Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.
Worldcon 75 is just a week away now. In case you missed any of our previous posts, you might want to check them out, too:
- Concerning Finns
- Resources by Worldcon 75 Staff
- Finnish Summer
- Sauna, That Scary-Hot Room Full of Naked
- Eating in Helsinki
- Shopping in Helsinki
- Getting around Helsinki
Here are a few last-minute tidbits, odds and ends, and random pieces of advice that might be worth knowing if you’re getting ready to head to Helsinki:
Low-alcohol beverages, like beer and cider, are available at most grocery stores. For harder liquor (22+ % alcohol), you’ll need to go to one of the state-run Alko stores; you also must be 20 years old and have valid government I.D. Anyone who looks under 30 years of age may be carded when buying alcohol.
Apteekki = pharmacy
Apua! = Help!
Ateneum Art Museum is one of the three museums forming the Finnish National Gallery and located conveniently on the south side of Rautatientori square close to Helsinki central railway station.
DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS. That creates problems for residents, outdoor sellers, and other visitors. The seagulls at Kaupptori, for example, are already quite adept at snatching food from people. (That means they will dive AT YOU and steal your food FROM YOUR HAND. I don’t know about you, but I find that intimidating and I don’t want it to happen to me! –Eppu)
Public drinking water fountains are rare in Finland, but tap water is clean and safe. Carrying a water bottle is a good idea.
Dual flush toilets are becoming very common, and they’re easy to operate: small button for small flush, big for large. Please do take part in our environmental efforts.
Elevator behavior humorously put: Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times, and for the sake of everything you hold dear, do not engage in small talk.
More seriously: Elevator behavior shouldn’t be a problem; just be mindful that customs may be different than you’re used to and you’ll be fine.
The number for emergency services is 112. Also note that pay phones are almost non-existent in Finland because cell phones are so ubiquitous.
You may not be able to establish eye contact with strangers on the streets. This is perfectly normal in Finland; we love our personal space and want lots of it.
Gasoline is very expensive due to taxation—keep it in mind if planning to rent a car.
If you meet a Finn with whom you share a mutual acquaintance, you may be asked to take greetings to that person. It is vital that you follow through. Carrying greetings (the Finnish word is terveisiä, which covers the whole social scale from “Say hi to your buddies for me” to “Do give my sincerest regards to your honored great-grandmother”) is serious business in Finland.
Indoor spaces tend to be warm due to effective insulation. Dress in layers for the win!
With regard to the language issue, one of the most succinct answers is by author Elizabeth Bear: “[I’ve] heard some concern about the language issue. There is no language issue. If one of your languages is English […] you will have no issues at all navigating. (It’s sort of a running joke with my agent and I that while my books sell very well in the Nordic countries as imports, we can’t get a translation deal there. Because everyone speaks English […]”
Mosquitoes are the bane of the Finnish summer. (We actually joke about them being our air force. –Eppu) Current reports are that this has not been a bad mosquito year, but it’s still important to take precautions if you’re sensitive to bites and will be out and about in the late evening or early morning, which are the prime biting times.
The National Museum of Finland concentrates on Finnish history from the Stone Age to 19th century and has an extensive collection of objects. The building itself, of National Romantic style, may also be of interest. Free entry every Friday 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; at other times, entry fees apply.
Petrol is very expensive due to taxation—keep it in mind if planning to rent a car.
Pharmacy = apteekki
The word please (or the like) doesn’t exist in Finnish. Instead, the same function is embedded in the verb form of the sentence. This doesn’t mean that Finns are inherently rude; we may sound rude to native speakers of languages that use an explicit please word if we forget to use it in other languages, and we well might slip up since it’s not ingrained.
Finnish does not have gendered pronouns. The word hän means both ‘he’ and ‘she.’ It’s not unusual for Finns, even Finns who speak English very fluently and are highly aware of gender identity issues, to slip and use the wrong gendered pronoun when speaking English. (It’s a little like English speakers learning Spanish and having to remember that forks are masculine but spoons are feminine.)
Recycling is becoming very common. Your hotel room and Messukeskus might have containers for different types of trash. Please do take part in our environmental efforts.
If you bump into someone by accident, just saying “Sori” (comes from and sounds pretty much the same as English sorry) is usually sufficient. Finns don’t really do apologies for small accidents.
Towel hooks in bathrooms are only for storing the dry towels. Spread towels to dry elsewhere (rack, over the shower stall door / shower curtain bar) and hang to store.
Some additional reading & browsing
- Bomfunk MC’s – Freestyler by BomfunkMCsVEVO – a music video with views of Helsinki cityscapes, including a pretty long stretch in the metro
- Creative commons licensed photos of Helsinki in Flickr. Some seriously gorgeous shots!
- Darude – Sandstorm by Darude – more views of Helsinki cityscapes in a music video
- Finnish Nightmares – comic about a (stereo)typical Finn, Matti, in uniquely Finnish-style uncomfortable social situations
- A Quick Guide to Helsinki by Mel, a New Zealander living in Finland, with city walks, places to visit, cultural sites, markets, daytrips and more from the point of view of an English-speaker learning the city
- Ten Tips For First-Time Travelers to Helsinki by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
- Worldcon 75 Progress Report #5 – additional tips in the fifth and final progress report by the Worldcon staff
In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.