Our time here in Finland keeps ticking away, and we have slid so easily between the 6 month, 1, 2 and 2.5 year mark, which just so happens to be today. Jimmy is stuck eating my diet recipes after what has now been dubbed the “Helsinki 15” by a large collective group of friends who have all packed on a healthy winter coat. Soft and great for snuggles and Netflix marathons through really cold and dark weekends, it’s not so glamourous in a swim suit. Three winters in and it has started to take its toll. But even so, maybe I can get Jimmy to make me an extra cocktail before dinner when he gets home tonight (I bake, he shakes- see what I did there?) and we can cheers to these past two and a half years in a foreign land. A very small, normal celebration, with the clink of two IKEA glasses.
This morning, a burly and bearded post office (in Finnish the Posti-an easy one to remember) delivery man came to my door with some spring clothes I had ordered to freshen my wardrobe- which has become darker and greyer each year. I answered the door in Finnish, he asked my first name in Finnish, then my last. When I hesitated to remember which last name I had ordered the package under (my legal name is still my maiden, as my passport and visa are tied together, but our apartment is listed under my married name) he switched and asked again in English.
A year ago, I would have blushed an been so embarrassed. He knows I’m not Finnish and I was trying to pretend like I understood! But this time- and at each check out counter and coffee shop where this same scenario inevitably plays out- I laugh easily and thank them saying “I’m sorry, my Finnish is terrible! But I’m getting there!”
(I even say “I am sorry, I don’t speak Finnish” in Finnish when people approach me. I think it gives me a bit more credit. “Anteeksi, en puhu Suomen”)
The burly and bearded man broke into a smile worthy of Santa’s red-haired son, and laughed and told me (in perfect grammar, no less) that his English wasn’t so good either. I told him it was better than my Finnish as I signed the tablet. We smiled at each other and I wished him a good day – in Finnish, of course.
I keep saying that I am not sure if Finns have magically just become more friendly, or if I have become more comfortable not fitting in- which maybe means that I do fit in? I have regular happy conversations with strangers, which must be in part due to the fact that I am no longer embarrassed to be “found out” as a foreigner. And I seriously doubt that the entire Finnish people have changed in the last 2+ years. I am totally ok looking silly or making a cultural faux pas, and I just laugh a lot more easily at myself. Nothing warms people up like a big smile and a healthy dose of self deprecation.
I had to opportunity to walk a friend’s dog as they were back in the States for a weekend and since returning, I’ve -halfway seriously- requested to rent her again. I had more real, full length, adult conversations with Finns in those two days than I usually do ever. Dogs (and babies I hear- but lets take this one step at a time) are great ice breakers. Plus, I think loitering around the dog park alone may not have the intended effect.
Last year we took a larger number of small trips in the spring. This year we are focusing on fewer, longer trips, which has given us the opportunity to while our weekends away in Helsinki. Late breakfasts, cold walks, and evenings with friends. An occasional new restaurant, bowling, cinema, hockey games, weekly volleyball matches. We stroll through town, grab metro trains, hail trams, and shun late night cabs in favor of a walk through the always-active city center. After extensive sneakers-to-the-ground research, I run the same route everyday because I like the cafes and clusters of ducks that I pass.
And that is just the point of it. Its all so normal. Diets and store runs and lazy weekend schedules. Our lives here feel like something I never thought they would…normal. My friend Brittany and her darling family just moved back to the States- into an entirely new culture (the South) of a land that has since become unfamiliar. Following their journey of renegotiating the unnecessary needs of American life- for a car, separate play rooms, cartons of goldfish, frozen waffles – has been powerful.
Then I physically put myself there: back to Costco and saying goodbye to Kenneth the Butcher; Starbucks instead of coffee and a banoffee pie at Adele’s; a car instead of a feet and trams and metros and buses; simply sending a package instead of praying that the nice guy at the Posti is working today so he can walk me through the form for the thousandth time. And I had a hard time seeing it. In fact, it freaked me out a bit.
Do I say goodbye to Kenneth and Adele and Nice Man at the Posti and the “Cute Guy” that works at the K-Market (I always tell Jimmy when he rings up my groceries- “The Cute Guy was there today! Good thing you didn’t come.” Jimmy asks if we have a date yet). Is that weird? …Saying goodbye to these people, not that I have a crush on my grocer…you know you have….
I know you’ve fillet my salmon / served my latte / scanned my yogurt, but you were a big part of my day and you made me feel comfortable, just because you knew me.
I’ve just found normal. And I really like it.