My first collection of valokuvat [photographs] is up! Click on the “Images” tab above, or, go straight to it.

Words about Kilpisjärvi soon, I promise!

12 Hours Even



Today is the autumnal equinox. Today, it’s an even mix between dark and light, but from here on out, the darkness only grows. Daylight hours go shorten from here until December, when we’ll have somewhere between 5-6 hours of light per day.

Bring it on, Finland.

Meet Paavo



We met at the Kierrätyskeskus (recycling center), and I fell in love. I’ve been half-heartedly searching for a bike, but in anticipation of Finnish and European travel expenses, I put it off.

Paavo was marked at €50. Not bad for a bike, but anticipating the Fulbrighters’ upcoming trek to Lapland, I was reluctant. Nevertheless, I took him for a spin in the parking lot. He was a bit rusty around the handlebars, but his ruby red frame was still a shocker and the crystal clear chime of his little aluminum bell still had me swooning. After a long internal debate, I decided I needed him.



One of the workers there gave Paavo a quick checkup before I brought him to the kassa [cash register], only to discover that two of his three speeds were broken. “Kaksikymmentä,” the worker said.

I have been doing my Finnish homework. Kaksikymmentä=€20! Done deal.

I doubt that Finns name their inanimate objects, but nevertheless I felt that it would be only appropriate to give him a Finnish name, so Paavo it was.

I think we’ll be very happy together.



Anteeksi (excuse me)

8 days before departure, I receive in my mailbox a large and official-looking envelope containing my dearly missed passport, newly christened with a sparkly pink and blue sticker on visa page 11. 8 days, one 2-hour delay, a missed connection in Dusseldorf, two missing pieces of luggage, a €40 taxi, and 7 time zones later, I am in Helsinki. Things are looking up.

The first Finnish word I recognize in the Helsinki-Vantaa airport is “anteeksi,” which I learned over the summer in Teach Yourself Finnish by Terttu Leney. It means “excuse me”, “I’m sorry”, or “I beg your pardon.” As I stand by the queue for a taxi and deliberate the pros and cons of a cab, a Finnish mother with a large baby carriage enters the line with a clear and strong anteeksi” as she steps in front of me. My vocabulary words in action! I feel great.

Over the next few days, I use anteeksi several times myself. That is, I use Finnish to explain that I don’t speak Finnish. When browsing Sokos department store, a saleslady approaches me. “Anteeksi,” I say, “en ymmärrä suomea” [I don’t understand Finnish]. I say it again when a college student flags me down to sign a petition. And again, when a monk tries to give (sell) me granola. Later, I go to a Karl Fazer chocolate boutique. A Finnish girl, about my age, stands next to me while we sample different delicacies. She says something to me, and I ask, “Anteeksi, puhutko englantia?” [Sorry, do you speak English?]

Actually, that incident makes me kind of sad. She was telling me that the blueberry-filled chocolates were the best, that she had tried them all. I kind of want to have small talk with people in Finnish. It’s awkward when someone is trying to be friendly with you and you have to ask for translation. I’m getting tired of saying “excuse me” every time I communicate.

After chocolate, I need toothpaste, so I visit the apteeki [pharmacy]. I don’t recognize any brands, but I’m determined to figure out which bottle is toothpaste. It takes me about 15 minutes, I’m not 100% positive that my final choice is toothpaste, and the cost seems pretty extremely outrageous. Nevertheless, I purchase the Dentosal and leave.

The next day, I consult Google Translator to clarify the label on my Dentosal. The result is “includes polish of course salt.” Is this some sort of special treatment for people with dull teeth? Is it actually safe to scrub salt on your teeth? My next-door-neighbor, a dentist from Iran, looks at the ingredients and says that she thinks the Dentosal is for smokers.

