My goal for this post was to write about the positive things that come along with living in an unnaturally dark, frigidly cold climate, full of people famous for being closed off and aloof. Let me just tell you that I’m currently attempting this while the toddler is screaming from his crib for some unknown reason, and thoughts of the multiple judgy glares I’ve gotten this week are floating in my head. I’m digging deep here, people. Real deep.
We’ve covered the many things there are to do during the dark days, but there’s always that blah time after the holidays before spring arrives. And let me just say, that time can drag on and on and on… So I’ve tried to focus on changing my perspective. It’s a pretty handy expat trick when everything seems awful and you need a kick in the pants to shake it off. The sun doesn’t rise in Helsinki until after 9 am. Positive: I’m always up before the sun. It dawned on me (ha!) that I could actually go for a sunrise walk with Little Man to watch the sun come up over the water. I have yet to do so, but it’s still a possibility. (I mean, physically, it’s a possibility. Am I ever going to do it? Probably not. It’s freaking cold at 9 am.) I do, however, manage to catch many a sunset and they can be breathtaking. Not to mention the harbor during those rare sunny days when I manage to get out before the sun starts setting. Quite a feat, when the sun sets around 15.30.
The midst of winter is also a wonderful time for my most beloved hobby: knitting. Oh, glorious Scandic yarn! I fell in love with Nordic-style patterns long ago, and now that I’m in that part of the world, I’ve been able to seek out new and ever-more fabulous yarn. What a treasure trove! I know I’ve barely uncovered the tip of the woolly iceberg, but I’m making progress. It can be tricky (oh honestly, impossible) to browse a new yarn store while Little Man squirms in protest in the pram (if you can even get the pram in the store), so I’ve stuck with one so far. It’s smallish, which is nice. Limited options can be a good thing. What I did find there was Regia Pair-fect yarn. One ball of yarn makes two identical socks, and they are beautiful! I think I’ve made six pairs so far. (Yes, I’m aware that I’m addicted, thank you.)
An excellent accompaniment to knitting is coffee. (Yep, also addicted.) Europe in general has great coffee, but Finland in particular is on point with their coffee game. There are numerous cafes and the culture is a new experience. Just being able to sit and relax at a coffee shop, not feeling rushed as you chat or people watch, while sipping your latte and nibbling on a pastry is a delight. It’s almost an art form here. My favorite part is that all the cafes have high chairs. If nothing else, I can semi-relax while Little Man is strapped in, demolishing a croissant, and get a quick breather. And in case you think all cafes were created equal, you would be quite mistaken. Here is a picture of one of my favorites at night. It’s stunning, and the food is delectable.
One thing that Finn’s cherish, and rightly so, is their connection with nature. It’s hard not to feel connected to nature here. I mean, we’re living in Helsinki, a relatively big city, and you can hardly go from one place to the next without passing a park, walking through a forest, or catching a glimpse of a body of water. It makes it feel like you’re not in a city at all. Something that I, a country girl at heart, really appreciate. In fact, you can walk by the metro track and five minutes later, be completely unable to hear any traffic noise. With all this nature available, it’s taken full advantage of. Hiking and running are common, as are skiing (mostly cross country in the city), sledding, berry picking and mushroom hunting in the summer, as well as swimming and fishing. There’s something for every season, and every level of nature-lover (or nature-tolerater) to enjoy. You can’t even use the weather as an excuse to stay inside. There’s a famous saying in this region: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. And boy do the Finn’s have clothing for every sort of weather!
Ironically, the one on the left is the spring/autumn suit, and the right is the snowsuit.
As an expat, I’ve realized that it is crucial to make friends and find a support group. Thank goodness for other expats! People who know what you’re experiencing and can not only commiserate, but offer a helping hand to pull you out of the funk. These people are a lifeline in a raging sea of language barriers and cultural faux pas. Your navigation system through an archipelago of newness. Your new friends and confidants. Your people. Your village.
While it can break your heart to think of the friends you’ve left behind, it’s good to remember that they miss you too. This can be incredibly difficult at times, especially when you see pictures of birthday parties, weddings, and baby showers that you weren’t able to attend (let alone invited to, because everyone assumes (rightly so, annoyingly enough) that you’ll miss these things). Oy. It hurts.
My friend Miranda and I have found an excellent way to combat this awfulness, while also letting Miranda get a taste of Finland. We call it the Yum Box. It’s based on the Bark Box that we’d gotten for the dogs before we moved. Each month, they received a box with different chew toys and treats, usually with a certain theme. To make this people-friendly, Miranda and I pick random goodies that we find at various places. I like to scour the grocery store for Finland-specific items. Certain cookies, salmiakki, Fazer chocolate, bacon-flavored crackers, and butter flavoring have made the cut, along with non-food items, mostly discovered at Tiger of Copenhagen. She is kind enough to send me things from home that I don’t see here.
Along with helping me miss home less, this box has the added benefit of encouraging me to continue seeking out the new.
It is this encouragement that I carry throughout my days. I am surrounded by newness. It can be overwhelming and way too easy to slip into my bubble and disappear. Therefore, I choose to seek out the new. To embrace it when I can, or turn it into a learning experience that I can look back on after those tough days that have worn me down. I choose to appreciate all the good things Finland has to offer. Believe me, there are quite a few. Even when everything is awful, I choose to be happy. Because my heart is happy here.