What I Learned: The Pros and Cons of Finland

What I Learned: The Pros and Cons of Finland

Everything I Know About Finland (Which isn’t much)

Inside the Funikulaari

I spent the last couple of days chatting with people and doing some fact finding in Finland. Whenever I travel, I am always a bit blown away by how little I know about the world and how incredibly huge this planet is. When I moved to Latvia and discovered Latvian artists, poets, authors, etc. I was thinking about how each country has their own national heroes and iconic figures that most of us will never know anything about. Culture is so dependent on language.

This is not to mention history and all that goes with it. You can spend your life learning the history of a single country and still not know everything.

With that said, here are a few general observations I made in a handy Pros and Cons list for you to enjoy.

Pros

Turku is very clean

When I first visited Riga, I was impressed at how clean it was compared to any city I had been to in America. But I think that Turku has it beat, at least so far. Maybe I am just here at the right time and in the right places, but I literally have seen almost zero litter despite there being lots of tourists walking around.

Turku seems to have a very low crime rate

One of the biggest surprises for me that I still can’t get over is that people are here at my apartment complex with bicycles, and they just park them without locking them. There are literally dozens of bikes just sitting there unlocked all day and night. The lady I met on the funikulaari (spoiler) told me that her bike had been stolen, but it was in a “bad” neighborhood. I have walked all around the city, and I would say bike locks are about 50% in use. There is this feeling of safety as you walk through the streets, and I haven’t seen any police here in Turku yet.

Smart gun laws

As I was walking down the street, I saw a window full of guns, and I wanted to find out more. I went into the shop, and I started asking the owner what I needed to do to get a gun in Finland. Here is the rundown:

  • You can pretty much only buy hunting rifles. Handguns and semiautomatics have very strict rules.
  • To get a gun you have to get a permit for EACH GUN from the police. The police will ask you what you are going to use the gun for right down to the specific animals you plan to hunt.
  • Doctors are expected to report people who are dangerous to the police so they can check to see if they have gun access. This is a controversial idea that the doctors don’t like.
  • Background checks are mandatory and police can deny your permit for pretty much any reason.

They have mandatory conscription, so about 80% of the men here are in the military, so they have basic gun training which is also cool. I still do not understand how America can just be okay with selling anyone who is 18 a gun without any checks or training whatsoever. It is just completely insane.

The good news is that anyone can buy a bow and arrows without any checks.

Free higher education (and cool pants)

I ran into 3 young people outside of the cathedral, and the 2 ladies were wearing these bright red pants with patches all over them. I just had to ask what was going on with the pants.

They were happy to explain that every university student in Finland had pants like this with colors associated with their school. Then they added patches to personalize them and relate their experiences to the world. The guy they were with said he also had pants, but he wasn’t wearing them.

In a short conversation about education, I learned that these young women were getting their Master’s degrees for “basically free.” Which is what I suspected. This is true for most European countries, and I still do not understand why it can’t be the case in the States.

And you may notice that the blond woman has a patch with the Soviet hammer and sickle, but she assured me that it wasn’t what it looked like and that she wished she had a Ukrainian flag patch. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t think that the red pants were in support of Russia. From what I gather, Finnish people do not think very highly of their eastern neighbors.

They let their kids take risks

Last night, I was scrolling social media, and I saw this little funny video comparing Finnish kids to American kids. Quite a coincidence, I thought. The point was that the American kid needs to be very careful crossing the street whilst the Finnish kid is given complicated instructions to get on a bus and travel outside the city where his grandma may be waiting. Latvia is kind of like this too. I love the autonomy given to children.

Here, I first saw it in a park where this kid had climbed on the roof of some structure, and the parents, instead of panicking and telling him to get down, just let him calmly figure out how to get down on his own.

Then, I went to the art museum which is this lovely stone building on the top of a hill in the middle of Turku. A group of little kids, maybe 5 or 6 years old were with some daycare providers. They were having a little lunch outing. As I left the museum, the kids were climbing onto the stone railing of the museum, maybe 10 feet above the ground and walking on the narrow rail. It was an organised activity with orange cones marking the path. I went up to the man who was watching them and I asked if he was worried that one might fall and get hurt. He replied, “No, we just order a new one. It only takes a few hours.” We both had a nice laugh.

People here are very friendly

This was a bit of a surprise to me because all these northern countries have kind of a reputation for people being introverts and withdrawn, but that has not been my experience at all in Finland, and especially in Turku.

The example of the daycare provider above is one. Then there was the guard at the art museum. I saw this one cartoon art that referenced another famous painting of an old woman and her cat. I saw this nice lady with turquoise and pink glasses, and I asked her about it. She told me all about this painting and then showed me another and another. She was so happy to just show me paintings that it made the whole experience just that much better.

Then there were the two ice cream stands I stopped at, and the ladies working there we so talkative and friendly. And they all apologize for their “terrible English” which they speak almost as fluently as a native speaker. One of them even gave me large-sized samples to taste. From the book store owner to the Turku gift shop, and especially my Airbnb host who insisted on driving me from the train station, I have had not a single negative interaction here.

One more subtle example is when I bought produce at the market. This was one of those shops where you are supposed to weigh your food and put a sticker on it so the cashier can ring it up. I didn’t know this, and I bought one pepper. She took the pepper and walked back to the produce section and put a sticker on it. This has happened to me in other places as well, but usually with a mixed look of disgust and obligation. But here, she just seemed happy to do it. I apologized to the customers behind me, and one replied, “No worries!” with a big smile. With that said, I also have not had the feeling like I am going to slowly or that people are in a hurry behind me, which is also cool.

