It’s been over 4 years since I moved to Finland for a six month internship and decided to stay here. I have spent those years finding my way through different jobs, extracurricular activities, meeting people, and settling in. Now, as I am finding my own path here, I couldn’t really imagine living anywhere else. At the same time, that does not take away from the fact that the places I have lived and the people I have called my friends have greatly impacted me along the way. As I settle in for a long dark and probably cold winter, I am reflecting on all the wonderful things I have left behind in Granada, Spain. Today, I want to share some of them with you.
I know, this one is rather unique to me because not many people are in the situation where their families move abroad and they follow them, but that is how it went for me. When I was 18, my parents decided to move to Spain with my younger brother and not soon after I decided to join them. Initially, I wasn’t planning to stay in Granada for a long time but I ended up spending over 8 years living on and off in the city.
A big part of my desire to live and stay in Granada was due to my family being there and that is one of the biggest things that I miss the most about living in Spain. My parents lived less than 10 minutes walk from where I did and Spanish life made it easy for us to meet up regularly. When I was living there, I probably saw my parents most days, played football (soccer) with my brother, and regularly enjoyed socializing with my family and others all together. In that way, my family are some of my favorite people in Granada and some of my closest friends.
These days, I talk to my parents about once a week and see my family a couple times a year if we are lucky. We do try to make those trips a bit longer (see our tips for hosting long-term visitors in this post) but sometimes we just make do with a long weekend or so. I know it doesn’t mean we don’t care about each other but I do miss the ability to pop over for a chat or go out for a tapa or two.
Fresh fruits and vegetables
The growing season in Finland is very short, so while you will have fresh grown fruits and vegetables over the summer months, it is hard to get fresh (local) produce all year round. That is not the case for Spain and, in fact, farms in the Granada area often supply the northern countries with fresh produce all year round. It is always funny, and a bit painful for me, when I see tomatoes from Granada in the local supermarket. In those moments I miss being in a Spanish store, with Spanish produce.
In addition, buying local, organic vegetables is something I could do in Granada on a reasonably small budget as much of the produce was locally sourced. Here in Finland, while I can still prioritize trying to shop at local markets or buy organic, it requires much more intention and budgeting because not only is it not so available, it is more expensive. In my everyday life, this impacts the food we eat and how we shop. It is not a problem per se, but I know it is easier and cheaper where food grows more readily.
Tapas / the price of going out
Tapas in the way that I am thinking about them are something that are special in Granada (read more in this post) but, in general, the price of going out in southern Spain is much more affordable than in Finland. I think this is probably related to the fact that spending time socializing with friends and family out in restaurants and bars is more common than it is in Finland, so it has to fit more budgets. In Finland, going out still happens but, in my experience, it is not something people do many days a week like I used to do in Spain.
In addition, drinking is taxed way more heavily in Finland than it is in Spain. Perhaps due to the local climate or general cultural norms, there seems to be more concern for alcoholism and drinking too much in Finland. This means that even just going for a casual drink can set you back more than the couple (2 – 3 euros) a single drink would in Spain—and if you consider that you get a small snack or tapa in Granada as well, it is no wonder that people are often willing to go for a quick drink or two on a regular basis. You can read more about the drinking culture in Spain in this post.
Now, just to be clear, I am not the person who wants to be out every night of the week or who drinks so much that it becomes a problem. However, especially when I have been on a smaller budget, these social elements that are central to life in Spain can feel almost unattainable in Finland. And sometimes I simply miss the possibility of going out easily without thinking about how big the bill will be because in Spain it usually didn’t make that much of an impact.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I know there are cafés all over Finland as well and the coffee is usually very good (not surprising considering that Finns are considered to be the largest consumer of coffee per capita in the world). However, the coffee culture in Spain is similar to the drinking culture and in every small town or on every street corner, you will probably find a café or bar that is open to serve you coffee. It might not be the best coffee you ever had, but it won’t set you back more than a euro or two.
What I miss most about the local cafés though is going into the same place on a regular, if not daily, basis and getting to know the owners. Often, there are only a couple of people working in a place and if you go regularly, you begin to talk with them. It might not be more than a couple of words here and there but it gives a feeling of belonging that I enjoy. In Finland, with the coffee itself being a bit more expensive, I often save trips to cafés for special days or dates with friends, instead of having them be an activity in themselves where I would get to know the place a bit more. It is still a nice treat to have but it is not the same as what I would have in Granada.
Being able to speak the local language
Years ago I told myself I would never live somewhere where I didn’t speak the local language and, until living in Finland, that was a relatively easy commitment to keep. However, the local language in Finland (Finnish) has proven to be much harder for me to invest in and learn properly. That isn’t to say I haven’t tried—I have taken a couple of classes, attempted some self-led learning, and tried to practice when I could—but I haven’t committed in the same way to the language learning process as maybe I have previously. All of this plus the fact that for me Finnish is hard has stopped me from being able to communicate in the local language so far.
In comparison, in Granada, I consider myself to still be fluent in the local dialect and can deal with almost any situation that is thrown at me. From bureaucracy to studying to daily interactions, I’ve handled them all. In fact, recently I went to a doctors appointment here in Finland and the trainee was Spanish and didn’t speak English, so I did the whole ad hoc appointment in Spanish, no preparation needed (you can find some preparations for the doctors here). Not to mention that I am perfectly comfortable working and living in Spanish.
Again, I want to say that I realize that it took a rather large time and energy investment for me to get to the point where I am currently so comfortable in Spanish but once you are there, you can just take advantage of it, something I cannot do yet in Finnish.
I know—it can get cold in Spain too. And the houses are not really prepared to handle cold or humidity very well, making it hard to regulate the temperature in many of the homes in Andalucía. However, living where I am now, I have to say that the winters are not really comparable. In Granada, days get shorter and there is daylight savings time to help make the most out of the winter sunlight. In addition, it can drop down to freezing temperatures and you might occasionally get some snow.
In comparison, in southern Finland where I live, days start getting shorter in September and (for me at least) only feel like they are getting longer again in February, although everyone lives the darkest months a bit differently. In addition, we usually have 3 – 4 months below freezing temperatures and, if we are lucky, there is snow on the ground (that is lucky because it means that you get more light). So, while I am not denying that some sort of winter exists in Granada, there is a reason many people retire or spend their winters there.
I know this one might seem like a weird one but one thing I have been missing is the access to a family doctor who follows along with any general issue or concern you may be having. In the spring I was diagnosed with some thyroid issues and while they are being dealt with, I miss being able to talk with one person who knows my story, my history, and can give me advice on my personal situation, not general advice based on numbers.
In Spain it is common to have a main doctor and go through them to get to any specific tests or procedures. As I grew up with a family doctor in the US, this feels pretty normal to me even though the systems are otherwise quite different. It gave me comfort always going to the same person, even in uncomfortable situations, because we had built up our own rapport and understanding. On the other hand, in Finland, I don’t completely understand the system but it doesn’t work like that. While I believe that the Finnish health care system is high quality and I appreciate the public system in general, I am still getting used to the ins and outs and miss those things that felt normal before.
Of course, there are many things I like about living in Finland and I will share a post about some of those in the not-so-distant future too. These are just some things that I enjoyed a lot while living in Granada and value even more now that I live elsewhere.
What about you? Have you lived abroad somewhere and missed something when you moved away? Share your experiences in the comments.