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.

Crossing the road

I’ve discovered crossing the road to be quite a cultural thing. It varies between countries but also within.

A few things apply everywhere in Finland. You wait for the light to turn green even if there are no cars around. Sometimes people rebel and cross it even when the light is red but prepare to be judged if you do so. You also only cross when there’s a pedestrian crossing. You wouldn’t want to jump in front of a car now would you?

The regional differences come into play when there are no traffic lights.

The town where I’m from is perhaps even notorious for stopping the traffic whenever a pedestrian is crossing it. The pedestrians know this and feel entitled to cross without a worry in their mind. In Kotka – where I lived the past year – it’s the drivers who feel entitled. Literally every time I would come to a pedestrian crossing and there’s a car approaching, they would accelerate and make sure they pass before I do. As if it is personal insult that I expect them to slow down.

Photo by Tuija/Flickr (CC)

In an orderly manner, just the way we like it

The orderly Finn tends to feel a bit out-of-place everywhere else in the world. Every country seems to have their own nuances in the seemingly simple task.

In the Netherlands the cyclist is the king. You watch out for the bikes whether you’re by foot or with a car if you care about your life.

In the UK nobody waits for the light, you cross wherever and whenever you want because it would be a bit daft if you wouldn’t. If the road is empty, what’s the harm?

And in Doha you don’t cross. You drive. If for some reason you find yourself on foot, I suggest my method: run, scream and wave your hands. Worked perfectly for me.

Ulkomaalaiset Suomessa

As part of the European multilingual blogging day, this will be my first post in Finnish – conveniently enough about foreigners in Finland

Suomeen eksyy aina silloin tällöin ulkomaalaisia ja uskon, että mietimme kaikki yhtä asiaa: miksi? Suomeen tuomiani kavereita hämmentääkin aina paikallisväestön kiinnostus miksi he ovat tulleet tänne asti.

Opiskelu ja erilaiset vaihto-ohjelmat tuovat Suomeen opiskelijoita jotka ovat kuulleet tarinoita mystisestä maasta jossa päivä on pimeä, ihmiset juroja ja musiikki synkkää. Usein esimerkiksi espanjalaiset vaihto-opiskelijat pitävät maatamme hämmentävän eksoottisena. Tänne tulevat ihmiset jotka ihannoivat metallimusiikkia ja kaipaavat lepoa oman maansa übersosiaalisuudesta. Toisaalta esimerkiksi britit ja tsekit kokevat tiettyä hengenheimolaisuutta suomalaisten kanssa.

Ulkomaalaiset herättävät huomiota heti Helsingin ulkopuolella liikuttaessa. Myönnän itsekin yöelämässä etsiytyneeni brittiseurueeseen nykyisessä asuinpaikassani vain sen takia, että he puhuivat englantia. Se on vain niin jännää!

Erityismaininta kuuluu kuitenkin Suomeen puolison perässä muuttaneille. Nämä naiset ja miehet ovat saaneet elämänsä rakkauden raahattua mukaansa maahan, jossa kieli on hämmentävä ja vaikka kaikki englantia puhuvatkin, ei työtä tunnu löytyvän ellei suomi suju äidinkielen veroisesti. Itse voin vain kunnioittaa näitä pareja, sillä kulttuurishokki tänne muutettaessa melkein mistä vain on mojova.

Sitten meillä on turistit. Venäläiset rakastavat kaikkea suomalaista. Tavaraa ostetaan mielin määrin, sillä he kokevat laadun olevan paljon parempaa kuin Venäjällä. Ja hei, tax-free! Itärajan tuntumassa palveluakin saa sujuvasti venäjäksi. Ja se Allegro on niin kätevä!

Aasialaiset turistit ovat oma lukunsa. Hämmentävintä tässä porukassa on lähes pakkomielteinen kiinnostus kaikkea suomalaista kohtaan.

Helsingin lentokentän tax-free jonossa japanilainen nainen kantoi sylin täydeltä tuliaisia Suomesta, muun muassa mustikkapulveria jota voi lisätä puuroon. Hän ei ollut kovin vakuuttunut sen käyttötarkoituksesta, mutta osti kuitenkin. Minulta hän kysyi salmiakista, ja kannattaisiko sitä ostaa. Olin juuri nähnyt tämän videon, joten suosittelin sen skippaamista. Hän osti sen kuitenkin.

On a minor note

Yesterday a friend came over to my place, we invented cocktails, had a laugh and decided to continue the night in town.

We went to a pub. It was a fairly typical fare, one you might find almost anywhere in the world. The bar teeming with intoxicated people, the music loud and the screens showing a sport of some kind.

We sat down by the bar and started chatting. After being there for half an hour, we started paying attention to the music. It was incredibly depressing. Not as in a judgement on the quality of the songs, but literally songs about death, loss etc. All in minor, with no uplifting qualities. The kind of songs you listen to if you’re sad and want to wallow in it.

It struck to me as something typically Finnish. I’ve written about our obsession with melancholic music before, but this was unique in that a bar would deliberately play depressing songs. If I were a business owner, I wouldn’t combine melancholic music with alcohol. To me it would seem like asking for trouble.

Most people didn’t seem to mind though. But after a while, I noticed most women had escaped and the bar was full of men wanting to wallow in their misery.

It was when Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah started to play that we asked the bartenders to change the music. She rolled her eyes at us.

Now if I would own a bar, I’d only play Eurovision songs.

The Finnish It

“Where’s Minna?”

“It’s at work, I think it gets off around 4.”

That’s an exact translation of a conversation I could have with my mother about my sister, an example of the Finnish it.

Finnish 3rd person singular is a peculiar thing for most languages. Firstly, we don’t distinguish between male and feminine forms. In Finnish there are no masculine or feminine words. There are no articles in front of words; no a, the, la or les. A third person singular is always hän, for both sexes.

But then it’s also perfectly okay to refer to someone as it.

In fact, using hän in some colloquial conversations would seem too formal. Had I used hän in the example above, my mother would have probably given me a quizzical look and thought I was making fun of her for some reason.

If you want to be addressed respectfully, you’ll need to earn it. My sister obviously has a long way to go.