I recently shared a post about 7 things I miss about living in Granada and I would be remiss not to follow that post with another one about things I like about living in Finland. I have decided to make my life here and that is not without reason. My life in Spain was good, some might even say great, but it wasn’t the long-term life I wanted and I can say that I am happy to be slowly building the life I want to live here. Today I want to share some of the reasons why.
Not the Granada was not safe, per se, but there is definitely a different air of safety in Finland. Even in the capital, Helsinki, it is not uncommon to see people leave their phones, computers, or even wallets at a table while they place their orders at the bar or go to the toilet. Of course, there are situations where you don’t want to leave your stuff around but, in general, this is a safe practice. In fact, I notice myself feeling much more anxious about leaving stuff around in cars, cafes, or other places than Finns. At the same time, I don’t know if I’ve even seen people take something that isn’t theirs and it is common for people to leave dropped or lost items in easy to see places. One exception, don’t leave your nice bike at the central railway station, that is a place where someone might take it.
Safety is not limited to leaving stuff around though and also includes walking in the street at night (especially something I know we think about as females), and trusting people with what they say, etc. I personally have felt quite safe in the city and walking around by myself. I am a pretty quiet and reflective person in my environment though, and I don’t tend to put myself in potentially scary situations, so this might not be the same for everyone.
Finally, as for trusting what people say, there are pretty strict rules about what are considered to be “binding contracts.” Even a spoken agreement can be considered an official contract and agreement by mail or message definitely is. So if you have agreed something with someone, you are pretty much guaranteed that it will go through. For me, while I personally find that Finns might avoid giving bad news—which is definitely a time when you might have to read between the lines—I do feel like if I’ve agreed something with someone, I can be assured that the agreement will hold.
Life happens at home
Unlike Spain where quality of life is balanced with going out and enjoying being social with your friends, the quality of life in Finland is a bit different. Now, don’t get me wrong because I really enjoy going out and being able to enjoy inexpensive tapas or the price of wine in Granada, but the way lives are built in Finland appeals more to my homebody self most of the time. I personally feel like Finns tend to build their lives at home (whether that is a room, apartment, or house), as opposed to Spain where life is more in the street.
This usually means people tend to invest a bit more in where they live and what they have at home. People are willing to spend more money and time to cultivate the style of home space they want and invite people to share this space with them. Of course, this also balances with the fact that people (I know at least) tend to go out less, which makes sense as going out is always a bit expensive. Still, for a homebody, this means that I can feel inspired to make my home cozy with fairy lights in the winter and encouraged to spend a bit more money on the dishes I want to have in my kitchen, for example.
Every country has its own nature and I believe that beauty can be found in many places. However, for me, the nature in Finland resonates in a special way and I find it incredibly beautiful to live here and see nature in many different seasons. I also really like how connected Finns are to the nature around them and how it is a necessary part of Finnish life. All year round you can see Finns outside practicing different types of individual or team sports and, while you can find less active Finns, I find that no matter the age, many people are more active than I expect.
One thing that is exceptionally beautiful in my mind are the summers, which may be short in number of days but are long in hours of sunlight. Even though I tend to get SAD in the autumn, until we get snow at least, the spring and transition to summer fills me with joy every year. I am always surprised at how green the country becomes and how many different types of plants I come across. And when the wildflowers bloom, I always smile on my walks as I take in the different colors blowing in the wind.
Like in Spain, where many families have a cortijo somewhere in the countryside, in Finland, many families have what is called a mökki. These places can be anything from a small cabin with no electricity or running water to fully functioning houses with dishwashers. Over the years, I have had the possibility to stay in both types of places and, while I prefer to have a toilet with running water, the real magic is in the emotional escape these places offer.
While mökkis can be closer to the city, many of them tend to be a bit further away and, if you are lucky, on a lake (all of the mökkis I have been lucky enough to spend the night at have been on the lake). This is ideal for saunaing and then jumping straight into the lake to cool off, a favorite of people all around Finland, even in the winter time. And, if you haven’t guessed it already, all mökkis have a sauna. In fact, I am not sure if it is possible to be considered a mökki if there isn’t one.
