When brown is green and white is red

Many years ago, in a world without the Internet, when people in Finland didn’t want to line up to the bank to go pay their bills, they could send them to the bank to be automatically – in a world when IT was still automatic data processing – withdrawn from their account on the due date.

All banks had their own systems, but the one in which I worked one summer, had something they (we) called the Green Envelope. It couldn’t have been easier: all you had to do – besides have money – was to stuff the green envelope with your bills, and send it to the bank. And the best part was that those special green envelopes didn’t even need postage stamps.

People could also drop their envelopes off at the bank, in our little mailbox on the side of the building. Each evening afternoon – who am I kidding, I worked at a bank – our janitor / security man emptied the mailbox before he then took all the cash back to the central bank, a few blocks down the river from us.

And one afternoon, he came to my with a big smile, waving an envelope in his hand.

“Check this out,” he said, waving what looked like an ordinary brown envelope to me.

He put it on the counter in front of me and told me to look at it. I was a little suspicious because I had just a few hours earlier had a customer who had dumped a ball of bills onto the counter, only to have it then roll onto my desk. She sold fish at the market square, and had come straight from work with her day’s earnings to make a deposit. Yes, money can stink.

I picked up the brown envelope, and saw that on the front, the sender had written, “this is a green envelope.”

And it was, even when it wasn’t.

The other day, I was kicking a soccer ball with Daughter. When Son came out, he saw us, and ran back inside in a hurry. Not to get his soccer boots or the Fernando Torres shirt Wife and I bought him in London – or the Ibrahimovic shirt he got two summers ago – but a whistle.

He’s never been one to kick a ball, but he’s always been a referee. It was cute when he was three and ran along the other boys, trying to give free kicks and card his buddies. It’s not as cute now – except for the fact that he’s my son, so it’s kind of funny, in a good way.

He came back with a whistle hanging around his neck, and two pieces of paper in his hand.

As soon as I touched the ball, I heard a whistle. I looked up and saw Son standing a few meters to my left, smiling, and showing one of the pieces of paper to me.

He had written “red card” on it.

Game over. I protested because, seriously, I hadn’t done anything. Son changed his mind, took back the red card, but instead, raised the other piece of paper.

“Yellow card”.

A red cad is a red card even when it’s not, and a green envelope can be green even when it’s brown, if we just agree on that. It’s a social contract.

So I wonder if the jewelry shop in the Old Town of Stockholm really does have double unbreakable glass in its window … or if they’re just saying that it is.

But I’ll take their word for it.

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How does that make you feel?