Saturday, October 18, 2008

Checking in on our Western neighbor

Not that much time ago, I decided to go on a trip and visit our neighbor country Sweden. One of my friends had invited me for a party to a city situated between Stockholm and Gothenburg, so I thought it sounded like a great idea. Way too much time had passed since I had been there anyway.

I like going to Sweden, it is always a kind of analysis because we are talking about a rival country with which we Finns always compare ourselves. Besides this, it is the country were people speak my mother tongue. Therefore it is also a way to see how reality could look like if one would live in a place where everything would be in Swedish, my language. This is a privilege we Swedish speaking Finns do not have.

Furthermore, I had my own little personal reason to go to Stockholm. Working last summer at Helsinki's Tourist Office, I had heard endless stories about our "competitor", the Tourist Office of Stockholm. Of course, I had to check it out.

Me and my flat mate Ivano took one of the Silja Line ferries to go to Stockholm. I had decided on the cruise line because I wanted to show him a nicer picture of the traffic between Sweden and Finland. Usually, those ferries are filled with Finns going on cruises in order to buy cheap alcohol and get drunk on the ship. That was not what I wanted to show Ivano. I was happy about my choice because the cabin was nice, a promenade cabin with the view to the inner promenade deck on the ship. We also enjoyed a buffet dinner at the Silja Line restaurant, something also new for Ivano. I always look forward to eating at least one buffet during a cruise because it means I can eat my delicacy - salmon eggs. So good.


Once we got to Stockholm, we first headed for the Central Railway Station to get our train tickets to Skövde. The underground system in Stockholm is really good, you can get anywhere in the core center in just a few minutes. I hope Helsinki will in the near future have something of a similar underground system. I know there is work going on, so I am confident that that is where we are heading.

Something I do have to comment on though, are the tickets. We paid almost 8€ for one single ticket in the underground. I really wish we were misleaded, because that sounds like an insane amount of money to me. Fortunately the first day we were in Stockholm, we bought Stockholm cards, which turned out to be a very wise investment. For about 33€ euros we got free public transport, free boat sightseeing, free museum admissions, discounts and much more. Very handy. A big plus is the guide book you are given when purchasing the card. It shows all the discounts and benefits of course, but is of a convenient size, A6, and includes the map of Stockholm with all the museums placed on it. Very nice. And also a map of the underground system. Perfect. I'm lovin' it. 10 points for that booklet.

After fighting with the lockers at the train station, which only accept coins of 5 and 10 crowns, kronor, we managed to leave our luggage at the station, get our tickets and head by foot towards the old town of Stockholm. Stockholm is a city easy to navigate in, and I always feel immediately at ease there. There are millions of signs telling you where you are heading, so there is no need for maps. Although the old town is something that gives Stockholm an edge over Helsinki, I didn't remember it as small as it now seemed. The streets were almost empty and we walked through the quarter in 10-15 minutes.

Finally after spending time in old town, we headed for the Tourist Office. I actually didn't think it was easy to find, more hidden like. The Office itself was placed on a floor beneath street level, which I found strange. This is an office that should represent the city, and it is situated underground? The Office itself was beautiful of course, with the Tourist Office on one side and a souvenir shop on the other side.


Technology was very present, with at least 10 computers visible for customer use. This actually created a conflict between Ivano and me.

For somebody like me, with experience of working in a Tourist Office, it seems highly impersonal to encourage tourists to computers instead of offering them personal service with personnel. Of course, there were some tourist advisers present, but as a tourist, you needed a queue number in order to be able to speak with them. Seeing as I know that this office has about 7 000-8 000 customers a day, I doubt they stay to wait for their number.

Ivano on the other hand, preferred the cold computers and did not put any weight on personal assistance. Despite this, I strongly believe that we do it better at the Helsinki Tourist Office because by offering personal help and advise without queue numbers and only a few customer computers, we give the city a face in a far different way than Stockholm. The personnel of a Tourist Office does not only represent the city but might be the only local people a tourist encounters.

After a long day in Stockholm with boat sightseeing, walking, shopping and museums, we ended up in the Central Railway Station waiting for our train. I just must promote the best book shop ever, called Pocket Shop. I've been there twice, and both times I have found interesting books for an ever more interesting price. Only there can you buy Swedish novel books for only 6€! In Finland that would never be possible.

The Swedish trains are very high tech, as all of Sweden according to me. Even on the trains, all the people were using laptops and other technological equipment.

Skövde is a cute city :) With its 50 000 inhabitants it shows a completely different Sweden than Stockholm. Skövde feels like a place to rest. I found a lot of Marimekko and Iittala there, which warmed my heart. Marimekko seems to be very hot there, yey. I think the Swedes are a better audience for Marimekko than Finns, because they are ready to invest a lot of money on their home. I found more interior design shops in Sweden than I have ever seen in Finland. Here it is unusual that a student has money for e.g. Marimekko drapes. In Sweden on the other hand, it seemed ordinary.

In Skövde at least, there were also some differences concerning going out to bars. There the bar goers were of a much wider age range. I also think Swedes drink less than us, hehe. A funny feature was that when the clock turned two, and the bar in which we were closed, everybody rushed to the wardrobe to get their clothes. There existed no rules in the order in which the people pushed its way through. No gentlemen existed, that's for sure. I thought Finns were rude, but we have some clear competition in the west.

The whole Swedish experience was awesome. It really made me think that I would like to live at least one year in Stockholm. I think only in that way I would fully experience the Swedes and the differences that lie underneath the surface. Although our cultures are similar, we have hidden norms and opinions that differ. And the Swedish guys? Well, I have to say that they catch my eye running around in their trench coats and manly bags. Without a doubt, a good motive for checking in on our Western neighbor every now and again.

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