The essence of the North Karelian lifestyle

Things do get done, but the lack of fuss is unmistakable

The North Karelian lifestyle does have a reputation. Although slightly exotic, rural, and peculiar, it is also very sympathetic. Here the past and present co-exist in perfect harmony.

The most significant contributions to the reputation of the region include Heikki Turunen's books, Markku Pölönen's films and TV drama, and the Leevi and The Leavings hit Pohjois-Karjala (North Karelia). The song was written by Göstä Sundqvist, who was born and bred in Helsinki. The change from jeans into sports trousers that is described in the song quite indisputably captures the core of the North Karelian lifestyle.

The pace of life is one of the defining factors of the North Karelian lifestyle. Things do get done, but the lack of fuss is unmistakable. This will become especially obvious to those who arrive into the region from the capital region who, used to a more hurried lifestyle, will be constantly hurrying past people on the footpaths. Shorter distances might contribute to this by making things flow more fluently: when the practical side is straightforward, more resources are left over for the things themselves, not only for their organization.

The new world arrives quickly

North Karelia has adapted to the modern day very quickly. Due to its location far from the centre of things, the internationalized world got here fairly late: but when it came, it did so with great speed. It didn't happen completely without friction, but in about two decades, which in developmental terms is only a twinkling of an eye, Joensuu grew into an international centre of trade, learning, and culture. As the shift happened this quickly, the old had no time to fade away, and consequently the local lifestyle retains many elements of the bygone agricultural society. These precious remnants include the avoidance of rush, valuing people for what they are, and a straightforward approach to things in general.

Due to its youth, Joensuu boasts no clearcut hierarchies, which would provide families, schools, or other traditionally strong institutions with the power to define the value of people. These kinds of traditions always carry their own strength, but so does a society in which each person is allowed to be themselves. Whether the issue relates to the activities of various associations, entrepreneurship, or politics, new persons and resources are heartily welcomed. With fewer people around, everybody's contribution is valued equally.

Do it yourself

Due to the short history and remote location of the city, Joensuu residents have to organize the things they enjoy for themselves. Whereas in the South of Finland the abundant services of the capital region are always close by, in North Karelia people have to find the means to do the things that they enjoy doing. This is especially true of cultural activities and the arts. The city's own cultural institutions – the theatre, orchestra, and museums – contribute to the selection, but lots of activities are also organized by the residents themselves. Ilosaarirock, Kihaus, Lieksa Brass Week, numerous theatrical groups, dance groups, and various other activities keep cultural life vibrant. There is no shortage of events, because people are always eager to create them, but they also provide others with an opportunity to enjoy the result.

The same spirit of doing for yourself is reflected in the business life in the region: conditions for successful business operations need to be created by the entrepreneurs themselves. If companies can succeed in these small markets, they will normally do well in less demanding market areas too. The scale of opportunities is also reflected in high employee loyalty. In fields that require high expertise, in particular, low employee turnover gives a genuine competitive advantage. This has benefited various local companies, both at national and international level.

Get around by bike

For most people, the scope of everyday life is relatively small. Even in the hustle and bustle of a big city, people tend to repeat the same routines: visiting the same shops and locations, participating in the same leisure time activities, and meeting the same people. In a large city, these routines often mean lots of travelling from place to place. Whether one lives deep in the countryside or in a large city, we often need to travel far to get to work, do the shopping, or visit friends. In a small city such as Joensuu, almost every place or service is located within a fifteen minute drive - or, even better, is only a bicycle ride away. As it's such a sensible option, cycling is indeed popular among residents of all ages, all year round. The city's network of cycle paths is designed and maintained for extensive use. This means that in many cases, bicycle is the quickest means to get to work, hobbies, shops, and many other places.

In the countryside and the city

Many have also chosen a lifestyle that integrates a workplace in the city with home life in the countryside. The villages surrounding Joensuu are full of people who divide their lives between two places so that they can enjoy the best of both worlds. Less than a half an hour's drive from the city, one can live in the wilderness or in a small rural community. Besides, no matter where one lives in Finland nowadays life is increasingly influenced by technology and media. The Internet in particular makes up a surprising proportion of the daily life of people. As connections to work, friends, and family are increasingly managed online, it can be done equally well within 500 kilometres or one.

Life in a small city does not suit everybody, of course. Many long for the hustle and bustle of a larger city, for new opportunities and a constant flow of activities in their environment. For children, however, a smaller city is nearly always best. The less crowded housing, safer environment, and shorter distances to leisure time activities provide children with better opportunities to grow and develop. Naturally, no place can ever be completely free of dangers and drawbacks, but social problems tend to be less severe in smaller places.

Trust contributes to the quality of life

Getting to know people is essential to life in a small city. It is natural in such circumstances that people from different backgrounds mix together. Less alternatives mean more communication between people and networks are constantly being established in different spheres of life. No matter what the occasion, there's always someone who knows someone else who knows, who can help, or who has the relevant experience. In a small place, both good and bad reputations are made quickly. This may well be why people in North Karelia keep trusting each other.

Published in Joensuu Region magazine

Text by Janne Riiheläinen