What brought me here today:
Seven years doesn’t seem that long, does it? It feels as though it was much, much longer. I hadn’t thought that living in a foreign country for less than ten years would change me much. But it did, and much more than I realized. There are foods that taste weird to me now (bread and carbonated drinks especially). My sensitivity to noise has increased. Having trees, plants and birds around my living space is now an important component to my personal and professional well being.
These aforementioned differences seem trivial don’t they? They are, compared with some of my long-term concerns, like healthcare and being able to obtain my prescriptions for a price that doesn’t drain our bank account. In Finland, I paid less for my prescriptions without medical insurance than I did within the US with medical insurance. But comparisons like that are for another blog post on another day.
There are cars everywhere! EVERYWHERE! There were plenty of cars in Finland, but they just didn’t seem as ‘in my face‘ as they are here in Delaware. Cars in the US seem to be a symbol of freedom of movement that has become ingrained upon the psyche of some Americans. I totally understand that. A car means that you can go where you want to, when you want to. And not be beholden to the schedule of a city bus or train.
What the increase in cars means is that there’s not nearly as many good walking paths for people like me to use. The US builds its infrastructure around the automobile. Not around human beings. This is requiring us to be more creative in how we get to places that we need to go on foot or bus. Many of the sidewalks we use are broken, wobbly, tilted at weird angles and require me to stare at my feet while I walk to make sure I don’t trip.
While at a local mall recently, I asked for directions to the Michael’s store that was in one of the stores apart from the mall. The person helping me could describe how to get to the store easily by car, but was stumped as to how to get there when I told her I was on foot. When I looked used my phone for directions, there was thin sidewalk along a main entrance that could be traversed on foot. Then a large intersection to navigate just to get to the parking lot of Michael’s.
I’d become so accustomed to fewer cars, and a lot more nature as a buffer for noise in Jyväsklyä. And by nature, I mean green, leafy forests in the summer, and deep, cold snow during the winter. Both of these things block most of noises from traffic or machinery for most of the year.
The people are much quieter too. The quiet Finn is a long-standing stereotype. First of all, it’s not true. A Finn might be quiet and not talk much when they first meet you. But once you become better acquainted, perhaps even friends, a Finn can talk your arm off too. Add a few beers and it happens even quicker!
I’d become so used to people on the bus being almost silent in Finland. Even when going to a crowded place, a large amount of Finns don’t create a huge amount of noise. By and large, I found public spaces and large groups of people in Finland to be quite calm and low-key. I’m constantly finding myself startled when I hear people talking loud enough for me to hear them from my second story apartment.
My husband and I walked and bussed everywhere in Finland. There weren’t many places within the city we lived, or the cities we visited that couldn’t be easily gotten to by walking, busses or trains. There were times in which we called a taxi, but that was rare. Walking and biking were the norm for many Finns. I liked it quite a bit because it was good exercise.
Good, public, well-maintained paths are the norm in Finland. The paths are wide enough so that snow plows and gravel spreading trucks can drive on them too. We could walk from our apartment almost 5 K (a little over 3 miles) to the city center of Jyväskylä. Depending upon the weather, we could take different routes that were less hilly, or better graveled, depending upon the season.
It’s going to take me a little longer to get used to walking here in our new city. I mentioned the sidewalks here in one of the previous paragraphs. Not all of the sidewalks are obstacle course-worthy. But enough of them are that I need to keep my klutzy keister aware of where I’m walking so I can keep all my teeth inside my head.
This one took a little longer for me to put a finger on once we arrived in the US. While living in Jyväsklyä I had only one instance in which I felt as though I was in an unsafe situation as a female. It took place during daylight hours. At a bus stop. And the man who was creating fear within me was obviously intoxicated. Nothing happened. I simply re-entered a store to watch for the bus from a window.
It’s sometimes hard to explain to men how a woman has to stay on guard all the time when she’s out in public in the US. I have to stay aware of who is around me and how they’re acting at all times. As nice and welcoming as our new city is, I will not be going out by myself after dark any time soon. And that makes me a little sad.
As a woman, I need to make sure that I have clear routes of escape, if the need arises. I need to be prepared for someone attempting to take my bag or backpack as well. Gone are the days when I could put in my earphones and listen to music in public alone while on the bus or walking home after the sun went down. I need to be aware of my surroundings at all times. The possible threat of physical violence requires me to change my habits. And feels as though my personal freedom of movement have been clipped short.
So, now what?
As with any new place, I’ll get used to the environment over time. I don’t know that there is any way to rush it either. I still have yet to eat American chocolate again. I’m not pushing it either. I’d rather enjoy the Reese’s Pieces that I missed while living in Finland instead.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.