautiful as they are. My rose is white, wild, smells like heaven and has a lot of thorns. In many places it is considered a pest, and it is definitely not suitable for wedding bouquets. But I love her dearly.

Rosa multiflora

This is my rose, what is yours?