One of the things that we were told during our lesson of: "How to live like a Finn" was to blend in, to adopt to the country, its people and their habits. And that for some reasons Germans can do that very well.
I wondered why that might be and my first guess was: it is a "statistical" error. The biggest group of the foreign/exchange students that is here in Oulu is from Germany hence the biggest group that would stay here or blend in very well would be from Germany. Percentage wise probably the same as from every other country but number wise the most.
After some more careful observation I think there might be other reasons. In some dimensions Finland is what Germans dreamed of raised the power of two. Let me give some examples:
In Germany we dream of having our own house with a garden. We end up with a lot of houses squashed together in a tight space. Here they not only want to have one house they often have two. A weekend house, a mökki, most of the time near the sea or a lake or a river. Not seldom on an island of its own. And they do not squash anything tightly together because they don‘t have to.
In Germany we love to do things ourselves. We love to own tools. We love to grow plants. We are proud of what we can do ourselvs and when you drive to a Baumarkt (hardware store) at the weekend it is most of the time filled with people buying things for their garden. And you will end up with no parking space close to the entrance and therefore you have to carry your stuff all the way over the whole parking-lot. Let me tell you they have a solution here. The hardware stores here are so big that you can actually drive in there (I am not kidding you) with your car and you trailer for easy loading.
You think a German 9 to 17 job is nice and tidy. You think Germans are always on time and follow the schedule? When you arrive here at the university at 7:50 the parking-lot is almost empty. When you leave at 16:30 it is almost empty. But mind you, if you arrive at 8:00 or try to leave at 16:00. Madness. Want a coffee at 8:30, 10:30 or 13:30? Good luck, the coffee kitchen will be full to the brim. Any other time, no problem.
I think we Germans love our nature, we like to go hiking, we barbecue at every weather and some of the most famous of our poems are about nature. Well here they collectively travel to their mökki for a whole month, which usually has no running water, no heating except a fireplace and often no electricity and is in the middle of nowhere but at a beautiful lake. They also collectivly take a week of during October to go hiking because nature then has the most beautiful colors.
I am also told that the Finns believe in hard working and would also wait at a red signal for pedestrians in the middle of the night while trying to cross an empty road.
So it seams to me that both societies share a lot of their core values, to a much grater extend than I expected. Although you will find some noticeable differences. For example people seam more friendly and less bothered with formalities of communication. It is not professor Latva-Aho it is at most professor Matti.
Also, and that might be an important difference, the Finns seam to be more pragmatic. This is not meant as an euphemism for something, quite the contrary. In Germany, at least this is my personal impression, we are obsessed with the process. We want to streamline every process, what want to make rules for it, document it and perfect it. Have a look at our bottle deposit system, our transparent factories or any public office. We are so obsessed with process that we often forget what is at the beginning or the end of it. I have the feeling they people here can keep that in mind a little bit better.
Well, this is it. I end again with some more pictures of the nature around here. Oh yeah, and the bed we build! You know, adapting to the local habits…
So here are some noteworthy things we encountered so far in no particular order
A lot of the people here, especially the university bureaucrats, are very friendly. When we arrived and went to get our keys for the apartment the room was full of people and it was like 30 minutes bevor closing – still the lady handing us our keys did a friendly smalltalk with us and made some jokes about how unusal it is for many foreigners that both man and women have to sign the tenancy agreement.
You might think that Germany is efficent but…:
When we arrived we decided to rent a parking space for our car in front of the building. Which we could do online in literaly 1 minute.
(You also book the washing machine and the sauna online. pretty cool.)
In the canteen every cashier serves two lanes, which works perfectly fine. They are even friendly.
In the students office they use an intranet chat to contact other offices quickly – and it works.
When you write someone an email you usually get an answer in a few hours.
It is everywere. And I mean everywhere. There are places in the university from which you can see at least 4 places in the same building that are less then 10 m away where they sell coffee. You go into a second hand clothing store, first thing you see is a coffee machine. In the tee kitchen of my department there is a dripcoffee maker with two coffeepots, a fully automatic machine (a very big one) and to top it of: a coffee grinder and an italien style expresso maker (and the brazillians really know how to use this thing). The good thing is that they use so much coffee here that they do not need to roast so dark to make it seam like it is fresh, it is fresh. Which means the coffee is generally less bitter and more tasty.
