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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Finnish Moments

One of the things I've been told repeatedly by all the lovely Finns I've met and by people who've lived here for a long time is that Finns will often ignore or not get involved in things you might expect them to.  It's part of the Finnish respect for privacy, a "mind your own business" ethos that permeates Finnish society.  It's not something that's bad or good; it just IS and is VERY different than Southern society.

Or at least so I've been told.  Despite this warning, I've found most people to be very helpful, initiating conversations and advice much more than I'd expected and being quite willing to guide this clueless American.  That being said, I've had two episodes this week that have cracked me up because I can really see now the foundation for all that advice.

The first was last Friday night.  The professor of early modern European history here, who for the sake of privacy I will call Prof EME, has been very kind, and one of the many nice things he's done has been to welcome me into his seminar for advanced graduate students.  They meet approximately every other week to discuss a pre-circulated paper for an hour or two, then go on down to a neighboring pub where they continue the discussion.  The students are smart and interested in learning, and the discussion is quite good.

Well, this past Friday was the seminar and an evening before a national holiday, so the university building and grounds were locked up early.  That meant that Prof EME had to let us out of the grounds where the History Department is located and onto the sidewalk outside.  Now the only other time the seminar met I'd been sick and hadn't gone to the pub, so I had no idea where we were heading or even if we were going there, it being right before a holiday and all.  Next thing I know Prof EME is batting down the road talking to someone I hadn't seen before, 4-5 graduate students are in a circle having what looks to be a semi-private conversation, and I'm standing there like a dork thinking, "Which way did they go, George? Which way did they go?"  (You get 10 brownie points if you get the obscure cartoon reference!)  After what felt like 2-3 minutes but was probably all of 30 seconds, I start hurrying down the road after Prof EME, trying to think of reasons I can give to show I'm not stalking him if it turns out he isn't going to the pub (Oh, Prof EME, I wasn't following you; bus 18 has a stop here and goes right outside Töölö Towers.).  After a block and a half, he stops, I catch up, and he disapprovingly wonders where the graduate students are.  Then he and the new guy start hurrying off to what did turn out to be the pub.  I followed them and giggled the rest of the way.  I mean, I figured it out and everything worked out fine.  I'd have to be a creep to take it personally, and besides, I've now lived an example of what my friends told me about.

I told you that story to tell you this one.

In homage to my years in Ireland and because of my craving for Mexican food, I've planned to have a "Mexican evening" here.  It's a totally international crowd that's coming, although having one real Mexican in the group is scaring me to death.  Anyway, my friend Debbie volunteered to re-create her role from the 1980s of supplying me with weird food that you can't buy in Europe and sent me a HUGE box of Tostitos for the party.  I figure if you're going to make Cal-Mex, you might as well go whole hog--although I draw the line at making my own tortillas.

In any case, she shipped the tortillas last week and they arrived in Finland last Saturday during that national holiday I just mentioned.  It meant that they tried to deliver the box for the first time yesterday.  That's when the fun began.

Imagine the pictures of the Towers from my earlier blog entry.  The postal carrier had to park his truck and carry the box down a sidewalk and through two sets of double doors into the building.  He then came into a medium-sized lobby with a bulletin board and glassed-in office to the right and a restroom and glassed-in common/computer room to the left.  Seems like a pretty easy delivery, right?  Turn to the office, go "Oh, an office.  They probably sign for packages," ask them to sign for it, they sign--no harm, no foul.

Oh, no, things were more complicated.

It appears that the postal carrier wandered around this lobby, looked in the dining area, and turned left where he went down the hall and through 2 sets of glass doors into a wholly separate part of the building.  Once there, at 1:56 pm (at least so I was told) he went into International Student Services where our mailboxes are and where staff is present from 8-12 & 13-16.  [Of course, to get into the room where 3 people were sitting he'd have had to knock on or open the door that is right next to the mailboxes and has a welcome sign in 3 languages (Finnish, Swedish, and English) on it.] After not knocking on the door but managing to slide a small note through the slit in my mailbox, he proceeded to wander around the building some more, all the while carrying this huge box.  He then put the box down outside the restroom, went to the bathroom, and left the building, completely missing the large, glassed in office that says "office" in 3 languages, is right across from the bathroom, and is staffed from 8 to 18 M-F.  I came home to a note telling me that he'd tried to deliver the package but no one was in the building--no one meaning the staff of two offices, cooks, and cleaners.  Not likely.

Now how do I know all of this you ask?  Well, the staff apparently watched it go on, and NO ONE thought to ask the guy if he had a question, needed any help, etc.  They could, however, chronicle his movements in and around the building and were very upset that he didn't go up to them to ask for help and said that they weren't there. :-)

Have you stopped laughing yet?  I haven't.  Every time I think about the wandering mail carrier and the people sitting at their desks watching him I just crack up.

That being said, the staff was very nice and resolved things with the postal service for me.  Supposedly the chips are being delivered again tomorrow, albeit with an additional delivery fee.  (Standard practice in Finland for second deliveries, although the office staff was incensed that the postal service would charge it since, as far as they were concerned, the carrier screwed up.)

I'm just grateful for the help and am giggling, giggling, giggling.  Heck, I'll probably giggle and tell the story when I serve the chips at dinner!

Anna and Maria, you were so right!


  1. Glad you found it funny. Personally, I didn't - just terribly Finnish.

  2. Addendum to the package delivery story. About 2 days after the chips were delivered, one of the staff members here comes up to me to tell me that they got a call from the post office about my package. It turns out that someone has decided that they should refund the 9Euros20 delivery charged they assessed for the second delivery attempt. That's great, but I wonder why they changed their mind. For some reason, though, they have to pay me back in postage stamps, not in money. I'll never figure that out!