Day Ten in Finland – Shopping

10 Sep

I’ve been here just over a week, but during the last three days the reality of being in Finland is starting to fully sink in. Whilst cycling through the Finnish countryside I realised that this is it, this is what I’ve been looking forward to for so long. For six months I proudly announced to everyone that I was moving to Finland, a strange new place full of weird and wonderful habits and activities. ‘Better get used to the cold’ people would say. ‘Better get used to pickled food’. I shrugged most comments off with ‘It will be fine.’ That is generally my life’s motto. I think I will add to it with something a new friend said to me the other day (quoted from  a movie):

‘In the end everything will be ok. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.’

The last two weeks before leaving were hard and the first few days were harder. I felt shell-shocked, sad and nervous a lot of the time. Excited, but with deep undertones of fear. Largely relating to being restricted because of language barriers, particularly when shopping.

Quotes from the first day’s journal entry:

‘Things that I have learnt today:

– not everyone in Finland speaks English.

-remember the essentials, for instance, the correct adaptors for vital electrical equipment such as mobile phones.

-Use the phrasebook in your pocket rather than forgetting about it and trying to use your hands to create a picture of a voltage adaptor.’

Really it is impossible to explain a voltage adaptor without the correct phrase. For future reference it is ‘adapterin’ and the Stockman department store sells them for 7 euros 95. They also speak English there, and their badges have these neat little flags on them to represent the languages they speak. So if in doubt, head to Stockman. It’s expensive, rather like a John Lewis, but I see it as a beacon of safety and help if I’m ever really desperate and stuck. They also have a great designer kitchenware section.

But if you find yourself without the essentials, here is an important piece of information – you will be able to find what you need in Finland! Whether it’s an adaptor, a phone charger or anything else, it’s highly likely that they have it. Also, not all the food is pickled. They have plenty of stuff to make everything that I would eat at home. Sometimes a little more pricey, but it’s there. The main differences I’ve found so far are in meat and cheese (a whole aisle dedicated to plastic looking sausages!)

As for the language difficulty, it’s easy to get by. This is my first experience of a non – English speaking country so it’s all new for me but generally younger store assistants speak English, the assistants at the post office do and you’re likely to find someone in the city centre that does.

A few observations about shopping in Finnish supermarkets:

They generally pack their food after they have paid for it.  The conveyor belt takes it right to the end of the till point and once you have paid you can go and pack. I didn’t get told not to when I did it differently, but it’s nice to not stick out so much now.

When you buy fruit and veg don’t just put it in a plastic bag and expect to have it weighed at the till. Check for a number on the description label, place the fruit on the scales and press the number. A barcode will be spat out which you stick to the bag and voila, apples for eating.

Another quirk of the local supermarket near us (and is supposedly quite common) is that they have lockers in the foyer for your other shopping bags/items to be stored in whilst you shop. This has had the effect of making me a little paranoid that everyone in the store thinks I’m stealing, but I’m sure that will wear off. They also have cute little cages/huts for dogs, so they don’t have to stay out in the cold!

One thing that I do to make shopping easier is trying to find the Finnish word for what I’m buying. Onions – sipuli. Most of the time I can tell by sight what it is, onions are pretty obvious, but sometimes it’s good to know. It helped knowing the names of spices and today I came across bread with the word ‘porkkana’ on it, aka ‘carrot’. I’m sure the bread is great, but I’m looking for something to put my peanut butter on and I don’t think carrot bread will do the trick.

It’s taken ten days but I’m starting to lose my nervousness when shopping. I was even brave enough today to say ‘Anteeksi, en puhun suomea’ when the assistant posed a question, rather than blushing and looking confused whilst apologising. In English.

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