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Thoughts on Finland – Week 1

A picture of Moomintroll

Moomintroll

I just dropped Gabriel & Lily off at their respective schools for their first day of classes in Helsinki. Lily’s school is really more of a daycare I’m afraid, but Gabriel will be resuming lessons after more than a month off for our crazy travels. It’s a half day at the International School of Helsinki today, so I only have an hour or so to ruminate on our first full week here before I need to go collect Gabriel. This is in part due to the short day, and in part because of the complete cock-up that was my first experience of taking Lily to school.

Her school is on Lauttasaari, an island that is between Helsinki proper & Espoo. Let you worry that that’s a long way away, I can see Lauttasaari out the window of our temporary flat. There’s just a smallish bridge between it and the mainland, so it should, in theory, be a short walk to the bus stop and then a short (<15 minute) bus ride to the top of the street where her school is. I was proactive; I looked up the route on the Journey Planner last night and wrote down all the details I thought I’d need. My only concern was that I don’t have my phone working yet, so I wouldn’t have GPS if I went astray, and my map of Helsinki has a nice advertisement right in the middle of Lauttasaari so that I can’t see Lily’s school on it.

I should have known. We made it to what I thought was the right bus, then tried to ask the bus driver which stop we needed (the street signs are smallish and not on every corner if you’re not on a main road, so it’s hard to tell where you are if you’re unfamiliar with the route). This counts as my first experience where someone spoke no English at all. I had the address written down and showed it to him and he looked as if he’d never heard of the road, which made me nervous since I thought the bus went on that road. I got off, which was not in itself a mistake. My mistake was not looking at the very helpful detailed map that is at nearly every bus stop in Helsinki.

I just started walking, figuring we had to be close. WRONG MOVE! It’s negative six today, and quite icy, so walking more than necessary with a four-year-old was not the best idea I’ve ever had. After walking about 10 minutes, we ended up going back to the bus stop, looking at the map and figuring out that we needed to go two streets over. After 10 more minutes, we were there and only about half an hour later than I was expecting. Lily settled in, and I had the bus ride and walk home to cool off (literally and figuratively) from my misadventure.

This experience didn’t do much for the irritation that I’m already feeling that there’s no spot for Lily at Gabriel’s school this year. At first, I didn’t think it mattered much because I was disinclined to pay the tuition myself (Nokia pays once your child turns 5, so not until next school year for Lily). Now that I see how amazingly convenient it would be to have them on the exact same schedule, I’m wishing there was a spot in K1 (basically pre-kindergarten) for her.

Our week in review

Other than this small frustration, things are really going quite well. We arrived Saturday morning and were so exhausted that we really just laid around all day that day. The shorter flight from New York to Helsinki meant less time for sleeping (and basically no sleep for me), so we were fried by the time we got here. Sunday, we took the children to Kaivopuisto (the Sea Serpent park) that is a block from our permanent apartment. Our hope was that they would be excited to see how close it is to where we’ll be living, but by the time we walked up the hill to where our flat is, they were tired and whiny.

Tired and whiny have been a theme this week. I’ve been reading my copy of Living & Working Abroad with Children, so I was expecting this behavior, but I think it’s been tough on Matt. He was hoping that our reunion would be a joyful one and instead, the kids have been demanding, haven’t wanted to do much besides watch movies and hang out in the apartment, and have been complaining a bit that the food’s different. Things improved on Thursday when we all finally more or less got a sound night of sleep and it started snowing. It was slushy, but I still got the kids out to play in it. Gabriel got to pelt me with snowballs, which seems to have been very satisfying for him ;) He also got to go down the slide at Kaivopuisto, which shoots him like a rocket when it’s icy and he’s in his slick snow gear.

On the way home, I stopped at Stockmann, which is a huge department store in city-center that has a gourmet grocery in the basement. It has lots of good comfort food, so I picked up some pastries for the kids, peanut butter, and a couple of other treats.

Friday, the kids & I decided to lounge around the house all day, which ended up being a good choice. They were fried, and so was I. I fell asleep on the couch and they woke me up 90 minutes later (!!) to tell me that they had prepared a feast for me. Turns out it was herbed cream cheese on crackers and pears, which Gabriel annihilated cut up with a butter knife. It was a fun day and allowed us all to rest and unwind.

Unfortunately, Saturday Matt & I tried to run way too many errands and officially overran the kids’ patience and goodwill. We scouted out a natural grocery store (which had some good stuff, but wasn’t the type of place where I could do all of my shopping), Lidl (which is where we used to shop when Matt was living in Nancy, France, but this one is smaller and has less selection than what we were used to), the mall, and also tried to fit in a trip to the apartment to take some measurements and fill out our move-in survey of the place. That was clearly too much and we were all grumpy by the time we got home.