The fitness level is off the charts

As I have walked around the city, I have been blown away by the level of fitness. It reminds me a lot of Colorado with people cycling and running and just looking so thin and fit.

Free press

I just learned from Stuff You Should Know that Finland is rated as the number one freest press in the world. How cool is that? For the record, America is rated 44th.

Cons

A weird thing about me is that I consider myself a pessimist in most cases, but I do tend to exaggerate the greatness in things. I have been accused of enjoying food too much or thinking that something is incredible when it is only just okay. But hey, we each have our world views, and we have to live within ourselves, right?

When I arrived in Turku and started walking around, I got this really great vibe. The city is beautiful, clean, vibrant and the people are friendly. I felt like I was in a movie where it is all too good to be true, and you are just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Finland has not been perfect. I already pointed out some of the cons in my previous post about Helsinki (Who does it think it is?), and here are just a few more.

Finland is expensive

When I told people I was traveling to Finland, it was the first thing people said to me. “Be prepared to pay extra for everything.” And I thought, “how bad can it really be?” For the most part, it seems like general costs are almost double those of Latvia which is pretty incredible. Not everything is super expensive, but if you aren’t careful, you can spend a lot for very little. I found that Coca Cola costs over 3 euros a bottle, but there was this local brand of soda, Sun’n, that made root beer (amazing) and ginger beer, and the prices were much more reasonable.

I also decided to make most of my meals at my Airbnb instead of eating out which I think I probably healthier on top of saving lots of money.

They like licorice a bit too much

The love affair that Finnish people have with black licorice is an interesting one. There were at least 3 ice cream flavors that added liquorice including lemon, which is one of my favorites. I tasted them, and they weren’t bad, but I just had to wonder, “Do I really want spicy ice cream?” The answer was no. No I did not want spicy ice cream.

The city motto is “Kiss my Turku”

I thought you can’t get much worse than “Nebraska Nice” or “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” But “Kiss my Turku”might be worse.

The Funikulaari is always broken

My Airbnb is at the top of Kakolanmäki hill in Turku, and there is a roller coaster-type device that is free and easy to use that takes you up and down the hill. It is called a Funikulaari, and I really can’t think of what it would be called in English.

When Mika, my Airbnb host, showed it to me he said, “But it is usually not working.” And it was true. The day I arrived, I had to climb the hill  because the funikulaari was broken.

The next day, I walked to the funikulaari again, and hooray! it was working. I got on with 3 ladies, one was from Finland and we chatted a bit, and she also said that the funikulaari is usually broken.

I came back home later that day, and when I got to the funikulaari the alarm button was blinking. I pushed the button to make it come down, but nothing happened. “Oh no,” I thought, “they were right, the funikulaari is broken!” But then a young woman came inside and I tried to explain that it didn’t seem to be working. She pushed the same buttons as I did, and suddenly, the track came to life. It was working, but she also agreed that it was usually broken.

So apparently the Finns need to work on their funikulaari technology.

UPDATE: I just learned that funikulaari is a funicular in English. Thanks Lara!

It is hard to buy alcohol

As I said before, beer is expensive here. But that isn’t the whole story.

Last night, I just wanted to find a bar to have a few beers and hang out with Finnish people. What I learned is that everything in Turku closes at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday. I know this is an exaggeration, but I was at one bar on the river, and it closed at 10, so I asked if there were bars that stayed open later, and the nice bar mistress told me that the bars in the center are open later. So I headed to the center. But one mishap after another led me to a bar. I walked in, and they said they already had last call. 10:08 p.m. Last call.

So I thought, “Okay, I will just a get a few beers at the shop and drink them at home.” I went to the market and was a bit surprised that they had no liquor at all. I picked out 3 Finnish beers that were expensive, but they looked tasty. I went to the check out and they said that I couldn’t buy the beer because it was after 9 p.m. No beer sales over 3% (I think that was the cutoff) after 9 p.m.

For me, this was the Stepford Wives/Get Out!/Midsommar moment. You are in a place where everything just seems too good to be true, and suddenly it is. I had flashbacks to my brother Alan and I driving around Indiana trying to find beer for sale.

Conclusion

So all told, I would say that Turku has been a more positive experience than negative. If you are a big fan of beer and drinking, I would say that Riga is a better city for that in general. And if you can’t afford it, then avoid Finland entirely!

Photos

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Side Note:

There are a couple things that I couldn’t decide if they are pros or cons. They have a Taco Bell. This was awesome to see, and I admit, I couldn’t resist ordering a taco (and it was surprisingly good). But is it good to have a Taco Bell? I don’t know.

They also have real donuts here, and they are called “munkki”. This makes me think that back in Nebraska, when I was in college this girl I knew from Howells made “Monkey Bread” and it was a delicious pull-apart cinnamon cake-like baked good. I am now wondering if this name came from all the Swedes and people from Scandinavia who immigrated to Nebraska? I could do the research, but I will just stick with my ignorant theory until I stand corrected.

 

 

 

One Reply to “What I Learned: The Pros and Cons of Finland”

  1. Lesson learned! Next time I’m traveling to a new place, check out the alcohol laws ahead of time, so I can stock the fridge before the curfew! Enjoyed your travelogue!

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