Finland: The Bill Gates of Northern Europe

Trip Start Sep 13, 2006
Trip End May 25, 2007

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Helsinki has proven to be an efficient yet lovely city, a little less flashy and quaint than it's neighbors to the south and west but extremely well run and quietly starting to dominate Europe in its technological achievements, especially for a country with such a small population. We were also amazed that Finland has only had its independence since 1917. The country has advanced a lot since then!
Julius remarked that while Stockholm is a little bit prettier, Helsinki is such a livable city. Public transport in the city alone includes buses, trains, trams and subways. We have been preferring the trams as they are pretty dummy-proof and are easy to locate. Thanks to Nokia being started and headquartered in Finland, 96% of the adults own cell phones and we were told that the cell phone networks are some of the best in the world (so that Nokia can test out its new technology). However, you don't see that many people walking around with cell phones stuck to their ears. I read that Finns aren't big fans of small talk. This would make sense from what we saw on the trams. The few people who answered their phones and actually held a sustained conversation were not Finns. The Finns just looked out the window or quietly checked their e-mails and text messaged. Perhaps they just talked on them more in private.
96% of the households also have home internet connections. Libraries had free internet for us tourists and I used Linux for the first time there (another Finnish invention).
Finland drinks more coffee than any other country in the world. And I will not lie - this is very good coffee. Probably superior to the coffee in Seattle. Our friend Mia works for the US Embassy, making contacts for US companies who want to move into Finland's market. She said Starbucks came here to scout it out and decided that it wasn't a big enough market. Too saturated. Perhaps Finns taste in coffee is too simple - coffee with milk or sugar just like Grandpa liked it. Or Starbucks was just scared of the good Finnish coffee. Take that Starbucks! Finns don't need you anyway.
Other mindless Finnish Stats: Over 20,000 leisure boats are parked around Helsinki harbors and there are over 2 million Saunas in Finland, a country of just over 5 million people. Finland was the first country to allow women to vote and hold public office. Finnish is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn, one of the few Finno-Ugric languages left. It is closest to Estonian and in the same language family as Hungarian. It seems to be furthest from English, as can be demonstrated by this washing machine I had to get translated for me. Although we can't pronounce much beyond Hi and Thank You, it is a very beautiful language when spoken by Finns. Julius thinks it sounds almost Arabic in its smoothness. Luckily Finns learn English so we have had no trouble getting people to translate street signs, business signs and grocery labels for us. Mostly we just buy according to photos. If the container has fruit on it, it's juice and a cow means it is milk.
Despite the difficult national language, Helsinki does have some small immigrant communities popping up. Julius was amazed to see an African immigrant community here. Finland never colonized anyone so we are unsure why someone would move to a country with such a harsh climate. Perhaps if we get to know some we can ask "why Finland?"

We have been staying at the home of the Seppanen's. Another exchange student of the Bloom family was Markus, who hails from Helsinki. He has since become a pilot and moved to the US, but his parents have an apartment in Helsinki that they use when they are not
escaping the winter at their condo in Florida. They have already left for the US and graciously insisted that we use their apartment while in Finland. It is in a great location in Helsinki with a lovely view of the harbor, close to a big indoor market (ala Pike Place Market in Seattle) and the trams. Not only that, we have satellite TV, a DSL connection and a Sauna. We couldn't ask for a nicer place. Markus' sister Mia is living here in Finland with her husband Pete and kids Milla and Joel and she has been a great host while we are here. We visited them on Sunday for dinner and drinks and she drove us around to some other sites outside the city. Milla and Joel communicated the same as the twins in Sweden - just speaking to us in Finnish and assuming that we could figure it out. The "Ohh's" and "Mmm Hmm's" did the trick. Mia said that this also worked for their Aunt Cheryl when she comes visiting from the US.
Since we arrived here we have mostly been staying busy with touring around the city and visiting tastefully, subtly decorated churches and the cities countless museums.
Saying that there is close to 50 is no exaggeration. There is even a kindergarten museum and a nearby town has an outboard motor museum. We would go in honor of Dad but it only opens in the summer. Our favorite church was the rock church which was carved out of a granite hill in the middle of the city. We were able to attend an English language service there on Sunday afternoon with a contregation from all over the world.

We managed to post a lot of our Helsinki photos on our Finland photo page Click Here to see all our photos, plus extensive captions describing the sites we saw and things we did here.

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