A home all to yourself

When a Finnish teenager graduates from secondary school, they’re likely to sigh of relief and relocate to their first own place. Much the same as in any other country.

What makes the Finnish first-time-away-from-home-r different from others, is where they’re heading. A lot of them move to their own place, a studio or a one-bedroom flat. Flatshares are reserved for those living on a tight budget, opting for university housing association provided flats. I’ve only heard of a couple of instances where people choose live in a flatshare if they could afford a smaller place for themselves.

For people living outside of the Helsinki metropolitan area, renting a flat is relatively affordable. By getting a place of their own, they’re partaking in our ancient ritual of becoming independent and self-sufficient. It’s considered almost a rite-of-passage and until you have a place of your own, you’re not really an adult.

As I was thinking about this topic, it struck to me that even the Finnish word for flatshare, solu, translates as cell. So whereas in Finnish it means both the basic unit of organisms and a flatshare, in English it also means a prison. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

As for myself, I was the odd one out and moved to the UK when I was 19. And like most freshers, I opted to live in university accommodation which meant that I shared a flat with five other girls. From thereon, I’ve lived in flatshares varying from two to seven people. It hasn’t always been peachy, but I’ve made some wonderful friends and certainly have my fair share of stories to tell.

But my Finnishness hasn’t completely worn off despite years of sharing a flat with strangers and sometimes friends. While I share some of the communal areas with others, my room is my sanctuary. When at home, I rarely hang out anywhere else – I eat, read and watch tv in my room.

living room

But I could run into other people here…

Having recently just moved back to Brussels and to a new flatshare, I’m probably going to send this link to my new flatmates to subtly let them know I’m not rude and recluse, merely cherishing my own space and being a Finn.


The Stalking Finn

We have several words for stalker in Finnish. They all have slightly different connotations, mainly varying in terms of the severity of the stalking. Vaanija and ahdistelija are the peeping Toms of this world, the creeps. But kyttääjä is someone who is excessively interested in other people’s comings and goings and while it may not be exactly a positive thing, it is, however, accepted.

Kyttääjä is the person in your apartment building who keeps tabs on your schedule. They’re the ones who gaze through the peephole and ooze contempt through the door when you wobble home drunk. They’ll turn off the lights in their flat to disapprovingly stare at the debauchery taking place in the opposite building.

Can you feel my disapproval?

Feel my eyes. Feel  my disapproval.

Kyttääjäs derive their pleasure not from seeing you per se, but from the act of disapproving. They manage to derive some sort of pleasure from the negative.

They may not be the best neighbours – usually they are the worst – but they’re often considered more sad than malevolent. They’re people who don’t have much else to do. They stay at home and observe the life others lead, in solitude.

While Finland is really not the serious, lonely place it’s sometimes made out to be, the sad fact of life is that a lot of people are lonely without any means of communicating with people. Perhaps that’s why we as a society don’t frown upon kyttääjäs. This is also why we don’t really need CCTV.