From Finland, with love

Last night, Son was playing with his Nintendo, recording sounds and then altering them to make them funny, and he asked me to say something.

I thought about it for a second, and then said, “Are you a Finn? I’m a Finn, too.” But I said it in a gruffy voice.

“Perfect!” said Son, and laughed so hard he almost fell on the floor.

They, too, are Finns.

Sitting on the train to work for the first time in Sweden fourteen years ago, I was suddenly struck by a slight sense of panic. I realized that while I had been to the office a couple of times for interviews, I had always come from the other direction, from the airport, or the train station, so I didn’t know what the closest subway stop was.

And having only lived in the city for two days, I hadn’t even used the subway much, if at all. See, I like to walk. Anyway, there I was, sitting on the train in 1998, with a mobile phone in my pocket, but with no reception and no-one to call. That’s when the subway train came to Slussen.

Slussen! I had heard that name before. Slussen was infamous in Sweden and Finland in the 1960s and 1970s, for being the place where the homeless, drunk – and often Finnish – people hung out. There had even been a song about the “Slussen Guerilla” in Finland.

I got out of the train, up to street level, and after I realized I was going the wrong way just two blocks in, walked quickly towards the Old Town but saw no sign of the Guerilla. They had moved on.

That first summer, my cousin came to visit me, and to run the Stockholm marathon. He came on a Friday morning, and after I had finished work, we walked down to the Old Town beer store with a colleague of mine. While he went in, my cousin and I waited outside.

I was standing on one side of the door, my cousin on the other when a man walked up to him and asked for a couple of crowns, “to get a sandwich”.

My cousin, who by education was originally an engineer, but had by that point also been a fireman and a marketer, and has since become a policeman, didn’t have any time for the man.

“Come on, man, just five crowns,” said the drunken fellow, in Swedish.

My cousin shook his head and looked away. The man walked around him so he was once again standing in front of him.

“What? You don’t have five crowns?” the man said, and his tone was getting angry.

“No,” my cousin said. “Nej.”

The man persisted, and finally my cousin told him to beat it.

“I won’t give you any money so just leave me alone,” he said. In Finnish, because he was trying to be clever.

He was trying to be clever, but he wasn’t being smart. He hadn’t really thought it through. The fact that my cousin was Finnish, or at least spoke fluent Finnish, made the man first a little happier, and then a lot angrier.

“Heeeey, you’re a Finn! I’m a Finn, come on, help a fellow Finn out,” he said first, now making a plea.

When my cousin still said no, he got angry. Very angry.

“COME ON!” he yelled, and his face was almost touching my cousin’s face.

Just before the altercation turned into a traditional Finnish fight, my colleague came out of the store, and we left the beer store and started to walk towards the subway station. As we turned the corner, we heard the man yell, in Finnish, after us.

“You’re a Finn, I’m a Finn. COME ON!”

A few weeks ago, Son, Daughter and I were in the library, and afterwards, as we got ready to ride our bikes back home, a man walked towards me. He was a member of the gang of a few people sitting on the benches by the fountain, sipping beer, or taking a break from sipping beer.

This man had a big smile on his face.

“You a Finn?” he asked me in a very gruffy voice. “I’m a Finn, too,” he added, and got very close to me.

“Yeah, listen, we have to go,” I said, got on my bike, and told Son and Daughter to get on theirs.

“What did he say?” Son asked me

“He just said that he spoke Finnish, too,” I said, but I said it in the man’s gruffy voice.

Son laughed.

“Say it again.”

I did.

He laughed again. We rode our bikes through the gate, and just as we turned the corner, I heard a voice yell from behind me.

“You’re a Finn, I’m a Finn. COME ON!”

How does that make you feel?