How to walk on ice without dying

It’s not actually that cold here in Helsinki. With the temperature yo-yoing around zero degrees however we have snow that melts and then refreezes – leaving a layer of ice over everything.

Around 20,000 people a month in Finland sustain injuries from slipping on ice in winter. Here are a few things I’ve learnt about surviving on icy streets:

Don’t be afraid! Go outside everyday – Helsinki is set up for it – and if you don’t you’ll end up staying inside for four months. Towers like these are set up from December and are full of tiny stones that are spread on the footpaths to help with grip.


Likewise, some of the city streets have hot water piped underneath, leaving them free of ice and snow.


Laying the pipes in summer


Ice free in winter

Ice-free in winter

Choose the path of most resistance. Walk where others walk, look for gravel to walk on and avoid shiny dark areas. If there is no gravel, choose snow over ice.


Slippery, slipperier, slipperiest

Avoid manhole covers and other metal surfaces. Always go around these ice traps.


Likewise, avoid painted surfaces, like the lines on pedestrian crossings. Once again, aim for the gravel that has been laid out for grip.


Don’t rush out the back door on your way to the rubbish room without checking the conditions first. Step outside that door at speed and you may find yourself slipping and sliding across the courtyard while squealing like a pig (true story).


Always use the handrails on stairs and if possible, send a small child ahead of you to test for slippery patches.


Stairway to hell

Leave plenty of time to get somewhere – rushing is never a good idea. I would seriously add on 50% of the time you’d normally take to walk somewhere.


If you parked your car in the street overnight, take a shovel with you the next morning. The snow ploughs that clear the streets in the night create piles of snow that might block you in.


Hidden layers of ice under snow make hills a real danger zone – but also a really fun thing to do on the weekend. If you do accidentally slide down a hill, always yell ‘yippee!’ and act like it was intentional.


And finally, grab a friend for support. Or, if you’re like me, occasionally grab a stranger. One with matching clothes is even better.


(Disclaimer: I don’t usually go around taking photos of old people from behind. It’s a new thing).

Yle News: Slip, Fall, Break a Leg – Who Pays?

I’m speaking Spinach

I’ve started Finnish lessons, which I love. The teacher is great and my classmates come from Canada, Spain, Venezuela, England, Nigeria, USA, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Russia, Estonia, Nepal, India, Pakistan….who said Finland is not a diverse country?

Here’s a few things I’ve learnt about studying languages so far:

Finnish is not so difficult

Ha! Well the grammar is and we’re yet to really get into it, but the words are great. Lento (flight) + kone (machine) = lentokone (airplane). Jää (ice) + karhu (bear) = jääkarhu (polar bear). You get the idea. Which is why it wasn’t too difficult and felt so good to be able to answer my teacher when she asked me to say 65,493 (although it did take me a while)*.

It’s all relative

When learning weather words we used a map of the world and next to Sydney, Australia was an icon saying +10 degrees celcius. I of course used the adjective viileä (cool) but the correct answer was lämmin (warm). According to our textbook, “Etelä-Suomessa ei ole talvella aina pakkasta” (South-Finland is not alway freezing in winter). We must save the word pakkasta (freezing) for when it gets below -15.

Ravintola = Restaurant

Ravintola = Restaurant

Cowboys say ‘iii-ha-ha’

Finnish cats say ‘nau’, Finnish people say ‘oh-ho’ instead of ‘oops’ and Finnish cowboys say ‘iii-ha-ha!’

The brain is a filing cabinet

My theory on learning languages is that the brain is like a filing cabinet and each language goes in a different drawer. Somewhere in my brain is a drawer of high-school Japanese that is gathering dust, but if I had to open the drawer I could rifle through it and dust off some of what I learnt.

The thing is I am currently studying Finnish and Italian so when my brain doesn’t know a word in Finnish, it automatically goes down to the next ‘foreign language drawer’ and starts looking in the Italian drawer. Which makes me want to say things like “Minä olen uudesta seelannista ma abbiamo vissuto in Australia per dieci anni.” (I am from New Zealand (FINNISH) but we lived in Australia for ten years (ITALIAN)).


Finnish, Swedish, English

My filing cabinet needs a spring clean

My brain is getting a work out as my Italian class is conducted in Italian and it takes me a while to realise when the teacher has switched to Finnish, which is okay if I know the Finnish words she has used (“For homework do exercise…”).

With all this jumping between languages sometimes I go to tell people ‘I am learning Spanish’ – which is not true – and my mind quickly recalibrates and grabs hold of ‘Finnish’ which has led me at times to tell people ‘I am learning Spinach.’

I think I need to lie down.

* kuusikymmentäviisituhatta neljäsataayhdeksänkymmentäkolme




Is homesickness a disease?

I’m no stranger to moving. By the age of 11 I had lived in four different towns around New Zealand. But a week after moving to Helsinki I started to feel pretty low and it got me thinking: Is homesickness a dis-ease?

Helsinki view

View from our lounge at our temporary accommodation in Helsinki

Things didn’t feel difficult, they just didn’t feel very easy. And it’s not that I felt un-easy here – but I missed the sense of ease that comes with being in a familiar place and knowing all the social norms and expectations. I felt temporarily in a state of dis-ease.

