Winning hearts and minds in Finland

I would love to speak Finnish. Just enough to get by and to listen in on the conversations around me while I'm here. There's something so freaking adorable about a language where they pronounce every vowel, even when they spill over the edges of the page in 20-30-letter bunches. Like you let your arm dangle over the edge of the keyboard and just didn't bother to go back and correct it. I joke as a defense mechanism because I've got nothing in the way of Finnish now that I'm here in Helsinki. I haven't even tried out my pathetic new-car-smell smattering of Swedish (learned from an earnest but utterly unprepared instructor at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle's Scandinavian heartland, Ballard). Not that I need it. Everyone - and I mean everyone - here speaks English. Embarrassingly well. I'll embarrass myself with my "lite svenska" in a few days time when I head to Sweden.

My best example of the above set-up thus far - and bear in mind I've been here less than a day - came last night at the checkout in the market across from my hotel. Every newly arrived American should go into a market where none of the labels are in English when they're shopping for...well, I wasn't really sure what I was gathering. Which was my first mistake. But then I began grabbing funny seeming lumps of carbohydrates and pulled perfectly-shaped, random pieces of fruit apart to add to my basket. My biggest and certainly most impressive bad choice was what I thought was a liter of sparking water flavored with blueberries that may instead be weak Finnish soda pop. All I know for certain about that product comes from the approximately 58% left in the bottle when I excitedly opened it standing in the center of my teeny hotel room/closet too soon after my return. I get ahead of myself, though.

So I went to the checkout and threw my barrel-full of bad choices on the conveyor and said what I thought might be seen as a colloquially cool "Hello, I am a clueless American" greeting in internet-prompted Finnish to the checker. I might have worked because she began speaking to me in those undecipherable long strains of consonants. I, of course, offered my best animated, moronic nodding in reply. Thankfully, I managed to pull my one thus far useful Finnish phrase out of my Palin ("en puhu suomea" - loosely translated to "me no speak-y the Finnish"). To which she gave me the universal sign for, "Duh..." and sweetly explained that I needed to weigh my genetically-modified apples and - what is that, half a banana? - so that I can put a sticker on them. Somehow I had missed that sign amidst everything else that I couldn't possibly decipher in the store. She took mercy on me and did so. With a smile. But not before dropping the banana(s) on the floor on her way back to the checkout. Karma is a bitch, but with a delightful sense of humor.

We finished up, I handed her a bundle of tattered Euros before trying to cram my purchases into the whisper-thin, pack-of-gum-sized bags they had for earth-ruiners like me who did not bring their own. Lesson(s) learned, I scampered back to my hotel room and began dismantling these indecipherable treats. Before getting a few so-so hours of sleep.

The one benefit of maintaining a running schedule that a serial killer would look at and say, "man, that's a bit too much commitment for me" is that waking up on four hours of rack time is child's play. If I'm lucky when I get out there for my run in a few, I'll see that checkout girl coming home from one of impressive number of bars I'd noticed while out meandering yesterday on my way to a love-at-first-sight connection with Helsinki. If so, I'm sure she'll want to introduce me to all her friends.

More later. Stay caffeinated.