I say I am from St. Louis. The first response is, “Oh the Blues! Great hockey team!” It is great that St. Louis has some connection to Finland and my hometown evokes some immediate response and not just a question mark. St. Louis also has The Arch, designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. St. Louisians really do not know that fact any more than Finns.
In day-to-day exchanges I want to practice Finnish, and cashiers want to check my I.D. to discover where I come from. Then they take pride in telling me my change amounts in English and “Have a nice day” with a smile which they would never make otherwise. But you can not be mad at someone for being happy to see you.
I enjoy my serious conversations in English, but in those conversations I do not have the luxury of just representing me (whoever that is). I also am an American, a mythical creature hanging around small town Finland. Drinking together in a group, serious questions get raised. And learning that I am from St. Louis suddenly a few people ask, “What do you think about Ferguson? How far is it from where you live?” Suddenly, I represent. Everyday I represent St. Louis, since this question now gets asked every day. Why are our police militarized? Why do we not have gun-free zones? Why do we make it look like a military operation?
My opinion has power to sway, to color, and to direct opinion, whether I like it or not. There is terror in being looked to for insight. Suddenly, on my voice hinges power, and power cannot always be rejected. Suddenly, my opinion on The Second Gulf War is of consequence, the death of countless civilians, the misery of refugees is in my voice. People want to know what I think of current day Iraq, Syria, G.W. Bush and Obama, Russia and NATO, Israel, ice hockey, alcohol laws, income tax-policies, the main-stream media, Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Christianity, religion, fundamentalism, secularism, the two-party system, and why is it that Americans like baseball.
I have some response to some of these questions, but I am mostly an idiot. I don’t know anything about Islam and fundamentalism, the principles of jihad, the four schools of jurisprudence, the critiques of different sects and their individual histories, the genesis of grudges held between them, and the history of American involvement and its effect on the Middle East. Hell, most of how I understand these problems is through Plato, Dune, Henry V, the histories of the Athenians and Romans, and my own limited experience. I take the few things I have found to be true and try to understand how they apply or don’t apply to each situation while I look for better information.
On the other hand, I know and others know I am just one person. My opinions and ideas do not represent more than one voice among a plethora of voices. So we continue to drink together and make merry. There was a rumor in Turku that the U.S. had 52 states. So I asked these guys with heavy accents in Kajaani how many states there are:
Fifty! They shout. Fifty states for sure!
Let’s count them!
Virginia, California, Missouri, New York, Puerto Rico, Indonesia! Iraq!
The Detroit Redwings, North Dakota, South Dakota, Mexico, New Mexico, Old Mexico.
How many Mexicos are there?
I think there are seven.
Seven! Yeah, there are seven Mexicos.
Yet people hate Mexicans.
It’s because they are from Middle Mexico!
That’s so stupid! Why hate Mexicans from a different Mexico?
Well then there’s Philadelphia, Oregon, the one under Oregon…
No, not California, San Diego!
That’s right, that right. Then Los Angelos.
Texas, Detroit, China, Massachusetts, Miami, Chicago
Toronto? Nah, ah-ah! Gotcha, Toronto is in Kaaanada!