The Scandinavian Capitol of One-upmanship

September 9, 2013

Before we get started I should put something out there: The Finns have a bit of inferiority complex when it comes to their neighbors, the Swedes. It’s often said by Finns that the Swedes are better looking, better at hockey, smarter; you name it, essentially better at everything. Much like the people, the capitol cities of each country have a bit of a rivalry as well. I’ve heard many things about Stockholm and how wonderful it is, and the troubling part is that it all seems to be true. Cities like this, at some point, you need to assume are just showing off.

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View from Jian’s brother’s student housing.

Stockholm is bigger, older, and more dense than Helsinki. Many would also consider it more beautiful, with elaborate waterways dividing the city into districts and a number of subtle hills which give it a crucial and complementing depth that’s lacking in Helsinki. Where Helsinki has six stories, Stockholm has eight; where Helsinki has a two line Metro system that closes at 23:30, Stockholm has a seven line system that closes at 04:30; where Helsinki has perhaps a couple trendy neighborhoods, the entirety of Stockholm is trendy. In fact, there’s really not much to dislike about Stockholm except for the feeling that it’s intimately aware of its own superiority. That and the fact that Swedish is a totally silly language.

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No big deal.

The flight from Helsinki is a mere 40 minutes, and the timezone is one hour behind Helsinki, so I arrived right around the same time I left. I met up with an old traveling buddy Jian, whom I met in Georgia several years ago. He lives in Stockholm and he was nice enough to let me stay at his place. He took me around to a few popular places including the City Hall where the Nobel Prize ceremony banquet and dance are held. There is a tower in the building that overlooks the city, quite like the one in Copenhagen. In fact, it’s said that the architect visited the one in Copenhagen while it was being built, discovered its intended height was 105 meters, and promptly returned to Stockholm to redesign his tower from around 100 meters to 105.6 meters. Sound familiar?

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At least the view’s nice.

The next day I had some free time in the morning so I bought a day pass for the public transport system and went to discover the network. I ended up hanging out at a cafe in Södermalm and enjoying the abnormally sunny September day. I met up with Jian later and we went on a bike ride around the massive central park corridor in Stockholm and ended up at his friend’s house for some dinner. It was a short visit, but I had a great time and met some fantastic people.

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An improbably quaint alley in the old town.

I’m glad to be back in Helsinki though, there’s a vibe to it that can’t be beat. Perhaps it’s the history of constantly being outshined by its metropolitan neighbor that imparts a certain humility into Helsinki and its people. Maybe it’s the Finns’ modest and unassuming Uralic lineage rather than the smug dominion of the Vikings. More importantly, I’m not sure what attracts me cities like Belgrade and Helsinki when bigger and better things are always right next door. Maybe it’s repentance for always trying to be the best at things in my own life. Maybe it’s just that I like something to work towards, and with near perfection already achieved there’s not much to get behind. I know that language has a lot to do with it– Finnish has long been one of my favorites. Indo-European languages have never interested me much, but with the success and widespread expansion of the Indo-European people themselves, it’s hard to find a metropolitan and developed Western city in which anything non Indo-European is the de facto standard.

With that knowledge, I’m happy with my home right now. Helsinki has a charm to it that’s hard to quantify, and however backwater it may be next to Stockholm, there’s no amount of hip bars or restaurants that can compete with the magnificence of Finnish morphology; just look to words like pysähtymättä, vahingoittumattomampi, and ymmärtämättömyys for proof.

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One Response to “The Scandinavian Capitol of One-upmanship”

  1. Lola Says:

    I would kill to hear those words pronounced! I don’t even know where to begin…


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