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

Finland: The sun also rises

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Yesterday, for the second time this week, a naked man started a conversation with me.

"Sorry, I don't speak Finnish," I said to him, staring at his forehead.

Even more unusual for Finland - in my experience - this morning as I left our apartment a young woman smiled at me. Assuming that she was a friend of Sanna's I smiled back and held our front door open, only to watch her walk past to another apartment.

Wondering what was going on, I told Sanna about my new popularity.

"It's not you, silly," she said. "It's spring."

Officially, it has been spring since March 1. Yet only a week ago, although Helsinki was light as Wellington in midsummer, it was still colder than Wellington in the middle of winter.

Every sunny day I would step outside expecting the warm caress of the spring sun and instead feel the bite of a wintry blast, sending me back inside for my mittens and scarf.

I knew it was cold up here, but I did not know that there were any cities on earth where mittens are essential for more than six months of the year.

Despite the persistent cold, over the last few weeks the evidence that summer is approaching has been building. One by one, absent friends have been returning to the city and reacquainting themselves with my senses.

First, there was light.

Every week since late December we have had an extra 40 minutes of daylight each day.

Light now wakes me well before my alarm clock, and convinces me to stay up well past my bedtime each night.

Sometime in March, rain joined the party. I must have looked like a desperate farmer, so happy I was to feel drops of water falling on my face.

With the rain, smells have returned. Outside our house is the whiff of curry from the local Nepalese restaurant, the stench wafting from sewer grates and from the cafe across the street the aroma of freshly ground coffee.

Until then I hadn't even realised that outdoor smells had been frozen from my life for the previous four or five months.

Better again, to provide a soundtrack for the summer, the birds are back in town. Following the birds is their action on the side, the bees.

As temperatures last week soared up to 10°C , women - long thought to be extinct - have made a welcome return to the streets, shedding the camouflage of big winter coats.

Finally, after months of waiting and numerous premature starts, it is also getting warm.

On Saturday we met up with a group of Australians and New Zealanders (and Finns and Brits and a Jamaican) to commemorate fallen servicemen on Anzac Day.

It was then, for the first time in seven months, that I stripped down to just a tee shirt while outside.

Sitting outside, chewing my crispy Anzac biscuit and shivering a little, I understood why everyone is in such a good mood around town.

In New Zealand's temperate climate winter is generally cold and wet, but there is not the same absence of so many pleasurable aspects of life like near the Arctic Circle in Finland.

Seasonal changes do not change your life in the same way.

I still don't want to hold conversations with naked old men in the sauna, but at least I now know why they are suddenly so talkative.

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