On being an alien

Even after coming to Finland for nearly a decade, with stays lasting up to 3 months, there are certain things I find it impossible to get used to. Some of them are just an obstinate failure of motor memory such as trying to open doors the wrong way (in Finland, front doors open outwards. Otherwise snow would fall off them onto your nice clean wooden floor).

So, I offer the following post as a kind of hommage come antidote to the well known list, You Know You Have Been In Finland Too Long, When…


You know you’ll never get used to living in Finland when..

(1) You hold open the door for the person behind you when going into Stockmann’s and expect them to say thank you.

It still throws me that they don’t even take the door from you but walk past quickly as if you might ask them for a tip.

(2) You buy a piraka from K-Market for 49 cents, hand over a 50 cent coin and stand there  waiting for your change.

Happened to me today and all I got was a faintly pitying look and the reminder that I had given her 50 cents. Forgot of course that in Finland 1 and 2 cent coins aren’t legal tender. Such prices are either a devious marketing ploy or a charming bit of nostalgia, depending on your attitude.

(3) You drive up to a crossroads in a town and wonder who has right of way.

Answer: both and neither. You give way to the right unless there’s a give way sign on your road or on the road to your right so in all other cases the traffic with priority is the traffic which has traffic coming from the left but none from the right or in other words it is the traffic on the right of the traffic coming from the left of the original traffic flow which has priority. Or maybe it’s not that simple.

(4) You can’t understand why people are waiting to cross a road with no cars in either direction just because there’s a red man.

Every Finnish person is assigned a personal internal policeman at birth. If you as an alien cross against the red man, people will at best give you dirty looks. At worst they will follow you on the basis that they must have not noticed the man turning green, otherwise, surely no one would cross..Then you will have it on your conscience when a car shoots out of an underground car park ploughing into a group of innocent pedestrians led by you.

(5) You think about popping out to buy a bottle of wine at 8.30pm. Or on a Sunday.

Alko (the Finnish State Alcohol retail monopoly) has the same opening hours everywhere. They close at 8pm (6pm in some places), 6pm on Saturdays and don’t open on Sunday. As everyone knows this has been fantastically successful in reducing alcoholism in Finland.

(To be continued…)

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3 responses to “On being an alien

  • Hugo

    (1) Yes, and if you open a big glass door for your girlfriend, the bloke on the other side will take his opportunit and storm through instead, of course without a thank you.

    (2) If you use a card they’ll charge you the exact amount. Game the system and get rich very slowly by paying for things costing -1, -2, -6, or -7 cents in cash (rounded down), and those costing -3, -4, -8, -9 cents with cards (rounded up with cash). Use either for -0 and -5 cents.

    But it’s not so easy when often the shopkeeper tells you it’s 50c for the 49c piirakka.

    Alternatively make sure your shopping adds up to the magic -1, -2, -6, or -7 cents (-2 or -7 are best). If not, add or remove another product.

  • instantkaamos

    Thanks for the great tips!…and while we’re at it can you tell me how I can save time when the checkout assistant is futilely scouring my driving licence for my SOTU (social security number).

  • Toby

    Collect 1 and 2 cent coins whilst “on the continent” and save them up to pay for something exactly when the staff have for some reason annoyed you. As I understand it, they are legal tender, just the Bank of Finland doesn’t make its own.

    On the right of way issue at least it only seems to lead you to bafflement. For me I tend to explode into fits of rage at the utter idiocy of a system where you have to look for the back of a sign, and then guess from its shape whether its a give way sign or not. And don’t start me on the inability of the entire bloody country to use indicators… grrrrr…. argggghhhh…. etc etc.

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