Country mouse or city slicker?
I’ve spent a lot of the last few weeks on the road. Well, that’s not strictly true: up in the air would be more accurate, since I’ve mainly been traveling by plane. Come to think of it, it almost feels like I’ve seen more of the airports than the actual destinations.
But either way, I’ve been visiting both Helsinki and Stockholm repeatedly lately, giving me the opportunity to enjoy some of the cultivated pleasures of city-life: cappuccinos in big paper mugs, delicious Indian food and gigantic tanks full of stingrays. There are certainly some perks with being in a big city, something I perhaps notice more now as I live in the countryside on Åland.
Life in the city
As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in Stockholm. Or rather in a suburb of Stockholm. I enjoyed it, what with the tarmacked bicycle paths, street lights and playgrounds. Me and my friends played in the yards between the concrete apartment buildings and we could go wherever we wanted on our bikes: school, the beach, grocery store.
Years later, when moving back to Stockholm in my 20s, I still enjoyed it. I studied evolutionary biology at Stockholm University, located in perhaps the most beautiful part of Stockholm: Norra Djurgården. And after finishing my studies, I started working as an entomologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. Those were good times. It was also the time when me and Fiancée (then Girlfriend) met and got together.
But life in the city as a student (or research assistant) was not always fun. Lack of money and uncertain living prospects were like dark clouds at the horizon. And research funding wasn’t going all that great either. To appreciate city-life you definitely need to have some money.
We moved away for a while and I worked as a science teacher, but returned a second time for another couple of years when I studied multimedia and web design before moving on again.
Life in the sticks
During my childhood we travelled yearly to Åland to spend the summer holidays in the countryside in our summer home. That might sound fancy, but I can assure you it was anything but.
We didn’t have any running water, electricity, showers or indoor bathrooms. Everything was back to basics: when it got dark, we lit candles. If it got cold, we made a fire in the fireplace. We fished redfin perch that we smoked in our homemade wood-burning smoker that doubled as the laundry cooker. Rainwater was collected to add to the small rations of freshwater we’d brought with us.
I really enjoyed the reclusiveness of our country visits for its simple back-to-nature qualities. I played by the water or in the forest that surrounded the cottage. I explored nature and discovered frogs, salamanders, snakes, bats and many fascinating insects. It could be days or even weeks between us seeing another living soul. It was a great experience and it no doubt helped me develop my fantasy and ability to entertain myself in my mind.
I wouldn’t call myself a nature romantic, but growing up in such a close proximity to nature has really affected me, and to this day the smell of sun-warmed moss and salty seawater still bring back memories from my childhood wherever I am.
So. Which is better? City or countryside? On what side of this dualistic exercise do I find myself? Having recently moved back to the Åland countryside, I might be considered biased, but the truth is that I really enjoy living here. We’ve got nature on our doorstep, decent access to shops and stores and – thanks to the marvels of technology – I’m still connected to all my people across the globe. And if we really want or need to go away, Stockholm is just a boat ride and car trip away.
I really love Stockholm. It’s a beautiful city with a great atmosphere. In a way it reminds me of Manchester, with its mix of history and modern architecture. But I don’t want to live there. It’s great visiting from time to time (if nothing else to fuel up on cappuccinos), but the high tempo gets old after a few days and starts to wear me down. And the traffic is a nightmare. By contrast, life in the countryside is less stressful even though it’s also less exciting. And there’s a distinct lack of coffee places and Indian restaurants.
But in the end it comes down to this: there are a lot of pillocks in this world**. Living in the countryside you won’t be able to avoid them, but – by means of pure mathematics – there will be fewer of them around. And that, to me, is as good a reason as any. I’m staying here.
* With no conscious references to Kehlsteinhaus, the Nazi WWII retreat at the German border to Austria.
** Present company excluded. Obviously.