California Here I Come, Right Back Where I Started From

Ladies and gentlemen, I have reentered the country! With surprisingly minimal difficulty, too. My customs agent was distracted, and I guess I didn't look suspicious. I could have lied my butt off on my declaration form and gotten off scott-free as long as I had some daring master plan to avoid the drug (and agriculture?) sniffing dog. I did not do that though because, really, why bother?

But enough about American stuff! That's not why you're here! You're here to read about foreign stuff! And I will deliver!

Shopping

Let's talk about grocery-shoppin' in Finland. At it's heart, it's really not a whole lot different than grocery shoppin' over here. It's all about the details. For one, there don't seem to be any huge, grocery-only chains. There's Prisma, for example, which is huge, but closer to a Wal-Mart equivalent. And you've got thinks like the S-Market which are grocery-stores only, but they tend to be smaller than your average Albertsons or Ralphs or what-have-you.

One of the first things I noticed was the way they handle their produce shopping. Instead

"Pictured: Ridiculous convenience."

of putting it in a bag, weighing it, and hoping the cashier's scale matches what the little mechanical doohickey says, they just have a scale right on the produce aisle. You put your veggies in a bag, plop it on the scale, and press the number associated with that veggie, and out pops a barcoded label with the price right on it. Stick on the label, and off you go.

Mostly, the rest of the differences lie in selection. For example, the soda aisle is a bit more barren than it would be here. Fewer brands, and fewer weird spinoffs of said brands. But the thing that weirded me out the most about the soda was...well, take a look for yourself. I'm sure you'll spot it right way if you've ever drunk Fanta.

"Got me every time. Tasted fine though!"

Oddly colored soda wasn't the only difference. There were far fewer soda brands/flavors. There was Fanta, Sprite (though Sprite Zero seemed to be more popular for some reason.), 7-up, Coke, Pepsi, Jaffa (caffeinated fruit sodas. Blood orange, grapefruit, etc flavored), Dr

"Mmm."

Pepper, Schweppes (a limonadi soda."Limonadi" appears to just refer to any lemony/berry soda.) and Mountain Dew. No root beer! At all! I was able to find some for 3 euros a bottle (and it wasn't a large bottle) in a tiny natural foods store, but it was clearly a specialty item. There were of course, assorted knock-off brands as well.

The weirdest part about sodas like Coke, Pepsi and Mountain Dew? They were caffeine-free! Energy drinks are regulated far more strictly in Europe than they are here, and it'd seem that American Coke has enough caffeine to fall under that classification.

You know, I'll bet they tasted better. I never even thought to grab a bottle while I was there. Should've. Oh well.

Finns love sausage. Really, Finns love meat in most forms, but sausage seems to hold a special place in their hearts. Allow me to show you how much.

"Saaaaaaauuuuuuuusaaaaaaaaage."

That much. Nearly everything on that aisle is some variety of sausage. Wieners, sliced sausage, lunchmeat-style sausage, classic traditional sausage, smoked sausage, linked sausage, sausage bits...you name it, it probably exists.

Sausage isn't the only thing that Fins are fond of. They're big on bread. Bread of every variety. You know how over here, our bread is usually confined to a corner, or maybe one side of an aisle, and it's mostly just slightly different varieties of sliced white-bread?

"It's like a bakery just wandered into this grocery shop."

That's all kinds of bread up there. There's no such thing as "specialty" bread. There's just lots of different bread. They're big on rye bread, but not on pre-slicing it. A breadboard and breadknife are staples of every Finnish residence. Most of them are in the form of a pull-out cutting board cleverly disguised as a drawer in the kitchen counter.  All are cut and gouged from many years of use. The typical Finnish breakfast is meat on bread with some sort of spread (or butter), so you can see why both sausage and bread are so popular. The cereal aisle? Not that impressive.

"Chips. Lots of 'em. that impressive."

Snacks! They're not a whole lot different than they are here. Take a look to the right. Chips are a snacky food over there. The flavors and labels are a little different, and the brands are, of course, different. But other than that, they're very much the same. There's a lot more potato chips, and fewer tortilla chips, and fewer weird flavors, but at the end of the day, it's pretty much the same thing you'd find here.

Another minor difference is the way in which groceries get carried around. You'll only find the push-carts in bigger stores. And even those are different! All four wheels are articulated, so if you were so inclined, you could turn your cart sideways and push it. I enjoyed this way too much. Otherwise, you've got two options: the basic handbasket, or a handbasket mounted on a suitcase-style pair of wheels with a handle reaching up to your hand. Once you've got all your food piled into

"It gets sort of awkward if a fourth person comes along and the other three are still bagging."

your basket of choice, you lug it or wheel it up to the checkstand, offload it all onto the conveyor belt, the cashier rings you up...and then things get weird.

They don't bag your groceries for you. Furthermore, you're expected to either provide you own bag, or fit everything into one or two durable plastic bags that you'll find under the checkstand. To accommodate this, latter half the stand is divided by one or two sliding dividers, as you can see to the left. Those two black bars extending from the end of the table can swing back and forth and slide along a track to make room for more people's groceries. The little spindle of small plastic bags is in case you don't need a full-on bag from the front of the checkstand. And when I say big plastic bags, I'm not talking about a larger version of our tiny, flimsy grocery bags. Think of the big plastic bags you get from stores in the mall. Those are grocery bags over there. And you're expected to reuse them.

So why the difference? It's greener for one thing, and for another thing, for half of the year, you often find yourself heading home in weather like this...

""Yeah, we've had a little snow recently. You can barely even tell.""

...either on foot or on a bike. And let me tell you, biking in snow with a heavy bag of groceries on the handlebars trying to skew your bike to one side is not an easy task! The tires keep wanting to slide sideways, pedaling through the fluffy stuff is hard work, and it's cold.

So there you have it, everyone. Thus concludes my month-long sojourn to (almost) the other side of the world. I hope you enjoyed reading it even half as much as I enjoyed experiencing it. There's so much more that happened that I didn't have the time or memory to retell in this blog, so if you run into me, by all means, feel free to ask me about it. I'll talk your ear off.

And a final thanks to my girlfriend Kaisa for hosting me, translating for me, and answering my endless questions about culture, words, and pronunciation. Love you!

"Pictured: d'awwwww."