In this blog, I will share personal experience of things I wish I knew before coming to Finland.
10 things I wish I knew before coming to Finland
- Recycling: The recycling culture in Finland is really amazing. People recycle plastic bottles, glass bottles and cans. People also recycle clothes and house hold items that are usually sold in second hand and thrift shops. For the plastic bottles and cans, you get a certain amount of money depending on the size of the bottles and cans and the quantity. It was also interesting to find out that the price of the can or bottle is usually included in the initial price of the drink when bought from the stores. The second hand culture is also amazing. People are not ashamed to say they shop in second hand stores. Regardless of the amount of income one earns, high income earners also shop there. There are also several TV shows that encourage recycling and second hand shopping. One of them is called “Huutokauppakesä”. A show where people gather to bid for second hand items. Considering where I come from, second hand shopping is only for low or medium income earners and people are still not so confident to say they bought a second hand item. I bought my first winter jacket from a second hand store and one time got almost twenty euros in return for recycling used cans which I used to buy groceries and food stuffs.
- Personal space and loving to be alone: Personal space is another shock I quickly noticed in Finland. When I first came, I thought people didn’t want to come close to me. One day I was in a clothing store, I was going through some clothes in a rack and a Finn came, she probably saw something she liked and wanted to come check it out. She waited for me to be done. I was really amazed. Also in bus stops, it is normal to give at least one-meter gap from the next person beside you. When the bus arrives, no matter how late if it ever happens, (buses are usually on time) there is never a rush to get into the bus. Everybody forms a queue and waits for the person in front of them to get in before they do. Also in the bus, seating arrangement usually goes like filling all the window seats first before ever attempting to seat next to someone. It is almost considered as a taboo if you go straight to seat next to someone while there are still empty seats. It is not like it is a written law, but it is something everybody does and everyone knows.
Also, it is quite normal for a Finn to be alone. They like their quite time and alone time to “reboot”. According to what a classmate of mine once said. When you see a Finn sitting alone, doesn’t mean they do not have friends or family. They also spend alone time in the forest, or in the cottage far away from everyone else.
- The queuing tradition/ Patience: In my personal opinion, Finns can queue till the end of time. They have no rush or no trouble queuing. Contrary to where I am from, when people queue for something, there is always a sense of urgency or scarcity. To queue for something could mean that it is very scarce and maybe soon no longer available. So there is usually going to be a rush. Jumping queues, pushing each other, lobbying etc. There was one time the bus arrived late because of heavy snow in Tampere. When it came, my first instinct was to quickly jump at it because I was already late for lectures. On second thoughts, I had to keep my cool as everybody else was very calm about the situation. I looked around and people were giving the “one-meter gap” in the queue. I had to respect myself and join the queue.
- Naked in the sauna: So in Finland, there is a very strong sauna culture. Sauna is always part of any celebration. The Finns in general literally have an obsession for Sauna and when I first came, I wondered what the frenzy for heat was all about. I talked about the “let’s get naked” moment in my first event in Finland Blog here
So, in the Sauna, the Finns get completely naked. I mean stark naked. The first time I had to go in with other girls, I took my swimming suit with me but I was told that it is a completely naked experience and it kind of felt a bit awkward at first. It is normal to also go in sauna as a whole family. Father, mother and children or when the children are older, the girls go with mum and boys go with dad. It is also normal to go in sauna at work with your colleagues and even your boss. The good thing is that there could be sometimes different saunas for different genders. The idea of the sauna is mainly to enjoy the heat, mediate and relax.
- Ice Swimming: Ice Swimming is a thing in Finland and it was one of the most shocking thing I heard when I first arrived in Finland. The cold and wind was enough but when I heard that Finns dig up a hole in the icy frozen lake to swim, I was astounded. But then I learnt that it was done usually straight from the heat in the sauna. There are several explanations of the health benefits of ice swimming and how it keeps your blood in your veins flowing.
- Silence: Silence is also another thing that Finns enjoy. My first night in Finland was amazing and I felt well rested after good sleep because of the silence around my neighbourhood. The only thing sometimes to hear is the mechanical noises around or in your home. Cars and vehicles on the road hardly honk their horns except in an emergency situation. Silence between conversations are also very normal. It very normal that during a conversation with a friend, there could be a pause and it is not considered as an awkward silence. As a matter of fact, it could even be considered as a good thing. In busses, trains, waiting rooms, classrooms, and even in the sauna, silence is normal and appreciated. Only occasionally when the weather is good, there could be small talks. When I first landed in the Helsinki airport, the first thing that hit me was the wave of silence.
- Female power. Gender equality: This was a wow for me. I was totally impressed. The head of department in University was a woman, the rector of the university was a woman. The first bus I entered in Finland was driven by a woman, the snow plough that came to pack the snow aside my apartment when it snowed was driven by a woman, electricians, plumbers, name it. Even the present prime minister of Finland is a woman. I immediately felt a surge of potential within me that a woman can do any profession of her choice here in Finland. It is also interesting to note that Finland was one of the first countries to give right to women to vote. I noticed that women were in charge and independent on a level that was far ahead of the country that I was born and had spent the most part of my life.
- Classless society: Finland operates in a totally classless society. This is in a sense that everybody is seen as equal and has equal rights regardless of their income, background or looks. The public transport system is efficient enough for anyone to use as even government officials and high earning individuals use them. There is no “master” or servant culture. Everyone who works is paid accordingly. There is also little or no apparent gap between the rich and the poor. There is no area specifically for rich people or slums for the poor. This is not to say that apartments are not more expensive in the big cities or in some Islands in the capital region. “Rich people” also live in the country side and use the public transport system. Also within living spaces, there is no specifically designed master bedroom, or master bedroom toilet. People that live in terrace houses or detached homes plough snow themselves when it snows heavily. As a matter of fact, the president of Finland was once pictured ploughing snow away from his front yard. He has also been seen severally riding his bike and taking the train or metro. He doesn’t move around in convoys. Chefs and drivers are usually working with cooperate entities and rich people drive and cook for themselves.
- Coffee: Finns are known for the highest amount of coffee consumption in the world per capita. An average Finn drinks three or four cups of coffee daily. There is morning coffee before breakfast, breakfast coffee, lunch coffee and also heard about after lunch coffee. Some Finns even drink coffee at night and it doesn’t affect their sleep. Also, in events and celebrations, there is also coffee, apart from wines and alcohol. If You attend a big event, expect some free coffee J . It is also common for workplaces to offer free coffee to their employees. It is said that the average yearly consumption for a Finn is about 12 kilograms of coffee a year.
- Taxes: Taxes are usually a compulsory contribution to the state revenue levied by the government usually in any given economy. I paid taxes as a Nigerian when I was working and living there, but never for one day had to think about it deeply. When I got my first pay check with taxes and other deductions in Finland, it made me consider for a moment if I should continue working or not. Lol. When I was a student and earned less, I paid no taxes per say. Only minor deductions like pension and unemployment insurance. Finland is a country with one of the highest taxes in the world. It operates with a progressive tax system which mean that the higher you earn, the higher you pay. But on second thought, I was marveled with the amazing basic infrastructure like free education and free basic health care system that Finland provides.
Thank you so much for reading this and hopefully, you get to read other of my blogposts!