New kid in town

A year before we moved, Dad had another job offer, and everything about it sounded nice, but we stayed put in Helsinki. I used to like to think that I had vetoed the move, but upon a few decades’ reflection, I’m not sure if I should be so proud of that – if it was true. But I just liked being where I was, playing hockey with the guys I knew, going to the school I had gone to with the same people I had known for the past six, seven years.

Me and another buddy.

However, a year later, when there was that other offer, in another city, just 35 kilometers from Grandma’s – my paternal grandmother – I suppose it was an offer Dad couldn’t refuse.

So we moved.

The new house was nice, it even had a sauna and I got my own room for the first time in my life. There was a backyard where I could play with our dog and practice soccer tricks.

But of course, what I really wanted was a balcony, a wall against which I could to bounce a soccer ball, a park, and 23 steps from our door down to the front door which I could try to run up before the front door clicked shut. The new house, the new yard, the new room, and the new buddies everybody told me I would be getting were 400 kilometers from the old ones.

A few years later, a Finnish journalist followed a Canadian hockey player’s trip to my new hometown, and he wrote how the player had fallen asleep right after they had left the Helsinki airport, and woken up some 250 kilometers later. According to the story, he had looked out the car window, and said, “Is there nothing but forest here?” The journalist and the driver had laughed. Then they told him that was it.

When we first moved, I was an alien, of course. But I was the “good kind”, like I was when I moved to Sweden decades later, as my hockey coach told me. And because it was the good kind, I liked being a little special.

But of course, I didn’t stay special very long. Three weeks into my first school year, I had been elected to the school council, no thanks to me, but instead, a new hockey teammate of mine who campaigned hard for me, and pulled in all the votes needed. I would have been fine without the attention, but it was a nice welcome. But I knew I was special only because I was from Helsinki, the big city – everything is relative – so I was determined to never sound like the natives and never to pick up that dialect. I wanted to stay special. Cool.

So I did make all those friends people had told me about, and I’d be withholding the truth if I didn’t tell you that my father once told me to “stop talking like that”, and to just be myself. I did, and the accent never did stick. However, Dad finally did go over to the other side. But that was always his first dialect anyway.

But I didn’t know any of that when we moved. Driving up, all I saw was forest.

The first morning, when I woke up, I went to our own new, fantastic backyard to see what was going on – nothing – and a small boy walked up to our little gate.

“Fancy ki’ing footsie?” he said. (In Finnish, of course, this is just my best attempt to convey the form and contents of the message).

I didn’t say anything at first, trying to decipher his sentence.

He repeated it.

“Fancy ki’ing footsie?”

I was getting embarrassed, and the boy probably saw that, or he just got frustrated with the new kid who seemed to be an idiot. So he repeated it again.

“Fancy ki’ing footsie?” but this time he also held a soccer ball in front my face.

“Oh, do I [pause] want to come and play [pause] football [pause] with you?” I said, as if talking to a 4-year-old tourist.

And then I told him no. I was shy – cool, but shy – so I went back inside. Sitting at our kitchen table, I could see the ball up in the air every once in a while, and I could hear somebody shouting. A short while later, I joined the boy who then told me lived across the yard from us.

And that’s how, that summer, my first summer in the new town, I made my first new friend.

I saw him five years ago welcoming people at the state-owned slot machine place in Joensuu. He waved at me with a big smile on his face, asking me how I was doing, with that thick accent of his.

I told him I was doing well.

“Y’all wanna cup of coffee?” he asked me.

Trying to sound as Helsinkian as I could, I said, “sure.”

How does that make you feel?