By Tuuli Mäkinen
What’s your story of moving to New York? How long have you been living here?
I’ve been in New York almost six years already. I have traveled a lot and, being from Europe, I knew that moving to another country often means having to learn another language. Speaking five languages already, I wanted to take it easy and speak English. Besides there being no language barrier, New York attracted me in part because of its reputation for non-profits. At first, I was determined to get a job in the United Nations. I had three interviews at the United Nations in my first week of living here! Instead I ended up working in fashion, dressing up women at a boutique which is coincidentally near the United Nations headquarters.
How has it been for you to integrate here? Any difficulties getting used to the city?
Integrating here was very easy, as I felt welcome from the beginning. Part of that is because I worked very hard prior to my arrival to form connections in the city, and the first year I was here I spent a huge amount of time networking. I met the right people, through luck as well as effort. My network grew to include friends, mentors, supporters.
Of course, there have been difficulties over the years. Many of these difficulties will be familiar to my fellow New Yorkers: a scam-ridden rental market with extraordinary prices being asked for some really awful apartments (file under: bed bugs, black mold); a profit-driven healthcare industry; hiring lawyers; and last but not least, the worst subway system I have experienced, in any city, of the roughly 40 countries I have visited.
You are running Ekavi, a women’s clothing boutique in Manhattan. How did you get there from wanting to work in the United Nations?
One of the amazing people I met before moving to New York was Jaana Rehnstrom, who in addition to being president of Finland Center Foundation is founder of a non-profit, the Kota Alliance, which focuses on women’s rights and gender equality. I was one of the original Kota team members as Jaana was just getting the organization started. Jaana knew I was looking for new opportunities, and forwarded me a job post from Ekavi Boutique looking for a “Sales Assistant”. The job post specified they were looking for someone of Swedish nationality, but I thought “hey maybe Finnish would be even better!” I knew I was the right person for the position. I went in for the interview and was hired on the spot. by the owner. Soon after I was on track to become “Manager”, and eventually “Business Partner”.
What inspires you about New York? What is your favorite thing here?
I’m inspired by the variety of people, possibilities and overall diversity of the city. There are so many good restaurants representing every nation in the world, a dynamic art and music scene, and of course New York is at the top of the world in terms of fashion. One could never get bored here. The question is always which event do I choose to attend?
New York City produced Patti Smith and the Ramones! Lady Gaga and Robert de Niro are here. Gloria Steinem lives here. This city also elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest women ever to serve in the US Congress!
Because it can be so hectic, so loud, so busy, some say the best part of New York is getting away. Luckily, New York is also great place to start from if you’re looking to travel. For a weekend trip you can always go upstate, and Canada is just a bit further north. If you want sunshine and blue seas, flights to Mexico and the Caribbean are inexpensive, and just a few hours long.
However, no matter how many places I visit, I’m always happy to return home, New York.
What are some cultural differences between Americans and Finnish people? What is the most “Finnish” habit you still have in your everyday life?
The phenomenon known as “keeping up with the Joneses” does not exist in Finland. But it certainly exists here!
I had never heard of this concept until I moved to New York and began to notice everyone was constantly comparing themselves to their neighbors. The more I learn the more I realize that impulse must come from early childhood; from the time you are in school in the US, you are competing with one another. Then you have to get into the best college, get the best grades, and so forth and by the time you are an adult you are concerned about what type of car your coworkers are driving, how much your neighbor’s handbag cost. In Finland there is much less sense of competition among neighbors.
There is a bridge here to another subject that is divisive in the US: environmental awareness. In Finland, people do not deny that climate change is happening, and we do not question that consumerism plays a huge role in it. One of the things I do here that strikes people as strange, is to bring my own bag to the supermarket to avoid using unnecessary plastic bags. Finns love recycling; it goes hand in hand with conscious consumerism. I always try to do my part here!
What do you miss about Finland?
Living in Finland I did not realize how good I had it. In Finland you are guaranteed healthcare in Finland by right of citizenship, here be prepared to pay a fortune! Even still you have to watch out, seek second and third opinions, and be prepared for doctors to suggest unnecessary surgeries and drugs.
I also miss sauna, and walking in the forest. And of course, I miss my wonderful family and friends in Finland every day!
What would you miss if you moved away from New York?
New York celebrates convenience. You can walk everywhere, and you can find food at any hour of the day. On top of that, New York’s notorious subway runs all night.
With the right mixture of working hard, working smart and being receptive to the endless opportunities that present themselves here, New York is still a place to make your dreams come true. I will always embrace the drive of this city, and its dynamic people with high hopes. Like Bruce Springsteen sings: “There's treasure for the taking, for any hard-working man, who will make his home in the American Land”. I will always respect those who make it. Because it is not easy.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m going to continue building my own dream! At this moment I’m in a happy place, with a business to work on, and a five-year anniversary coming up with Alex, the amazing man in my life who is a visual artist. Stay tuned for some new art and fashion-related projects we’ll be working on together.