Today’s Missing Post

Normally posts appear on my Patreon first, early access being the main perk for patrons. About a week later those posts appear here, for free, for the benefit of the general readership. I have chosen to keep the post that would have been here today as an exclusive for patrons.

The main reason is that it is slightly political in nature. There’s nothing extreme, but in these times even the mildest of opinions tend to draw the vilest of trolls. I’m not here for that. All I want to do is write honestly about my life, and the way that Finland has made a permanent impression on me. Going into battle with frothing ideologues isn’t my idea of fun, and it’s not what I’m here for.

If you want to read it, become a patron.

American Strangers

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Can I make a confession? When I encounter American strangers, I avoid them. I’m not talking about people I’ve been introduced to in a professional or social setting. I mean random people I cross paths with while out in public, who are clearly from the United States. You can always tell an American from a distance because they’re loud and chatty. I’m not saying that they’re the only culture that speaks at a greater volume than the average Finn, or that people from other places can’t be talkative. There’s a unique combination, though.

Since you can hear them so well their dialects of English give them away. Moreso than the language are the topics of conversation. Not a lot of Finns, or anyone else for that matter, spend as much time talking just to fill the silence. When you’re away from Americans for a long period of time, you start to recognize when people are having an actual conversation, and when they’re just trying to fill the void.

A Tale of Two Americans

There are two reasons I avoid American strangers, but let me give you an example first. I was checking out at the grocery store. In Finland you bring your own bags and pack up your own groceries. I tend to bag things quickly to get out of everyone else’s way, then move to an empty lane to repack. Some people aren’t as quick. Older people take longer. It can slow things down, but everyone is mellow about it. There’s no reason to lose your mind because something takes a few extra minutes.

Behind me in line is an American exchange student. He’s by himself, and looks to be around 19 or 20. He is bitching about how slow the line is moving. There’s reason number one why I avoid American strangers. The sense of entitlement, coupled with a pervasive cultural impatience, is so painfully out of place here. You can’t escape or excuse how blatantly rude it is in context.

I’m finishing packing my groceries as he’s paying. He’s still complaining the entire time. He’s hitting my last nerve so I speak up.

“You know all of these people understand English, right? They’re just too polite to tell you to shut up.”

Now, in the United States I would expect this guy to respond in kind. Tell me to shut the bleep up, step up on me with his chested puffed out, whatever. No, he hears me, his eyes light up, a smile takes over his face, and he excitedly yells “You’re an American!”.

My Fear of American Strangers

Reason number two I don’t like running into American strangers: a lot of them think you’re their new best friend. Just because we’re both an a foreign country doesn’t mean we have a special bond. No. If this were taking place in a Kroger anywhere in the United States, he would not be reacting this way.
“You’re a guest in this country,” I said, “and you’re being extremely rude. Even if you’re only going to be here for a semester, learn some manners. Then I take my groceries and leave.

No, not all Americans behave that way. I have enough anecdotes, though, that I want to feel people out first. Katie laughs because when I spot an American I instinctively switch to speaking Finnish. I don’t want to hear me. She jokes that if I were around Americans all the time, I’d be fluent by now. I’m embarrassed by a lot of Americans, though. It pains me to say it, but it’s true.

Finnish vs American Kitchens

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While I can’t say that our current kitchen is my favorite kitchen ever, it does have a couple of features that I don’t know that I could live without going forward. So let’s talk about Finnish vs American kitchens, with the caveat that there are no universal truths.

The first feature that’s pretty much the standard in every Finnish kitchen is the drying cabinet. When you hand wash your dishes in the United States, you usually have a rack to put them in. It either sits on the counter next to the sink or, if you have a double sink, inside the sink. In Finland, the drying rack is built into a cabinet above the sink. The bottom shelf is that rack. You wash the dishes and put them up. They can drip-dry I into the sink. Then you can close the cabinet and everything look neat and tidy.

Part of the reason for this, I suspect, is that Finnish kitchens are relatively small. When I had a McMansion, that kitchen was literally half the size of the one-bedroom apartment we live in now. It was ridiculously huge. The cooker (stove, oven, whatever) is about half the size of the average American appliance, as is the fridge. You adapt and get used to it.

The other thing that I give thanks for regularly is that the drain pipes are larger. Wider. Higher capacity. There are no garbage disposals, because you are required to recycle your biowaste, so I can stuff leftover food down there. But I don’t have to worry the pour coffee ground from the French press down the drain is going to cause a clog. A fleck of cabbage or bit of mashed potato rinsed off a plat isn’t going to create a major problem. Why are American pipes so damned small?

