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Forgotten facets of life in Finland… How do things measure up on the home front?

September 24, 2012

I have been living in Finland for 14 years – wow! Where does the time go?

When I first set foot in Finland 15 years ago (to visit), I was surprised by how different some things were – and how small – functional and useful some things were. I’ve tried to compile a list of these things in hopes that you can picture how different these things are compared to where you come from.

There are no laundromats in Finland. Awhile back a friend of mine on Facebook was baffled when I said that laundromats are not a common feature on the Finnish urban landscape. There are laundry services, but you can pay a lot for it. And on the topic of washing clothes, dryers have not been a standard feature of Finnish homes, but it seems to be coming. We have drying racks instead of a dryer. Not only does it save on our energy bills, we actually don’t need one. You have to plan when you do laundry because drying stuff does take a day or two!

When one owns a house, row house or apartment and then moves to a new place – things get left behind, namely the combination fridge/freezers and stoves. You do not have to move these appliances around, but you have the choice to replace appliances when you move to a new place (which is what we did when we moved last year).

And on that note – most household appliances are smaller. A friend visited a couple years ago and she remarked on how small our fridge and stove were. Stoves and washing machines are 60cm across. Fridges are also narrower and in some cases are half the size of what you might get in North America. Unless you have a big family, you don’t really need a huge fridge, right?

In Ontario we can get milk in bags. In Finland milk comes in cartons and Tetrapaks.

The electrical outlets are different, so if you’re visiting from outside of Europe, you’ll need an adapter.

What does a fire hydrant look like? I actually don’t really know. Darned if you could find the North American version here in Finland.

At home we have hardwood floors and mats. Wall-to-wall carpet? Completely unheard of here. The hardwood floors in my house always garner the comments of first-time visitors to Finland.

Have you come across the totally functional drying racks in the kitchen cupboards? There is no need for a dish rack – ever again! We also have built-in cutting boards.

In the Finnish bathroom there is generally no bath tub and it is tiled from floor to ceiling. Feel free to get wet and make a mess, because you can squeegee it to the drain. This is probably my favourite thing about my home.

I grew up being used to free local phone calls, here in Finland one pays on a per call basis. This took a bit of getting used to. Fortunately the price of making a call has gone down over the years, but in earlier times in Finland making a call could be pretty expensive. And on the subject of phones, very few Finns have a home telephone anymore. Even the Mr.’s parents gave up their land line after they had finished renovating their house. The way to go is mobile.

In many places salaries are paid monthly, not bi-weekly. This also took a little getting used to, but now it is a tested habit to make that pay cheque last the whole month.

What have you noticed in Finland that’s different than your home country?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Martti K. permalink
    September 24, 2012 10:34 am

    Yes there are differences. If you don’t have a washing machine and don’t want to pay dearly the option is hand wash. Wit hthe recent rise in the price of electric power I’d say that dryers are becoming unaffordable. We have not used ours for several years. On the other hand in a family with small kids it is “jatkuva liputus” that is you are drying clothes on the lines all the time. In apartments that is a bonus because in the winter central heating makes the air very dry. In apartment houses you have many times a central washing room for all the inhabitants with a washer and maybe with a well ventilated and heated room for drying. If you live in a house you may have a room next to your sauna and shower were you can hang you lines and put collapsible line racks for drying and keep all the humidity there. If you don’t then some some people do that in the sauna. What a great way to start fires when the clots fall on the kiuas.

    When you talk about the size of the appliances bear in mind the it is the internal volume that counts. In North America the appliances tend to be like the American cars in the 60’s you have the passenger compartment and then a foot thick doors around and the same way with fenders and under the hood.

    We, too, had milk in bags in the 60’s again. Because they were always leaking they were eventually given up. Some people still have bathroom mats made out of strips of plastic cut from those bags. We don’t have milk in bottles either any more.

    The voltage and frequency are also different from North America. It is 203 V+ and 50 Hz.
    When men get their 50’s craze one solution is allegedly to move to North America where that happens at 60.

    The Finnish version of fire hydrant is level with the ground. It is just four inch cast iron cover through which you put the shaft to open the valve. The outlet to connect you hose is somewhere near under another cast iron cover. With residential and commercial buildings you usually have wall outlets.

