7 things I’ve learnt about Finland living in Kathmandu

living in Kathmandu

Finland is one of the world’s richest and most developed countries, famed for its Nordic welfare and functioning society. It’s commonly accepted that when you’re born in Finland, you’ve already won the lottery of life. Kathmandu, on the other hand, is the capital of Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries and a hotbed for natural disasters such as earthquakes, flashfloods and mudslides. So how on earth can life somewhere so totally different as Nepal teach me anything about the Suomi lifestyle and culture? Well, it sure has.

1. Variety really is the spice of life

I’m Finnish born and bred and spent my first 35 years living in Helsinki, but for the last 6 months I’ve been living and working in Nepal. The people are truly what make it a country of choice for travelers. It has almost 27 million inhabitants, 13 different languages (officially recognized, not official languages), as well as tribes and ethnicities in such abundance that it could make an anthropologist faint with exhaustion. This makes a wonderful mesh of cultures, habits and rituals to try and wrap your head around. To the relief of the foreigner, English has a deep foothold here, and communicating is as easy as in any international airport.

What this taught me about Finland:

Finland is an even more homogenous monoculture than I realized. While this has its benefits, living in Nepal has shown me how a country is infinitely more interesting and exciting when it embraces difference and celebrates multiculturalism.


2. Money definitely does not bring happiness

Something you notice immediately is the incredible generosity of the Nepalese people. Don’t be alarmed, startled or scared when you are suddenly dragged into someone’s flat or makeshift dwelling for a cup of tea, some local momos or some home brewed Raksi rice liquor. Rejecting an offer is seen as rude, and you will most likely be served the best they can offer, down to the shirt off their back. For a well to do westerner this can seem unjust and unnecessary, but rejecting their kindness will insult and sadden them more than material possessions would ever gratify them. So accept it, don’t ponder on it, and make a new friend for life.

What this taught me about Finland:

Like all western countries, Finland might be materially rich but it’s spiritually poor. We might not be as uber-capitalist as the UK or US, yet we still buy into the idea that money brings happiness and acquiring wealth is the be all and end all.


3. Food is glorious. Germs are not.

Nepal is undoubtedly known for its cuisine and rightfully so. Not only is the Nepalese food extraordinarily tasty, but Kathmandu is also a hotbed for continental cooking with inspiration from around the world. You’ll have the option to dine on flavors from east to west, all for just 5-10 dollars. But be bold and hit a local street kitchen for an authentic experience, rather than going for the high-end, international and overpriced tripadvisor choice. The only trouble is, the sanitary conditions of these fantastic eateries leave a lot to be desired, and intrepid foodies may soon develop an intimate relationship with the toilet.

What this taught me about Finland:

While it’s clear Finnish food could do with some spicing up, it’s also clear that our famed love of rules takes the risk out of eating out. Sometimes, it seems, being overly bureaucratic has its benefits.


4. We do party like it’s 1999

Kathmandu is not known for its nightlife, one reason being that the city shuts down at around nine in the evening. The bustling, energetic and chaotic marketplaces turn into abandoned streets engulfed by darkness and silence. Alcohol, too, has only fairly recently become part of the every day scene in Nepal, and being drunk wasn’t looked upon favorably in the past.

Thankfully, the party animal inside you can still find happiness in the Thamel district. Though you need to keep some wits about when hitting the bars, sharing a glass is a great way to break the ice in Nepal, too. Sitting in a local café gobbling down local beer, you’ll soon have made friends from all walks of life, who quickly want to exchange numbers, become Facebook friends and will like every single post on your wall for good measure.

What this taught me about Finland:

Finland’s nightlife is better than you think. Though we may not be world-renowned for partying, it’s easy to get a beer or three at practically anytime. That said, even though we love a drink, it doesn’t make us as sociable as it could and maybe should.

5. There are worse hangovers than a Koskenkorva hangover

After spending a night out with your newly made friends, don’t be surprised if you wake up feeling like a 75-year-old alcoholic on the end of a 40-year binge. This is explained by two factors, the first being the purity of spirits. It’s not uncommon for spirits to be laced, diluted or unsanitary (especially raksi, the local rice wine, which is usually produced in some back alley or basement in the outskirts of Kathmandu).

