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Preconceived Notions

Picture of Helsinki's cathedral

The Cathedral

One of the first things Matt told me about Helsinki while he was still here interviewing was that it wasn’t that pretty. Considering that he was in the awkward position of trying to convince his wife to give up her rather comfortable life and move damned-near to the Arctic Circle, this may seem like a rather odd thing to say.

In his mind, I think he was preparing me for Helsinki to be unlike other capital cities that I love: Paris, London, Edinburgh, Rome, Brussels. And in that way, he’s correct; Helsinki is unlike the other capital cities I’ve visited in Western Europe. For starters, it’s about the size of Boulder (but with twice the population). There’s only one Metro line and you can walk across the narrowest part of the city in probably 15 minutes. In Paris, that might take days!

But when I walked out the door and headed into the city that first day in October, I was expecting something very different from the beautifully-stuccoed buildings with their crisp white trim, the huge (and hugely gorgeous) cathedral that is nestled in the eastern part of the downtown area, the sea surprising you around every corner. I was pleasantly surprised, and perhaps that was his intent.

Likewise, people I spoke with and books I read warned that the Finns are quiet, austere, and in some cases downright cold and unfriendly. I will certainly admit that eye contact on the bus is definitely a faux pas (although staring, especially when someone has Medusa hair, appears perfectly normal). But I have once again been pleasantly surprised to hear old people speak affectionately to the children in the grocery store, to have multiple people do such helpful things as hold the door, stop the tram when I’m running up to it with the children, give up their place so the children can sit down, and to have actually been invited to my first Finnish ladies’ night out by someone I only met in passing in the building in which we’re currently living.

This is a picture of Julie when she's very cold

It's very cold this week. Note multiple layers & raw cheeks.

So I guess after Monday’s gloominess, I’m feeling a bit more chipper today. Part of that could very well be that the sun has been shining, although it’s still a rather appalling -12C. Now don’t get me wrong, my cheeks are raw from the cold (see picture), my hair is a static disaster due to being wrapped constantly in wool, and Lily is still protesting her walk to the bus stop, which is required to get her to school (to the point that I literally ran for 2 blocks with her on my back in the snow & freezing cold yesterday so as not to miss the bus and leave her exposed to the elements for an additional 8 minutes. That was. not. fun.).

But I’m adjusting. And getting to talk to other real live human beings who were not my children also really, really helped. I got introduced to several expats living in Europe on Monday by a mutual friend. After a couple of Skype chats, I feel like we’re getting to know each other and have quite a bit in common. They’ve been hugely helpful both emotionally and practically-speaking since they have made the big move themselves and understand the challenges.

I got to talk on the phone to people in the US this week too and got some great emails from friends. I know you people think I’m so busy that I don’t need you to write, but you would be wrong. Your emails are a lifeline, please keep them coming! I had my first coffee date with a new friend in Helsinki and did some shopping with her, which was fabulous. I met the PTO ladies at Gabriel’s school, and got invited to a series of holiday events that will fill up some of the dark evening hours in the next few weeks. The family also got to spend a wonderful Thanksgiving meal out full of wonderful conversation & fun times with friends. Oh, and I met someone at the school who wants to have a garden plot with me this spring. AND she speaks Swedish, which should make the sign-up process about a zillion times easier since the garden plot reservation system does not seem to have any English Language translations.

And of course, the best news of all is that our stuff is going to arrive at our new apartment a week from today, before the long weekend so that Matt & I will have three full days to unpack and get organized. Never mind that I’m also going to be dragging him out to get a Christmas tree that same weekend!

A photo of the kids in their holiday outfits

Gabriel & Lily hamming it up in their holiday outfits on Thanksgiving

So although I still can’t find baking powder in the grocery store, despite the fact that it took me 10 days to get my Finnish mobile phone working, ignoring Gabriel’s utter meltdown about going to school this morning, and utterly disregarding the ridiculous cold/wind/snow/dark, I find myself humming Bing Crosby’s famous tune: I’ve got plenty to be thankful for.

1 Response to Preconceived Notions

  1. Cindy Elvin


    I have truly enjoy following your adventures??? on Chez Artz. Just as I have always thought Matt’s parents did a wonderful job raising him, I get the distinct feeling you and Matt are doing a wonderful job with Gabriel & Lily. What an experience for them. I know Dave & Patty will miss you especially at this holiday time but it is great they can keep in touch with modern electronics!!

    Hugs to all, Aunt Cindy