So Sunday, we played in the snow. I took a solo trip to the grocery store, which was very nice, even if I’m still getting the hang of having to weigh & sticker all the produce in the produce section instead of at the register. We noticed that there were tons of people getting off the tram at our stop (which is the end of the line and usually not very busy at all) and going in to our building complex. Turns out there was an Estonian craft market going on, so Matt & I took it in turns to go down and look. I have to tell you, it was all I could do not to blow the bank.

They had so many hand-knitted goods & yarn that I was in knitter’s heaven. Most of the yarn looked hand-spun and was really inexpensive (3-4 Euros for a good-sized skein of handspun that would have been more than twice that at home). They even had Moomintroll sweaters for the kiddos, and since I am apparently now completely obsessed with the Moomins, they were very tempting. Luckily for my pocketbook, I haven’t quite figured out European sizing for clothes (shoes I have down, however). I managed not to buy anything, and Matt got away with only some dried fruit (which I needed to make my Kugelhopf anyway!) and a little Estonia juniper box that smells really lovely.

Apostilles and other administrative headaches

This week, I need to get the applications for my & the children’s Finnish ID numbers completed and get my mobile phone working. Because in the US notaries are state-specific, they are not recognized internationally. This means that official documents like marriage licenses and birth certificates are pretty much meaningless outside the US. Unfortunately, my marriage license and the kids’ birth certificates are exactly what we need to get our ID numbers since those documents legally tie us to Matt, and Matt is the one who has employment here in Finland. So, had we fully understood this before we left the US, there wouldn’t have been much problem.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find out until Matt was already here (with the original marriage license), so we ended up having to do quite a bit of FedExing and cajoling to get Colorado to affix an apostille (internationally-recognized notarization that comes from the Secretary of State in the state in which the document was originally issued) to each of the children’s birth certificates and Indiana to give an apostille to a certified copy of our marriage license. It was doubly-unfortunate, then, to discover that a certified copy wouldn’t do and that the original was what we were supposed to have apostilled. Allegedly, I can take the original and the certified copy with the apostille to the registration office this week and they’ll accept it, but I am a bit nervous that this won’t be the case and we’ll have to yet again FedEx some more documents to the US for the seal.

The final frustration I’m having is not having a Finnish mobile phone. I have a number, I even have a SIM card, but it can’t be activated until we pay the deposit. I can’t pay the deposit until I receive the bill in the mail. SERIOUSLY???? I couldn’t pay it at the shop where I picked up the SIM card for some completely unknown reason and as of Saturday, it had not turned up in the post. So sometime this week, I will need to go to the permanent apartment (where we’ve got all of our mail going so we don’t have to do address changes in two weeks when our stuff arrives here), hopefully find the letter in the mail slot, and pay to activate my SIM card. I’ve made two calls so far using my old US number, which I’m assuming will each cost a bloody ton. Ah well.

How I’m Feeling
I do miss friends & family quite a bit, and am struggling with the fact that when I’m most lonely (in the mornings) everyone in the US is asleep so Facebook is quiet. I guess I just need to make some Finnish (or at least Finnish-based expat) friends so that Facebook has something to say while I’m awake! My inbox has been a bit emptier than I was expecting as well *HINT* *HINT*. There is definitely a lack of adult conversation, with Matt returning home from endless meetings each day feeling fried instead of talkative. I’ve managed a few Skypes, but the timing is going to be a bit tricky since prime talking time is probably when I ought to be making dinner and when the children are most in need of attention.

I’m finding the Finns to be much more friendly than I was expecting. No, they don’t make eye contact on the street (except, oddly, to stare at you as soon as you do something that outs your foreign-ness), but they do stop to let you cross the street, say friendly–if unintelligible–things to the children in the grocery or on the tram, and are extremely helpful even when you bumble through the two words of Finnish that you actually know and understand (hello & thank you).

I’m very anxious to learn the language not only because I’m tired of having only half a clue what I’m buying at the grocery store but because I’m just not used to spending extended periods of time in places where I can’t be totally self-sufficient. I know the language will come along slowly, and that using Google Translate to figure out the Finnish word for cottage cheese is a far cry from actually being able to hold a conversation, but I am determined, and so are the children.

Well, that’s enough of a book for one week. More soon…

2 Responses to Thoughts on Finland – Week 1

  1. Patty

    Each day will be a little easier and things will be more familiar each time you’re out and about. You’re all going to consider it home once you can get into the permanent apartment with your “stuff”. Miss you :) Hang in there

  2. Laurie in E'burg

    Hi Julie, What an adventure for all of you, but I can guarantee in about a month, that you will all be settled and Julie, you will be into knitting big time. My favorite saying of all time is, “And this too shall pass”, and it will.
    Gabriel and Miss Lily ~ I love hearing about your new adventures. We have snow here as well. So next time you go outside throw a snowball to me and I will try to catch it. HA! Hugs, Miss Laurie

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