Living in Finland I’m running on ice; literally and figuratively. Although Finland is having a weirdly warm winter, the ice does not all melt even on the warmest days. After not running for three months due to an injury, I cannot help but go out anyway because I live across the street from Finland’s national cemetery which is along the Gulf of Finland. It is a beautiful place to run, and if I need a break I can stop at a cute coffee shop called Regatta that’s right along the sea (they give free refills which is a rarity). I cannot wait until it warms up a bit and the sun comes out because then the swans will be back. They are Finland’s national bird. I saw a couple the first weekend I was here but have not seen then since the sea froze.
Now I say living here is like running on ice figuratively because life here is not always easy but it is still very fun. And just like when I’ve finished my run, when I find out something new about myself or my roots, it is very rewarding. I’ve made some major changes in my life since I have been here and I can only believe it will help me towards my ultimate goal of finding myself. I have to give credit to firstly my friend Maria, who I mentioned in the last post. She has taught me a lot about Finnish culture and one very interesting thing she said is that Finnish people like Finland can seem very cold. In Finnish, I love you is mina rakastaan sinua. After hearing my mom say I love you when where skyping, she said she was surprised she would say that to me. Her mother does not say that to her. Finnish people use the word love in a very deep and romantic way. Children from very young are taught to be very independent and that they should just know their parents love them. Maria and her friend then further explained to me more details of Finnish interactions between men and women. It is very different from American culture and respect for women is held very highly here. At this point I felt like I found a piece of myself. I am not one to show affection in public, I have only told one person I love you other than my family and to my friends, and I have often been called cold. It was a moment that allowed me to really reflect and find some answers.
I secondly give credit to my family. I spent one Sunday at Asko’s, my grandpa’s brother’s house and only one person could speak English to me! I would speak English, Matti would translate, the family would speak, and he would translate back. It was quite the day. It felt really good though when Asko’s wife asked me a question in Finnish and I knew what she said. I could hear my grandma in the back on my head saying the same thing. The food they had was excellent! All traditional Finnish foods and some I had never had before. The best part of the day was Skyping home to my mom and grandparents. My grandma was so excited she could barely speak and ran away when she started to cry (Finnish people never show their emotions). They are very new to Skype and have not been to Finland since 2009 so they have been writing letters since. After this we looked at old pictures of my grandparents and had coffee while chatting over culture differences.
Speaking of culture, I have been able to hear a lot about it especially from the students I am a teaching assistant for. I am a language assistant for the university’s language program and I currently help teach a class on grammar, sit in on a conversation group and also help with the language club. Luckily I do not have to know too many grammar specifics because mine could use improving! In the conversation group we talked a lot about differences in culture because although most there were Finnish, one man was from Somalia and one woman from Russia. The Finnish were happy to laugh about their stereotypes. Especially the “rules of public transportation”, in which there is a video for on you tube. “Don’t say hi to the driver, don’t look at anyone, don’t ask if a seat is taken, don’t ask for help with directions, don’t speak loudly and most importantly don’t smile!” It was very entertaining because if you take the tram, bus or metro you’ll find these rules really do apply. We also briefly talked about the sauna. For some foreigners this can be a new experience because this is normally a no clothes occasion is and is a part of not only recreation but also business. It would not be weird for a business group to take a sauna together after a meeting and further discuss issues; it is just part of life. It originally had cleansing purposes and let’s be honest it’s really cold in Finland and feels good. My apartment complex has a sauna and pool in which girls can go in on Wednesdays and a group of us have made a habit of this. Most everybody wears a bathing suit but not all!
I’ve also gotten to learn more culture from my “aunt” as I call here Ulla. I went a second time to her house this past weekend to make Chinese dumplings and meet her other son. She was previously married to a Chinese man and her son recently married a Chinese girl so they had experience. What an experience it was for me though; people were speaking Finnish, English and Chinese! It was a very fun night and after we ate our dumplings Ulla, her boyfriend and I listened to our favorite Finnish and American songs while sipping wine. We went from The Eagles to Garth Brooks to many now famous Finnish female artists. I now listen to them in my free time hoping to help improve my language skills. Before I left Ulla let me borrow clothes for an 80’s party I was going to and it was so fun to try on clothes and just hang out with family.
I am just now starting to get a little home sick. I really miss my family and roommate. It started when I realized that my mom and Ulla would be such good friends if they didn’t live on opposite sides of the world. They haven’t seen each other since they were younger but I hope my mom comes here someday. I also miss my dog, but in Helsinki you can’t just stop and pet someone else’s dog. That’s another “rule”.
Well I know that was a long post but I will try to make them more often so it’s not such a book!
Love from Helsinki,
|Robert's Coffee (Finnish)|
|great traditional food!|
|Asko and Matti's family|
|80's party with some of Ulla's clothes|
|Cake for Maria's birthday in my room|
|two Finn's who don't speak good Finnish|