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DailyDiary 014: Can I Live Without These 7 Nordic Habits?
What I Will & Won't Miss About Our Five Months in Scandinavia
As I’m counting down the days until we leave gray, cold, but Christmas-light filled Helsinki, sitting in my favorite coffee shop on a blue velvet chair, drinking the always-tasty dark roast drip coffee with local oat milk, and enjoying my cashew yoghurt with lingonberries for late breakfast, I look back at how my life has changed in the last four and a half months.
What will I miss the most from my Nordic routines in Scandinavia?
What am I completely fine with leaving behind?
Here are 7 habits I’m not sure I can live without, and a few I definitely can—and I would love your thoughts in how to adapt those 7 habits of balance into what I will call my “new” life Stateside.
Even though our Nordic adventure is coming to an end soon, things will get even more exciting as I start to apply Nordic Habits and Lifestyle in our daily American life - to live life with more balance, bliss and purpose. Join me now if you haven’t already & subscribe below!
1. Sitting Down to Drink Coffee, from a Real Cup
In Scandinavia, you rarely see anyone walking down the street, holding a cup of takeaway coffee. That’s simply not how coffee is to be enjoyed, at least, not in the Nordics. Unlike in the US, here, coffee shops don’t serve coffee in takeaway cups, unless you specifically ask for it. Everyone will simply take the moment to sit down and drink coffee hot from a real cup, because that’s how it tastes better anyhow.
Life is better with more slower moments. As are coffee shops with real cups, and seats. Something I certainly will be seeking out, no matter where I am.
2. Not Being Asked for Anything Extra By Kids’ School & Daycare
In Scandinavia, I have used my children’s school and daycare time for my purpose, work (including launching this newsletter, which I doubt I never would have had the head space for in the US, and launch my kids’ wellness brand on Amazon), and my wellness.
During school & daycare hours, I prefer my kids to benefit from the highly educated and skilled teachers whose expertise I fully trust. And that’s the standard in Finland. In the US, schools ask a lot of parents (talking about you, moms), from participating in lessons to fundraising to buying and bringing special items to class to driving and attending your children during field trips, to supervising (and sometimes doing!) the homework; even just getting kids to the right schools can be a full time job.
That’s not only a major time commitment, but every little extra request takes up your brain space.
In Finland, I have so far been invited to one parent-teacher conference for the full class, one opportunity to come observe the class, and two bake sales. Not once have been requested to participate during the school hours, or otherwise.
This shift was major in allowing me the head space I needed to not only regain my sense of self after having three kids, and rethink my purpose and career goals and have the time to take meaningful action towards realizing them.
Life is better with balance. I will allow myself to bring this newly achieved head space with me, and will allow myself to focus my full attention to my kids when they are at home, not when they are in school.
PS. Don’t forget to press the like-button at the end! It’s like saying, “Hi, hi!”
3. Not Preparing School Lunches
Scandinavian schools offer free, healthy, hot lunches prepared fresh at the school each day for the kids—special dietary requirements are honored as well—and the free, healthy snacks they get at their after-school club. I can’t imagine restarting the hassle in not only figuring out what they can bring for lunch and snacks, and prepping and packing them as one part of an already rushed morning with three boys. But, as I have realized, my kids are now wildly more independent and responsible, and there’s no reason I can’t put them in charge.
Even if you can’t walk to school by yourself, you can prep your own lunch. And what a life skill to learn!
4. Attending the After-School Club = Daily Playdate
One of the most amazing parts of our experience was the boys’ after-school club. A unique and newer concept, after-school clubs are now offered by the city of Helsinki, for all first and second graders.
The kids are picked up after school by their chosen after-school club. The club stays in charge of the children until 4 or 5pm, when everyone gets off work. The clubs are all different and you must carefully choose where you apply: once you are allotted a spot, it’s next to impossible to change it.
I learnt as much when my boys reported the first club wasn’t a good match (it simply didn’t have other boys their age). We were only able change it because the directors at that club appealed to the city of Helsinki. The second club was a magical match and they in fact loved it so much, they typically refuse to leave until closer to 5pm. It’s basically a daily built-in playdate that also offers lots of unstructured playtime outside with friends.
I am dreaming of helping my boys arrange regular outside playdates with friends who live nearby, using their watch phone to coordinate, and create their own after-school club. Finnish language doesn’t have a word “playdate”—because arranging play shouldn’t be so hard that you have to schedule it each time.
5. Kids Independently Going to School
If you come to Finland—or visit other Nordic countries—during the school year, it will be shocking to see so many young kids from seven-years-old and up walking, biking or taking a bus or tram by themselves. There are little kids, on their own, simply everywhere.
