Inscrutable Finnish Shopfronts

When Rick was visiting me in Helsinki, I came home from work one day and noticed that he had bought dandruff shampoo and medicated soap. When I asked where he got them, he said he bought them from a pharmacy. I told him you can get ordinary shampoo and soap from the grocery store. But he said he couldn’t find a grocery store, which was funny, because you can’t spit in Helsinki without hitting a grocery store. The thing is, you can’t see inside a lot of the shops here, and if you don’t speak Finnish it can be very difficult to tell what the heck a shop sells.

But there are clues in most of these pictures to help you figure out what these shops sell. Can you guess what kinds of shops these are?


This is a shoe repair shop. Although the display window doesn’t seem to have anything to do with shoes, the word suutari is, in fact, cognate with the English word shoe. Isn’t it obvious?


Hardware store.

Clues: See the ladder, and the snow shovel?


This is a grocery store.

But, honestly, how could you possibly know that? Even if you can read Finnish it doesn’t help, because Valintatalo means something like House of Choices.

Liquor store.

Clues: do I need to spell it out?


I know, this one’s easy, but I liked the look of the place. It’s an undertaker’s.

Clues: religious symbols, funeral urns.


You may have found this one easy, too. It’s a pharmacist.

Clues: apotek (Swedish), and apteekki (Finnish) are related to the English word apothecary.

Isn’t this fun?


Another easy one. It’s a uniform shop.

Clues: uniforms.


Kitchen cabinets and fixtures.

Clues: If you go up and cup your hands against the window, you’ll see cabinets and things inside.


Floor and wall coverings.

Clues: there are big rolls of something in there, and there are linguistic clues, too. Matot (rugs) is cognate with English mats and tapetit (wallpaper) with English tapestries.


Clues: that’s a picture of a key on the sign. On the right. The thing that looks like a banjo.



Clues: doesn’t it just look like a place where you want to take your clothes to be washed?


No, they don’t sell panties, silly. It’s a pawn shop.

Clues: pantti=pawn, plus the ancient pawn shop symbols of three balls.

This is my regular grocery store.

You may be starting to see a pattern with the grocery stores; bright colored plastic covers on the windows. After a while you get to where you’ll plunge intrepidly into any plastic-coated place searching for food.

Hautaustoimisto 2

You knew this one, didn’t you? It’s another undertaker’s. You can now safely die in Helsinki.

More photos


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