Kiwi Abroad

Matt Kennedy-Good extends his OE and follows his heart to Finland

Sex, lies and alcohol: A Kiwi abroad's perspective

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Good times in Finland: Sanna and me at Vappu. Photo / Matt Kennedy-Good
Good times in Finland: Sanna and me at Vappu. Photo / Matt Kennedy-Good

Pinned to the wall in front of me is a piece of A4 paper, divided into a rough grid of thirty boxes. Like a calendar, each box in this represents a given date and is full of appointments, farewell parties and numerous little things I need to do.

With almost all of the boxes now crossed out, for me this messy page of scribbles is more beautiful than any masterpiece hanging in a gallery, more captivating than the most difficult magic eye picture.

It means that in a few days a new adventure begins.

The last time I drew this type of picture was almost a year ago. I pinned it to the wall when I decided that I wasn't going to move back to New Zealand and settle down, as I had long planned to.

Instead, I was relocating to Helsinki, to live with a girl I had recently met on a beach in Colombia. Finland was moving into a dark recession and an even darker winter.

It all made perfect sense.

At this time I had just finished a series of blogs written from the Mongol Rally. With my change of plans came the opportunity to continue the blog. Instead of the excitement of the Mongol Rally, I would describe what living in Finland is like for a Kiwi.

It was, of course, the differences that stood out the most. From the stark contrast in climate to cultural norms like talking to strangers, Finland and New Zealand often seemed poles apart metaphorically as well as literally.

While researching and thinking about the blogs, however, often more surprising than the differences were what the two countries have in common.

Obviously, I don't mean the basic aspects of society shared by rich countries with predominantly European ancestry, but more unlikely similarities.

For example, although Finland is slightly bigger than New Zealand and has around a million more inhabitants, both countries have almost exactly the same population density (about 15 people per square km). Counting Finland's archipelago and lakes, both populations also have wonderful access to the open water.

It is these shared geographic facts which perhaps explain why so many people from both countries love to escape civilisation and sail, fish, hike, and race rally cars.

But more intriguing, in my opinion, are the less obvious similarities.

Although Finns are less talkative with strangers than New Zealanders, I think there is a shared appreciation for modesty and self-deprecation.

Just like in New Zealand, the easiest way to get a laugh in conversation here is to make fun of yourself.

Making this task easier is the common appreciation for over indulging in alcohol, or "binge drinking".

While NZ does not have any festivals approaching Vappu - where basically the entire country gets hammered - both Governments have identified this attitude to alcohol as a serious problem in society, and actively campaign to try to change it.

In terms of politics, Finland was the second country in the world after New Zealand to allow women the right to vote. Until John Key ruined the party both countries were also led by women.

No doubt related to this early progress, today, according to the World Economic Forum, Finland is rated second in the world on overall equality between the sexes, while NZ is 5th.

Away from politics - but still leading the world - according to a survey made by Durex, the only people in the world more sexually promiscuous than New Zealanders are Finns.

Some may argue that these statistics together demonstrate a clear correlation between gender equality and promiscuity, perhaps once and for all vindicating the decision to allow universal suffrage.

A less controversial explanation is that Finland and NZ's extremely competitive Durex rankings are instead a reflection of the honesty of respondents: Both countries are consistently rated among the least corrupt in the world. (Probably more likely it's a combination of both, along with the well known side-effects of binge drinking.)

So although my blogs focused on the aspects of Finnish society I found unusual, Finland really has more in common with New Zealand than one would expect.

Whether it's the vomit on the street in front of your house on Sunday morning, or the fact that your friend will admit to the fact he deposited it there, Finns and Kiwis share fundamental cultural traits that have made it easy for me to enjoy myself here.

Moving to Finland to live with my girlfriend Sanna was admittedly a rather silly idea, but it is one I would definitely make again.

Even so, I do love the messy grid of boxes on my wall that indicates I am about to leave.

Outside the leaves are beginning to turn orange and the days are getting shorter and colder. One Finnish winter is enough for just now.

Tomorrow Sanna and I hop on a plane bound for Bangkok. If all goes according to plan (I will keep you posted on this) in six weeks we will arrive in New Zealand.

- Matt Kennedy-Good

Pictured above: Good times in Finland - Sanna and me at Vappu (L); my attempt at building a snowman. Photos / Matt Kennedy-Good

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