One of the questions I get asked a lot, especially by native Finns, is what has surprised me the most about living in Finland. I think many people have an expectation (my wife included) that I would experience a great deal of kulttuurishokki. So, here are some of my biggest culture shocks…
The dark winters and the bright summers
I moved to Finland just before Christmas and immediately had to start getting used to it being dark outside seemingly all the time. And once the summer season arrived, it was difficult to get used to the sun being up when I went to bed AND when I woke up the next morning. But I’ve come to realize that everyone, even people who have lived here all their life, have to readjust every single year and it doesn’t seem to get any easier with time.
Winters are so long and cold
I come from Maryland. Our seasons change every three months and although it can get cold in the winter, our winters are mild compared to southern Finland. It seems that winter is a full half of the year here and the temperatures can really get low, sometimes lower than human beings should have to endure. To be honest, I am cold pretty much all year long. I am rarely without at least a light jacket and pipo. I wonder how I would survive a full winter living in Lapland…
Throwing away the garbage
In the States, I had a trash can and a recycling bin; that was it. All recyclable materials went into the bin. It took me some time to get used to sorting garbage into several different bins here. And then we got a notice in the mail that our building was changing which bins we had. And then we moved and our new home had a different set-up. And then that changed too! Oy vey…
Having to pay to use a public restroom
There’s a Broadway musical called Urinetown where the characters live in a dystopian hell where you have to pay to use restrooms. Imagine how much my jaw dropped when I needed to pee while switching trains in Tampere and saw that it would cost me a euro to use the restroom at the train station. I held it and was luckily able to go for free on the train itself, but still... I noticed such restrooms at a shopping center in Pori too. What monsters approved this?
The Finnish language
In the beginning, I couldn’t understand Finnish at all and felt so out of place when I was in public. I couldn’t even tell the difference between Swedish and Finnish at first. Can you imagine? Ei enää, mutta minulla on vielä paljon opittavaa…
Relocating to a new country is never easy, especially when you are diving headfirst into a very different culture. And although I have experienced some "kulttuurishokki", I haven’t as much as expected. I think if I had grown up in Finland and then moved to the States, especially depending on where in the country I moved to, the amount of culture shock would have been much higher. Overall, adjusting to Finland has been rather easy for me. I just have to be prepared for the weather and make sure I pee before I leave the house.
Matt Bowen is an American living in Pori, Finland with his wife, Sanni, their son, Edvin, and their dog, Pipo. You can follow their journey on Matthew’s Facebook blog, My Life in Finland (www.facebook.com/MattinFinland/).