I have had a soft place in Finland since I heard its rock music. It looks wild to English eyes, with its endless forests, dark winters and enigmatic predators.
I have needed a while recently, so – when my cousin introduced me to the church in Espoo and they invited me for five weeks – it was impossible to refuse. I worked there in exchange for an overnight stay, daily needs and thinking time.
I already knew a little Finnish, read my Moomin books and fell in love with Fazer chocolate; When I landed in Vantaa, I was ready to leave!
I had to isolate myself due to Covid travel restrictions, but when I finally started exploring Espoo, I was amazed at the silence. People walked carefully, and the whole world felt a bit like a library! I was in touch with a few dog users talking to them about their beloved pets. Everyone was friendly, but the words were few: I soon learned that discussion was not needed here! Sometimes this is a liberating relief – no one takes away your personal space. Sometimes it’s hard, and I missed the general smiles and short greetings in the UK. Cold weather and long darkness are stronger in Finland as well.
However, I learned so many wonderful things during my stay. I stayed with the most hospitable people I could have hoped to meet; warmer than a reindeer turkey and much easier to talk about! They introduced me to Finnish food, and we had deep discussions that lasted well into the night. Through the church, I met a lot of Finns and also several foreigners. I led a youth trip to Helsinki and helped with a church group. I was invited to a homemade blueberry pie, I visited Tampere and Porvoo with the Heavy Metal guitarist, studied Nuuksio and fed the birds by hand in Seurasaari. I even spent a couple of hours in the Online Store!
The most interesting experience was inviting to the sauna. I fought every invitation with my instinct to cover my swimwear (in the UK we barely shower naked)! I’m glad I accepted it. It taught me something important about quiet Finns: people talk in the sauna. They really talk. I had a lot of deep and interesting conversations, chilling with “friends”, beer in hand. I now understand that this natural, liberating activity crystallizes so much Finnish life – peaceful equality and simple humility.
When I look back, I am amazed at the wonderful paradoxes in Finland. A quiet country full of Heavy Metal bands, socially distant people hanging out in the sauna without clothes, a serious looking nation that loves Moomins. It’s confusing in theory, but in practice; it makes perfect sense.
I flew back to Heathrow in late December, a bunch of new contacts on my phone and a knife in my suitcase (a gift from church). I learned too much to sum up here, but as I got off the plane in London I realized something: I can’t wait for the day when I touch Vantaa again. Maybe next summer, though, I’ll go in the summer!
Chris Witherall is a professional musician from London, England who writes whenever he can. She loves psychology, food, and dogs – but not necessarily in that order!