Out of the "don't know" and into the "should know"
It occurs to me that we moved from one of the most "don't know" cultures into one of the most "should know" cultures. In the UAE, the most common state of affairs at business or government offices was that nobody knew what was going on. What time is that event? Where should you take your complaint? What paperwork is needed and how many copies of it? Meh, we're not sure. Go ask the guy at the next window.
It was completely normal to begin any sort of transaction in a state of non-knowing. To begin with "I need to do x but I'm not sure how" and be met with "I'm not sure either, so let me ask this other guy."
Of course there are situations where it works like that in Finland, too, but usually only if you're willing to completely out yourself as a foreigner, and even then...it's a risk. The natural state of things here is that you go exactly where you need to be to get a well-defined task done and you already have all the paperwork ready and the person you're dealing with handles it in a fabulously efficient fashion. It is the Finnish way of things. Heaven help you if you're even a little bit unsure.
It's to the point where it is literally "feels like" -25C outside right now, the car desperately needs a wash, and I am still contemplating going to do it by hand at the self-service car wash I know of even though I would probably freeze to death in the process. Why? Because I already know how it works there. I know exacly where to buy the tokens and I know exactly how to ask for them in Finnish and how much they cost. I know how to use them. It is a context where I blend in seamlessly to "should know" culture. And I paid dearly for that knowledge, experiencing the shame of having to ask about the tokens and the cost and the different wash settings. To go back to square one and have to ask about the indoor automatic wash...I just don't have it in me.
There are golden moments even in a "should know" culture, though. Way back in the spring, when I was at that car wash and had to ask how it worked, by chance, the employee who helped me was an immigrant himself. He came to Finland as a kid, with his family as refugees from Kosovo. I have to wonder if Kosovo has a "don't know" culture like the UAE, because he showed me how to work everything at that car wash in a way that made me feel like I shouldn't be ashamed for not already knowing it. It was a gift to my suffering pride.
So sometimes it's hard living in a "should know" culture. But it feels good when you are on the other side (the "should" side) of that culture. And it helps you feel even more empathetic and helpful towards other people coming here from a "don't know" culture.