Hieno, Suomi, The Hieno X Suomi 100 Official Series
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[The Hieno! Suomi 100 series] Interview with Otto and Alex!

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Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature our favorite Finnish creative couple Otto and Alex!~

Personally, I´d always found both Otto and Alex to be inspiring, talented and free-spirited. Otto runs his own travel blog Ottoizakaya and Alex’s Instagram is often adorned with colorful and happy photographs of their various inspirations and travels.

Enjoy the interview! ♡


TH: Hi Otto and Alex! Can you tell us more about yourselves?

Otto: Hey Wan Wei, thank you for taking us on board. I feel honored!

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I’m a Finland-raised and London-based bohemian and edgy Travel blogger, ESTP-personality, free soul, digital storyteller and Digital Media & Communications student at University of Westminster.

I have been writing my dear travel blog since 2014. Currently I’m actually developing a full makeover for my blog brand. My new blog will be hopefully launched early next year.

Originally I was born in Turku in the mid-90s but since then I have already lived in Helsinki, Sydney and currently in London. I have also traveled to nearly 50 different countries and my “visited country”-score is growing rapidly.

That’s shortly who I am at the moment. Next week my answer might be very different.

Alex: I’m 24 years old young man originally from Naantali, Finland. I work currently as Studio manager in one of the Europe’s leading photography studios.

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I’m creative, hardworking and ambitious, and that’s how I have worked my way up in demanding fashion / photography industry.

Oh yeah, work is big part of my life. I appreciate people who has goals. Like I do.

My religion is freedom, and I try my everything to live as free as possible. I am a non-judgmental listener, but I like to be on spotlight myself as well. I’m an elitist and hedonist, but also a fair personality. I surprise even people who has known me for years, there’s always something new going on with me! I enjoy the finest things in life, and I try to make my life as comfortable as possible.

I’m the mommy of everyone around me, but I am a real mommy’s boy myself too!

TH: What sparked the creation of the awesome Otto Izakaya, and how do you get ideas on what to write about next, Otto? And how about where and what to shoot next, Alex?

Otto: Everything started just before we moved out from Australia and we started our journey in Asia. Rapidly the blog started to get public attention and it also gained a good number of followers.

Aside to the travel blogging I am keen to develop my professional knowledge of digital industry because that is the industry where I want to work in the future. Rapidly developing, fast-paced digital industry as well as my big passion for traveling inspires me a lot. I simply love to create my physical travel experiences to a digital format.  

Normally I don’t really have to discover the ideas separately too much because there is so much happening all the time in my life. The idea where I am going to write about next usually comes really naturally. Our life is so hectic and my ADD doesn’t make it any easier. Especially when we travel. *laughs*.  

After 2 years of blogging I have finally found my own niche – Edgy and affordable luxury travel with a quirky LGTB twist. After finding my personal niche it is maybe my biggest motivator at the moment.

Alex: I am surrounded by photographers and big shoots every day at work, so when I’m abroad somewhere without flashing studio lights – that really sparks my inspiration.

My style as a photographer is quite “cheezy” if I can say so. I like beautiful things so I want to rather show the aesthetic sides of the world than the ugly side. I love colors in my images, so whenever I am in a place with rich colours I am really on fire.

Also I want my photos to be alive so my favorite spots to shoot are places which are crowded. Fish markets of Tokyo, busy streets of Marrakech or Kathmandu’s temple areas are good examples of the places I prefer to shoot in.

But I have to add to this that sometimes an absolute grey-ness can be extremely beautiful. Eastern Europe and Russia has this feeling that you have stepped into a world without colours and that can be really inspiring as well.


TH: As Finns living in London currently, what is the one thing that you appreciate most about Finland? 

Otto: There are many of them. In London I have actually noticed how much I appreciate Finland.

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First thing that comes to my mind may sound odd, but it’s very logical: Status. It feels like having a VIP card in the wallet to have a Finnish passport.

