Why an Iceberg? I assume a lot of you have already seen what is there to see when you arrive in Finland: the tip of The Iceberg. Chilly weather and beautiful winters (if they manage to arrive); long nights colored with auroras and sweaty dens of millions of saunas; eternal summer days and thousands of lakes; strangely quiet but genuinely likeable Finns; safety as you walk home during night time and bunnies in the streets; good social security and weird passion for bitter-tasting coffee; Moomins and rally cars... whether you are an exchange student, an expat, or a character in a romantic story, you have experienced (or are about to experience) all of these.
What is the bottom of The Finland Iceberg made of? As someone who has lived in Finland for almost 6 years, I could write about the hardships that an immigrant might be facing in a foreign country (maybe not so specific to Finland alone), but I prefer to talk about it as some sort of an ice-cream cake, if you wish. One difficult layer is covered with an amusing or positive one.
I sit in the company of Finns who are having a conversation: I cannot participate, because every time I say something, the topic has already changed or I completely misunderstood it (I am deaf towards double vowels or consonants, for example). So I just sit and stare at my coffee. However, whenever I have a tête-à-tête conversation with a Finn, I get complimented on my language skills, because not too often a foreigner would make such a (gigantic) effort.
Looking for a job, I do not get a reply or get turned down because 'Finnish language.' A lady from the unemployment office tells me I would not have any troubles finding a job with my education. I know it’s a lie, but nevertheless I am flattered.
I can’t stand pauses in the conversations and what I call a ‘Finnish hug’ (the one when they hug the air around you and tap you awkwardly on the back). It makes me not want to have hugs at all – and I love hugs! On the other hand, when you attend a concert and need to leave your nice spot in the front row to go to a bar, you return and there is your space, completely untouched, like the air around you during that hug.
Terrible coffee is compensated by its availability and wonderful pulla; very high living expenses are softened by cheap student lunches; huge taxes come back to you when you lose your job or need to visit a doctor; the hard process of making Finnish friends pays off with years and years of having the most devoted of friends; cold dark winter nights are replaced by eternal daylight in summer; the general gray color of the cities is outweighed by magnificent natural sights; the struggles of learning Finnish pay off by you proudly (with a thick accent and wrong grammar) conversing with doctors, bankers, friends, and strangers; the taste of salmiakki is forgotten when you pick a bucket of blueberries and buy fresh salmon from the market. I can go on like this forever.
I have left Finland now. Why? I am positive that I took all that I could from this country, both positives and negatives, and it is time to move on. After all, if the world is a book, I have only read a few pages just yet. But I will always remember Finland as a country of dark and light, that gave me a lot of experiences - good and unpleasant alike. When you start exploring this country, remember that it is an iceberg, a layered ice-cream cake iceberg. A downside always has a silver aurora-colored lining.