Say what?

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!


14 thoughts on “Say what?

      1. Hello.

        Thank You for You idea, but we have decline Your offer. There are many reasons to this. First, we are senior people and our slang is out of mode. And it is pure Helsinki slang that we do not speak because we have lived some decades on other part of Finland. Secondly, soon, when next year arrives, move to Oulu to our second home. There we will spend many weeks enjoying the real winter.

        Best wishes for 2017. Matti


      2. Goodness, there’s a “real winter”? I lived in Wisconsin for a few years before moving to Helsinki, and that was cold and snowy. It sounds like you’re excited about it though, so that’s good! I wish you the best with moving and your new home. I’ll continue to enjoy your blog.


  1. Wow, awesome that you are learning Finnish! I must say that I’m one of those people that switches to English immediately. Probably since I don’t get to speak it that often these days 😛 I must try to remember that someone may WANT to speak in Finnish, LOL!


      1. I am glad that in future You will explore my country. I give here some ideas. Finland can be divided in four main areas. First, Southern and Western coastline up to the town of Kemi. On these areas, there are many beautiful and cozy small town. I have presented nearly all of them. Then we have an area called Lakeland. This area offers small towns around the Lake Saimaa. There are many small lakes with curvy roads. Best are lake cruises on our lakes. Cruising at mid-summer is an experience.

        The eastern part is full of forests and some lakes. The National Park called Koli is the best. I have visited there many times. On the top there nice hotel.

        Then northernmost area called Lapland. It offers wildernesses and hiking among freely roaming reindeers and much more.

        Between the coastline and eastern region there is an area called Ostrobothnia. This area is manly plain, but it offers unknown statues beside churches called Poor-man statues. They are unique in the whole world.

        Someday, when You have ideas about what You are interested to see in my country, tell me, please. In Finland, travelling is easy. We have excellent bus and train connections. My favorite is train when we are not on road trip by car. I suggest car, own or rented, for Your future trips.

        When to travel. June might be cold after the winter. July is general warm and even hot sometimes. In July, everyone has holiday. August is our favorite month. Many times is warm and little rain. In mid-august Finland “closes”, because many services end at the beginning August. Sigh. People from Europe visits then our country and drive to Lapland.

        Some examples about those places I mentioned here:
        Dancing scarecrows.
        Koli national park.
        Medieval castle of Olavinlinna.
        Cruise to Rock paintings.
        Midsummer cruise.
        <a href="; Paupers statues1.
        Poor-man statues in Finland.
        North of the Arctic Circle 3.
        Old Rauma.
        Hired vacation cottage.
        Imperial Fishing Lodge.
        Saariselkä, Finland. Part 1.
        Petäjävesi Old Church.
        Samba in Helsinki1.
        Saariselkä, Finland. Part 2.
        Church of Lohja.
        Bell towers.
        Glass museum. Church of Haukipudas.
        All my posts are on this page. Look for right and up. There is Categories. Click Select Categories it to open list of all my posts and number of posts.
        Sartenada’s blog.
        This is a good start to know what Finland offers!
        Best regard. Matti

        Liked by 1 person

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