It has been about half a year now since I’ve moved to Helsinki. It’s my first time living somewhere with actual seasons, and the leaves turning is truly a beautiful thing to see during the autumn. Although I get super homesick and I miss the LA weather, it hasn’t been as hard to adjust as I had imagined. But then again, winter hasn’t come yet, so ask me again in a couple of months.
I think a few reasons why it hasn’t been terribly hard to adjust is because the architecture of Helsinki is really modern, it’s a small city that’s easy to get to know, everything works well, the quality of life here is really high, and most people speak English, so it doesn’t feel like such a foreign country. But don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been a walk in the park either. I miss my friends and family immensely and it took some time to make my own friends here. Also, just because people speak English, doesn’t mean anything is written or spoken in English. So let’s just say I have to rely on copying movements in gym classes and my grocery runs take extremely long, since I’m constantly using the Google translate app camera function. By the way, Google translate for Finnish – 60% of the time, it works every time.
Modern apartment buildings in our neighborhood Leaves turning on Rambo
But in all seriousness, I feel so lucky to have the chance to live in another country and continent, actually. I’m learning so much and just trying to soak it all in and appreciate every new experience and learning. All I’ve ever known is my LA and Orange County bubble. The rest of the world is doing things differently but here’s what I’ve learned about Helsinki so far…
Top 10 Reasons I Enjoy Living in Helsinki
- Free Healthcare – Basic healthcare is free, and even covers dental work. Most companies also provide additional private healthcare insurance at no cost to the employee. If health is wealth, then I’m set for life here.
- Free Education – Meanwhile, I’m still paying for my grad school loan while Finns can get their PhD for FREE 99!
- So Damn Safe – People even leave their €1000+ Bugaboo strollers outside WITH the baby inside, because apparently the cold air is good for babies and can often help them sleep. But more importantly, people don’t fear their children getting kidnapped. I couldn’t even walk home alone from school, which was only a few blocks away. Here you see elementary school kids on public transportation alone, it’s wild! Oh wait, I guess that’s the opposite of wild.
- Public Transportation – Speaking of public transportation, there is no need to have a car in Helsinki. The public transportation here consists of trams, subways (called the Metro here), and busses. It costs €60/month for an unlimited pass, which my work paid for. So basically my transportation costs are €0, except the occasional Uber, taxi, or electric scooter. In LA with a car payment, gas, auto insurance, and tons of Ubers whenever I was having drinks, I’m sure I easily spent $1000/month just on transportation alone!
- 5 Weeks of Holiday (vacation) – It’s the law to get five weeks of vacation in Finland, no matter what company you work for. In California, an employer is not required to provide paid-time-off under California vacation law, although most companies provide at least 2 weeks as a job benefit. 2 weeks sounds like a joke to me now. No wonder Americans are so stressed and get burnt out easily.
- Work Life Balance & Benefits – The generous vacation speaks to this, but in addition, I don’t often see Finns work overtime. At the company I worked for, they paid for my cell phone which can be used for personal use as well, but it wasn’t mandatory to answer any work related emails or calls outside of work hours. Most companies also provide a lunch card, where they cover 25% of your lunch (up to €10.50) which encourages employees to go out for lunch, especially with colleagues. Lastly, most companies also provide a sports and culture benefit of up to €400/year, which can be used for gym memberships, movie tickets, concerts, etc. So far I’ve used mine for an annual museum pass (€60), rock climbing, and pilates classes.
- People are Smart – Everyone knows at least two languages. And the water cooler talk here is rarely about TV, the latest fashion trends, or celebrity gossip. Instead they’re about things like the “Third Industrial Revolution”. Sometimes I feel like Finns are more in tune with what’s going on politically in the US than the average American.
- The Library is Cool – Finland is the most literate country in the world and publishes more books per capita than any other country, except Iceland. On average, every Finn buys 4 books and borrows a dozen from the library each year. So, yup it’s definitely cool to read and hang out at the library. I’ve started reading way more and have read about 1-2 books per month since I moved here. Also, how could you not want to hang out at Oodi, our central library? Besides the beautiful architecture of the building, this library holds concerts, has music studios and instruments that you can book, an urban workshop for the DIYers like me (soldering station, laser cutter, and sewing machines included) and even digital gaming rooms. It was also voted as 2019 World’s Best New Library.
- Nature & Foraging – Finland has a concept called ‘Everyman’s right’. It allows everyone to roam freely in nature, eat, and pick berries and mushrooms anywhere in forests. Our fridge always has a supply of homemade berry juice, berry jelly, frozen berries & chanterelle mushrooms from Kimmo’s family forest. Also, you can camp out overnight in a tent, vehicle, or boat, as long as this causes no damage or disturbance to the landowner.
