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.fa­ce­­tin­Fin­land/).