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Column: Differences Column: Differences
by Asa Butcher
2006-09-09 16:22:43
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Last week on BBC News there was a story about an attempt to ban large stores from opening on Christmas Day and turning December 25th into just another shopping day. Apparently, Britain has fewer public holidays than other European countries but even on those public holidays the majority of shops are still open for business. Can you guess where this is leading? Yes, Finland shuts almost everything for every public holiday and for me that was a major culture shock, especially when I had run out of bread and milk.

After I had overcome my initial feelings of anger and frustration I began to respect the fact that shops close and allow staff to enjoy the day off, although maybe they would prefer to work because in England you could earn at least two times your wage per hour on a public holiday! My frustration had already been building up in response to stupid Finnish opening hours that don’t seem to make any sense, for example my local supermarket shuts at 1800 on a Saturday but remains open till 2100 on a Sunday, and don’t get me started on ALKO shutting at the early time of 1800 on a Saturday.

When my Finnish friends ask what are the biggest differences are between daily life in the UK and in Finland I usually start with the opening times chaos. If they agree with that then I move on to my longer list of, err complaints, perhaps observations would be more diplomatic. I don’t want to sound like I am criticising Finland because I am not, I just want to highlight some of the cultural differences that have tripped me up during my time living here.

“Ok Jussi, I’ll meet you next Wednesday.” Now what is wrong with that sentence? Let us imagine that today is Monday 1st, when will I meet Jussi? A Finn will tell you Wednesday 3rd but a Brit will say Wednesday 10th because ‘next’ implies next week. Due to this minor confusion I have missed meetings and had friends phoning me demanding to know where I am. One other calendar issue I have is the fact that Finns seem to work in weeks, “Asa, would you like to take your holiday between weeks 25 and 26?” What? Huh, where’s my diary? Oh, you mean June 14th to June 27th, why didn’t you just say so?

While we are on the issues of conflicting English I would like to mention the ‘first floor’ conflict. When telling Finns where I live it is the first floor, but to Brits I’m on the ground floor because the first floor is the second floor. Clear? I’m glad it isn’t; now you can discover the fun in walking up and down flights of stairs trying to find the right place.

Today’s article is just flowing seamlessly from one topic to another, since my next issue is floors and the lack of soft covering upon them, also known as carpets. I love carpets. I love their soft and comfortable feeling when I walk around a house. They make a home feel warm and you don’t have to take them outside and beat the dust from them – come on, beat the dust from a rug, I still can’t bring myself to do it! There was a short radio feature on carpets last night and Päivi told me that there are cases of Brits putting carpets in their saunas, which I admit is pretty dumb.

Right, I will pick one more negative aspect of Finland before detailing some of the positives differences to balance out this mini-rant. Finland is empty, you don’t have traffic problems, I see more cars in five minutes on an English motorway than I do driving from Tampere to Helsinki, so why is the summer speed limit a slow 100km/h? I understand that there are suicidal moose ready to leap out into the road and the sun is in your eyes at midnight, but when you have roads like the ones shown in TV car advertisements then why not put your foot down a little bit, just a little bit.

I promised to include some of the better aspects of Finland, aspects that the UK could embrace and take note of, although a group of British Government officials have already travelled here to see how Finnish school kids eat healthy food because it seems English kids are becoming a bit too porky. Other cultural curiosities that I approve of are putting wet dishes straight back into the cupboard, getting refunds on cans and bottles, bouncers who help you on with your coat at the end of a night drinking, cheap car insurance (to insure me in the UK it was about 800euros a year) and an absence of compensation lawsuits advertisements (you’ll see).

These day-to-day differences remind me of what a unique place Finland is, of course, sometimes I swear and curse at the uniqueness while other days I think ‘what a great idea’. There is always a temptation for smaller countries, like Finland, to want to emulate Britain, but I ask you, “Why do you think I left?” I will always be an Englishman in Finland, perhaps one day an Englishman who can speak the language and understand why Finns take photographs at funerals, but this country is tied to my heart…where are the scissors!

Written 4 Apr, 2004 

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Rinso2006-09-08 13:33:54
Well it seems that most of the things you dislike or even get frustrated over are the things I love in Finland. Empty road, where you can drive quietly and prodict within minutes your time of arrival, no wall to wall carpeting which takes hours of vacuum cleaning to get rid of all the sand, and opening hours that are really confenient. But I'm glad that overall you like it here.

Asa2006-09-08 14:21:01
Ha! I wrote that two years ago and haven't read it since. Funny how your views change and if I wrote the same article today perhaps only the opening times would appear.

Thanks for your comment, though.

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