- -  Day # 46  + +

EU > Finland > Helsinki

Across the Finnish Gulf

Helsinki, FI (View on map)

As you can notice from the flag in the upper right corner of the website, I am done with Estonia and have moved on to country number 5. Lithuanians and Latvians told me that Estonia was much like Finland. The ferry trip from Tallinn to Helsinki is therefore a perfect setting for an investigation into the differences and similarities between the Finnish and the Estionian, and into what they think of each other.

Karnerva (25):

`Finland sees Estonia as a smaller brother`
Starting with the stereotypes, Estonians take Finnish for alcoholists, whose main purpose to visit Estonia consists of buying alcohol and partying. Both are a lot cheaper in Estonia, and ferries between both countries` capitals run several times per day. Leila (20) says that Finnish people who come to Estonia can be rather noisy and primitive in behaviour. She does praise the multicultiral spirit of Helsinki, which she calls part of `The Real Europe`. Helsinki is much bigger than Tallinn, there are many more shops. Many Estonians go on day trips for shopping, as the choice of clothes is much bigger in Helsinki than it is in all of Estonia together.

While I am talking with Leila, the Finnish delegation on the ferry is working on the explicit confirmation of the stereotype. Long before we arrive in Helsinki, their cheeks turn red and they make wild gestures every now and then. Many of them are slowly getting drunk, even though it`s still early in the morning. The easiest way to distinguish between the Estonians and the Finnish is whether they order beer from the ferry bar. For Finnish, the prices are cheap compared to what they pay at home, for Estonians, they are quite expensive.

Cross-cultural competition
Erik (26) works in a company that is partly Estonian, partly Finnish. He thinks the recent struggle for independence of Estonia makes Estonians more goal-oriented than the Finnish. His Finnish colleagues tend to have more meetings, including chit-chat over coffee, and Erik sometimes wonders how they ever get anything done. Alari (24), who is also Estonian, thinks that Finnish people are more open-minded and do not have the same need to show off. `Estonians worry too much about having a nice car. There is this new saying that has become quite popular over the last years: Who has more things when he dies, wins', says Alari with a sigh of disapproval.

Patrick (27) is from Finland and he is on his way back home with a group of friends. He came to Estonia to have a party, because that is so much cheaper in Estonia than in Finland. He is not very positive about Estonia. `They work less than the Finnish and you can`t really trust them`. I am happy that Patrick is the only person to think about it this way.

On the other side
Upon arrival in Helsinki, Finnish and Estonians alike get off with trolleys full of beer and spirits. It surprises me a little that even the back side of the boarding card reads something like: 'We invite you to import the maximum amount of each tax-free commodity`, then stating how many bottles of beer, wine or spirits that represents. The Finnish are mostly positive about Estonia and the Johanna (28) tells me how she finds Estonian people friendly and their language funny. She also mentions that girls in Estonia dress in a much more feminine way. That idea matches well with what Estonian people told me on the ferry: in Finland you can buy or wear almost whatever you want. You can walk around in pyjamas if you like and nobody really cares. I do imagine however, that such behaviour may be limited to the capital city.

Karnerva (25, Finnish, photo) has been to Estonia quite a lot. She thinks Finland sees Estonia as a smaller brother, because of they shared some parts of their history, especially being part of the Russian Empire before 1917 and becoming independent afterwards. Finland succeeded to stay independent after World War II, Estonia did not. Finland felt sympathy for Estonia when last April`s riots broke out in Tallinn. Together with Estonia, Finland thought the Russian reaction was way overdone.

From my own observations in Helsinki, I conclude that there is still quite a big difference in between the two countries. Tallinn has a friendly village atmosphere to it, while Helsinki is a big city. Estonia is populated by Estonians and Estonian Russians, while Helsinki is home to many more nationalities. Black people, Asian people, Swedes, and many more. In Tallinn people from foreign origin would be very likely to be tourists. Here in Helsinki, they blend in with the crowd as if they have worked and lived here all there lives. I bet many actually have.

Helsinki has many international shop chains in its streets and they include middle class shops like H&M as well as design. The streets are busier and it looks like there is much more social interaction than in Estonia. People kiss in the streets, hold hands, enjoy the sun and sit outside in public places rather than terraces and restaurants alone. During the days to come, I will find out what the rest of the country is like - Finland is the first country where I visit the capital city before discovering the rest of it.

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