    Wall-to-wall carpet again were popular in the 60’s and 70’s, but they tend to become stuffy and not that nice with a weather like this.

    I guess it is cheaper to make the bathroom without the tub and who would have the time to take a bath. There used to be bathtubs when building in the 50’s and 60’s. The tiled bathroom can be very slippery which is on the down side.

    When mobile phones came they used to cost arm and leg and so did the calls. Even text messages were expensive, because the operators convinced the consumers that there was a cost for them. Now EU commission is strongly against of that kind of rip off. They have specified maximum rates and even rates for roaming when you go abroad. Even the price of mobile data transfer is under price control. When there were land lines there were also wireless phones. Nobody uses them any more, because mobile calls are just 6 cents a minute or less.

    Pay cheque is nowadays just a figure of speech. Recently I was asked to provide a void cheque. What an idea. I’d have to go to a museum to get a cheque, not to a bank. Bank cheques are extinct. Everybody has bank card for drawing money at bankomats which are everywhere in urban areas (and nowhere in nonurban areas). Most of them are also paycards and even allow to draw cash at the same time when you pay your groceries.

    Consequently paying a bill with a cheque is something you don’t do either. Even if you actually receive a bill printed by the vendor, utilities or insurance or credit card company (and not printed by Finnish Mail) you pay it with a direct transfer from your account to the receiver’s account. When that was between banks and different countries the banks used make money letting the monies lie on their account for a couple of days and charging dearly for that. Bot are a no-no in EU. Nowadays you have the option to be einvoiced. That is no paper involved at all. You get an email notification that you have received a bill.
    If you do not have a computer to make your payments then you have to visit to bank.
    Well not exactly. It is the vestibule of the bank where you have these automats for paying bills. They have access from 6 AM to 9 PM. Paying the bill at the teller is something like two dollars a bill.

    In Finland we used to have prohibition as well. That did not work so well because of bootlegging the monies ended in the wrong hands and the expected benefits were not reached. So the established the liqueur commission, whose purpose was to demote the sales of liqueur. So everything from low alcohols beer was sold in the liqueur store. The first big change came when beer came to the grocery store in the 60’s That is beer with 3 – 5 %. We still don’t have what they call beer in other countries with 10 % or so. The liqueur stores still were not considered to be a service and you had to be registered at you local store in order to buy hard liqueur. You needed a viinakortti..The opening hours were also limited something like office hours and the stores were closed before and public holidays.

    Nothing like in one place in Canada where they had such a rush to liqueur store on Saturdays before closing at 4 PM that they decided to be open until 10 PM.

    Then came EU where wine and liqueur are considered part of the economy and taxes and duties are not liked. That resulted in lower prices opening times something like regular stores and something like reals service and even advertising in public (that was before totally banned outside the liqueur stores).

    The result is that the reputation of the Finnish drunks is up, you can see them everywhere in public places and the health effects of alcohol are up.

    • September 27, 2012 10:04 am

      One thing we can say Martti – is that many things have changed over the years!

  2. ekaterinatrayt permalink
    September 24, 2012 8:29 pm

    I used to live in Moscow. Our apartment house was old, so we had huge windowsills where you could fit many flowerpots or even sit on. Windowsills in my Finnish apartment are so tiny, you can’t put anything there. Also, the lack of bathtubs here shocked me. I don’t like sauna, I prefer a foamy bath 🙂

    • September 27, 2012 10:03 am

      I was also surprised by the absence of bathtubs in many homes – but I have grown to love the easy to clean shower room we have. I love it!

  3. September 25, 2012 7:42 am

    Yes, the no laundromat thing surprised me, particularly when we were staying in a hotel for several weeks and had no option other than having the hotel do it. I’m mostly used to not having a dryer, and even in the States I hung a lot of things to dry, but I do miss having a dryer to “fluff” things, and I would love one just to dry the towels and sheets. And yes, you definitely have to plan ahead a bit more with laundry! You’re also limited to how much you can do in a day by how much drying space you have available.

