Photo: Nik Hoberg/Shutterstock

11 Side Effects I Had as an American Traveling in Finland

by Nicole Wildman Aug 1, 2016

1. I gave up small talk.

I’ve always been told I’m quiet for an American, but I do speak to strangers more than Finns. In Finland, small talk isn’t necessary, and when someone asks how you are, or invites you to visit – they genuinely mean it.

2. I got comfortable being naked around strangers, new friends, and their families.

In Finland, the sauna is a healthy way to bond and cleanse, and it’s typical to go in the nude, even with strangers. I spent Christmas day with a friend and his family, and the first thing I did when I met his mom and sister was strip down and head into the sauna.

3. I grew to appreciate extreme temperatures and the balance of opposites.

Sunshine is rare in Finland in the winter — even hours south of the arctic circle it might rise for just two or three hours a day. So to avoid seasonal depression, even on the coldest days, I was walking to the grocery store, biking to a friend’s house, going to the bar, and socializing in the sauna. And I took a ski visit to Finnish Lapland around the winter solstice, just to get out and soak what little daylight peeked over the horizon. But once summer comes, it’s all warmth and sunshine.

4. I started a collection of mugs adorned with a children’s cartoon.

The Moomins. Even though it’s a children’s cartoon, the love for it seems to be carried into adulthood. After three months in Finland, I had been gifted two Moomin mugs and bought one of my own.

5. I learned to love black licorice.

Salmiakki is a Finnish candy and it seems Finns love to feed it to foreigners, who tend to hate it. There’s also salmari, which is liquor flavored like salmiakki. It’s odd at first, but it’s not bad when mixed with something fruity.

6. I came to accept that I will always be a lightweight.

While nearly every European country claims that they drink the most alcohol, I’ve never seen a group who can drink like they do in Finland. Maybe it’s because drinking seems necessary in the long, cold, dark, winters, or maybe I’m just not accustomed to salmiakki koskenkorva and lonkero.

7. But I learned to live without beer.

Although Finland has some delicious drinks, it doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to beer.

8. I became acutely aware of my accent as a native English speaker.

Although they tend to speak English very well, most Finns I met were not satisfied with the way they spoke English until they could do so with their preferred accent: American or British. My accent was scrutinized to be copied, and I learned to analyze the way I pronounce each letter, especially vowels.

9. I started leaving the stickers on new dishes.

Iittala is a well-known Finnish design brand that specializes in dishware, which comes with a little red sticker with an ‘i’ on it. When you buy it, you leave the ‘i’ sticker on the dish, even in the wash.

10. And I started putting wet dishes in the cabinet.

Rather than piling wet dishes in a drying rack, waiting for them to dry, and then putting them away, Finns have drying racks built into the cabinet over the sink. Why had I never thought of this before?!

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