In addition, at most mökkis, the food you eat tends to be more traditional or simpler than what you would eat at home. Even if there is a fully functioning kitchen, it is common to eat grilled or smoked food when it is possible, and eat sausages cooked in the sauna all year round. If it is available, families will also pick berries or mushrooms in the area and eat them as part of a meal or as a snack. Every family has their own way of doing things but you are almost guaranteed a hearty meal and good conversation, even if the cleaning up is a bit more tedious than in a kitchen with running water.
The food situation
While I have to say that fresh produce is one of the things I miss most about Spain (and often laugh when I see things from Granada in the local supermarket), there are a few things that I do really appreciate about food in Finland.
Firstly, here I have more access to nostalgic foods that are harder to find in Spain. I suppose this is because where I grew up the growing season was more similar to what we have here in Finland and, therefore, seasonal foods are too. Some of the things I really enjoy are wild strawberries, currants, rhubarb, dill and other herbs, and root vegetables such as parsnips. Even though I often miss the fresh tomatoes and local avocados, I can appreciate the local, seasonal options around me too.
In addition, I find that being more aware of where the food comes from allows me to focus more on Finnish seasonal food. Of course, I will tend to buy bananas all year round but I will also think more about root vegetables all winter long. This still allows me to indulge in the occasional tomato or avocado if I find one that looks good (which isn’t often) while eating a bit more intuitively with how the season feels. And like I said previously, the SAD tends to hit me every year, so every bit counts.
To wrap up this section, I also want to shout out the attention paid to special diets in Finland and the care you can get in restaurants and the details shared in the supermarkets. I think a higher percentage of Finns must have allergies than other cultures because this is something that they tend to do well. When out (or shopping), you will almost always be able to find something vegan and something gluten free. I also feel like people pay special attention to the food and will be careful if you make a specific request. Of course, this is not a guarantee you will have options for all dietary needs and the further out of the city you go, the harder it may be.
I wouldn’t say people in Finland necessarily consume less than people in other countries but what they do have down is selling their well cared for things second hand. Especially in comparison to Spain, where I feel like second hand is either very cheap things being resold in shops or vintage clothes being sold at prices I am usually unwilling to pay, in Finland you can find second hand at all costs and quality levels. The online marketplaces, such as Facebook marketplace and Tori.fi (I know that Spain has Wallapop) are usually good places to start if you are looking for something specific.
At the same time, if you are interested in going to a physical shop, you have several different types of options. There are many “flea markets” or physical locations where people pay a set price to sell their stuff in an assigned space for a certain amount of time. The cost is determined, as you may imagine, by how big the space is, how long you want to sell your stuff, and the reputation of the place. There are some rather high end “flea markets” where you can find classier things and other ones where you can find many different qualities of clothes and other items.
You can also try shopping at second hand or vintage stores. Again, these will range from being very curated clothes and / or things (one of my favorites in Helsinki more for things than clothes is Muija) to being your basic shop around the corner. We have one of these basic shops in the town I live now that has very inexpensive stuff that is also sometimes really good too, but you have to be willing to look for it. And then there second hand shops that I believe are connected to some charity or larger purpose such as the UFFs and the Fidas.
One important thing to know about Finns selling things second hand is that they are often aware of the value of what they are selling and, many times, are not afraid to ask for what they think it is worth. This may mean that you won’t always get a “good deal” on things or that you have to be patient enough to search for what you want, at the price you want. I will say though that, over the years, I have bought quite a lot of high quality things at a very reasonable price shopping second hand in Finland.
While the family I was born into is still in Spain, in Finland I am grateful to be selecting and creating my own family. I have been very lucky to have met people who I feel comfortable and mesh well with. I would not say it is an overwhelming number of people who I hold near and dear to my heart, although I do think that I have quite a good group of friends in Finland, but it is enough to help me build my home here and to have a loving family that I have chosen around me.
Of course, I miss my parents and brother (and others I consider family in Spain) a lot and really value the time we spend together. At the same time, I wouldn’t change the family that I now have in Finland for going back to where I was before. There have been many changes in my life and the personal growth makes me confident that I am in the right place for me now, which is a gift in itself.
What about you? Are you living outside your birth country and have things you really like about the place? Share them with us in the comments!