Most of the time, when we tell people that we live in Helsinki, we get one of two responses:
(completely confused stare)
(no less confused stare)
But we are always sure to note how much we really love our host country. Our generic responses generally include phrases like:
“It is a really wonderful place to live, but very expensive”
“Everyone speaks English, its super safe, and the people are nice ” (note, not friendly, but nice)
“Eh, the winters are pretty rough, but the city always has something going on and you buy a nice coat and get over it and go outside when its dark at 4pm”
And all of these are true. But there is a lot more to it.
We love coming home to Helsinki. Not just from weekend travels to foreign cities, but even when we visited the USA this summer. Coming back to Helsinki felt oddly comfortable. We feel very settled; we love this life style. We loved coming back to no car, no massive super markets, and not understanding every conversation around you. We have gotten into a flow here and it works very well for us.
The fact is that, as “ex-pats”, we are flat spoiled.
Yes, everyone does speak English and, moreover, they are very gracious about it. They do not make you feel inferior for not speaking their odd language and you very rarely have to fight through a thick accent.
Helsinki is surrounded by harbors on 3 sides, where you can look out over the vast archipelago, watch cruise ships, elegant swans, and delicate sail boats. In the summer, you can island hop or relax at any one of the cafes on the water. You can see the distinctly different spires of Russian Orthodox and Lutheran churches; a cultural marker on the city. It doesn’t take long to get into the thriving shopping, restaurant and bar scene in well maintained buildings, along cobbled streets and in attractive store fronts. But just next to that is a small lake where you can paddle board or ice fish or roller-wind surf on the ice. And just passed that is a winter-garden and a central park and then, keep going a little ways out of town, you will find yourself lost in a green forest with squirrels and wild berries and mushrooms for foraging.
The city is beautiful, clean and extremely safe. Walking home in the dark is no longer a threat when it is dark for 17 hours of the day.
Speak of the darkness thing: Finns know it sucks. And they don’t care. The city plans all sorts of events to keep us occupied. Weather and seasons don’t phase them because, if the weather is going to stop you, you will never get anything done. You will see parents pushing prams through the snow, children in snowsuits, and very durably winter boots from October to April.
Helsinki is walkable; Jimmy and I rarely take trams or the metro because you can walk from one end of the city to the other in 30 minutes. We love walking home after a meal or drinks out and enjoying how active the city is at night, even in the dead of winter. When the weather is nice, we just walk around and window shop. When it is not nice, we bar & cafe shop. We walk through sun and snow and that really irritating misty-rain that follows you everywhere.
Hell yeah, it is damn expensive here. When we were in Paris last week, prices seemed reasonable everywhere we went. And that is not good. A beer here costs around 7euro, and that isn’t even for the good stuff. A pack of 20 beers is 50 euro. Fresh veggies are available but just don’t look at the sticker. Red meat? Forget it-at least 40euros per kilo (about $21 per pound) unless it is ground. A basic hair cut and color is 140euro at a salon (which is why I am going au naturale with these fabulous roots).
But, hey, you get a lot out of it. Food is expensive, but it is high quality; Finns have tighter restrictions on quality of meats. You will also never have student loans because your education is free. So is most of your basic healthcare. And you have 6 weeks paid vacation every year. Maternity and paternity leave are generous and you even get a monthly stipend until your kid is 17. This among many many other things.
All in all, Finns have a ridiculously great quality of life.
And for these few years, we are so fortunate to be their guests and take part in it.
Also, please read this fun article, below, about why Finland is so great, according to the Finns. The pictures, themselves, are lovely, but there are some pretty interesting tid-bits of information as well!