I finally started language classes! I was beyond excited to be able to read signs and have at least a few key phrases in my repertoire. I’ve always enjoyed learning new languages, but it’s never been as much of a necessity as it is now. Is it possible to get by in Helsinki only speaking English? Yes, of course. However, I feel it to be presumptuous and a bit rude to assume such. I was taught that if you’re in a country, you should speak the native language. My dad, the main person to teach me this, always spoke Spanish when we traveled to Mexico, even if he knew he wasn’t speaking it properly. His point was that you should try. Mexicans were always grateful for the effort and would laugh and then correct either pronunciation or grammar. My ten-year-old self assumed this was the way it would be in all countries.
My thirty-year-old, more experienced self, now knows differently. My language instructor makes it sound like this is not true. However, I joined an expat mother’s group, and many of the women have lived in Finland for over five years. ALL of them say that as soon as a Finn realizes you’re a foreigner, they speak English to you. Even if you (attempt to) speak Finnish to them first. I’m not sure if it’s from a desire not to hear their language butchered (with words like itsenäisyyspäivää, it’s bound to happen), or some other reason. I also wasn’t sure I believed these women. You know, the ones who literally have years of experience with this.
It was proven true the one time I was brave enough to attempt an entire sentence in Finnish, other than “ole hyvä” (you’re welcome). I was in Itäkeskus with Little Man, and I’d stopped to read the directory. (Completely useless, by the way, as all the store names are in Finnish, and they’re listed alphabetically, not by department.) An older gentleman came up to us and said something about Christmas (I picked up that much!), but then kept talking. As soon as he finished (it takes a while to say anything with all those vowels), I jumped in with “puhun vähän suomea”, or “I speak a little Finnish”. He responded in English with, “What language do you speak?” From there we were golden, but I find it fascinating that he defaulted to English. I probably shouldn’t since most Europeans seem to do just that, but it seems incredibly lucky that my native language is the default.
Even so, I will continue with my lessons and try, try again to communicate in Finnish. I can already pick up some words from conversions on the metro, and am excited to learn more. Must learn all of the words!