We are in Vaasa for a week, and my hosts are a wonderful couple with two children. Kristian is 15, and just like American 15 year olds. Actually, he’s a lot nicer than most US teenagers. Nicollo is 3 ½ and has more energy than I’ve ever seen. He’s my new best friend, but more about that later.
I have learned over the last ten days that I have an absolute tin ear for the language. Hosts are wonderfully accommodating and patiently polite when I look with a blank stare at the words they taught me yesterday.
Perhaps as penance for not learning Finnish better before I left, English is the fourth language in the Bäck house.
Mikael is Finnish, but speaks primarily Swedish. Natalia is from Russia. Mikael speaks Swedish to Nikolo. Nikolo speaks Russian to his mother. Natalia seems to lapse between Russian, Swedish and a little bit of Finnish back to Mikael…who, often without laughing, tries to update me on three branches of conversation, finally in English.
The other funny part of my first twelve hours in Vaasa has a little to do with basic domestic geography. A typical Finnish bathroom is very open. The toilet, sink and shower share a common open area. They then squeegee the floor water toward a common drain. Nothing like our sealed-tight systems, and this now brings me to the doors. The main floor of the Bäck‘s house has the guestroom completing a circle from a back hallway to the laundry room, and through the bathroom with sauna, tub and showers. Entering from my bedroom I was very comfortable there, when, with soap in my eyes, little Nikola walked in to the shower area through the other door. I must have been quite a novelty as I held his rapt attention (is it possible that I shower differently from the Finns?). He then pointed out that he is quite fond of the Jacuzzi tub, and spent the entirety of my shower trying to convince me that it was better than the shower. He continued his helpful ways while I shaved, put my contacts in and dressed. I guess this is one good way to make friends, as I have not been without my shadow since.
In all seriousness, I cannot strongly enough thank Mikael, Natalia, Kristian and Nixu for the wonderful hospitality through the week. I can, however, call upon my Kansas Rotary friends to extend the same hospitality to Mikael—he is one of the team visiting our state next month! Please make it easy on him, though, by using either Finnish or English as one primary language. I am now very poorly-practiced in three additional languages.