And this is not even propaganda. Finns are mostly welcome wherever we go and people appreciate our country a lot. I travel a lot and Finns have great reputation worldwide. We are a small country but oh boy we have “Sisua” as we Finns say. Our social system is also magnificent and it really provides the security and calmness to our lives.

After studying in a very international environment it’s eye-opening to notice that most of the other countries don’t have the similar benefits as we have, for instance “opintotuki” (Student support money) while you study, even abroad. I’m also very proud of Finnish humour and our ice-cold, even a bit rough mentality.

In my point of view, Finns are maybe the funniest people on earth. Finns are very straightforward and honest people. I think this has a lot to do with our culture and education.

Overall I appreciate the most to be a Finn.

Alex: Agree. Honesty. Finnish people are the most honest people probably in the world. If Finn says something, he / she really means it. In UK ( and Australia ) it is very common that you get invited somewhere or your workmate says “Hey, let’s go for a beer ” and that is never going to happen.

In Finland if you invite or get invited somewhere – it is really meaningful and a symbol of friendship. This is something that I really appreciate. And c’mon, there is no other country where you can leave your wallet on the bar table, go to bathroom and it will 99% sure be there when you come back.

Like Finns say : Kyllä paska lumen alta löytyy – “The shit will be found under the snow.” Which basically means that don’t leave any shit behind you, because the spring will come, the snow will melt, and your shit will start to smell.

This tells a lot about our attitude against dishonesty😀


TH: *laughs* Or maybe shit will serve as fertilizers for beautiful flowers to bloom in spring haha!

As Finns living in London currently, what is the one thing that you think can be improved in Finland?

Otto: The culture is sometimes jealous and unambitious and that is something what I don’t really agree with at all. It’s easy to live a normal middle-class life in Finland but if you want to make big money and live a luxurious lifestyle – it might be difficult.

People can’t stand it and they get easily bitter and bitchy. And at the same time it is hard to see any issues in the mirror.

That’s the reason why we moved out as well. Finnish bureaucracy, endless rules and laws are frustrating also.

I just want to state: “Chill a bit and live a little.”

Alex: Communication between people. Finns still communicate like cave men – only necessary is said and nothing nice for sure.

Sometimes a little “How are you my love” in the supermarket cashier wouldn’t hurt but I guess that would sound bizarre in Finnish language.

Is this Finnish-ness?

 

TH: As a blog and on social media, Ottoizakaya is interesting to follow because of the interesting experiences Otto shares! Otto, Can you tell us one interesting experience you have had because of the blog? 

Otto: Definitely the most memorable meeting with reader happened in small suburb at Turku.

I was searching my friends house when suddenly one happy lady randomly yelled me from the window, “you have the blog right?” I went so confused and yelled back “ummm yes” and she yelled back, “Keep going! Good work, I love your stories.”

Oh, It was so fun experience.

Extra attention is always welcomed.

TH: Are you planning to write in English soon, Otto? Currently I have to translate with google. A lot of your non-Finnish fans have to translate with google too.  

Otto: OMG, how amazing you guys are. I appreciate it so much.

But I have very good excuse haha–I need to prioritize my time due to my studies, work and social life.

In the future I will definitely translate my content also in English but I need to wait until the time is right. At the moment I simply do not have enough time to produce bilingual blog even I really want to.

But this situation is only now. Future will be very different I guarantee.

TH: I’m also particularly impressed by the strong visuals on Ottoizakaya’s Instagram and blog. Do you think there is a link between “Finnish-ness” and “strong design aesthetics”? 

Otto and Alex: Thank you so much.

Our private social media channels are all individually self made. Blog visuals are 75% by Otto and 25% by Alex.

We certainly do believe that Finnish people are visual people – because we live in such a rural place and we spend most of our lives in our cosy homes. We make our homes beautiful, because we have no other place to go.

It’s in our blood to make our environment aesthetic, and it must reflect in digital arts as well. Also we own excellent eye for detail which makes us successful in creating something beautiful.

We know that less is more, and that’s our superpower.

