Monthly Archives

May 2016

Good Life

When in Finland: Go to the Forest

May 25, 2016
hiking in forest

This is my kind of a forest! The pic is taken from Nuuksio National Park’s Haukkalampi trekking trail.

I have always found it extremely funny to land at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport. I actually have to concentrate to refrain from not laughing out loud. The laughter I’m holding is laughter with a little bit of irony (as we Finns know the value of irony!), but most of all it is full of love. Let’s imagine together that we are now in a plane together going to Helsinki and the plane starts descending. We get closer and closer to our destination: the most densely populated area in Finland, the Helsinki metropolitan area. We reach out to the little window to see how our destination looks like. What’s out there? I can tell you what’s there: trees. Welcome! You have arrived to the forest!

I can also confess that I haven’t always felt like laughing when I’ve seen this view. I might have cried too. I never really thought of what forest means to me, but when we lived in the Netherlands, I really started missing the Finnish forest: those thick, dense, messy forests, with fir trees and the actual possibility of getting lost. Not that I would really want to get lost in a forest. I’m too urban for that and would most likely die after walking around in circles in a blueberry overdose. Anyway, the only time I have run away from my parents was when I was 7 years old and they refused to go picking blueberries with me… at 10 pm in the evening. I grabbed my berry bucket and bike and went for the adventure alone. They found me in the nearby forest and I got not only a small bucket full of berries, but pancakes to go with them as well. If you ever tasted a fresh blueberry straight from the bush, you will understand the motivation behind my escapade. I have spent countless hours in the forest playing and building huts out of leaves and sticks when my mom has been picking berries and mushrooms. The tradition was first to fill in the buckets with berries and on the way back to the car take off your shirt and fold it into some kind of a bag where you could pick the mushrooms that you simply could not leave in the forest (for your neighbour’s delight).

I often felt in my bones the contrast between my two beloved home cities Amsterdam and Helsinki, but was not able to put my finger on the fundamental difference in these two places until recently when I moved back to Helsinki. Here I have found myself constantly wondering where all the people are. Woohoo, anybody home? Is there an ice hockey match on TV that I don’t know about? And let me remind you: I live right in the centre of Helsinki.

With this feeling I went to see the population density statistics and it became clear that I have moved between one of the most densely and least populated areas within Europe. I, of course, knew this already, but never really put any thought into it. Wikipedia tells us that whereas the Netherlands has 393 people per square kilometre Finland only has 16. Goodbye people, hello nothingness!

And then to the good news: Wikipedia also tells us that 72% of Finland’s land area is covered by forests. Netherlands’ corresponding number is 8.79%. Finns often explain negative or difficult phenomena in our culture with the fact that it is such a short time since we came out from the forests. I do not like it when we mix up our complexes with the forest. Forest is our superpower. It brings out the best in us. In the forest we show respect and carry our responsibility. There is no reason to leave the forest, but rather we should invite others to join us too!

If you spend time in Helsinki, you can easily go explore the Finnish Forest in Nuuksio National park:

If you drive around in the Finnish countryside, you can find forest basically anywhere (and more national parks as well of course). Read here about the Finnish everyman’s rights so that you know your rights and responsibilities when roaming in the wild:

PS. If you just booked your trip to Helsinki and hate going to the forest, do not panic! Helsinki is a peculiar, lively and amazingly beautiful little city that has a lot to offer for forest-haters too. 😛

trekking in Nuuksio National park

What a pretty view! Forest and water, the most fundamental elements of Finnish nature. The picture is taken in Nuuksio National Park.

Good Life

How To Use a Sauna

May 17, 2016

sauna pic

A lot of things have been difficult and are driving me crazy now that we have moved back to Finland, but a sauna is not one of them. The sauna situation is absolutely fantastic here!

First, there are plenty of saunas and it is ok to talk in a sauna… not too loud of course, but that’s just a general rule in Finnish culture that applies always and everywhere, except for when you are drunk in the public transportation during weekends after midnight. I also like it that in the public saunas there are no exhibitionists, nor hourglasses on the wall that people desperately follow and do not leave the sauna unless their time is up even when they are about to faint on the sauna benches.

I’m especially grateful to this dark, cold country that here it is not possible to end up in a sauna where you can find neither a water bucket nor the stove. You can just hear the electric ticking of the sauna stove somewhere, but there is no access to it for the sauna goers. This type of a sauna makes a Finnish person wonder if he/she is actually on the candid camera! It feels like some kind of a cruel prank: there you sit in a sauna that’s a little too cold and there is nothing you can do about it. This type of sauna should not exist.

The years we lived in Amsterdam, I got to know a little bit of the Dutch sauna culture, which is quite different from what I am used to. First, I went to the sauna in our gym. It was a mixed sauna where people wore towels and it was the first time I learned that the sauna is “a quiet room”. I think the sign appeared on the sauna door after we had been there a couple of times with my husband just talking about how our days went, like you would talk over dinner in some other countries. It’s not an easy thing for a Finn to admit that you have been too loud or talkative, because we never are. Anyway, I adjusted and kept my mouth shut so that people could go do their sauna in peace and quiet. However, it took out some pleasure from going to the sauna.

