Expat tales: A new Finnish beginning

FRASER WRIGHT
Last updated 05:00 06/04/2014
Fraser Wright/Helsinki

QUALITY OF LIFE: Fraser Wright's work starts at 5am and finishes at 10am, leaving the rest of the day to spend with the kids.

Fraser Wright/Helsinki
WAY TO GO: Helsinki's public transport is good and the trams offer a great way to get around the city.

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High living costs in London and NZ motivated Fraser Wright and his young family to give Helsinki a go. 

Why did you move to the city? We had lived in London for 10 years but as we had a one-year-old we couldn't afford to live in a larger apartment, though we didn't want to live outside of London. We had visited New Zealand again, realised that it was still the same and Helsinki had a better standard of living for us at the time.

What do you do there? I work for Ikea in logistics so my work starts at 5am and finishes at 10am. The rest of the day I have time with the kids.

What do you like/dislike about it? Finland shares a lot with New Zealand in terms of population size and ways of thinking. So seeing the prime minister at the supermarket isn't something that surprises you.

How does the cost of living compare to New Zealand? Food and alcohol are more expensive but then other aspects are cheaper such as running costs of the house.

What do you do on weekends? This winter we were ice skating. Weekends usually consist of meeting friends and spending time outdoors with the family if the weather is good.

What do you think of the food? What's your favourite thing to eat there? In Finland the schools provide meals, so do workplaces/prison/army and retirement homes. So the only time Finns cook for themselves is when they are unemployed or retired. Anthony Bourdain was very flattering of Finnish food when he came here for his No Reservations TV series ... mmm blood sausage (mustamakkara) - everyone's favourite.

What's the best way to get around the city? They have an underground metro if you want simplicity but trams are much nicer. There's also an extensive bus network, where you use a universal touch card. But I am sure there is an app for your phone.

What's the shopping like? Helsinki has a similar layout to say Wellington, just bigger and without the hills. There are a lot more interesting shops in regards to Scandinavian designed items.

What's the nightlife like? Expensive, the people are better looking though! Bars are usually open till 3 or 4am.

What is your favourite part of the city? Lauttasaari or Seurasaari are islands linked by bridges within the Helsinki archipelago. Seurasaari has an open air museum if you are into that sort of thing while Lauttasaari is residential but has beaches onto the Baltic sea.

What time of year is best to visit and why? Initially I was going to say Juhannus which is the Midsummer festival, as the sunsets last the longest, however for shopping it's no good as shops are closed for Juhannus. It always snows around Christmas and all of the festivities are based on something tangible within Finnish culture. But the time of year I like the most is late summer/autumn as the colours of the leaves in the trees make a wonderful backdrop to any picture.

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What's your must-do thing for visitors? Sauna and swim in a lake. They are everywhere, even most workplaces have a sauna which is odd for non Scandinavians to get to terms with. Also I think I am the only New Zealander to take part in the Sauna World Championships.

What are your top tips for tourists? There is free wifi and powerpoints within allocated set pods at the airport, so you don't need try and sneakily find the plug at Starbucks/McD's. Also most of the shopping malls, hotels and public places have free wifi. About 95 per cent of Finland has 3G cell coverage so bring your smartphone, laptop or tablet with you.

How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand? New Zealand isn't getting any closer or cheaper to get to and like the poster in Murray's office in Flight of the Conchords - "Just 22 hours from New York!"

If you know an expat who wants to share the inside knowledge on their home away from home, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

- Sunday Star Times

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