A New Family

My last hosts were Janne and his wife Jennifer. Janne is from Kuopio, and Jennifer is from the Phillipines. They met for the first time in Singapore and started a relationship in Dubai. She is an accountant; he is a physicist. They have their first baby on the way. Her bright-eyed and casual conversational style was familiar. Janne’s quietness was more traditionally “Finnish” and perhaps even especially so since he is from the Savo region, a region whose stereotype consists in non-committal answers, sneakiness, and non-confrontation. With them, I had more time to myself, and it allowed me to decompress.

They were such graceful hosts. When I found their apartment, they offered me to join them for salmon. And a great dinner it was. Janne is the cook of the home, and Jennifer is quite proud of his kitchen skills. In the evening, we quietly played a boardgame called Carcasonne. In that game Janne suggested I place a tile to get myself a few points, but he tricked me into getting him 18 points putting him in the lead. Of the few words said during the game, one of them was a devious plot! “Very Savonian,” I thought. The next day, I had time to read and write and travel around the city. I found a used bookstore, the library, a lot of coffee (since there is a pot of coffee ready in every shop, stand, and kiosk in Finland), but no post office.

That night Janne introduced me to Belgian beer. It was quite a nice respite from the Finnish beers, which are generally unexciting replicas of Miller and Miller Light. Karhu, Karjala, and Koff (Koff being nearly a Busch) are fine when cold. But they tend to be too warm, even out of the bar fridge. These two Trappist Belgian beers that Janne shared were smooth malt ales, dark and cool and ashy. We drank for the taste and sat outside on the porch watching the sun “set” behind the clouds. Jennifer has not liked the smell of beer since she became pregnant, and laughingly bemoaned Janne having a buddy to sip with.

Due to Finnish tax laws it is an increasingly common practice to order beer from Europe or take the ferry to and from Estonia with a cart full of beer. Already, I have met people who have brought beer from Estonia, ordered it from Germany or Belgium, or interrogated me about American drinking costs. Janne does not interrogate, he just appreciates good beer.

I couldn't tell if it was tension sometimes.

I want you to think they always wear pajama pants.

One of the things I find enjoyable in Finnish conversation is how every couple is planning their next trip.There is the biking tour around the Åland Islands (150-200 km), the driving tour to Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium (31hrs), the city-to-city bus and train routes around Budapest, Prague, and Vienna. Since people love to travel out of Finland, they are happy to host guests for a night or two in Finland. I think that is what makes the two-night hosting program work so well. It’s an economy of xenia.

Final note: Jennifer and Janne are smoothie and berry enthusiasts. Delicious fresh fruits.

Upwards to Finland

For all you nervous to fly alone, namely Don whom I met at the Sprint store today: no worries. You read and follow a few directives to get to the airport terminal. It can take a while, but no sweat. It is not any worse than lining up before recess, or doing fire drills repeatedly because the sensor system at your work is broken – but think recess, not fire. Waiting in the terminal seats you get assaulted by CNN (they would play NPR if they had any bit of mercy) and the extremely disorienting sensation that you have no idea why anyone else is travelling. It is not like a road, where you can guess based on your knowledge of the streets, direction, time of day, nearby places, whether people are going to work or the YMCA. But in an airport, you can hardly tell if it is business or pleasure, and those categories are intentionally broad enough to avoid narrative. The powers-that-be will keep you updated if your plane will enter at a different terminal, in which case you just follow the instructions given and the other would-be passengers of your flight to the new terminal. Once there, you wait in line, they scan your ticket, and you enter a small uncomfortable room with a bunch of strangers. But now you are strangers with a common purpose, and that is some relief. You wait in this room, and just follow the instructions of the oracles. The magic roars, the plane rises, and the mysterious augurs in the cabin summon favorable winds. Do as you wish. No effort of yours is required for the argosy to take you to a distant land, so why not do it? Get to Seattle or Tampa or Quebec City.

Tomorrow morning I take off for Turku. May the winds be favorable, the passengers thin, and sleep deep.