Diary of an Expat, Part 39
We take a break.
June is Berlin's rainiest month, which is not conducive to much biking. Needless to say, that is what I spent the afternoon and evening doing. I think I'm getting the hang of this. I unlocked the achievement for negotiating Alexanderplatz without having to refer to a map.

One of the interesting things about this city is its curious dishevelment. It is not consciously in a state of decay. As I said last time, it does set some things aside for later use, sure, but for the most part the trains run, the buildings operate, etc.

On the other hand, the roads are in a state of perpetual sorrow. One nifty trick I discovered yesterday, is the flat square cobblestone in the bike path that, when your bike tyre hits it, flips up and out of place, so that your bicycle suddenly contends with new and interesting translation.

Also. Americans, for example, are most likely to toss their bottle of beer in the trash. Maybe they have a recycling bin? I don't know. Somebody who is more scrupulous — in Dusseldorf, say — would no doubt make a point of transporting their empty beer bottle into the appropriate white- or green-glass receptacle.

Here in Berlin, the appropriate way of disposing of your beer bottle is to drop it straight down onto the sidewalk. Generally, this causes it to shatter. Then, you walk away. This is one reason why my bicycle has extremely thick tyres, because there is broken glass f**king everywhere. It's also one reason why you wouldn't walk barefoot in Berlin, the omnipresent dog shit being another.

But in any case, this expat diary should refer to a different city, because I spent Monday, Tuesday and part of Wednesday in scenic Espoo/Helsinki, Finland. And this was interesting.

I have described Berlin, in the past, as a park with some urban areas thrown in for good measure. Helsinki is not. Helsinki is a vast, untamed wilderness full of forests and water — with some urban areas thrown in for good measure. When you approach from the south towards Helsinki-Vantaa, you come in over the city and then suddenly there's nothing but trees. And grass. And more trees. And a quarry.

Eventually you land, and you look around and think: "Jesus. I bet this is going to be a pricey cab fare."

Naturally, it'll run you somewhere around €50 to get from HEL to Espoo, which is your first introduction to the fact that, as far as Europe is concerned, Berlin is ridiculously cheap and Helsinki is on the expensive side of "what the hell people." The same food in the office canteen costs double in Helsinki what it did in Berlin, to give you a calibration point.

That having been said, it's also a gorgeous city, and I can definitely see why it constantly places so high in standard of living indices. It's clean, and absurdly green, and well-kept — I was there in the spring, of course, and I'd be singing a different tune if I visited in February, sure, but still.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Finns, by which I mean to say that, in the aggregate, they are my favourite people in the world and I have yet to meet a Finn I didn't like. This extends to my taxi drivers, most of whom professed not to speak English until I spoke to them in Swedish and they realised their narrowed options. This also extends to the server who confirmed every step of my order and then grimly said: "okay, I guess I will make this for you now."

Most Finns speak English, as it happens, which is fortunate for me because I only speak four words of Finnish, one of which is a mild oath and one of which is a breed of dog (seriously, go to YouTube and search for "suomenlapinkoira pennut" — "pennut," in this case, being "puppies," and modifying "suomenlapinkoira" so I only count it as one word).

I don't, honestly, remember a whole lot of Helsinki because I was there for work, and I was working pretty much around the clock, and also I didn't sleep. I didn't sleep because in Helsinki in mid-June, the sky starts to think about getting dark at 2330 or so, and then gives up by 0330 when it hits full daylight again.

But I'd like to go back. I didn't get a chance to see much of the city, and my plans to walk between the hotel and my office were stymied by a) carrying more than my life is worth in electronic equipment on my person and b) the fact that the two were separated by a forest and I didn't feel like being eaten by a bear on my very first trip to the city.

Helsinki airport, incidentally, is in addition to being expensive quite small, and there is no place to sit. Seriously, there's maybe fifty chairs throughout the gate area, so if you have a flight you might as well just get there ten minutes beforehand. This will also give you plenty of time to get through security, which billed itself as a "2 minute" wait when I got there and proved to have low self-esteem on that front.

So in that sense it's like Tegel, and probably the Finns are going to wise up eventually and build themselves a modern, efficient airport with massive security lines and lots of shops and all that bullshit. But until then, it was enjoyable. They also have free WLAN access, and when you connect the TOS says "here is your free Internet, provided to you by the airport. Also, please feel free to plug your computer into any power outlet you see. Enjoy!"

They're techie people, which is awesome.

And I bet they know how to dispose of their beer.
You can use this form to add a comment to this page!




You will be identified by the name you provide. Once posted, comments may not be edited. For markup, use 'bulletin board' code: [i][/i] for italic, [b][/b] for bold, [ind][/ind] to indent, [url=][/url] for URLs, and [quote=Author|Date][/quote] for quotes (you can leave the date blank but you need the pipe). HTML is not allowed. Neither is including your website :)