Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Work life in downtown Helsinki

I realize that I haven't posted to my blog in several weeks.  It is not writer's block which is ailing me, it's now a lack of free time.  Life has just become very busy again, and that is a good thing.  I started a new job at an Internet media start up in downtown Helsinki and I am very psyched about working there.  However, I have neglected this blog long enough so I hope you enjoy this entry.

My new job is located near the Kammpi and Punavuori neighborhoods in downtown Helsinki, which is very close to the city center.  I live in Espoo and luckily my commute is no longer than a 15 minute minute bus ride, 5 minute car ride and about a 5 minute walk.  It definitely beats my previous commutes in the San Francisco Bay Area which were roughly 1 hour or longer.  Working downtown is nice because I am engulfed in all the cultural and historical surroundings of the city.  Just steps outside of my office building are multiple restaurants, boutique shops, hair salons, art & design shops, and various other services.  This is a very bohemian and somewhat eclectic part of the city.  Helsinki has never been known as a "hot bed" of culture, but I sense things are changing and the city is slowly becoming more trendy and international.

What mystifies me the most are the amount and selection of restaurants in downtown Helsinki.  Finland doesn't have a reputation as a foodie city and Finnish food itself is less than exciting.   When I leave my building and meander a few steps outside I am surrounded by Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Nepalese, Turkish, Mexican, Italian and countless other ethnic varieties of food.  The choices seem to keep growing everyday as I discover more and more places.  The main issue in Helsinki has always been the scarcity of good/fresh ingredients for ethnic foods.  Also, I think the Finns taste in food was never really geared towards exotic ethnic foods.  Historically this has been a meat, fish and potatoes country.  The only spices Finns seemed to know are salt and pepper.  I am particularly excited about the two new Mexican restaurants that have popped up downtown.  In my previous visits to Finland I had never discovered a true Mexican restaurant and most of them are considered Tex-Mex (think Chevy's style without beans, fresh salsa or Margaritas).  These new places are truly Mexican and have fresh ingredients, and feature Mexican chefs.  Immigration to Finland has been occurring a greater pace now and perhaps that is why so many ethnic restaurants seem to be popping up on every street corner.

Now that the Winter thaw is slowing fading away and the Spring sun is making it's appearance, I look forward to taking lunch strolls along the old streets of Helsinki.  Within 5 minutes I can be at the center of the city and within 10 minutes I can be at Finland's most famous street, The Esplanadi.  The Esplanadi is a long street that features a picturesque park, and is a great place to hang out in the summer sun.  Just a few more minutes away I can be at the famous harbor that features a daily open air market.  Helsinki is a fairly compact city and one can navigate it fairly easily on foot alone.  I look forward to more adventures out and about in the Capital city as the Spring sun slowly turns into Summer's endless white nights.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Crazy Finnish bus drivers

I have to go on a small rant about Finnish bus drivers.  Well, I should say bus drivers in Finland, because they aren't all Finnish nationality, but that is beside the point.  Actually, the best experience I have had so far was with a Tunisian bus driver, but I will get to that later.

Finnish bus drivers are nothing at all like those that I have experienced elsewhere.  In Finland bus drivers always have the right of way.  That means that when they turn on their turn signal to leave the bus stop to enter back onto the street, they just proceed to drive without looking.  They do not care if you are passing them at the same moment or not, they will ram into you.  They have absolutely no regard in waiting for a car to pass them, they just think they own the road and that you should get out of the way.  I have had countless experiences of driving on the freeway when a bus comes onto the freeway and instead of nicely merging into the lane, just decides to cut me off as I quickly speed up and exit the lane before getting pummeled.  I am really scratching my head on why it is this way in Finland.  I am pretty sure that if a bus in the United States needs to turn back onto the main road, they will wait until no cars are passing and deem it safe before turning back into the traffic lane.  

Also, when I board Finnish buses I normally say "Paivaa" "Heippa" "Terve" or another Finnish greeting, but I never get anything back from them, not even a word.  They are not friendly or helpful in the slightest way.  Also, if I give them anything but exact change for my fare they normally will angrily shake their head at me.  I can understand that driving a bus is not the most prestigious of jobs, but a friendly smile and saying hello will go a long way in life.  

I did want to share one of my few pleasant experiences on the Finnish bus system.  I was coming back from Helsinki the other day and had gotten confused on the stop where I had parked my car on the way home.  I originally had asked the bus driver if his bus stops at a certain station.  When I got off the bus one stop before mine the bus driver actually stopped the bus and opened his door to let me know that I needed to ride one more stop.  So, I got back on the bus and he explained to me which stop to get off at and then we chatted for a bit about where he was from, etc.  He was originally was Tunisia but had been living in Finland for a long time.  I don't want to sound harsh towards Finnish bus drivers, but honestly the few positive experiences that I have had were with expat drivers.

I have had many positive experiences since living in this beautiful country, but the bus drivers have not been part of that.