We traveled with Omar to Finland in August of 2017. Or rather, I traveled, because although we were together, he was not “traveling” but coming home. For those who do not know, Omar, my partner of routes and life, is half Finnish and half Spanish. Hence, this trip was very particular for both: he was returning to meet again with Finland for a brief period after being away for two and a half years and I was going to meet his family, his friends and all his previous life, before his arrival in Buenos Aires. Probably if his origins had not been like that, I would not have gone to Finland at that time, since I had many, many countries before on my wish list. But this trip would be very different from what could have been any other.
We arrived at the Finnish summer, which for me was summer only for the name, because in a whole month there were only three or four days that passed the 20 degrees (and not by much!). The rest of the days were quite cold and rainy. I almost did not take off the rain boots that his mother lent me, they were my great allies in those days.
The typical clothing of my summer in Finland: rain boots, long pants and wool sweater
We arrived at that “summer”, after having been in the south of Spain, in Granada, in the Alhambra, surrounded by Arab tiles that I love, white villages and labyrinthic streets typical of the time of Muslim domination in the region. There I was like a fish in the water, that was my kind of place without a doubt.
Moving from that to a cold, gray and rainy environment, in which the white villages were replaced by trees and lakes, was a bit difficult at first. All my life I lived in a big city and so I am urban by nature. That infinite natural environment, which was what Omar so missed, was too much for me. During the first days, I missed Spain a lot. Omar explained that this feeling was normal, that for many people it takes time to fall in love with Finland and that sometimes it is not a love at first sight, like the one that happens in any corner of Rome, Paris or Madrid. The love for Finland was to be arisen slowly bit by bit. I only hoped it to take less than a month, which was all the time I had.
Finland was totally different from any country I had visited before. It was immensely different from Argentina, which I supposed, but it was also very different from the rest of Europe where I had been, which I did not imagine. In many places I had references, huge or small, that united me in some way: in Spain the language, in Italy the blood, the traditions, the customs, the dishes. In Finland I did not find any reference from my past and I was missing it.
So, little by little and meeting a lot of Omar’s family and friends, the days went by. And in a certain moment, while we were traveling in a bus, I saw a typical wooden house in the Finnish countryside made with trees from the area, surrounded by a very green field. In that moment I had a revelation, suddenly I saw it, I started to See everything good and amazing that Finland had. I started to enjoy it. The simmering love had appeared and that way it felt much better.
This was supposed to be just the introduction and it turned out very long, but it seemed important to explain in what context I was in order to make my impressions more meaningful.
In regard to the lifestyle in Finland, which was the subject that I was asked for and what will be the first post of the “Written on demand” section, ahhh, the lifestyle, that’s really good.
Those who live in Buenos Aires, will know what I’m talking about when I say that we live in a constant state of stress that can have different levels, for different reasons: insecurity, traffic, economy, the subway is always full, etc. etc. etc. Or at least that’s how I lived it. This is often so unconscious that we almost do not perceive it, while that chip is on we do not notice it and life goes on, it is our normality. In Finland, like nowhere else before, that chip completely went out. For me it was a novelty, a unique feeling that I seemed to be floating, relaxed, as if I had put down a huge backpack. That was new to me, but the Finns, they live like this all the time!
And how does this affect behaviors and lifestyle from day to day? I will show you this through some curiosities that I saw and lived in Finland:
The kids leave their toys in the neighborhood square, go home, return the next day and the toys are still there! If you think about it, it’s very logical, after all, what’s the point of taking them and bringing them again if no one is going to steal them…?
In Finland there are public spots for washing carpets (houses usually have many carpets in all rooms of the house). When I say public I mean they are outdoors, without any kind of enclosure or protection or anything, just anyone can use them at will. These are like some huge bathtubs, which are usually near a lake (data: Finland has 187,888 lakes) and also have a kind of press to drain the water and a space to let them dry while people go to their home because… the same as with toys… because nobody steals them!
In Tampere, the home city of Omar and the second largest city in Finland, I wanted to experience this first hand and so I left the bike at the supermarket door, with my jacket tied to it and fifty euros in my pocket. I went to do my shopping normally and when I left, everything was in its place. How I like Finland! How easy it is to get used to this!
In Pispala, a suburb of Tampere, there are urban gardens that are rented to the neighbors for a very low, almost symbolic sum (about fifteen euros per year), so that everyone can use their plot of land as they want and plant in it what they like the most. Thus they can have berries, fruits and vegetables of their own harvest during the summer and autumn. Plus something very common and delicious: frozen red fruits or jam for the winter, while the orchard is under the snow waiting for springtime. Having your own urban garden plot even if you do not have space in your house, is a great way to connect with the earth on a daily basis. In addition, most Finns are great lovers of wild nature and do a lot of foraging of wild berries and mushrooms.
In Finland you never enter a house, your own or someone else’s, with shoes. The houses usually have a piece of furniture right next to the door where the shoes of all the inhabitants of the house and of the visitors are left. This is very important to maintain the tidiness of the house and not to bring dirt from the street.
The Finns also have this practical invention found in all houses: dish drying racks directly integrated into the cupboard. This solves the problem of losing space on the countertop and that the dish dryer racks keeps moving around… it works as a dream! It can be with or without doors.
And my favorite activity / moment in Finland and very reflective of the lifestyle of the Finns: the sauna! As it is a very broad topic, it deserves its own post (and you can find the link at the end of this post).
I keep the memory of Finland as that of a country in which they treated me incredibly well, with immense generosity in every gesture that made this trip a unique experience. A trip that was not so “touristic”, it was not about seeing monuments or historical places, but about getting to know its people and sharing their day to day life. It was about seeing and experiencing the local life, which was always the life of Omar and that he was now sharing with me.
I take this post to thank each and every one of the friends and family who welcomed us with their doors open at all times and shared with us a few bits of their lives, while we were travelling-living in Finland.
PostScript 1: If you want to help me to continue with this project, don’t forget to share!
If you have any questions, queries or suggestions, you can leave it in the comments below. And if you think someone can serve or interest this information, I thank you very much for sharing it!
PostScript 2: do you want to read more?
If you want to read more about Finland, don´t miss this two posts, in which I tell you everything about Finnish sauna and Finnish gastronomy.