At age 7, many kids can navigate themselves to multiple different destinations, are aware of their surroundings and belongings, and can tell the time and how they need to schedule themselves (for example, when to get ready and when to leave for school).
While elsewhere kids are typically not considered capable of doing these things, or parents might feel they are not taking good care of their kids should they let them learn figure these things out on their own, in the Nordics, independence is considered a “children’s right” and a crucial element in developing your own sense of self, your confidence, your awareness, and your ability to just figure things out.
When we got here, it took a good while for my oldest kids to get the hang of these skills. Now, I want them to hold onto this newfound mastery, and keep developing their independence skills.
While it’s very limited to what they can do by themselves in the US, it is possible to get creative and develop different ways to grow your independence skills. I would love your ideas in the comments below!
6. Dropping My Son to an Excellent Quality Daycare
None of my children have ever been in daycare until we arrived in Scandinavia, and now, it might be the one thing I will miss the most. I will miss the magnificent, highly trained and skilled educators and the beautiful routines my youngest son has with his little friends that also allow for so much unstructured play outside.
Until now, my kids have only had nannies or au pairs when they need care, and while this is a luxurious choice—the kids can be at home—there’s a major downside I hadn’t realized until now.
The Nordic daycare offers the most reliable and consistent high-quality childcare that I have ever experienced. It doesn’t change and it’s always there. And, once you drop off your child, you don’t worry about his activities, schedule, meals and snacks, naps, potty training, playdates, or indoor and outdoor play and toys at home on top of arranging your caretaker’s schedules and schedule changes, and when it comes to an au pair, almost their whole life with you. And quite frequently, the caretakers change, and you start training—the kind of training you are capable of, without an early childhood education degree— all over again.
Every day I also hear how my son is developing and every week I get expert tips on everything that I’m trying to figure out at home, and sometimes I just get emotional support (“I get it. I had the same with my kids.”)
I can’t take the Nordic daycare with me, but as with my older kids, I dream I can find a regular play group of Nordic minded families that love having their kids play unstructured outside, in all types of weather.
7. Little Small Talk, More Deep Conversation
It’s a peculiar trait, especially for the non-Nordics, but Finns don’t do small talk—not much, at least. At times it can seem rude, for sure, but it has an upside: when you connect, you tend to connect at a deeper level.
I have quite enjoyed the lack of chit chat, as you typically either don’t talk much, keep the chit chat short, or have a longer, deeper conversation about multitude of topics. With my old friends here, we have laughed, cried, and expressed every emotion under the sun. With my brand new friends, we quickly delved into fascinating topics from “raising third culture kids” and to “numerology” guidance to how past, difficult experiences might have shaped us, and shared insightful thoughts and opinions that left me inspired, and with new perspectives and view points.
I have often thought how you tactfully and quickly guide a small-talk conversation into deeper levels outside of the Nordics (to see if the people are even up for having one), which, for me at least, makes spending time with people way more fun and interesting that chitchat, just like just being mutually raw and vulnerable makes connections intensely deeper and rewarding as you can truly grow together.
My American husband suggested creating “conversation-evenings” where, prior to booking dinner with others or inviting them over, you ask what topics they are curious about or would love to discuss, and set out to have conversations on those, as you dine. As a starter, I think that’s a fabulous idea, especially for double dates. Would love your thoughts on how to achieve this!
What I Won’t Miss
Focusing only on Nordic elements I don’t miss (and not on facts that would be the same everywhere, like the fact that trying to avoid the accidental destruction that simply happens with active kids, in a furnished rental, is hard), I would list:
Nonstop gray skies and nearly non-existent sunlight after October
Muddy, slushy days which there are a lot in the fall, winter and spring
The shorter opening hours for businesses (though this is why the system here works. Most everyone can pick up their kids from daycare or get home by 5pm; I tried to go buy candles at 6pm: too late!).
The lack of somewhat affordable services (this is obviously due to better pay and highly taxed services, which partly earn everyone the magnificent benefits, but as a random, silly example, when my child spilled hot cocoa on my new winter coat by accident, that I hoped to have dry-cleaned for ease, lack of time, and so as not to mess it up, a dry cleaning service was hard to find, extremely expensive and would have taken two weeks: too long without my warm coat. I’m guessing most Finns would just smartly hand washed the coat by themselves; I decided not to wash it, wear it with the stain (It’s so dark all the time! Who can even see it! :-) and drop it or have it picked up for dry-cleaning (yes, a complimentary service!) from my house when I get back to the US. The multitude of services—anything you imagine is possible—available 24-7—do add some ease, as long as you can afford them, in an otherwise not an easy society.
More social winter: Nordic people tend to cocoon and be a lot less active in wintertime, after all, it’s gray, dark and it’s a lot more “hygge” (=cozier) in candle light and under blankets at home!