Finnish vs American Kitchens

While there are kitchen spaces that are quite similar to American kitchens, I have noticed a few things. In many apartments, including this one, you enter through the kitchen. A lot of Americans find that weird, because they want to create a first impression. A kitchen isn’t the fanciest space to show your guests. I’ve also noticed many apartments have the kitchen in a room with a door. With the door closed, it could be mistaken for another bedroom. More modern houses have the kitchen and living room together as a great room, similar to a lot of American homes.

What I don’t like about our current kitchen is that is doubles as the dining area. It’s a bit small for that.  The reality is that we don’t have a dining area, because that corner of the kitchen is now my office. I sit with my back to the fridge. We eat in the living room. That’s more of an “I need an office” problem than a kitchen issue, though.

As with most things, I find Finnish kitchens to be elegantly utilitarian. The decor is simple, clean lines and not a lot of clutter. It’s a place to make food, so it doesn’t have to be fancy. There seems to be more attention paid to work flow, easy of cleaning, and getting the most out of the space than trying to flex your socioeconomic status.

Finnish vs American Bathrooms

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Of all the places that I’ve lived, this apartment has my favorite bathroom. It’s a square room with walls tiled from floor to ceiling. The lights are recessed overhead. There’s a drain in floor. It’s got a sink with a cabinet above it, a toilet, and a shower head with the control knobs sticking out of the wall below it. No bathtub, because I’ve yet to meet anyone in Finland that has a bathtub. It’s utilitarian, not at all fancy, and most Americans would probably hate it. So let’s talk about Finnish vs American Bathrooms.

What it has going for it, to start off, is a heated floor. In the winter, when it’s chilly, this is a greatly appreciated amenity. It also has a heated towel bar, which just means there’s a chrome rack mounted to the wall that has hot water pipes running through it. Not only does it dry off damp towels quickly, it’s lovely to wrap a warm towel around yourself when you’re down with a shower.

The fact that the shower head comes off the wall and can be hand-held, coupled with the drain in the floor, means that it’s amazingly easy to clean the bathroom. Hit it with some spray cleaner and hose it down, basically. Practical and comfortable.

Finnish vs American Bathrooms

In my corporate past I lived in a McMansion, and the bathroom didn’t make me nearly as happy as this one. I don’t need a retreat or an oasis. I need a place to take care of business so I can get on with my day. The fact that it does provide a little luxury where it counts, by being spacious and uncluttered to move about in, simple to maintain, and gloriously, deliciously warm, is more important than pretty fixtures or counter tops to place fancy soaps and flowers on.

This is another example of the differences between the Finnish and American mindsets. Finns seem to care more about what a thing does and how well it does it. Americans care about the appearance and luxury and affluence more than the practicality of things. Once again, the little things, the simple joys, are the ones that have the greatest impact.

Autumn in Central Finland

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Autumn in central Finland starts to creep in around the beginning of August. The weather cools off significantly, although it usually heats up again later in the month. A few leaves on the tress begin to change color and fall, if you’re paying attention. It’s clear that the short summer is just about over, and the Long Dark is slowly creeping up on you.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned during my time in Finland, it’s to appreciate that everything is temporary. During the summer the sun never sets, and the country pretty much shuts down during the month of July. Everyone knows that the beautiful weather, the ability to go hiking in the woods and hang out along the shore of the lake, is a fleeting moment. At the same time, people get through the long winter and those days when the sun never really gets above the horizon knowing that the wheel will turn and summer will come back in due course.

Autumn in Central Finland

My regret is always that I didn’t do enough over the summer. Or, rather, that I did too much, that I spent too much time indoors working and not enough down at the lake I see outside my window. There are a couple of places that I never go to this year. We didn’t get a chance to visit our favorite ice cream stand, the one that serves amazing flavors like tar and blue cheese. I didn’t get to go hike a favorite trail.

At the end of September is the equinox, when the day and night are of equal length. It’s all downhill from there until Christmas. The days get shorter, the sun doesn’t rise as high, and it’s gloomy and cold. Everything is damp, until real winter arrives around January and the temperature drops so low that all of the moisture freezes out of the air.

But this is a good time, too. At the equinox everyone puts up their lights, not Christmas light, just seasonal decorations as a stand taken against the darkness. There are a lot of seasonal foods, only available late in the year to keep them special, something to look forward to during the hardest part of the year. I’ve found that it’s my most creative and productive time of the year, as I embrace the coziness and the quiet and get writing done.

I need to let go of my regrets about missing summer, and lean into enjoying the coming Autumn.