The Laundry Room
This may sound like a mundane and boring topic, but I propose that the laundry room illustrates important fundamental differences between the Finnish and American cultures. It is a small thing, but it serves as a microcosm for a mindset. Allow me to explain.
Laundry rooms in most* Finnish apartment complexes are free. It is a standard amenity included in the rent. There are no coin-operated machines. You go to your complex’s website, log in, and book the use of the machines. In some places they don’t have a website yet, and use a sign up sheet on a clip board, but the principle is the same. You need to bring your own detergent and such, but you don’t have to make sure you have an ample supply of quarters like you do in America.
What does this demonstrate? Finland, unlike the United States, does not try to monetize every little thing. It is not a normal, ordinary thought to look at something and wonder how you could possibly make a little bit of extra money off of it. There are heavy-duty washers and dryers, and drying room (a heated room with clothes lines, for you to hang things to dry, a totally alien concept to Americans) placed there for the use of tenants. There are no vending machines, nor are there ads on the walls.
The Significance of the Laundry Room
After five years here this still amazes me. Then again, I come from places where every flat surface was covered with ads. Every wall, every bench, and billboards along every road and on top of every building with a proper sight line. Here there are a few ads in bus shelters, and on the sides of buses, but it’s not every centimeter of the shelter. It isn’t every possible area of the bus inside and out. Billboards exist, but I’ve only ever seen them on highways, not within cities. They tend to tout local attractions rather than random consumer goods or entertainment products.
It took a while for Katie and I to notice it, after we first got here. We felt a lot calmer. Walking to the shopping center, to the university, downtown, it seemed more peaceful. It finally clicked that we weren’t constantly having advertising shoved in out faces. That doesn’t mean that marketing doesn’t exist, or that this isn’t a consumerist/capitalist society. It’s just one that still seems to have a sense of where the line is.
*By most, I mean every person I have spoken to from Helsinki in the south to Rovaniemi above the Arctic circle. From Turku to Kuopio, Tampere to Oulu, everyone has told me it is that same there. I am not counting that inevitable Finn who pops up, nearly every time I say something like this. They point out that things are different where they live in Ivalo or the Åland Islands or some tiny and remote place.