I have noticed lately that I have become an idiot. This might come as a surprise to some of you, but probably not to most…This time I am referring to whenever I’m visiting my former home country, Finland.
It has crept on to me without me realising. Admittedly I don’t visit Finland that much anymore, I used to go back several times a year during my first years in Gravesend, but after 21 years here, I find that I’m going back less and less, sometimes not for 2-3 years. And that’s when it hits you, to the amusement, or shall we rather say the astonishment of the locals of Helsinki, you are starting to behave like the most idiotic tourist in your own native country! Please let me explain:
- The language is changing. New words have crept up that I’m not familiar with or sayings I’ve never heard about. Like when my Finnish friends kept on saying for years “Ei mennyt niinkuin Strömsöössä” (“It didn’t go like in Strömsö”) and I just nodded and smiled without understanding what the heck they were talking about. It took me a long time to summon up courage to ask another Finnish expat if they knew what it meant. (Apparently it’s something from a TV programme where everything is perfect in a place called Strömsö)
- Shops I’ve never heard about. People refer to shops or chains of shops I’ve never heard about. Huutopiste.net is apparently the Finnish equivalent of EBay, but that info had eluded me when a friend talked about it and I asked where in town their shops were? Someone also told me a good place to shop cheap clothes was Tokmanni but I thought they had mispronounced Stockmann, the huge department store in Helsinki Once again, turns out Tokmanni is a cheap and cheerful chain I’d never heard about.
- Public transport and especially trams in Helsinki. I don’t know where to pay and how to pay for the fares and to make it worse, they have now introduced new tramlines and changed all the routes. Yes, and I know what you are thinking, how can trams change routes? But trust me, they have! I am a confused perspirating mess now trying to board a tram, scared of where it is going to take me!
- The money. Now this is where I really start behaving like an idiot. As the Euro was introduced after I had moved to the UK, I never got used to it. We don’t holiday much in Europe either so I’m lucky if I see Euros once in a blue moon which means I’m struggling to recognise the paper money and coins. You can imagine the embarrassment when on holiday in Helsinki, looking like a local and sounding like a local, but then at the tills of a supermarket you don’t understand the currency! The amount of raised eyebrows I have seen on my visits!
- You can’t speak your own language properly anymore. You keep on looking for words and make silly mistakes. Most embarrassing was probably during my last visit when I checked into my hotel and wanted to ask for a room “with a nice view” (fi “hyvä näköala”) but mistakenly asked for a room “where I look nice” (fi “hyvä ulkonäkö”). I’m surprised they didn’t ask if I wanted a plastic surgeon to be called for me as well!
So please be warned next time you are in Helsinki and see a confused plump middle aged blonde lady who looks like a local, but is travelling on the wrong tram and doesn’t seem to understand what is going on around her….because that will be me!!!
Love and peace to you all again!