Herring, reindeer and forests may spring to mind when Helsinki, Finland’s capital and largest city, crops up in conversation. Times, however, have changed. The last decade has seen Finland’s economy transition from forestry-based to technology-based industry.
Dubbed ‘Design Capital of the World 2012’ by Icsid and ‘World’s Most Liveable City’ by British magazine Monocle in 2011, Helsinki is nowadays more synonymous with clean tech brands such as Nokia, and sleek design lines such as Artek, than it is with the reindeer-patterned cable-knits of yesteryear. Even the country’s gastronomy has undergone a makeover; the New York Times recently described Helsinki’s cuisine as ‘inventive and playful’.
Fast becoming a major political, educational, financial, cultural and research centre in Northern Europe, roughly 70% of foreign companies operating in Finland can be found in the Helsinki region, making the city a rich and cosmopolitan experience for those living there.
What is special or unique about your city?
The Helsinki region is formed by the cities of Helsinki (population 578,000), Espoo (population 241,000), Vantaa (population 195,000) and Kauniainen (population 8,500), along with 10 surrounding municipalities. Approximately 1.3 million inhabitants, accounting for one fifth of the Finnish population, live in the Helsinki region.
The Helsinki region is the fastest-growing metropolis in Europe. By 2025, the region is estimated to house 1.5 million people and 800,000 jobs. Helsinki and its neighboring municipalities also constitute one of the world’s safest metropolitan areas.
The area has an environment that is close to nature and is pleasant to live, study, work and do business in. Much focus is put on the functionality of urban services and on general cleanliness.
Life in the Helsinki region retains an international flavor. The number of immigrants has grown significantly since the beginning of the 1990s; today around 90,000 live in the Helsinki metropolitan area.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
Helsinki is a vibrant place. There are adventures to be had at every corner – on the streets, on the stages, at the museums and in the parks. Experience the beauty of Helsinki from the water or the many faces of the city ashore. Helsinkians are known for their friendliness to tourists and their skills in English. It’s not a huge city, so it has a small-town personality. Places of interest and attractions are within short walking distance. The country has some of the most beautiful natural sights, such as thousands of lakes, and is especially beautiful in summer. Winters are often long and cold.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Impressions are likely to change once you become adapted to the environment and are familiar with the language and culture.
What is the local language?
Finnish and Swedish. Many people also speak English.
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
Generally, all signs are in Finnish and Swedish.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
The people are generally polite, and punctuality is an important factor to remember where appointments are concerned, be they social or business. Finns aren’t generally talkative nor do they express feelings vibrantly, especially in situations with strangers. Small talk is not commonly used and things are expressed very directly. This is, however, not to be interpreted as impoliteness.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
It can be said that Finland has all four seasons, so winters are generally cold with a lot of snow and summers are warm. Perhaps the biggest difficulty for foreigners is that the sun only comes up for a few hours during the winter, and there isn’t much darkness during the summer. Up in northern parts of Finland, there can be many months of total darkness in the winter and vice versa during the summer.
If you happen to own a car, it is compulsory to have winter tires from November to March.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
They are generally low-anxiety people who do not reveal their emotions as often and overtly as people from other cultures. Discussions should be kept in an atmosphere of harmony and accord. However, Helsinki is a very international city with inhabitants and visitors from many cultures. Therefore, the population is used to different views and ways of thinking and behaving.
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