TH: Why are you guys so good looking? Is it a Finnish boy thing?

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Otto and Alex: I guess it depends which part of the world are you looking at us.

Finnish girls might find Italians or Brazilians to be the hottest in the world. Or Finnish guys might think Singaporeans girls are the most attractive.

But personally we like to take care of ourselves and fresh outcome is something which we use for self branding together and separately. And it brings us self confidence as well, We are always ready for the challenges when we have our hair done, ironed our shirts and wearing some Versace after shave – then we know that we have done my best effort to make an positive impact to people around us.

If we are two or three guys standing side by side, and the one has not seen a mirror for 5 years – who would you trust?

TH: Foreigners tend to have an impression that the LGBT rights are really strong and respected in the Nordic region. Yet, Finland seems to be a little slower than its Nordic neighbors in this regard.

Against this context, did you ever feel discriminated because you are gay in Finland?

Otto: Personally I have never faced any discrimination. If you are living in Helsinki or in the few biggest cities, I find it very easy to be gay.

Helsinki is a potential new gay capital in my point of view and people are overall very liberal. The Aleksi Valavuori case also showed that it’s not OK to harass gay people anymore in Finland. A little bit out of the topic that case was great example how times has changed.

Still, in the countryside it can be extreme. People might be very narrow minded in Finland and some people might be also very aggressive. I would be careful with my self-representation in certain places in Finland and that’s very wrong. When it comes to this amazing thing as being gay.

I still think strongly that this same story occur almost in every country in the world. Big cities develop first.

Alex: Same as Otto. Being a gay in Finland is absolutely fine, if you are living in a city of a size of Turku or bigger.

If you grow up in a small village like I did – you will have painful years ahead. Finnish villages and little towns were racist against everything different when I grew up. I really really hope that the vibes would have been changed to becoming more open minded, but I am afraid not yet.

How did I cope with it? Moving out as soon as possible, and as far as possible.


TH: What is the happiest moment of your life in Finland?

Otto: The year before we moved to Sydney. I was living my last teen-something years. I was also step by step coming out from the closet. That was a pretty hard time at the same time simply because in my first 18.5 years I somehow denied that I’m gay. The last few years before coming out of the closet had been a very oppressive time. After coming out, I left my whole old life behind me and a started new one from a fresh slate. It was a massive relief and I feel my life really started in that time. Everyone supported me so well.

The year after outcome was like one big fiesta. Lots of party, bubbles and ultimately wild and edgy lifestyle. It was simply great to feel the freedom fully. Thank gosh those times are over. Life is getting so much better more age you gain. *laughs*.

My childhood was great as well. Even it was hard to appreciate it when I was kid. We used to travel a lot in Finland & Europe and I think my traveller side of myself started on those early days.

I have also great memories regarding Finnish nature and Summer. There is some magic in it. Summer holidays with endless nights at the summer cottages with enjoying traditional Finnish BBQ cuisine, swimming on the lake and several road trips with my family in Pohjanmaa, KarjaIa, Lapland and Europe. I have lots of cousins and relatives and we had lots of parties and family activities. Living in Finland within my circles has been definitely the most encouraging place to grow up in this exciting world.

Alex: My best times in Finland was when I lived in Turku, I was 20 years old and partied a lot – had a lots of friends and a “cool” job in the studio.

That was exactly how 20 years old guy should be living – enjoying life and doing stupid things. The city felt like the centre of the world, and I felt like the owner of it.

The confidence of the 20 years old young man was palpable. I remember one Saturday morning in my flat at Yliopistonkatu and I laid on the floor of my living room, smoking cigarettes, drinking red wine and listening to Nicki Minaj, and I said to my friend: “Do you realise how lucky we are?”

That moment is something I never forget.

I have had a lot of happiness in my life, and I am thankful for that every day. I remember my family’s summer parties with dancing all night long in the garden, long tables full of food from the archipelago and lots of happiness around me. I remember how it feels like to jump naked in the calm lake water after sauna at 4am and the sun is rising. No sounds, just the water, me and that moment.

