- People smile. It is such a simple joy, but cherished for its rarity in Russia.
- The transportation system runs on an honor code. Passengers swipe their cards upon entering or exiting, or not. On the metro, daily morning newspapers are gently folded on every seat. Riders fold the paper neatly when exiting the train.
- Grocery stores are heavenly depots of freshly-baked bread, exotic (by Russian standards) fruits, and helpful clerks. When a friend forgot to weigh her pears, the woman sitting at the cash register walked over to the scale herself to weigh them. She did not scowl upon returning.
- You can use credit cards. Real credit cards. In Russia, they think debit cards are credit cards and ask for a pin number when you hand them a credit card. They seem very frustrated and confused when you tell them there are no pin numbers for credit cards.
- You do not need exact change (down to the miniscule kopek in Russia), which limits the amount of stress in the narrow cashier rows that seem to define the Russian neighborhood produkti (food market).
- You can drink the tap water.
- Children do not go to school until seven years old. Both women and men are granted a seemingly exhorbitant amount of paternal leave with each child. Yet, school-age children in Finland have the highest test rates in the world.
- People can actually speak English when they say that they speak English.
- Good coffee is in constant supply, which triumphs over the Nestle instant freeze-dried chunks mixed with sterilized (boiled) Russian tap water.
- The bathrooms did not smell like fermented port-o-potties. Toilet paper was available in each stall.
- Women wear comfortable, cute shoes, not 5-inch spike stilletto heels that lead to tendonitis by age 30. For the first time in 3 months, I saw couples wearing tennis shoes. They looked genuinely happy. In Russia, I am not even sure you can become a couple if you do not wear high heels every day.
- It seems a lot easier to keep 500,000 people happy in Helsinki compared to 5 million people in St. Petersburg alone (143 million overall).
- Finnish sounds like a fake fairy language. There are 26 cases in Finnish while there are only 6 in Russian. It took a full 2 years to learn those 6 cases. For reference, English has zero cases.
- The night that I ordered an "American style" burger with fries and a Miller (seriously) to eat some regulated red meat for the iron, I got food poising. Five hours of rushing back and forth to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Plus, I forgot pajama pants so I had to wrap a sheet around my waist each time I rushed out of my room in the hostel. Classy.
- They are so efficient that it makes living in Russia seem like living in the Stone Age. For example, the train ride from Helsinki to St. Petersburg lasted 8 hours. Approximately 4/5 of the mileage is in Finnish territory. Ironically, 4 hours were in Finland, and 4 hours were in Russia. This could be a grade-school algebra problem except for the reality of its total absurdity.
Note: When we discussed our perceptions with our professor, Yulia, she noted, "Well, it is easier to keep so few people happy. Finland also has one of the highest suicide rates in the world because people don't know what to do with themselves with how efficient and peaceful life is. In Russia, we constantly are stressed, rushed, and on edge. We do not have time to think of psychological and philosophical things. So our suicide rates are lower."
Fact: Russia is third in the world for highest rates of suicide per 100,000 people. Most of the former Soviet Republics are in the top twenty. Finland is listed at thirteen. Yulia, ne prava (you are not right).