Today, I celebrate my 9-year Finlandiversary! I remember it like it was yesterday, arriving at the airport, being surprised that it was super warm and sunny, getting on the bus and meeting my friend, having Gin & Tonics in the evening. And here I am today! Wow! 9 years is a long time, almost a third of my life already. Crazy, really. But I couldn't be happier. I chose Finland as my home and I am so grateful that I have managed to build a life for me here. Now, I have had my own business for almost 5 years and we are about to purchase our first home, which are both pretty big life events! Life here is fantastic, but not everything is always fun and games. Here are my 9 main observations of living 9 years in Finland.
1. Finns are my favourite
I love my Finnish friends. Over the years, I can now say that my local friends here in Helsinki are a pretty healthy mix and ratio of Finns and fellow-expats, and I couldn't be more happy about it. Many new locals or visitors struggle with the fact that Finnish people are by nature perhaps a bit more reserved and introverted, and it can be harder making friends, but once you have a connection, I feel it's hard to lose that. Finns are very honest, straight forward, reliable and so very caring. And this translates into very many different aspects of life. It's nothing new to anyone, but Finns don't care for empty phrases and pointless talks. When you ask someone how they are, expect to get the real answer. Be ready to hear about peoples issues or failures, or great successes, moments of joy alike. And they will happily listen to you as well.
2. I'm the Spring Depression type
Okay so. This is probably a bit controversial here. But my personal very careful research over the last years has now identified two types of people here: there's A) the ones that get the November Blues, when it is dark and gloomy, too warm for snow. Everyone is sad that summer has gone by and they are often also not the people that will get excited at the thought of winter. Then, there's the other type, B), who get that Spring Depression. In March and April, when nature is still in heavy recovery from winter, it's muddy and grey, there is not a bit of green anywhere. It is light again, sure, but for me personally, that's not how it works. In November, I put on my favourite sweaters and fun wellies, have a glass or three of melancholic red wine, I light candles and get excited for Christmas - I genuinely like this time of year! Admittedly, I have also had some miserable days in those seasons, but doesn't everyone? But what Finns call "Spring" here gets me, every single year. My birthday in late April always brings back memories of bright spring green, flowers and the smell of spring in the air - whereas here in Finland - there's none of that. And that's when I have to leave the country for a couple of weeks. I love Finland with all my heart, I wouldn't be here voluntarily still after all these years, but springtime - you need to give me a break.
3. I'm outdoorsy now
Had you told me back when I was 17 or younger, that in a couple of years time I would go biking out in nature for a week at my own initative and enjoy it, I would have laughed in your face. Going for Sunday walks with my family or going for an outing to the Mosel rivel was the absolute worst thing you could do to me back in the day. Even our garden wasn't really enticing, yet now I couldn't be more excited at the prospect of having a terrace at our future apartment. It's magic. Finland has transformed me from a happy couch-potato to an avid lover of the great outdoors and nature. I'm not the crazy adventure kind, and I will probably deep down forever be a happy homebody. But: knowing that I can go out to the seaside, bike around town, go kayaking or hiking anywhere nearby, is one of my favourite things about life in Helsinki and Finland. Who would have thunk.
4. Finnish Failure culture will eventually make you succeed
Last year, at a speaking engagement, someone asked me how the culture around failure in Finland, and I found that question very interesting. The way society handles misfortune and failure in all kinds of situations, can shape a person immensely. I remember it clear as day, when I was faced with this situation for the first time, as my project leader sat me down over lunch, and asked me how I was doing, as she had noticed that my focus and the quality of my work had declined. And instead of facing me with consequences, she managed to approach this issue with such understanding and kindness, that I will never forget it. It was quite the teaching moment for me, in many ways, and it definitely changed my perception of failure. In my experience, and not only this example, failure in Finland is seen as an opportunity to improve and to learn from it. Failure stories of businesses are talked about openly and not hidden, things that didn't go well are discussed and analysed, and all that leads to a community that is more about cooperation, that emphasises the power of us all together, and not puts those down to had a moment of failure.