I also don’t like to go to sauna wearing a towel. It gets all sweaty and it just does not feel right, but anyway I was ready to live with it, because I really needed my weekly sauna. I stopped going to the gym sauna after sitting on the sauna bench with bunch of guys wearing their sweaty boxer shorts after a workout, because… God knows the reasons. Anyway, it was too much. I could not adjust.

After that I went looking for the perfect sauna in different spas. The first shock – surprisingly – was that many Dutch spas are no-swimsuit & mixed-sex spas. In Finland public saunas and pools have different dressing rooms and saunas for men and women, and in the pool areas you always wear swimming suits. I got over the shock relatively quickly, because, well, I needed my sauna. Talking about my “naked” spa surprise with the Dutch, I discovered that many Dutch wanted to go to spas but the fear of running into their boss or colleagues naked was too big to overcome. I also realised the interesting difference in Dutch and Finnish sauna cultures: for Finns it is ok to go to the sauna with your family, friends and yes, even colleagues, but the idea of a mixed spa with people you don’t know feels weird. I guess for Dutch the idea of going to a mixed spa is still more ok than going to sauna with friends, not to even mention colleagues.

I went regularly to spas in the Netherlands and learned to enjoy the abundance of services and different kinds of pools they offer. I also found couple of ok saunas. The most ridiculous things I saw in Dutch spas were people laying naked outside on the spa lawn in the fall when temperature does not support this kind of behaviour (I think they were either having sex or dead, I did not go check) and exhibitionists who place a chair just in front of an entrance so that everyone who comes through the door can enjoy the view of their carefully exposed penis. I’ve also had a fight in a spa sauna…. on a Christmas eve… because apparently I threw too much water on the stones. I’m not proud of it, but just that you know: I threw less than half of the amount I wanted to as a nice Christmas gesture towards all the meditating, hourglass-watching sauna amateurs.

But back to where we started. Now that I’m back to my original sauna environment I do have to say, I’m really enjoying it. I’m sure there are people who struggle to adjust to Finnish sauna habits or are wondering if they dare to take the first step and go to the sauna in the first hand. For all those people, here are my tips on how to do Finnish sauna:

  1. Go naked, nobody really cares how you look like.
  2. Always when you go in or out of the sauna, CLOSE THE DOOR. Only children leave the door open.
  3. Go with friends, they love you the way you are and don’t really care how you look like.
  4. Talk, but not too loudly. Talk about fun stuff. Talk about difficult things. What you talk in the sauna, stays in the sauna.
  5. Drink water and beer, but not too much.
  6. Go out to cool down and then back into the sauna. Talk and drink while doing this. Repeat several times. Also consider: swimming, rolling naked in the snow, dipping yourself in a hole in the ice.

Good luck!


Good Life

On Honesty and Openness

May 3, 2016


You might not believe what I’m going to say now, but I will say it anyway. I have come to the conclusion that Finns are actually very open bunch of people. I will tell you how I have come to this conclusion.

I went to several mama groups when I was living in Amsterdam and as much as I loved them, I often had a feeling that in a big group you don’t really learn to know anyone and the relationships stay on a superficial level. The fact that 90% of the time you are running after your child, feeding and changing diapers combined with months of not sleeping also does not exactly help you to connect with new people. I talked about this to my Finnish friend (expat in the Netherlands for a long time) and she said to me: “That is such a Finnish thing that you want the relationships immediately to go to a deeper level or alternatively nowhere.” This comment really made me think.

Both Dutch and Finns are famous of being honest. From a Finnish perspective a friend or colleague who is always “ok” and “doing well and fine” is suspicious. People become real only at the moment when everything is not ok. And no, I don’t think, it’s the famous vahingonilo – a joy for another person’s misfortune (yes, we have a word for it!) – but a moment when you see a little deeper, a little more of somebody else and understand that we all have our own little struggles. It hit me that Finnish honesty is actually openness to reveal yourself and your life relatively easily to the outside world. Finns are often disturbingly honest about themselves. Answer to the question how are you, can be “I have a shitty day today” and it is ok.

Dutch on the other hand are honest about others: “Oh, you are married and have taken your husband’s surname, that is so old-fashioned!” Or midwife at the maternity hospital: “Oh, you have the same surname (talking about the mother and father of the yet unborn child). Are you related?” At this point I was already used to the Dutch humour/directness and replied: “Yes we are, Finland is a very small country” and then we all laughed together. It would have been even funnier if I did not have those damn contractions coming and going.

Dutch honesty was a lot more difficult for me to digest than the Finnish honesty is, because I’m not born with it, but do not get me wrong: there are a lot of benefits when people are not afraid to speak up their mind.

I personally realised that the more loose and superficial friendships are also significant and important just the way they are. You cannot expect people to open up their hearts after the first “howareyous” unless you are in Finland. Not to be completely delusional about Finland and Finns: the challenge here is more in how to get to the “how are you”-part. But be aware, once you get there, the Pandora’s Box is open and there is no turning back. 😀