An absolute peace around me.

There has been so many happy moments between Finland and I, and that defines me who I am as a person now.

TH: What do you think are three of the popular misconceptions of Finland? Can you share these misconceptions with us?

Alex: Always -20. This is something that need to explain a lot. People don’t really get it that we really do have summers in Finland and it can be very hot sometimes!  And when you start explaining about how the sun doesn’t go down in Summer, but there is no sunlight in winter – you get really funny looks.

  • Extremely expensive alcohol. We don’t really agree with this. Yes, it is expensive but if you go to a pub in Finland to have a pint of beer, it is the same price than many in Western Europe. You can get a nice bottle of red for 12€ from Alko or buy a bottle of sparkling wine in a nightclub for 15€ in Helsinki city centre. I think that’s quite reasonable!
  • 3 years lasting driving school?? I have heard a lot of comments that “Finns are the best drivers in the world, because the driving school lasts like 3 years right? “

I need to tell people that–yes, we are really good drivers – but there are two reasons for it. Because our weather conditions are so extreme, we really need to know how to control the car even in total darkness and in slippery highways.

But the second reason is that we might be good drivers because we don’t have any traffic in Finland. It is easy to be a good driver in a empty road! When I started to drive in London, I was absolutely terrified, but got used to it quite soon. But it would be stupid-ness to use my own car when the public transport is the best in the world so I rather catch a tube than be jammed in the traffic for 3 hours!

But no, our driving school doesn’t last for 3 years😀

Otto: I have faced the same: But something to add:

  • Sometimes people might think that Finland is just some poor pedestrian country. Okay, we are small and not maybe the biggest “celebrity-country” on earth but for some people it’s hard to see that we really are a developed first world country with an excellent living score. People also might see us as a much bigger country than one with a population of only 5 million.

Sometimes people just don’t get that we are real modern civilization. I understand it though, in London we have 10 million people. It’s a big difference. Sometimes people also think that Finland is part of Russia.

But If you look our location on the map – we are definitely more in the east than west. Finns have a very Russian mentality rather than Scandinavian though. It’s easy to notice when living abroad.😀

TH: What are the three things or characteristics that are undoubtedly “Finnish” to you?

Otto and Alex: After 4 years of being together our ideology and views are probably stuck together so it is definitely appropriate to answer this question together.

  • The food we eat. We have noticed after living in abroad how healthy and pure food we Finnish people are use to put in our plates. When we moved to UK we were absolutely horrified about the food people ate here. Every morning we saw some workmates doing nutella sandwiches ( with white bread! ) and flush it down with coke and pack of crisps! I felt like it’s our responsibility to tell them how unhealthy it is – but after living here for a year we have gave up. “Maassa maan tavalla” as Finns would say.
  • News. Reading the news. Watching the news. Checking Iltalehti.fi, Hs.fi, ampparit etc. We are extremely interested what is happening in our country and we are aware of what’s going on around the world.

We are actually much more civilised than we even realise. We live in a country which is far away from the rest of the Europe so we feel that is important to be on track. Here in UK many rare people are interested about the phenomenon of the world or politics at all.

  • Superficiality – This might surprise you, but we have come to a conclusion that Finns are extremely superficial. Especially in bigger cities. There is a big pressure to look trendy and expensive, because everyone knows each other. We definitely have a show-off culture where we need to make our workmates, or neighbors jealous by swanking about our holidays or a new car we bought.

At the same time Finns are jealous and they want to make other people jealous as well. When we lived in Helsinki we always checked ourselves from the mirror before going even to the nearest Siwa, because you never know who you gonna walk into! This is one of the things we hated in Finland and we are more than happy that we don’t need to suffer from it anymore.

People of UK has all the same attitude against dressing : They don’t give a f*ck! British people are famous of their sassy look and it really makes life easier and funnier.

TH: What are your personal dreams and visions for the future?

