For the past five years, Finland has ranked number one in world happiness reports. Are the country’s cats as happy as their human counterparts? I wanted to find out, so on a visit to Finland last summer, I dropped into the Helkatti Cat Café in downtown Helsinki.
There are three cat cafés in Finland – that may not seem like much, but it’s not bad for a small country with a population of only 5.6 million, along with strict laws concerning animals and food prep. All three of Finland’s cat cafés are owned by Tiina Altonen, a cat lover with nine feline friends of her own.
It was around 82 F the day I visited Helkatti. That’s a little warmer than the summertime average for Helsinki, and as soon as I was ushered into the café by the staff, I realized there was no air conditioning. Heat waves are rare in Finland, and older buildings are rarely retrofitted with A/C. But no one complained about the heat, least of all the motley crew of contented cats with exotic-sounding names like Puu (meaning “wood” or “tree”), Namitassu (“yummy paw”), and Tyylilyyli (“style guide”). Altonen, the café’s owner, is cat parent to all of Helkatti’s feline patrons.
Only the kitchen is off limits to the cats, so it’s not unheard of for kitties to follow visitors into the bathroom. As for the human guests, they’re allowed to sit wherever they want amid a funky Nordic-meets-Moroccan vibe of mismatched furniture, cat art, and lots of cushions. A huge aquarium adds interest in the middle of the space, but the main attraction is, of course, the cats.
I sat across from Nestori, a regal tabby lounging on a leather armchair, and wondered what it would be like to spend the night here. The furniture doesn’t look like it promises a good night’s sleep, but hey—think of the purring company! The café caters to many different groups, and they even offer kitty yoga on Mondays.
Cat cafés aren’t usually known for their food, but Helkatti has a menu of beautifully presented sweet and savory items. They also have a liquor license, but they’re best known for their expertly drawn kitty lattes.
The self-deprecating Finns are always a little shocked when they find out about their “happiest in the world” status. They take it with a grain of salt, and the cats seem to as well. They have it good, but it’s impolite to boast—so let’s just say the felines (and their humans) are feeling fine in Finland.