These are my impressions on Finland (warning - long. I have many
It is so beautiful. There are trees everywhere (birch trees and old
pines; the pines are missing their lower branches as they have competed
to grow into the sunlight and the trunks are narrow - you can see
between them) along the roads and through the city parks too.
There are lakes. And more lakes. None of the major roads run straight as
they have to skirt the lakes. The lakes are quite shallow at the moment,
as it has been a hot summer. Part of Finland was also once the ocean
floor, but the land has been rising since the last ice age - hence the
sea is receding and the land area is steadily increasing. The Gulf of
Bothnia (between Finland and Sweden) is getting lower, so one day, it
will be possible to walk to Sweden! In winter (not that we're here in
winter) everything freezes over - even part of the Bothnian Sea, and so
thick that trucks can (and do) drive on it.
Finland has regulations on how houses should look, so all the houses in
the country are painted in traditional colours and are wooden. The farm
houses tend to be painted a deep brownish red, with white around the
windows and doors (I have some photos). The other houses are a creamy
yellow colour, with the same white around the doors and windows. The
houses are just lovely!
Finland has mosquitoes. Not at all like Australian mozzies - about 10
times as many, and a bit bigger. They bite just the same though! They
are only around in summer, and there are so many because of the lakes.
They drive on the right (ie wrong!) side of the road, so it was really
weird in Helsinki to look the right (ie correct) way when crossing the
road, and the tram tracks. Even to head to the correct side of the tram
when getting off it!
The toilet cubicles are reasonably small, but invariably, the doors
(including in houses) open outwards. Interesting - why haven't some
Melbourne places thought of that simple idea!?
The Finns also have a brilliant cupboard over the sink for when they
do their dishes - it is a tall cupboard with shelves of drying racks,
so the dishes drip dry and are out of the way - there is also plenty
of room for lots of dishes, not like our drying racks which are full
after not many.
Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish (then English as
a third). All official signs and notices are in both languages, even
though many Finns don't speak Swedish, and speak English very well
(useful!). They have to study Swedish at school, but English is more
useful to them.
Much of the television is in English with Finnish subtitles, and
anything in Finnish has Swedish subtitles. For us ignorants, it's hard
to tell the difference between the two languages when spoken, but the
Finnish have a very solid rolled r sound that the Swedes don't.
The facilities and allowances for students are amazing here - tertiary
education is available for anyone who wants it, even international
students. Finland also has a very close to 100% literacy rate.
Finns like to drink: they have great vodka (a brand you can't get in
Australia, Koskenkorva, is good), including a liquorice vodka or a mint
one. They have very good cider (apple or pear - pear is better), and
very drinkable beers.
The bizzarrest thing about summer in Finland is that it never gets dark.
Seriously. Even though we're not above the Arctic Circle (yet), the sky
stays light (dusk) for a few hours (between about 11pm and 3am), before
the sun rises again. It's currently 11pm, and by the light outside, it
feels like it is about 7 or 8pm in Melbourne in the summer time. I
intend to a take a photo of the sky at midnight, just to prove it!
The final observation: the Finns have an obsession with the sauna (said
"sowna", as in female pig, not "sorna" as we incorrectly say it). Almost
every house has one, and it is a very important part of their relaxation
and social lives. Personally I don't see the attraction in boiling
yourself to a mushy sweaty ball for fun, but, each to their own!