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Helsinki ain't Nairobi
by Michael Mugweru
Issue 9
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I had heard of culture shock before, but when I visited Finland between June and July this year, I had an opportunity of experiencing it firsthand.

One of the things that I found very, very different was the concept of space, interpersonal space. In my country, for example, someone will very easily pass you and brush shoulders/arms with you. Here in Finland, I found that people like having at least a meter between them and the next person. I almost interpreted it to mean that people were being snobbish or racist, but then having learnt about different forms of space from campus, I understood.

Finnish people speak good English, and I was surprised, though not all of them, but for those who have been to school. I also found out that even people with Masters Degrees here could end up doing menial jobs, just to get a pay check. In my country, if you had a Masters Degree, you would be very marketable and you would get a very plum job with a good salary. However, being in the EU bubble means that citizens of Finland can go to other countries to look for jobs. The Euro is a strong currency.

I was excited because I arrived at a time when Finland was playing against Denmark - or was it Holland - for qualifications to the World Cup. Unfortunately Finland lost 4-1 and Sami Hyppia was the captain. I went to the stadium and saw the entire match, which was quite an experience. Finns are not known for their soccer prowess though. I think.

As for the clubs and all, I think this world needs more integration to reduce culture shock. In Kenya, if anyone knew you were gay, you would be ostracized from society, IMMEDIATELY. Here in Finland, I couldn’t bring myself to accept that there are gay and lesbian bars. I don’t want to be labeled intolerant or anything, but it’s just the way I was brought up.

In fact, I was shocked when a Finnish friend told me that she has friends who are gay/ lesbian and she doesn’t mind them! I know that I will sound foolish ranting and raving about gayism/lesbianism, but if any of you readers came to Kenya, or any of the East African countries for example, you would understand what I am talking about, such kind of mannerisms are abhorred.

Now for the fun part, the natural side, Finland is a country with unparalleled beauty. I went to Rovaniemi and saw Santa Claus, climbed those snow peaked mountains, did the sauna (in Kenya, there is no need for sauna, it is summer for almost ten months a year, so we sweat all the time).

The roads here are quite good, the city is clean and I loved the fact that the municipalities regularly clean up the city. I found it funny that people here love their pets (read: dogs) that much. In Kenya, the status of a dog is as lowly as one can get. I am an animal lover so I actually love them, but I wouldn’t say that for my fellow country men who would readily kick a dog in the teeth for anything they care about. Dogs in my country live a rather hard life.

I was encouraged to note that Helsinki had very few street people, i.e. beggars, and street families (alright, maybe it’s because we only took a tour of the posh places). In Nairobi, these people are visible all the time. And then another shocker, people in Helsinki rarely talk while in the trams! It is just silence. In my country, such kind of silence is only permitted when people are going to a funeral; otherwise people talk and laugh on the public transport systems.

Another issue that I found pleasantly strange is the fact that dust was/is nonexistent in Helsinki. I had never imagined a city without dust. In Nairobi, you take a shower everyday because of the dust. I met a couple of Africans while here, and most of them were rather friendly, which is something I can say of all Africans. We have this brotherhood thing. Finns are a bit personal and conservative, which makes them unique anyway.

I could go on and on, but then I know someone might get bored and ask me to start my own blog, so let me stop here. I wouldn’t mind getting a pen friend either, someone who would be interested in learning more about my country.
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Pete2007-12-02 17:39:56
Hi I read your article and found it interesting and that it is a counter-experience compared to mine. I have been living here for 1.5 years now. I find that, strangely, even though people have a big distance between each others, Finns never fail to run into me without apologising. They dont make ways for others, and I feel that this could be because they are not used to be in crowded space...

No dust? Are you kidding me? Helsinki scored worst on dust level in Europe, which 300% more than the limit that the EU announced. And have you seen the strange looking dust in yoru apartment? the ones that rolls up together in balls even if you sweep/vacuum your house every day? i think in Nairobi, as well as in Bangkok where I come from, you take showers everyday because you sweat a LOT more, and teh sweat makes dust stick to your skin. Whereas here, you wear usually more clothing, and you don't sweat as much, so your skin is naturally more clean, despite the amount of dust in the air.

Anyway, its good to hear you're enjoying it here :)

Mike2008-01-31 12:23:23
am glad i wrote this article.

Ukuli2009-07-19 19:13:28
Yes, it certainly isn't Nairobi. Maybe in your next article you can explain why.

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