Wednesday, April 12, 2006


At Euroopan reunalla, I read a funny bit about the discomfort of a more reserved Finn in a foreign milieu where the use of terms of endearment like "darling" or "sweetheart" is commonly used in exchanges between virtual strangers, like between cashier and customer in a grocery store. I found myself laughing aloud in recognition of a fact of life that faces any traveller to foreign parts. I wish my abilities were up to translating Kafkakoski into English...

Since I arrived in Canada at a young age, I have to consider myself as essentially Canadian. My forays into the manners of Finland made me realize how un-Finnish I am. For example, many years ago, a cousin who came to meet me in Helsinki and accompany me to my uncle's house shook my hand, vs a hug which might have been exchanged between Canadian family members, even family that are pretty much strangers--first surprise. I had just arrived from France where kisses on the cheek are often a part of a greeting between people--second surprise. Then, he raced off for our bus, his long strides requiring that I practically run to keep up. Somehow, I didn't feel comfortable taking his arm, which I certainly would have done with almost any Canadian man--third surprise.

An unsmiling, solemn entertainer is not unusual in my memories of Finnish musical performers, for example. In contrast, we have the misunderstandings and prejudices toward, as I've been told, the laughing and singing ways of the Karelian refugees in the rest of Finland during and after the war years.

It is sad to have to comment on that. I would hope that these differing characteristics only be a source of amusement and interest vs divisive judgments on the various characteristics of diverse peoples. Yes, when I travel, I have often put my foot in it. But I hope that my sincere goodwill is understood despite my faux pas, as I try also to understand visitors and new-comers to Canada.


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