Wednesday, 25 April 2007

"And what is that? And that?"

Am typing this in some kind of village shop, somewhere north of Sodankylä. Outside there is one road, and nothing else except snow, trees, and fast flowing rivers for miles around. Things of note:

  • There is, of course, a PC with fast Internet. As is ubiqitous throughout Finland. Though there is no USB port, so tonight I cannot add to my Flickr photo set for this trip.

  • The coffee is plentiful, strong and only 1 Euro per cup. This is common for Finland, as is the availability of real milk (as opposed to gunk in tiny plastic tubs a la the UK).

  • There is free drinking water.

  • The shop is open in the early evening.

  • There is fruit here, and it is of good quality, and it is not expensive.

  • There are newspapers I can buy without having to pre-order several weeks in advance, plus video game magazines.

  • There is a digital poker machine. These seem to be everywhere in Finland, being in hotels, supermarkets, bus stations and all manner of other places.

  • There is another kind of gaming machine, but I can't work out what it is. Two old men are using it in a manner indicating they've been putting money into it for several hours, and will continue to do so for several hours yet.

  • The shop owner looks a bit like Tom Cruise. I wonder if there is a Finnish version of Mission Impossible. "Miten sanotaan Mission Impossible suomeksi?"

  • He speaks Finnish, Swedish, English and "a little Sami"(?). This is a common trait in Finland, where Finns are often tri- or quad-lingual. In the UK, you are generally considered to be cleverer than a brain surgeon if you can speak English and order a loaf of bread in French.

  • There are large doughnuts for sale (1 euro and 20 cents each) with a nuclear-glow pink icing topping that I keep seeing everywhere. I am beginning to suspect it is the national dish of Finland.

  • I order a doughnut using my basic Norwegian, which is kinda similar to Swedish. I am understood (or at least, I am given the correct doughnut at the first attempt), and suddenly feel European  and enpowered by my latent language skills.

  • A person who I assume is the wife of the owner, has appeared and starts to talk to me excitedly in I think Swedish. Unfortunately, she doesn't look anything like Katie Holmes, unless Katie goes blonde, gets a deep tan and grows ponytails.

  • I don't understand a word she is saying. A warning bell is going off in my head. I have a horrible feeling that I am being invited to a mixed sauna later on. This is a step too far for me. I forget which out of Kyllä and Ei means "yes" and which means "no".

  • Out of the corner of my eye, I am distracted by a spectacular selection of cheese.

There are 18 types of cheese for sale in this shop. There is low-fat cheese. There is cheese with holes in it. There is sliced cheese. There is cheese with bits in it (reindeer?). There is cheese which appears to have been cut into disks, baked, then vacuum sealed.

In an attempt to ensure the conversation is firmly off saunas, I take inspiration from Borat, point at the first cheese and ask the owner if it is cheese. I repeat with the next cheese. The wife of the owner decides probably that I am the most boring person in the northern hemisphere, and disappears.

18 types of cheese.

In a village shop.

In Lapland, way above the Arctic Circle, and some 13 hours by train and bus to Helsinki. 

I want to move here.

I have a complicated relationship with cheese. I love the stuff, but it is bad - very bad - for me, and is probably the main contributer to my additional girth. I cannot resist cheese, even though I know when I am consuming rolled slices that each one is probably taking several hours off my life. I rarely last a week - nay, a day - on a cheese-free diet. It was the first word I learnt (ost) in Norwegian.

And the supermarkets in Finland sell umpteen varieties of cheese, which is also available in vast quantities at hotel buffets. I noticed that Alex's last act on Finnish soil was to stuff multiple slices of cheese in his mouth.

When I go home (with increasing resentment), I will visit my village shop. It will not have 18 varieties of cheese. The shop owner will not look like Tom Cruise. His doughnuts will not be pink. And I mean that in a non-innuendo sense.

Enough about cheese. Tomorrow I will write about Bananas. Not to be confused with ananas.

1 comment:

  1. Cheese Gromit!I was laughing so loud when a read about the ananas. :-D I think gamers have more fun at conferences, then informationists, ref Tilburg last year...