- Island Hopping – I love that Finland is like one big forest surrounded by the Baltic Sea. Our apartment is along a canal, and I walk Rambo by the ocean every day. There’s something so calming about just staring into the waters and feeling that ocean breeze. Finland has over 180,000 lakes and almost as many islands! I can take a 10 minute ferry or cross a bridge and be on a new island. There’s even a Dog Island for Rambo and a Zoo on an island. It’s such a nice way to get out of the city, hike in a forest, have a picnic, and even go foraging!
Strollers with babies inside left outside in freezing temps Foraging for lingonberries and bilberries Island hopping Bridge to an island with a Zoo Daily walk along the canal and Baltic Sea
Top 5 Favorite Finnish Home Things
- Magic Cupboard – In every kitchen, there’s a specific drying cupboard above the sink where you put clean dishes to dry. The water drops down to the sink. Ok so it’s not magical but it’s freaking genius!
- Sauna – If you didn’t know, Finns invented the sauna, so it’s a big part of the culture here. We have one in our bathroom. Until I came to Finland, I always thought a sauna was basically an electrically heated wooden room. I was wrong! A real sauna should have stones (heated by a wood fire or electrically) that you throw water on to create steam. The more water you throw on the stones, the more steamy and intense it gets. I was on the fence about it at first, but now we have “Sauna Sundays” at home. There are so many benefits to the sauna. It helps you recover from an intense workout, flush out toxins, relieve stress, and get a good night’s sleep.
- Butt Washers – Ok, they’re not called that, I made that up. I’m actually not sure what they’re really called, but I love them, and Americans need them! No more using baby wipes or wetting toilet paper, only so they can rip into shreds in your butt as you wipe.
- Heating – Every time I step into our apartment, it always seems to be the perfect temperature, except on the rare occasion it gets really hot, because we don’t have AC, like most homes in Finland. Over 90% of Finnish apartments are connected to a district heating network, which is part of the rental agreement as a fixed cost. District heating supplies heat from a combined heat and power (CHP) plant directly to buildings through a network of pipes carrying hot water. This means the buildings do not need to generate their own heat on site. With CHP, Helsinki saves so much energy compared with separate property-specific heating produced by condensing electricity that it would heat up to 500,000 detached homes each year.
- Own Blankets – I’m a little on the fence about this one because I love snuggling and playing footsies. But… not fighting over the blanket, not waking up to the blanket being pulled off of you, and Kimmo’s favorite, being able to wrap yourself like a burrito, are reasons why this one made the list.
Magic Cupboard Sauna in our Bathroom Spot the Butt Washer District Heating It may look like a normal bed but… Underneath are 2 separate blankets
Finnish Things I’m still Getting Used to
- Light (too much & too little) – During the longest summer nights, the sun doesn’t go down until almost midnight. But during the winter, there might only be a couple hours of daylight. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is definitely a thing here, so I’m loading up on Vitamin D pills and having coffee in front of my happy (aka SAD) light. If you’ve never heard of one, these therapy lamps mimic sunlight to enhance mood, energy, sleep, and focus – but without the UV rays
- No tipping – Since I’ve worked in the food service business, it has always been ingrained in me to tip. In Finland, and most of Europe, it’s not customary to tip, unless you get exceptional service, and even then it’s not required.
- How small it is – Although Helsinki is the capital and biggest city in Finland, it’s still pretty small. The population is about 630k (LA is 4 million) so even though I only know a handful of people here, I still run into people all the time. To give you some context, the day I moved here, I ran into 2 people I knew during the train and tram ride from the airport to the apartment. And at that time I knew like 10 people! Back home in LA, I could meet someone, and never see them again for the rest of my life.
- The language – Like I mentioned earlier, everything is written in Finnish. The second official language of the country is actually Swedish. So most signs are in Finnish and Swedish, which doesn’t help me either way. I started taking a Finnish course twice a week, and boy is it hard. Besides the words being ridiculously long, and there being a hundred different ways to say something, I find it confusing that there is no intonation. The language sounds pretty monotone, since your tone should always go down at the end of a sentence, even if it’s a question or has an exclamation point at the end. You can imagine how hard this is for an animated speaker like myself.
- No small talk – Finns don’t like small talk and I actually appreciate this. Meetings tend to start and end on time since you don’t spend the first 10 minutes small talking. And if you ask a Finn how they are, be careful because they might actually tell you.
So that’s what I’ve learned during my first six months living here. I’m not sure I agree that Finland is the happiest country in the world (more about Finns in a future post) but it probably has the highest quality of life. Stay tuned for the next six months…