View from our lounge in New Zealand

View from our lounge in New Zealand

Everyone speaks English here but often the signs are all in Finnish or Swedish, so until I could ask someone I was looking around for social cues as to what was expected of me. Where do I queue? Do I take a ticket? What does that very important-looking sign with the picture of the stroller say? Park here? Don’t park here? Is everyone wondering why I’m doing the opposite? 

I used to watch people to see if we were expected to park our strollers under here or was it just an option?

These structures are common at playgrounds & I used to watch people to see if we were expected to park our strollers here or was it just an option?

But don’t feel sorry for me! I feel much better now and am genuinely enjoying the experience and am grateful to be here. Those challenges now feel character building, rather than overwhelming. Of course I still miss family and friends but that’s different than really pining to be back home again.

Helsinki signage

Helsinki skyline

One thing that makes a big difference when you are new somewhere is the kindness of strangers. The chance to have a conversation or some banter in the street takes on a whole new meaning when it may be the only interaction you have that day. I’m so grateful for the support I have received from home and also that of people I hardly know here.

My sister-in-law checking in on me (I do know her), her sister-in-law checking in on me, people I’ve never met who have agreed to meet up because a mutual friend has asked them to, even when they haven’t seen that mutual friend for a very long time! The woman I met in a playground who gave me her number and invited us to her daughter’s birthday party.

Auckland skyline Photo credit: Stephen Murphy, 2007

Auckland skyline Photo credit: Stephen Murphy, 2007

These interactions and acts of kindness mean so much when you’re new in a city. Sometimes they turn into lifelong friendships and sometimes they don’t. And that’s okay, but they give me the courage to keep going and talk to the next person I meet and feel better about how life is going here.

I’d really like to ask you: is there someone you know who is new to your town that you’ve been meaning to have a coffee with, may have even suggested it to them, but have not followed up on? It might only be an hour out of your time, or just ten minutes to ask ‘How are things going?’ but don’t underestimate the difference you can make in someone’s life as they begin to find their place in their new home.



Moving tips for my former self

The Fourth of July – Independence Day for some, moving day for us! Like a 1950’s traveller our belongings had survived the six-week voyage by sea and were ready to be delivered to our new address in central Helsinki.

Anchors aweigh! Our things ready for sailing

Anchors aweigh! Our things ready for sailing

Only three months have passed since we packed but it was funny to see what I had anticipated we would need. It was soon evident how sentimental I am as I unpacked boxes of photos and gifts from family and friends. This includes a small rock I was given for my 21st birthday that I have taken with me to Australia, back to New Zealand and now Finland. (Sentimental or just semi-mental?)

You know you're in Finland when the former tenants forget to take their reindeer fillets and escargot from the freezer

You know you’re in Finland when the last tenants forget to empty the freezer of reindeer fillets and escargot

If I could go back in time, here’s a few packing tips I would give myself:

– don’t worry about all the small appliances like the toaster, jug, lamps and  fairy lights. The power adaptors you’ll need to run them may cost more than the item did.

– unlike Sydney, where built-in wardrobes are very rare, storage won’t be a problem in Finland. So leave the large chest of drawers behind.

–  also unlike Sydney and Auckland, moths and cockroaches don’t seem to be compulsory flatmates. You can leave half your airtight storage jars behind.

– a Japanese phrasebook and an absinthe spoon – what were you thinking?


– it’s good you packed the books you’ve been meaning to read and haven’t yet. If you haven’t read them by the end of winter, stop carting them around!

– same goes for cookbooks.

– there are shops in Helsinki.

View from our lounge in Auckland (moving in 2012)

View from our lounge in Auckland (moving in day, 2012)

The fourth of July was also the due-date given to us last year for the arrival of our twins; two baby boys we lost at 16 weeks pregnancy. If I could talk to my former self from that time too I’d say, time doesn’t change things, but it does keep moving forward and you really never know where you might find yourself just one year on.

View from our lounge in Finland

View from our lounge in Finland


Upside-down world

I'm doing a load of valko kirjopyykki - who wants in?

I’m washing a load of valko kirjopyykki                                      – who wants in?

Setting foot in a new country can be disorientating after a long flight (or two). Finding where to put your feet is another task altogether.

New Zealand, with Australia, is known as the Antipodes by those in the Northern Hemisphere. From the Greek anti (opposite) and podus (foot) we are the people living with our feet on the opposite side of the globe. In fact Plato used the term to refer to an upside-down world on the other side of the planet.

Any New Zealander heading to Europe has to quickly relearn the ‘right’ way of doing things. We’re used to the embarrassment of realising we’ve hopped into the driver’s seat of the taxi or stopped the flow of traffic on the escalator by standing on the left, not the right.

But I was horrified to see a bus coming towards us on our first day in Helsinki with the driver totally distracted. Until Jonny pointed out it wasn’t the driver I was looking at but a passenger, standing in the front of the bus searching for their wallet.

Although everyone speaks English here, all the signs are in Finnish or Swedish. To my untrained eye they look like all the leftover letters from a game of hang-man. No amount of squinting will tell me if vetää means push or pull as I fumble with the door while people wait behind me.

Instructions in the rubbish room clearly laid out in Suomi

Instructions in the rubbish room clearly laid out in Suomi

This disorientation is a good feeling though as it reminds me we are in a different place; that things that seem so strange now one day become second nature.

We’ll just know to weigh and price our fruit before getting to the supermarket counter and not to wander onto a cycle path without looking.

We may have come from the other side of the planet but it won’t be long before we have our feet the right way up in our new home.