Time seems to fly, in Finland too! It’s been more than a month now since we arrived in Tampere. To remember better what has happened and to keep you updated what we’ve been up to I decided to start a series on the blog. In a monthly review I will summarize all the highlights of my new life in the North together with interesting facts I learned and funny experiences I made. I will describe my everyday life in Finland from a foreigner’s point of view who is trying to become a local.
The first month of the year bears the beautiful name ‘Tammikuu’ in the Finnish language which means month of the oak. I learned that the names of the months have actually meanings here! For example, Joulukuu is the month of Christmas, Kesäkuu the month of summer (June), and Syyskuu the month of fall (September).
After starting the New Year very quietly (have you read my post about our Finnish New Year in a nutshell?) we used the month of the oak for organizing our new life, and getting to know the area. We spend quite some time with (furniture) shopping. In Ideapark, a big mall, I found my shopping paradise just outside of Tampere!
The weather in January was mostly grey and cold with a lot of snow and ice. I never spend more than 5 days in a row in a lot of snow and I never experienced temperatures below minus 15 degrees – so what seemed normal for everybody else was a bit extreme for me! However, I have to admit that it was not as hard as I thought it would be. Temperatures around minus 10 soon felt normal. I got used to putting on 3 layers of clothes before leaving the house plus I started to wear a hat! Something I hardly ever did before but without it you feel like a stranger outside because everybody is wearing one.
Finnish people are very well adjusted to the partly harsh weather conditions outside. Even snowy and icy roads and minus 15 degrees don’t stop them from riding their bicycle when I have problems to just walk! Although I’m not a bad car driver it took me a while to get used to the slippery conditions here and to not freak out every time the wheels started spinning. The fact that there seems to be a huge difference between German and Finnish winter tires didn’t make me feel more comfortable on the streets. Everybody else’s car moves forward much more easily than ours, especially when I am driving! But slowly I’m also getting used to the driving and I’m glad that there is always the option of taking a bus (which I never did so far but good to know that I could)…
I actually started to like the snow. Especially during the few sunny hours we got in January it was a pleasure to go walking or running outside. But the sunny hours were quite rare and so was the daylight! However, also this was far less inconvenient than I expected. In the beginning of the month there were about 6 hours without darkness (9 to 3pm) but the days are getting longer very fast now. In fact, every day is about 10 minutes longer than the previous one at the moment and – believe me or not – you can actually feel it! It is great to realize that at 5pm it is not dark yet!
I also started to enjoy the Finnish winter outdoor activities: I bought new skates to use the ice rink in the park right in front of our living room window. It surely has been more than 15 years that I went skating the last time but after a few careful tries it actually still went pretty well!
Last month’s highlight was the visit of Kaupinojan Sauna on Näsijärvi lake in Tampere to do avanto (winter swimming Finnish style). After sweating in 90 degrees you jump into the ice cold water of the nearby lake. It took me 3 attempts until I made it into the water and I seriously thought my legs would freeze off. When I walked out I could hardly feel them anymore. But a few minutes later it felt awesome and the zero degrees air temperature did not matter anymore. This probably was one of the most extreme experiences of my life!
Here are some random facts about Finnish people which seemed quite curious to me as a foreigner…
Finns love lunch buffets
For lunch or in Finnish lounas you can find special offers in almost every restaurant, in cafeterias, even in gas stations. They usually cost between 7 and 10 euro and are served in buffet form including 2 to 3 different main meal choices, different salads, soup and/or dessert, coffee, tea, water, and some interesting tasting homemade beer called Kotikalja. It is made of rye malt, sugar, water and fresh yeast and usually contains little to no alcohol. 2 more things you will find on every Finns tray: bread with butter and milk. Yes, milk. Almost everybody is having milk for lunch in Finland. Plain. Cold. Milk. Since you usually only load your plate once (it is not an all you can eat style buffet) people take at least 2 glasses, one for water and one for milk. If you see anybody having lunch buffet in Finland and you don’t see 2 glasses on the tray and not at least one of them contains milk it is most likely a foreign person like me. I started to take 2 glasses, too, by now but I fill both of them with water. The thought of having milk with my food still is a bit odd to me…
Finns like to gamble
When you enter a Finnish supermarket or gas station as a foreigner you will immediately realize the gambling machines which are usually located near the entrance. People of all ages can be found in front of them, throwing in their coins, hoping for the big win. I even saw them in some bars where they could also be used with credit cards. This sounds quite dangerous to me! Putting your card in this slot after a few drinks can easily cost you a fortune! Gambling in general, from horse races to lottery and slot machines, seems quite popular here. For example, I have also seen casino tables for black jack in bars and night clubs. It didn’t surprise me to hear that some of the world’s best poker players are Finnish. Naming one, Patrik Antonius is considered one of the best cash game players in the world. There are also lots of gamblers in the Finnish online poker arena. Finnish players’ tendency to look for a big and fast win instead of caring about the skill factor or strategy makes most of them end up losing their money. However, in general, Finland is doing pretty well. At the moment, Finnish players are at about minus 4 million dollars which is actually not a bad result when looking at the rankings, because in online poker only top players win money in the long run. In comparison, German players have lost 96 million, and players from the US where poker originally comes from claim over 350 million losses. (Thanks to my boyfriend’s brother, a passionate poker player, for contributing this information). So I guess Finns really seem to enjoy challenging their luck…
Finns love to read
One day when I left the house I was surprised to find a library bus right in front of our door! I had never seen one before and I liked the idea of a bus driving around the different neighborhoods and providing the people with books right in front of their doors. Together with many libraries in the different areas several of those buses guarantee that the citizens of Tampere get their share of books. Libraries are very important for the people here and frequently visited. I learned that the history of book publishing in Finland reaches back many centuries. The oldest Finnish enterprise still in use was founded in 1642. During the time when Finland was still part of Russia the establishment of publishing houses was part of the creation of Finnish cultural institutions. The Kalevala, Finland’s national epic, has been translated into over 60 different languages. Their passion to read surely contributes to the good performance of Finnish students in tests like PISA.
Finns don’t drink in January
When I first heard about this habit I thought it was a joke! Of course it is not unusual to find the reduction or temporary banishment of alcoholic beverages on the New Year’s resolution lists of people worldwide. However, Finns seem to take this subject a bit more serious. They actually have an own word for not drinking in the first month of the year: tipaton tammikuu. Literally translated it means sip-free January and many Finns stick to it. In fact, it seems to be a very common thing to do and to talk about. We were even asked by our hair dresser (a girl we had never met before) if we do ‘tipaton’. Yes, we did it and our ‘tipaton’ continues into the next month as well which probably is not so common here…
I hope you liked my little summary of my first impressions and experiences of my life in Finland. Let’s see what next month – the month of the pearl or Helmikuu – will bring. I’m looking forward to it!
Have you been to Finland and made some similar experiences? Let me know in the comments below!