5. An equal society is the real thing
Finland was one of the first countries where women could vote. Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2017, which is quite a bit later than some others, but it shouldn't be disregarded. Couple and singles enjoy the same benefits and recognition in society. I experienced this just recently, my partner and I wanted to buy our first home together. As a self-employed person, dealing with banks and loan business is straining enough, but I was also worried that we wouldn't be taken seriously or wouldn't be considered as loan candidates because we're not married - and the answer from the bank when I asked about it really surprised me. They said, they simply don't care and it doesn't make a difference for them. I find that remarkable, especially I had just heard the story from a good friend in Germany, who didn't get a loan with her partner after they said they weren't planning on getting married or having children. Equality is part of daily life here, as it should be. Everyone has the same opportunities, free education is another great example of that, and the offers that are available for everyone, such as extensive free resources at libraries (Oodi just being the most recent example). And that's nice.
6. Wine prices still hurt
Yes, this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone, I know, what a revelation. Thanks to the alcohol monopoly here up North and the taxes regarding that, the prices of alcohol are very high. And whilst you somehow get weirdly used to it after some time, every trip back home is another moment of "phew" when coming back to Finland. I come from a country and culture where a glass of wine with your lunch is completely normal and will only add 2€ at most to your bill, a small lounasviini in Finland can easily set you back 8€. Luckily, the looks are a bit more relaxed these days, and restaurants actually offering a glass with their lunch are seen more often, it still hurts a little bit! I don't want to glamourise drinking culture by no means, but it is something I still think about every now and again.
7. The Nordic climate is healthy
One of the main questions I still get when I tell people my story, is how I deal with winter and the climate. Well, as someone who hates nothing more than being hot, I sweat profusely and my system shuts down at overheating, I can honestly say that I will take -20°C to +30°C any day. You can always layer up and be warm somehow (there's always sauna, we're in Finland - duh) but if you get warm, at some point there are no more clothes to take off. Finland still has fairly mild summers compared to the rest Europe in this day and age of Climate Change, and I believe that thanks to that Finland will come to be one of the most popular summer destinations. Whilst my parents back home fried in record-breaking +45°C this summer, Finland got "only" to about 32°C for a couple of days. And while that was still too much for me, I was happy to be at least there. My productive temperature is a maximum of 23°C, after that I start to suffer. In addition to that, the fairly dry climate here in Helsinki gives me less migraines, I sleep better, my skin is clearer and most importantly, my hair is less frizzy.
8. Finland can turn you a bit naïve
Finland is one of the safest countries in the world, and that also shows in your daily life. I can walk home at any time of night or day, and feel safe pretty much everywhere. There's a park or two I wouldn't necessarily recommend taking, but chances of something seriously happening are very slim. In all these years, I can think of one incident where I was followed home, but in the end, thankfully nothing happened. Never do I feel like I need to rush to get home, I don't need to hold on to my purse harder than common sense would tell me to. Which, in return, has turned me either 1) too naïve when I travel, I feel sometimes I'm maybe too careless, but I also do like to believe in the good in people, or 2) I'm super paranoid when I'm elsewhere. It's a slippery slopes my friends, and this general feeling of security and safety here in Finland is nothing to take for granted.
9. Once you live by the sea, you can't go back
Even though this ties in with point #3 - this one just has a special meaning for me. Helsinki is a city of the seas, as a large peninsula we are surrounded by water, and with the seawater even flowing through and right into the heart of the city at Töölönlahti, the magic of the sea is always there and present. I would choose the sea over the mountains any way (yes yes), the sound of water, the endless views of the islands, the picturesque backdrop it gives you everywhere, the city beaches, the possiblity to kayak and sail whenever you want to basically, the post-sauna swims - is just the ultimate life goal for me. There's nothing I love more, and nothing that makes me happier. Once you live by the sea, you can't go back. And that's really all there's to it.