Six Months in Finland

IMG_20140928_115643Today marks six months that we’ve been in Finland. As it always seems to be with these things, in some ways it’s surprising that it’s already been that long, and in other ways it’s startling that it’s only been that long. I think that it’s a late honeymoon period for me; long enough that I see the place for what it is, not so long that I’m jaded or disenchanted by that knowledge. That bottom line is, I really like it here, and think that I’ll continue to like Finland for a very long time.

In the beginning I was enthusiastic to write about our adventures here. I stopped at a certain point because I was afraid it was going to get tedious for the reader, and untenable for me as a writer. It’s the same as living in any place, really; there’s only so much that goes on from day to day that you can write about before it becomes repetitive. I do the same things here that I did in New Mexico, for the most part. I sit in an office and write. I cook and do the laundry. I see Katie off at the start of the day, albeit to attend school rather than teach it, and welcome her home at the end of the day. Periodically we go out to eat, do some fun things, hang out with friends.

The climate is different, to be sure, and I mean that in multiple senses of that word. It’s colder, although this has been a mild winter so far. It beats the blistering heat of New Mexico; you can always put on more layers or stay inside, but there is only a finite amount of clothing one can take off to cool off. The people are far more low-key and mellow. Crime is far lower — there were only two instances in the entire country last year where a police officer fired a gun, compare and contrast that with Albuquerque. Finns tend to be quiet, but when you get to know them they are warm, friendly, and generous.

All of the bumps and issues that we’ve experienced in moving here have originated on the other side of the Atlantic. From immigration, the police, the health care system, the landlord, even the banks, everyone has been polite, considerate, and helpful; by comparison, American institutions seem to want us to be psychic and somehow know what they need from us, get exasperated when we ask questions, and make sure to always provide us with that special brand of rudeness and condescension that passes for customer service. Not everyone, but enough to leave a bad taste, especially in when compared to the pretty much great service we’ve gotten here. I think you need to push a Finn pretty hard to get a mean reaction; I think for most Americans (inclusive) you don’t have to scratch too deep before you hit a vein of frustration and fatigue looking for a means of escape.

The food is good, if occasionally weird. The produce and most of the meats are fresh and cheap. Processed foods are expensive, the opposite of the U.S. This means we eat more fresh food. There’s a heavy tax on sugar, so anything with it as an ingredient is both expensive and contains far less of it that in America. This, again, is a good thing. I’ve lost about 30 pounds doing basically nothing, because there’s more food in the food. There aren’t a lot of preservatives and fillers in things. If it’s more expensive, it’s usually because it’s higher quality.

What I’m enjoying the most here is the sense of community. In this regard I must admit that I’m not having a Finnish experience so much as an international one. We spend a lot of time with expat Canadians and Americans who have been here far longer than we and have blessedly helped to show us around and get our footing. Other than that, we spend a lot of time with Brits, and Asians and Africans from various locations. We don’t hang with a lot of Finns, or continental Europeans for that matter. I’ve no idea why. It wasn’t a conscious decision; it simply worked out that way.

The big question everyone asks is, are we planning to stay? I think that we’re leaning toward yes. Katie’s not half-way through her first year of her Master’s program and is already talking about possibilities for her Ph.D thesis and research beyond that. I’m President of the Residents Committee in our housing village, and I feel more useful, appreciated, and challenged than I did with any sort of volunteer work or community organizing I did back in the Southwest. We still have some challenges to overcome — learning to speak Finnish to a degree that Finns recognize what’s coming out of my mouth as such, for a start — but I think we could easily, and comfortably, be here for a while.

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