Sunday, September 30, 2007

Lessons Learned in the Nordic Region

I’ve learned three things on this trip. 1) Airports make me write I was ready to give up on my blog and then I found inspiration in the interesting characters one finds in an airport. As I am an efficient traveler, I often find myself checking in online but unable to judge the wait through security, more often then not, I have time at the airport to observe my surroundings, browse the shops, get some work done, etc. Right now I’m on a delay in Helsinki. First of all, I think it should be noted that flight attendants actually scooter themselves around the airport on non-motorized 3 wheel scooters – picture a large wheel in the front and two smaller wheels in the back, each about ¼ the size of the front wheel. These scooters are royal blue with a black metal bike basket in front and bike handle bars. It looks quite funny to see the women in their skirt suits zipping around on these things. Prime example. Carrying on before I get side tracked again… 2) You can take the girl away from the summer but can’t take summer away from the girl. We all know I love flip flops. Equally true is that the further north one travels, the colder the weather. Wearing flip flops to and around Helsinki earned me many second glances. However, since it was warmer in Germany these past two days than it was all of August, I’ve decided to keep my summer footwear out and jackets away as long as possible. Equally not having a coat got me a few reactions but don’t worry, I brought a sweater and it was really not that cold in Helsinki yesterday either. I woke up and checked out of my hotel this morning to find a day of 17 degrees C at 8:00am so it can’t be that bad. 3) German is useful outside of Germany I’ve never been to Helsinki before so I decided to wander around a bit. As it was late, I was advised the only shop that would still be open was Stockmann’s – the Finnish answer to Harrod’s. My local informer told me to just walk straight and I would find it. I knew I was close as I saw bags carrying the store’s name pass me by but Stockmann’s was nowhere in sight. I decided to stop and ask the next person I saw with the bag. She was an older woman with her husband and looked quite approachable. Since English is the third language for the vast majority of people in Finland (it is needed for communication with the rest of the world as so few people speak Finnish or Swedish – the country’s two compulsory languages.) I did not hesitate to ask my question in my native tongue. My question was answered with a blank stare when I realized the English was not working and I cannot even attempt Finnish or Swedish. Discouraged, I was ready to say sorry and move on when the woman said Deutsch. Ah, I can ask for and follow directions in Deutsch, this is great and I don’t even have to feel like a tourist to a local. I ask my question twice in German and get a blank stare. I know my phrasing (“Wo ist…) is correct but I begin to second guess myself in that split second of no response before her husband jumps in and restates the store’s name. Apparently I was not pronouncing Stockmann’s with enough stress on the ck for her to understand my question. In the end, it took only a minute and I got great directions from her husband that pretty much said continue straight and it’s around the next corner in German. Either way I got my directions in German and followed them to the store, which is quite encouraging to me.

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