I wrote a month ago about the Cultural Differences which I’ve faced when moving to UK however it’s not always so easy to go back to your home country either. Everyone has probably heard stories about the culture shocks people have had when travelling abroad but you can get them when visiting in a familiar culture as well. Next week me and Milla are going to Finland to spend some quality time our family and friends and the upcoming trip made me think about the first visit I had to Helsinki after moving here to UK. That trip happened after 3 months living here. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit anxious about the whole trip even though I was very delighted to connect again not just with my family but my dear friends as well. There were many reasons why I was nervous to go back and I’m sure one of the key factors was that I was still brand new in London and very much having a mindset that everything’s better here. When the plane landed and I was walking in the Finnish soil again, it was like I saw everything in a new light. I think I had a way worse culture shock when I came back to Finland than when I moved to UK.
Helsinki – my dear old home town
There’s always a special place in my heart for Helsinki. It was my home for more than 12 years after all. And it’s by far the best capital in the Nordics and I do a fair bit promoting it to everyone who’s asking me about the city. It’s also a small and compact place, in good and bad. It’s been brilliant to see the city evolving so much in such a little time and I can honestly say that the city is more vibrant and exciting now than when I left it behind in 2016. However as I told already, there were a few things that took me by a surprise when I came back for the first time after having some distance. The first visit was the biggest shock and nowadays I know better what to expect. Every time I spend time in Finland I discover something new which I’ve always thought being an universal behavior but in fact is more like a Finnish oddity.
Pedestrians don’t cross the street when the light is red – even if there’re no cars in sight
I think there’re some official studies to verify this finding of mine but most of the Finns will wait until the light is green before making their way across the street even though there wouldn’t be any cars nearby. Obviously this is mostly a good thing and maybe just proves that London makes you impatient. I had a funny moment last Summer when I was walking to a restaurant with my friends and a red light was showing when we were about to cross the street and all of my friends stopped while I continued walking as there wasn’t a single car driving in that street. Also you always use a pedestrian crossing (and there’s a lot of them) to cross the street not like here where you just cross the street whenever you need/want to get to the other side of the road.
Streets are wide, covered with cobblestones and distances are short
Compared to UK both driveways and pavements are super wide. I mean they are just wide. Also in central Helsinki a lot of the streets are covered with cobblestones. I always knew there’s a few of those streets but there are actually a lot more than you think. And they are so annoying especially if you’re wearing heels. As I mentioned Helsinki is relatively small city and everything is in a walking distance and by using a car or the public transportation you can get everywhere so easily and quickly compared to London standards.
Everyone looks the same
This is something that freaks me out a bit every time I visit Helsinki. It’s an international city but not in any scale like London or other big capitals around the world. When you’re used to see a mix of people from about every corner around the world and all the sudden 98% of everyone you see are Finns, it’s a big contrast. It doesn’t help that everyone is dressing pretty similarly. After a while here you won’t get surprised by anything you see in the streets and I mean anything. I wish there would be a more open atmosphere in Finland for anyone to be and wear whatever they want without being labeled to be a lunatic.
I kind of new this one already but coming from a city that everyone considers to be a super expensive place, I’m always shocked about the prices in Finland. I mean going to a grocery store is just astonishing and just buying a couple of items will end up spending a fortune. Not to mention how expensive alcohol is. Just an year ago we were in an ice hockey match in Helsinki and two glasses of wine cost us close to 40 Euros. About a week after that we went to see a Premium League game at Stamford Bridge and we got same two glasses about 3 times cheaper.
Finnish lack of politeness in everyday life
I’ve told already that I love the politeness here in UK and I think the lack of it was the biggest shock I faced when going back to Finland for the first times. I remember once spending some time in central Helsinki and going back to Milla’s flat (when she still lived in Finland) and asking why everyone is so rude. No one holds the door open (they just open it just that much that they can get inside never mind if there’s someone behind them), people just walk into you and sorry indeed seems to be the hardest word to say, elderly people doesn’t get offered a seat in a tram and people go beyond to avoid an eye contact or a small talk. I must say that I’ve had a really good service in restaurants, coffee places, shops etc. so the lack of politeness is more with the other people living their normal life around you. Little kindness doesn’t cost a thing but can make someone’s day worth a lot more.
Finns are extremely open about nudity
Nudity is absolutely normal in Finland. When I went to Allas Sea Pool (which is a really cool place to visit especially if you love swimming like I do) for the first time I noticed that it can be a lot to handle for those nationalities not as open with nudity as we are. First of all the locker rooms are really tiny so forget about Finns needing their personal space, that doesn’t apply to anything sauna related. You won’t find that separate dressing cubicle in the corner of a Finnish locker room in case you don’t want other ladies/gentlemen to see you taking your clothes off. And if you’re expecting to have privacy when showering, forget about it, there’s only an open space with lots of showers nothing between them. And you’re supposed to go to a Sauna naked unless it’s an unisex Sauna, in that case wearing something is very desirable.
Still a Finn and very proud of it
Finland will always be my home country and I’m very proud to be a Finn. I’m actually very excited to go there again next week for the long weekend and hopefully will discover more oddities the crazy nation has to offer!