Otto: In three years I aim to be a full-time digital nomad and entrepreneur in digital industry. My vision is to live my life worldwide. I aim to travel and build my income comprehensively from my laptop without going office from 9-5. That’s just not my thing.

I’m also very keen to work in conflict areas and build digital future in the areas where it is not an forgone conclusion. Next few years I’ll focus on my bachelor studies in London. I have planned to make my exchange year in Hong Kong or Shanghai and Master degree in New York perhaps?

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Oh, I have so many dreams and visions about my future. I actually want to continue this lifestyle that I am living at the moment but just in much bigger picture: Live, laugh, travel and make things happen. At the moment I’m pretty sure that my life in the future will continue on abroad.

I don’t find it realistic to move back to Finland anymore – unless I get some very good reason for it. However, the most important aspects in my personal future are freedom and success.

Alex: There’s a lot! I have a personal 3 years plan to stay in London – make a career here as far as I can. Probably I want to stay on the same industry but move forward to more technical side of it. I’m interested in science and virtual reality and I would like to work for a company which would combine all these things: Photography, science and fashion.

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I am willing also to start studying mandarin, and after 3 years, move to Hong Kong – live there for a while and then settle down in New York. I am also willing to buy an holiday apartment in Ho Chi Minh City where I could maybe spend the winters doing some documentary projects.

That’s my future plan so far!

TH: The year 2017 is the year when gay marriage would officially be legalized in Finland. As an openly gay and definitely talented Finnish couple, how do you feel about this? 

Otto and Alex: Marriage as a constitution is old-fashioned and coming from religious roots originally. As non-religious persons we don’t want to be involved with it and we don’t really understand why to be considered as a “real committed couple” you would have to be married?

We get the legal side of marriage, that it makes life just easier if you are married – especially if you have kids. But personally we don’t think we wanna get married.

Unless we can afford Beyonce to come to perform our wedding!  *laughs*.

TH: Finland will also be celebrating its 100 years of independence next year. What is the one wish you have for Finland?

Otto: Dream big & live big. I hope we can cut some stupid bureaucracy and laws. Life in Finland could be so much funnier so let’s focus on that.

There is never too much positivity and dynamism.

Alex:  Same. Build more skyscrapers. Skyscrapers make people dream bigger, because they have something to look up to.

TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Otto: I really appreciate and love Finland and to be a Finn. There is always love and hate relationship with it. We have an option to question our country and I’m not afraid to do it.

I hope that all Finns who read this article will pay attention for everyone’s right for personal freedom and fun-dom. Let’s Drink, laugh, travel & spend. Let’s be crazy, quirky, spontaneous and wild. There is too little fun & sun in Finland so we need to bring it out by self.

Life is not that serious so please let’s focus on the genuinely significant things and let’s stop together to pay attention for topic where is absolutely no point.

For instance, some ridiculous laws and miraculous limits. Kippis!

Alex: I have to agree with Otto that even though I don’t want to live in Finland, I really do appreciate to be Finn. It will always define me and I feel privileged to be born and raised there.

Looking from abroad, Finland feels like going forward now for a long time and I wish nothing but wealth and success for Finland. The high tech, gaming, and building industry can be new Nokia for Finland but it will require that the Finns are ready for new inventions and to relax their bureaucracy and support entrepreneurs.

Use services and eat in restaurants. Enjoy your after works and go for holidays. Life is actually quite easy when you make it easy.


It was truly so much fun (and eye candy-ish) having Otto and Alex with us. I found myself LOL-ing a lot in their candid interview. We hope you have enjoyed this interview as much as we did!

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feel free to follow Otto on his website, instagram @ottoizakaya or like the ottoizakaya FB page. You can follow Alex on his instagram at @alexaaltophotos. Photographs courtesy of Otto and Alex.🙂

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WW is the PR person with a Masters in Public Relations from Aalto University, Finland. She has consulted extensively with entrepreneurs, executives and thought leaders on PR matters. Enquiries? Email WW at hello@thehieno.com .

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