Armed with my receipt and the new knowledge that I can get Colgate at the K-Market grocery for cheaper, I bring my Dentosal back to the apteeki. “Anteeksi, I begin to the pharmacist. I’m so tired of spitting out “puhutko englantia?” (and I know almost EVERYONE in Finland speaks English anyway) that I just sort of say, “englantia?” I explain that I think I bought the wrong product and I would like to return it. The pharmacist tells me that won’t be possible; they do not issue returns after the product has been brought home.

I did not use the Dentosal. Proof: it has an unbroken seal over the cap. Apparently that does not matter. The pharmacist tells me that Dentosal is normal toothpaste after all, but that does not give me back my €6. I’m too exhausted to fight it. I kind of want to cry. I miss CVS, where I understand all the labels on the bottles, wouldn’t pay the equivalent of $8.50 for toothpaste, and could probably argue down a cashier to take my return. I miss being able to read posters in the subway. I miss understanding the bus driver when he yells about the broken fare reader. It might be sort of convenient not to speak the language when salespeople, college activists, and monks try to communicate with me, but frankly, I’d rather know exactly what they were saying and say no to them in a language I actually spoke, then enjoy mutually-understood conversations about chocolate.

My Finnish classes begin next week, so hopefully these incidents won’t continue to be as troublesome. But in fleeting thoughts, I just want to be excused from them all…instead of say anteeksi.

I need a residence permit

Perhaps this is due to negative and/ or salacious tales of international criminals, terrorists, and other shady characters in the media, but I confess I have a skeptical stereotype of people who have trouble getting a visa. With a half-raised eyebrow and a distrustful scowl, my mind disapprovingly contests about these folks, if there’s nothing to hide, well then, I don’t understand the problem.

My liberally-educated side, of course, stands up for the underrepresented Everyman seeking promise in a new land but caught in the bewildering throes of a foreign government’s bureaucracy and red tape, and suddenly, I’m the one with visa troubles.

Residence permit troubles, to be precise. Permission to reside in Finland for the next 10 months, as is my intention and (or so I thought) that of my financial benefactor, the Finnish and U.S. governments. The problem, really, is only a matter of clarifying health insurance coverage, but throw in postponements due to an incomplete blood test needing to be redone for medical clearance and Finnish vacation season (the entire month of July), and before I know it, I’m down to the wire. Every morning I check the mailbox, looking for an official envelope from the Consulate General of Finland holding my precious passport, newly decorated with a sparkly sticker authorizing my extended residence in Finland. But, as of yet, nothing.

I twiddle my thumbs and tap my heel on the floor. Is it lost in the mail? Has there been a problem processing the application? Have they just forgotten about it? Don’t they realize my flight is in 10 days? Don’t the Finns want me in their country? Why is this not a priority to them? Don’t they like me?  They must hate me. After all, their e-mails are all so formal sounding, and I’m just another ignorant, sneaker-wearing American who can’t properly pronounce “puhutko englantia?” (“Do you speak English?”) and doesn’t even know she’s saying it wrong. My very being insults the entire nation and culture of Finland.

Maybe I’m being irrational. After all, it is my first time living outside the U.S., and in my two weeks of “rest and relaxation” before departure, I’m bored, and the perfectionist in me needs something to freak out about. Thanks to experience, I know that the best subjects for freaking out about have to do with the unknown, the uncertain, and the unresolved. They provide endless opportunity for second-guessing and “what if?”-ing, thus enabling me to send my mental energy into a tailspin and turning minutes into black holes. Which is exactly what I want, right?

And thus, I channel my energy by commencing my official blog: a Finnglish-littered collection of writings, images, moving images, web links, and so on about my adventures, random thoughts, well-developed thoughts, culture clashes, awkward moments, triumphs, tribulations, and international havoc-wreaking. It’s a general assumption of mine that all bloggers have to be just a little bit narcissistic, so if I indulge in that side of me (come on, you know you have one too), I will begin by vowing to NOT take myself too seriously–but also to have some purpose in posts. Maybe one of these days I’ll write something mildly interesting, something mildly well-written, and perhaps even something mildly funny. Maybe even the Finns will like it. Maybe the Finns will like me.

Maybe they will give me a residence permit.