The “Week of Misunderstandings”

I have complicated relationships with Finnish language. One week we are best friends: I speak Finnish at the store, at the coffee shop, at the bakery, at the R-Kioski, and I understand what people reply to me. I read short articles in newspapers, and with some help from, I understand it. I message Markku or our Finnish friends in Finnish. I feel great, and I make plans to buy a fiction book in Finnish or watch the Finnish movie without subtitles.

But another week comes and we are fighting. I’m so angry at it, I won’t even speak. Progress I thought I was making is suddenly just an illusion. The words I was using last week, words that I thought are completely “mine”, escape my memory. I’m feeling lost and tired.

This week is like that. I call it the “week of misunderstandings”.

My first struggle was at the police station. I was looking for information on which room I needed to go. I decided to go to the line formed under a poster in English describing exactly what I needed to get. Spent one hour in that line only to learn that it was a wrong one and I had to go to another section of the station.

I went there. There was a machine issuing queuing number, but the description next to buttons was in Finnish and Swedish. I had no idea which button to press as there were three of them. There was also a huge poster in Finnish with a Swedish translation on top of the machine, but I could only understand “if you need”. Finnish is hard, but official Finnish language is even harder. Whatever – I pressed one of the buttons, got the number and started waiting. My number showed up on the screen in 20 minutes, and I was pleasantly surprised that the waiting was so short. I explained to the officer what I needed, and he said that, unfortunately, I chose the wrong line, and I need to go back to the machine and press another button. He also notified me that average waiting time is approximately 2 hours.

Fine. I got another ticket and waited again. My number came up in 2,5 hours. So, by that time, I spent in the police office 4 hours total due to wrong queuing. Finally, my number showed up! I went to the desk, and explained again what I needed, and the woman looked confused. I started thinking: “O Gee, please, please, please, don’t tell me it’s a wrong line again!” The woman told me in Finnish: “Hetkinen” (i.e. “wait a minute”). Then she left and these 10 minutes felt like eternity. She returned with a young guy with both ears pierced. He spoke English. I explained what I needed yet once again. He said he was happy to help and it took him 5 min to process my request.

I know I could deal with it in a more efficient way. I could ask someone before getting in any of those lines, but there was no info desk and all officers were sitting behind their counters while dealing with customers. I could use Google translate to figure out what the poster says. But I was very stressed, tired and not thinking clearly. My fault.

To add to that, this week we were also going through a new portion of grammar rules at the language course I attend. My Ukrainian classmate recently told me: “I start thinking it’s easier to persuade my wife to move out of Finland than to learn this language”. We are studying now a genitive case. The problem is that it’s very similar to partitive case that we have already covered before, but yet you use them in different situations.

So, the teacher was explaining to us that if you say “kutsuin Pedron meille” (using a genitive case), it means that you invited Pedro to your place and that you expect that Pedro will come. But if you say “kutsuin Pedroa meille” (using a partitive case), it means exactly the same, except you think that Pedro will not show up. Someone cried: “Noooo, it can’t be true.” Someone said: “Fffff”. I was mostly thinking that if I invite someone and then I use genitive case to say this, this someone is better to show up because I don’t waste my genitive for nothing and I don’t like to be mistaken 🙂

Every time we ask the teacher to clarify something especially difficult, he says either to wait until we start book No. 5/6/7, etc., where we’ll focus on it more closely. Or he simply says that most of the Finnish speakers don’t know what the right approach to this issue is and which form is correct, so we shouldn’t worry too much. Which makes us question our decision to learn this language even more.

There is that, but there is also an ongoing repair work in our house (a.k.a. remontti). It means that at least once a week someone calls our doorbell. Electricians to fix the socket that doesn’t work. Painters to put a protection tape around the door. Guys fixing air circulation and heating system. Internet company workers renovating the fiber-optic cords and connections. You got the picture. And here I am – with a vocabulary of a 4 year old.

Last week I was staying home the whole time because I got some awful flu. The guy showed up one day with a metallic ladder explaining me in Finnish what exactly he came to fix. I really didn’t care at the time. I had fever and cough, and my intellectual abilities at the time were close to zero. I was thinking – ok, he is wearing a workman overalls, he has a box with instruments and a ladder. He probably is going to fix something in the celling. I didn’t understand a word, said ok, and simply let him in. Turned out he wanted to check if the fiber optic cables work properly after he fixed them two weeks ago. Language might fail you, but logic is always there for you.

Today I went outside and the exit door was locked. There was a note in Finnish next to it. I understood only one word – ovi (“door”), and figured it meant what it meant. That the door was out of operation. So, I continued to keller – a basement floor, where there are storage closets for each apartment in our block. There were approximately 12 to 15 doors there. Some of them with signs in Finnish I didn’t understand. Internet didn’t work there, so I couldn’t google. I tried opening each of them, and finally found the right one. On my way back, I got lost and didn’t remember what was the door that leads to the stairs. Tried elevator and it wasn’t working. Spotted one of the workers and asked in English where I need to go. She showed me where to go. I was so happy! When I reached our floor, I noticed that there is a different name on our door. I found myself in a different block of our apartment complex. I was close to tears, but went back and finally found the right way.

I know that this is temporary. I know that it takes time. I know I have guts to go on. But I want to tell you it’s a difficult and upsetting experience. And this is exactly what makes me so happy when I get something right.

Soon, we’ll write a test on Module 2, and start Module 3. We will move to the book No. 2, which is thicker and longer than the first one. I can’t wait for it, because it means I’ll make one more step to being more independent in my everyday life and to having less weeks of misunderstandings like this one.

Have a good weekend everyone!



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