Imagine a world where Vladimir Putin is your next-door neighbor, it’s still freezing in May, and bus drivers won’t let you on the bus with a cup of coffee. Well that world exists and it’s called Finland.
These days you can buy coffee to go almost everywhere on your way to work. But try taking it with you on a Helsinki bus and you’ll feel like you’re Sally Field in Not Without My Daughter. Your best bet is to try to smuggle it on. Many have tried, few have succeeded. This is my story.
It’s 8:00 am. I grab a soy latte and head to the bus stop. The number 14 bus approaches. The doors open. I smile at the driver and try to hand him a 5€ bill. He glares at me and snarls: “No coffee on the bus!” But sir, it’s in a cup with a securely attached lid, I plead. “NO COFFEE ON THE BUS – IT COULD SPILL,” he yells. But I’m 41 years-old, sober and on my way to work. Plus, this Louis Vuitton bag I’m carrying cost me €1,200 so I assure you I won’t spill! It’s no use. The driver slams the bus door in my face and flips me the bird as he pulls away.
Finland is a country of many stupid rules. But if ever there was a rule that’s begging to be broken, it’s the Helsinki Region Transport’s (HSL) no-coffee-on-the-bus rule. Especially when you consider that you are allowed to eat or drink on Helsinki’s trams. And there are even vending machines selling food and drinks in the city’s metro stations. So WTF is so wrong about wanting to drink coffee on the bus?!?
I emailed HSL when I got to work and demanded an explanation. This is what they said:
“The bus you attempted to board was equipped with a ‘No coffee sticker’ that gives the driver the right to prevent someone carrying coffee or food from boarding the bus. Even if a bus is not equipped with a sticker, the driver still has the right to use discretion if he/she feels there is a chance that the passenger might spill on other passengers or the bus seats.”
Wait, so essentially HSL has created a special sticker that lets bus drivers who hate their lives take out their frustration on innocent commuters whose only crime is a caffeine addiction and having someplace to go? Makes sense if you don’t think about it.
Not long after I tried to take my soy latte on the number 14 bus, a friend of mine had a similar experience on another one. She posted on Facebook about how she had to pour her coffee out before she was allowed to board the bus. And the comments poured in. “I always smuggle my coffee on in my coat pocket,” one woman said. “I just lie and tell the driver it’s empty,” said another guy. Another woman said she hides hers in her purse. You get the idea.
So yes, the no-coffee-on-the-bus rule really is one of the craziest rules in Finland. But what’s even crazier is that there are loads of highly skilled, highly educated coffee-drinking adults out there right now lying to bus drivers that their Starbuck’s cup is empty or hiding their KeepCup down their pants, praying to God they make it to their destination without scalding their genitals. That’s nuts (pun intended)!
The truth is that when all is said and done, Finland isn’t just a country of many stupid rules, it’s also a country of rule-followers. Kind of like how people wait patiently for the light to turn green even when there isn’t a car in sight. Ok… that one’s actually kind of sweet. But I have a feeling this one’s different.
Change is brewing.
Not Without My Coffee, Lissu