Four weird things about moving to Finland

Soon after arriving in Finland, it came to my attention that living life in a new country and culture where the people speak a different language is not so far removed from life in my own country. But only if I were living in a mysterious parallel universe. There are multiple aspects of the Finnish integration process that are strange, unusual and sometimes a bit disconcerting. Here are four of the weird things I have experienced after moving to Finland.

1. Having no clue what is happening around me

In Finland, I regularly find myself in situations that I have no way to comprehend. Of course this happens much less as time goes by, but in the beginning things could get pretty weird.

The first time I took a commuter train into Helsinki it unexpectedly stopped between stations and an emotionless voice came on the intercom with a long announcement. I could only wonder what was happening. Was the train on fire? Were we being robbed? Was it Ninjas? It may have been ninjas. How unfortunate that the very first time I ride on the commuter train I find out that I’m about to be attacked by ninjas. I should mention that the windows on the newer commuter trains don't open at all. This lack of ninja attack foresite is unacceptable. Fortunately for me, the train did eventually start rolling toward Helsinki once again after another short incomprehensible announcement. Were they having mechanical troubles or had the attackers been defeated? I’ll guess I’ll never know.

2. Scheduling appointments

Back when I was a child my parents would take care of arranging all my doctors appointments and talk to the dentist about what was going on. After moving to Finland, that task was handed over to my wife! At first it may seem like it would be wonderful for someone else to take care of all your appointments, but as an adult it’s pretty weird.

I have a vivid recollection of my first doctor’s appointment here in Finland. It was to check out some ongoing back pain I had been experiencing. The physician was an extremely tall and hunched over man with a remarkable, uncanny resemblance to Herman Munster. I couldn't help but wonder if he too was in need of back pain relief. I’ll never know if his back hurt, or anything else for anything else that was happening in that doctors office because he did not speak any English and he made little or no eye contact with me for the entire visit. Any communication was in Finnish and between him and my wife. I had to wait till we left the office to find out what was wrong with my back. Apparently I needed to do more stretching exercises. So in the end, not only was I unable to make the appointment myself, but I had no idea what was happening for the entire duration of my appointment.

3. Adults regularly run around naked

Here in Finland it’s common to heat up in the sauna where friends or strangers, hang out naked, sweat, and contemplate the vast intricacies of life. This ubiquitous Finnish summer ritual includes multiple sessions in the sauna by a lake house and a naked run to the lake for a refreshing plunge into cool water. This can be followed by more hanging out naked, having a drink and maybe waving at the boats on the lake.

All of this is not at all weird if you grew up around Finland, but much more so if you happen to be new to Finnish sauna culture and communal nudity in general. The real problem is how difficult it is to act casual in a clothing free gathering without pockets to place your hands. I think I just came up with my next business Idea, “sauna-pockets” combining cultural integration with casual coolness. I just may pitch that idea here at The Shortcut during the next pitching event. Till that gets off the ground I recommend a confident Superman stance with an introspective gaze off into the distance.

4. The Finnish language is literally less popular than Klingon

On Duolingo, the popular language learning app where anyone can download and practice the language of their choice, you will not find Finnish among the many language choices offered. I can understand that there my not be enough worldwide interest to learn a language primarily used in one small corner of the world. The strange thing is, you can learn Klingon from this same app. Klingon! Klingon is not even a real language, yet somehow it trumps Finnish in popularity for individuals wanting to expand their multilingual capabilities. This means that people who have reached the ninth level of Star Trek geekness are actually easier to find than a person interested in learning a real language spoken by non-fictional characters.

If it seems like your life has become unusually weird after moving to Finland I have good news, and even better news. The good news is you have not been taking crazy pills. The odd occurrences you have been experiencing are quite real. Even better, life in Finland will not always feel like and you are on an episode of Candid Camera. As a matter of fact, life in your new home may turn out to be pretty awesome.