Secondly, Nepalese beer is recycled, and the recycling method is questionable at best. Around 1/5 of the bottles will still have some detergent residue left in them, leaving your body to fend off more chemicals than after a 90s rave party. These two things combined are the recipe for a great hangover cocktail.

What this taught me about Finland:

There are even worse types of hangover than the ones you get from partying with a bottle of Koskenkorva.


6. Public transport is better when it’s less public

Kathmandu valley is a city planner’s nightmare, with small epicenters of fun, excitement and wonders. These are strewn across the valley with no particular order or logic, so you must get familiar with the transportation system. The most common and most exhilarating means of travel is the diesel gobbling, black smoke spewing, overcrowded bus. Routes and schedules are sporadic at best, but luckily all buses are equipped with a bus boy. His job is to inform (shout) the stops and destinations, manoeuvre the clients in a Tetris like fashion to fill every iota of possible space and occasionally change a flat tire or broken engine, or strap a goat to the roof.

The fact of the matter is, Nepal is a traveler’s dream, with activities ranging from the most extreme sports to the most mind soothing meditation monasteries, and climates from subtropical jungle to arctic mountains. Public transportation is your only way to reach these far away locations. The rides can be enjoyable social experiences with majestic scenery or roller coaster rides on narrow mountain roads with a 100 m death fall on one side. If you’re prone to travel sickness or are faint of heart, pop a sedative, put on your headphones and try to sleep.

What this taught me about Finland:

Public transport might be insanely expensive but it’s fantastically comfortable and fantastically reliable. Whenever you’re cursing or late train or a packed bus, be thankful you’re not sharing it with a goat.


7. Always appreciate the chance to breathe easily

Upon exiting the Tribuvan airport, you’ll be hit with a wall of smog and the stench of petroleum, AND that’s before you’ve even entered the city. Kathmandu is extremely polluted and very dirty. It’s no surprise then that one of the major problems visiting Kathmandu is hygiene.

Garbage disposal does exist but trashcans don’t, so people litter everywhere. The trash is then picked up by low caste individuals and dumped in a landfill, or burned. The noxious combination of dubious burning particles, engine exhaust, dust, air traffic and industrial pollution very quickly makes you realise why spending a day in the city is the equivalent of smoking 1-2 packs of cigarettes. I suggest you buy a face mask and use it!

The air is not the only thing that will contaminate you. Flooding open sewers and animal mess are so common that you’ll naturally start to look down at all times. During monsoon season you’ll see everything from shoes to last nights dinner floating past you. Hand sanitation quickly becomes just one of your the daily routines.

What this taught me about Finland:

We are incredibly blessed to have such green and clean cities and environment. We all know this, but until I experienced real pollution, I never really appreciated how wonderful it is to take a deep breath of pure air or have my rubbish so magically recycled.


Having lived here for over 6 months, I can say that Nepal is, without doubt, one of the world’s most colorful and amazing countries. If you visit it, like me, you’ll probably learn a lot about the country of your birth, too – both how it could be better and how it could be worse. For me, perhaps the most important lesson has probably been the power of a smile to deal with life’s challenges. That’s something I think we could try harder to apply in Finland too.



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7 replies

  1. “There are even worse types of hangover than the ones you get from partying with a bottle of Koskenkorva.” Can’t be true. Nothing hurt more than that. Nothing!

  2. I couldn’t agree less with you on your content. No wonder Nepalese Citizens wander off to distant countries. My earnest gratitudes for sharing your views, taking from every complement to complains, about Nepal. As having to deal with daily traffic, I too dealt with this massive headache of transportation until buying a personal vehicle. This is about to be a cleaned up now from the Metropolitans behalf in few years ahead. Being part of Europe, Finland is a Majestic Nordic Country, rich in its snow ridden beauty. Will visit there some day! But for now, your article just made my day, Thanks a bunch again! Have a great time and do visit again! 🙂

  3. I feel good when a foreigner goes near to the fact that Nepal is poor physically but not metaphysically. Nepal and Nepalese people always smile even they have problems . Mankind has existed due to rich spirituality not by money , development, prosperity in physical sense. I think prosperity has historical cycle and it favors regions and places turn by turn. So no nation and people should not hate other nation and other people. God and Mother Nature keep balance. It’s my opinion.

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