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Sunday, 3 June 2012

Yyvaskyla: Day Two and Three: Liminality

Settled in the hotel and a brief review of what, for want of a better word, we will call my budget, makes it apparent that I cannot afford to both get drunk and eat. More accurately, a brief review of restaurant prices and a quick trip downtown on the first night makes it apparent that I can afford neither to drink beer nor to eat. As I wander round town on the first day, scoping the place out, I keep an eye out for solutions other than the various fast food joints that litter the shopping area, and when I  stumble across a supermarket I think I have the problem solved. It looks really cheap and everyone in the place looks slightly more miserable than the average resident  of Finland I have seen so far. Rows of dull fluorescent lighting, only half of it working, illuminate the place and its simply called "Supermarket", so I head in.

Working out what food you can have in a hotel room has always presented a number of problems. The first of these is that with no kitchen, the food is permanently available and close at hand. Through previous experience I know that this can lead to you eating everything you buy within half an hour of getting back to your room, forcing the choice of whether to go back out again to buy more Pringles or not. The second problem is smell and the way it clings to hotel rooms which means that if you buy food that is too aromatic (I remember the infamous onion bhaji incident when a hotel in London wanted to charge me for extra cleaning) you can end up living in a room that smells like a deli counter. So the ideal is to go with neutral odour but, in view of the first issue, food that's very bulky and filling. These considerations in mind, I limit the quantity of Pringles to two boxes and buy a 1kg tub of potato salad. As I approach the counter I realise I have nothing to eat the salad with, so I jump out of the queue and take another circuit round the shop to see of I can find some utensils.

After two laps, I'm unsuccessful until I spot a store assistant desultorily packing shelves. I walk up to her, smiling brightly, and say "Hei" (which is Finnish for 'Hi'). She looks at me warily. I cup my hands in front of me about eight inches apart and say "Fork! Please". The wariness turns to puzzlement-anger (a complex emotion most often seen on people's faces when dealing with bureacrats). I realize my mistake, drop my plastic shopping box, grab the potato salad, shake it in her face and mime eating, then point to my right hand which is making little scooping motions. The lady nods gravely, says in perfect English "Come with me" and I follow her to an area of the store (which I had previously eschewed on the basis of 'unlikely to be there') that features massive displays of barbeques with every item you would ever need for a barbeque plainly on display. Especially forks. A little bit more embarrassed than normal, I grab a catering pack of 150 plastic forks, head for the tills, pay and leave. The rest of the day is spent trying to each a kilogram of potato salad and writing a professional application for RHB, although I have no shortage of forks with which to eat.

The next day, I determine to learn from my mistakes, so I ask everyone I meet whether they speak English and how to say "Please' and "Thankyou". Thank you is easy enough ('keetos') but, as one informant tells me, Finnish people have a complicated relationship with "Please". Actually, its not that complicated, they dont say please.
 "We dont really have a word for it" says Saara, my principle informant, "I think its because we dont need it. I think they only say it in countries where they need to pretend they mean "please'  because every is so rude otherwise. I've lived in Italy and they say 'Please, please,please,please, please' all the time when what they really mean is 'gimme!'
 "Ok" I say "Well 'keetos' for telling me that" I joke "Keetos very much!". She laughs not.
 "You say 'Thank you' too much" she says "Its rude to keep repeating it".
 "Oh, ok" I say "Sorry about that".
 "And dont keep apologising" she says "that is also rude. You sound very English saying 'thanks' and 'please' and 'sorry' all the time, and you told me you didnt want to be English, you wanted to be Canadian. Just think to yourself - what would a Canadian say?"
 I hesitate for a minute and mumble "Awesome".

Later that day as I head out for a hike, Canada is still buzzing round my head. As I walk from downtown Jyvaskla to the head of the trails at Laajavuori (about 3kms north west of downtown if you want to find it on Google maps) the resemblance to Nova Scotia gets stronger. There's coffee shops that only lack "Tim Hortons" signs and even the place names are startlingly similar: I bet those reading this who dont know either place well would struggle to say which from  'Maki-Matti' and 'Kejimkujik' belonged where.  In fact,  the familiarity of the environment is so strong that I decide to try to deliberately notice differences to try to establish some sort of concrete perception of place. Unfortunately for Canada, the biggest difference I can identify  (and yes I know the language is an obvious one, but to be honest, although written Nova Scotian is familiar, the spoken language in that part of Canada is about as intelligable as Finnish to me) is in the physical shape of the people. After a whole hour's walk to the trail head I still havent seen  a single morbidly obese person.

At the trail head, I grab a map and head off into the woods on a wide gravel path keeping an eye out for smaller side paths that look as if they go somewhere interesting. Soon I spot one, and, trying to think how my  like my friend Carl who's spent most of his life in woods would navigate, I plunge down a single person path into the woods. After about a kilometre I have two choices, so still channeling Carl, I take the one that goes 'up'. It winds for about an hour through a beautiful, but increasingly dense forest, the noise of the road fading with every step. Remembering Carl's adage of "Drink before you're thirsty, eat before you're hungry" I sit down for a snack. The water tastes great but I am hungry so I fish out the kilogram of potato salad. Disaster. I have brought no forks. But there's no-one around, so I scoop  some out of the container with my hands enjoying the primal feel of it all. Suddenly, there's a crack on the path behind me, followed by a kind of snorking noise. I begin to regret 'channeling' Carl on this expedition as I now remember that the last time I was in the woods with him, we got attacked by a bear. I also begin to regret not Googling "Finland - bears"  before I set off for the hike as at least that would give some idea of the danger I might be in. Hands full of aromatic potato salad with only my drinking water to wash it away, I start to feel uneasy so I hastily start to pack up. At this moment a massive wasp lands on the potato salad, I jerk in reaction and the contents go flying, half over my legs, half on the ground. There's a crack in the forest behind me.Convinced I am now potentially  one of those stories you read about -  "Idiot tourist's body eventually found in Finnish forest: Man  gets killed by bears and wasp on ill-advised hike after tellling no-one where he was going and having a rubbish map. Took potato salad and no fork" - I finish packing and try to walk calmly back to a main trail. As I walk the panic begins to subside gradually, so I slow the pace and settle back into a casual walk.  Eventually I meet a friendly group of mountain bikers  who have just stopped for a rest, so I settle down with them for a chat about 'hard tails' and West coast style (which I've never done). They ask where I've been and I point up the trail. "Wow. No-one goes up there. You're a real woodsman" says Sammi, the oldest. I cant wait to get back to the hotel for a shower.

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