How I ate for free in Finland

Reindeer meat

Being offered a free meal by the Finnish State is possible, especially when it happens by chance.

I was driving in a low-populated area at noon. I looked for the nearest restaurant in my GPS navigator’s database. According to it, there was only one within a ray of 30 miles and it was a few kilometers ahead.

Following its indication I entered a village which was mostly made of small yellow and red family houses, with a few apartment buildings. The navigator brought me into a parking in front of what seemed to be the biggest building in the village. Quite an anonymous block, with a few signs, all of them in Finnish language.
However there were people getting in and out through a small automatic door. Maybe a shopping mall sized accordingly with the village? We’ll see”, I thought.

I got in and immediately noticed a cafeteria. No signs thou, not even in Finnish. Only people taking food and eating at the tables. All around were corridors with no apparent sign of shops. Anyway, I was so hungry and I was in front of a place where people could eat… what was the problem?
So I took a tray, flatware, and filled my plate with the only food provided, which was apparently meat escallop. However, it turned to be fish in the end.
While taking the few tomato slices left, I looked at the people seated. There was a prevalence of middle-aged women, most of whom were well yet soberly dressed.
The type of character I almost automatically associate to a public sector employee.

Then a non-secondary problem arose. No cashier around.
In European Nordic countries almost everybody speaks English, so I asked an attendant where I could pay. She replied there was no possibility to pay, as that place wasn’t open to the public and reserved to bureau’s employees working in the building.
I was giving the plate back and apologizing, when she came back to me saying not to worry, to have a seat, and to enjoy my meal. I insisted I couldn’t, but she insisted back. So… I sat down and had my meal.

That was the day when Finnish taxpayers offered me a meal for free, and when my soul was fed even more than my body.


Finnish road at sunset


Forest and snow in Southern Finland at dusk, a day in February

Reindeer meat

Reindeer meat with fries. This isn’t what I ate as a free meal

6 Thoughts on “How I ate for free in Finland

  1. Hilarious story. In the Nordic countries all big offices have a dining room/cafeteria, and in some places you could still get away with a trick like this. Nowadays most corporate restaurants, however, have some sort of access control and a cashier/payment system for taxation purposes.

    • I remember a quote from Smilla’s Sense of Snow talking about a firm with six different refectories.
      There’s been no trick, just a situation that made my stereotyped idea of Nordic countries become true thanks to a case of pure serendipity!

  2. Considering that you were polite about the whole thing, you were hungry, and there were no restaurants around, they did the right thing by feeding you. People need to help one another out when they can. They did the right thing. I hope the food was good.
    EarthDrifter recently posted..A Taste of Tamil NaduMy Profile

  3. Great story!! Crazy that you were able just walk in like that. Beautiful pictures too 😉
    Wanderlust Marriage recently posted..The Beautiful Keukenhof Tulip Garden, 2013My Profile

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