This is something that amazes me. There are hat stands (things to hang your jackets on) in the university, in the hallway and in the main halls – nothing unusal. Amazing is though, that people use them. They need no lockers and there aren‘t any.
In the canteen they serve a buffet. You get plenty, main meal, salad, something to drink, bread and butter. There is a limit to certain things, like pieces of meat and slices of bread, you can take but no one will weigh your salad or count your potatoes. And you know what? People just take as much as they need.
People drink Milk here for lunch. There are even like 4 different types, fat, low fat, fatfree, soja.
There is home-brewed beer in the canteen. But it has no alcohol. And is very sugary.
While you can buy frozen things in super small one portion packes cheese is usually available only in super big packages.
The salmon is just awesome.
We have 100 Mbit internet (not synchonous sadly) for 10€. Ok that might be due to the fact we have a student appartment but I don‘t think so.
Everything here is more broad, flat and spaceious – it feels a bit like you are in an american road movie. You even have very nice diner like resturants on the side of the roads and you can buy burgers everywhere.
The center of Oulu is more or less boring but it has some very nice corners.
The university is very confusing at first which is due to two facts: first of all it is colorful! Second you can go anywhere without going outside – which makes much sense in the winter, I guess, but it makes orientate oneself not easier.
I will still try to write this blog in english, even though I will probably make even more mistakes than writing it in German and it will be less accessible to my family. But dear family we can talk on the phone anytime (and it seams like we do quite often now) and I have to train my english writing skills. So here it goes…
What you would normaly do when you come to Oulu would be to book a flight. We decided otherwise and opted for driving to Finland with our car. Now what you would normaly do when you travel to Finland with your car is to book the closest ferry. We decided otherwise and drove as much as we could.
We had the great opportuinity to meet some good friends along the way and therefore could rest our right foot in Hamburg, Aalborg and Gothenburg (So the route looked something like this. Which not only made the journey much more beareable, it made it even pleasent and even more interesting.
Some things from along the way.
Never drive on the A7 to Hamburg. There will be a trafficjam. Everytime.
Well as boring as Denmark is to drive thorugh the more interesting things we learned and visited during our one night stay there. First of all I learned a new cooking technique which was so interesting I have to share it. It basically goes like this, you take a peace of meat, with salt and spices, and put it in a preaheated oven (250°C) for 10 Minutes. Then you take it out for 10 Minutes. Then you put it back in again. You repeat that 3-4 times and then cover it and let it rest for 30min-45min. Never had so jucy meat.
The other amazing thing we visited was, the (at that time) biggest solar thermal energy storage and central heating power plant in Denmark (because we were dining with the chef engineer). In short, what they do is, to heat up water during the summer. Store it in a really big (62.000 tons of water) and well isolated underground tank and use the heat in the winter. At first you would think that this is a stupid idea because it gets really cold during the winter in Denmark but not that sunny and warm in the summer.
The point is though that the technology is cheap, easy to service and while they still need conventional gas heating in the winter, they need 50% (!) less.
In Sweden I was not only made aware of the existence of Smörgåstårta which is an amazing salmon and shrimp sandwich-cake. I also developed a theory why Volvo and Saab build so secure cars.
They drive a little bit crazy up here.
Also they seem to be very unfriendly on the road but that might have been bad luck on my side. The drive from Gotheburg to Stockholm was our second biggest drive, and while we were warned that the roads in Sweden would be all kinds of things, like boring, dangerous or not real motorways, it was a pleasant drive – apart from some crazy driving Swedes along the way.
Ferry Stockholm to Turku
This gets an extra heading, because it was great. The price was really cheap, we payed less then 70€ for us, a inside cabin and the car. The ferry was well in shape, very clean and with nice bars and restaurants. They had some amazing beers and even live piano music. We got on board at around 19:00 and left at around 8:00 the next morning ready for the last and biggest drive.
The thing you would not belive until you have seen it is the size of the duty free shop they had on that ferry. I swear I have never seen a shop on land with so many good whiskeys and rums. They even sold frozen meat, which explained the coolers everyone was carring.
After you leave the ferry you usally drive up to some kind of border control where they look at you passport for 5 seconds or just wave you through. Not so in Finland.
We were greeted from a poliisi officer with some finish words and "Drugcontrol, Drogenkontrolle" and a device was brought in front of my face in which I had to blow for 20s. We were than let go with a cold "zero point zero – have a nice day".