Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Get By with a Little Help from the Finns

So, it’s not all traveling, fun, and games here in Helsinki.  There’s actual life living occurring and lots of the days have components that are hard.  Someone recently said to me, it takes a year to just figure it all out.  If it takes a year, I’ve got 10 more months to go.  Whew boy!

Anytime I try to accomplish something new, it takes a lot of help.  Checking the internet, asking friends who have “been there, done that”, and asking random strangers.  As an example, a few weeks ago, I went to pick up our Murano that had to have some “chanegments” done on it to meet Finnish auto standards.  (The word “changements” was used by someone to describe the lights and other modifications we would need for import and I just loved it.)  Let me tell you what I had to do and what kind of help I needed (and, for fun, let’s count those times!). . .

First, I had to check the bus schedule on the website (one).  That is pretty easy as the website has a selection for English.  Good thing, too, because we use it ALL THE TIME.  When the website isn’t in English, we use Google Translate.  It’s a good tool, but can only get you so far in the translation.  You get the gist of it, but not the exact meaning.  You also have to type everything in, so if it’s a four page letter from the television tax people, you give up and take it to work for someone to read and summarize for you!

I walked to the bus terminal and found what I thought was my bus.  No one was there and the door was closed.  Eventually the driver came and when I boarded, I confirmed with him (two) that this was the bus headed my way.  After taking a tram the wrong way, I learned how to figure it out on the trams.  If the bus is leaving from a terminal, I still have no idea how you would know. 

Riding the bus, I realize that they do not list the upcoming stops like the trams do.  And, since the bus only stops if someone dings the bell to exit, or if someone flags the bus down at a stop, you can pass stops, so counting stops doesn’t work.  Panic call to Mike (three),“The bus doesn’t list the stops, how do I know when my stop is coming?”  (Mike has taken the bus a lot more than I; it’s not that he is smarter than me!!)  Mike’s response, “Oh yeah, it doesn’t.  You just have to kind of watch for it.  You can also try to track it on your GPS.”  Great.  He also describes what the stop looks like since he had taken the bus home from there two days prior.  A woman overhears me and comes to my seat.  An American (four)!  She asks me where I am going, but she has no idea where this is and she’s getting off soon.  She tells me to watch the bus stop signs on the side of the road closely and that I can also go up and ask the driver to signal me for my stop.  Please note, reaching out unasked to offer assistance is typical American behavior and NOT typical Finnish behavior!

As we are traveling along and making most of the stops, I know that I am getting close.  At this point, the driver is making eye contact with me in his mirror (not in a weird way!) and I can tell he knows that I am not exactly sure where I am going.  In fact, on the stop before mine, I start to gather my things and see him in the mirror shake his head to indicate it’s not my stop.  For the next stop, he nods and I get off.  (I’ve already counted him, so I won’t count him again.  Bonus points, though, for extra helpful bus driver!).  Unfortunately, Mike’s description wasn’t accurate for me.  The bus stop going towards our apartment was about 500 yards past where I got off, so his landmarks didn’t make sense to me.  

I start walking towards the car service station and realize that I will not be able to cross this six lane highway if I continue in the same direction.  I turn around, go back to a stop light and cross.  As I am walking, I then realize that literally, the sidewalk ends well before my destination. Here comes another couple (I’ll count them as five).  First, I ask them if they speak English.  I usually try to do that thinking I am being polite.  I just don’t want to assume everyone speaks English even through most do.  I have no idea if people think I am an idiot for asking, but whatever.  They speak English and tell me that the sidewalk connects to another sidewalk that I can’t see (up over a hill and around a corner) and that I will be able to get to the station.

Once I am at the station, since I have been there before, I know what to do.  I do need some assistance there, but I don’t think it’s any different than if I had been at a comparable station in the U.S.  I get the car, input our home address into the GPS (six) and make my way home.  Driving by myself.  For the first time.  During rush hour.  I make it.   Miss a few GPS directions, but American Jack (our preferred voice, as opposed to American Jill) recalculates.

This may not sound like it was that difficult, but I am not an adventurer by nature.  I don’t like exploring on my own; I don’t like feeling lost.  It all just adds an additional bit of stress to each activity.  I use some adrenalin each time.  It makes me tired after I complete the task.  On the positive side, I am willing to ask anyone and everyone for help.  I’d rather ask 6 people for help than waste 15 minutes trying to figure it out on my own.  Next time, it will be easy to go there.  Unfortunately, I probably won’t need to go there again. 

This is one of the reasons why going to places like Ikea, and restaurants like the Hard Rock Cafe and McDonald’s are comforting.  You know how to do it.  You know what to expect.  It’s a lot easier.  And there are days you definitely want easier.  It may sound odd to you that those are things we do and enjoy on occasion, but when most days have an element of difficulty, you need some days with easy.  As I get to know some more of the Finnish places, they start to fall into the category of “easy”, too.  I guess it just takes 10 more months for them all to fall into that category!

1 comment:

  1. If you like, I can share with you my tips for finding your stop when riding the bus. Luckily, as they are changing over to new buses, some of them do have the stop listings like the trams. It will just be a looong time before they all do!
    By the way, it will probably take you less than a year to figure everything out since you have lots of new friends here who can help you out! :)