Being a new arrival in a foreign city is like being a scientist tasked with making speculations based upon shreds of evidence and tiny sample sizes. Every interaction with baristas and bus drivers is freighted with intercultural judgment. With this in mind, I will plunge in.
The Fussgänger Zone outside the DNA phone shop. Central Jyväskylä is closed to cars, except taxis and delivery vehicles. I took this picture at about 2:30 in the afternoon.
In my first (short) days here in Central Finland, I am struck by the warmth and openness of the people I meet. A neighbor, Pirkko-Leena, drops by to see if I am getting on okay and opens up about being a female engineer in the paper-making industry; the receptionist at the hotel lends me her personal cell phone so I can make a local call; a jovial, patient college-age man at the phone shop DNA (can you hear me now, smug Portland Apple-istas?), smiles and offers clear answers to my confused questions about SIM cards and international texting; these and may other people here have been welcoming but also more ebullient than the clichés about Finns in the guidebooks and internet suggest. (Typical entry: Q: How can you identify the Finnish extrovert? A: They look at your shoes.)
Beyond such first interactions, the other dominant early impressions come from the fleeting hours of sunlight and, this week at least, the biting cold. The sun rises about 9:30 and sets six hours later. Most of the day feels like evening, like I should hustle home to make dinner.
Today, the temperature is defying the weatherman and sticking at -6 Fahrenheit, despite clear skies and sunshine. The night I arrived, delayed for a few hours by an unplanned bus ride due to a malfunctioning train, it was 20 below. Unfortunately for me, my ride to my flat had waited and then left the train station, as I was unable to contact him, the bus not having wi-fi. Thus my nice interaction with the helpful hotel receptionist across the street from the train station.
I am struck by the sheer number of people out walking around, kids playing in yards and parks, people skating and even walking on the frozen lake in the center of the city. They are in the background of the photo below. There is a long course all around the lake, on which the snow has been removed so people can skate directly on the ice.
Tomorrow I go to the university for the first time. I am curious to learn about a new culture of academia.