    I miss not having a bathtub. Not that I used it all that often, but it was nice every once in a while. Plus, it was nice having room in the shower. We actually have an enclosed shower, so the whole bathroom doesn’t get wet, but it’s also very small – I can’t put my hands on my head and flare my elbows out, they bump the walls. In fact, whenever we travel, one of the bonuses is being able to take a bath in the hotel – it’s such a luxury now!

    As far as mobile phones go, I’m surprised at how little they cost here! In the States, the same plan cost me 3-4 times as much! It really made me realize what a ripoff it is in the States. (My phone/text/data bill in the US was almost $90, and I knew people who paid $120 or more. Here I think it’s 25Euro.)

    • September 27, 2012 10:02 am

      Yeah, I’ve been away so long I wouldn’t have a clue how to navigate getting a cheap cell phone package in Canada – yikes! Speaking of rip-off, have you read my post (late 2010 I think) about the EUR 19 dental floss I found in a pharmacy?? 😀

  4. coldradio permalink
    September 27, 2012 9:53 am

    I’m Canadian and have been here in Finland just over two years now and the one thing I still miss and always will is the bathtub. The sauna is fine, but I would still rather sink into a hot tub of water and not sweat it out in the dark. However, if you’re fortunate to know someone with a summer house (cabin) with a sauna beside the lake, well…it’s amazing! The feeling of the hot sauna and then jumping into the cool water is something everyone should experience.
    I love the recycling depots that are automatic and right in your grocery store, so convenient and beats the idea of dragging all your stinky bottles and cans in huge garbage bags for a few paltry coins back home.
    Speaking of grocery stores, I also love the dairy products here and the bread as well. I do not think I could live life without Ruis anymore! Yet, I still ache for dill pickles and just waiting for the day that Finland wakes up and realize there is more to pickles than these sweet ones. Blech.
    There is much more, but perhaps I should write my own post! haha…
    Great post!

    • September 27, 2012 10:01 am

      Thanks for jumping in here coldradio! I think a bathtub is one thing I can live without. (I hate the thought of having to bend over to clean one – ugh – don’t miss those days!)

      I’m with ya on the DILL PICKLES! Oh how I miss them! 😥

      • coldradio permalink
        September 27, 2012 10:09 am

        Glad to be here!
        For a brief time last year while I was pregnant, I could actually find dill pickles at City Market in Vantaa! It was amazing and what a gift to a pregnant lady! haha… Sadly, they are gone now. One of these days I will have to learn to make my own I suppose.

  5. November 11, 2012 3:22 pm

    This is a really interesting blog I have to say – I live in the UK – and a lot of these things actually ring true here as well – things like the hardwood floors – same in a lot of our houses! (for instance my new house!). Same with the monthly pay – if you’re a permanent employee here you’re pretty much on monthly salary anywhere…

    Fascinating to see the differences, and the similarities between countries – and I love the way you write your blog 🙂

    • November 15, 2012 8:51 am

      Thanks for surfing in Hannah! It’s pretty funny how the differences seem so shocking at first, but then it just fades away. I suppose I would experience the same shock if I went back to Canada to live.

  6. Bombum permalink
    February 1, 2013 6:37 pm

    In Finland the fire hydrants are built in the walls of buildings, so you won’t see any stand-alone models. Wall-to-wall carpets are not unheard of although they really are rare nowadays. They were popular in the 70’s. Home buyers do not favor them because they can be unhygienic and hard to keep clean, and a lot of people here suffer from allergies.

    And bath tubs, although apartments are easier to sell if they have a sauna in them, I too like the tub more. Bigger apartments and houses usually have both, though.

  7. January 1, 2014 4:36 pm

    I am from America, and there is no garbage disposers in the sinks here in Finland. I try to explain what they are, but i need to go to Youtube to explain what they are. Also no one here uses checks, that was something to get used to. Thank God for paypal so my family can send a bit of cash. I do miss bath tubs, and bathrooms where you don’t have to squeegee water away and can step onto dry floor. I miss cornmeal. Cornflower is not the same. I can’t find it to make cornbread or polenta. I also miss people at grocery stores who bag your food for you. Where I am from they would take it to your car as well.

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