You are of this world and you are not
I have inhabited your lands for 54 days and counting
I have been to Lapland and Helsinki and Stockholm and Bergen and over and through many a Norwegian hill (180 tunnels!) and I slid smoothly through fjords and on to Oslo and onwards further still to Copenhagen.
Scandinavia, I have nearly seen all of your lands, but only a little bit of you really for you are vast and varied and 54 days is no time at all when you’re getting to know a place.
Oh Finland —
You wouldn’t play the Northern Lights for me and I am so sad for I travelled far and it was cold and remote and it was the right time of year (or so I was told) but it seems there wasn’t really even a chance anyway. I want my money back and my disappointment erased.
But Finland I forgive you because you are home to the dish drying cupboard, a simple yet clever invention that makes one scratch one’s head and think “why aren’t these everywhere?” It’s brilliant that one can dry dishes while hiding them away behind closed doors so nobody can see them.
Oh and Finland, you make great licorice too, especially the little salty balls coated in white chocolate and then in bitter licorice powder. Yum. Why can’t I eat you forever?
And in the countryside you put on a grand show for me with snow and icy lakes and sunshine and bear paw prints and great cranes flying and calling and dancing in pairs and all your little houses are made of wood and painted red and yellow and blue and sometimes pink and I don’t know how you did it but you always looked beautiful and exactly as the countryside should so thank you for exceeding my expectations and for giving me joy.
Why must your doors in public places be opened and closed by hand so often? Even going into shops or stations or places where one lugs heavy bags one must push open the door and the door knobs or rails are mostly made of heavy bronze just like Finnish statues and jewellery and domes on buildings and their solidity lends a weight to one’s movement and the doors block the flow and interrupt one’s path and provide punctuation and someone must have decided to preserve this old-fashioned system of door opening and closing for nostalgic reasons because it makes little sense otherwise.
Oh but it’s OK Helsinki because you are home to such wonderfully organic and fantastical architecture with cast concrete animal heads lurking above arches and doorways: bears and squirrels and sometimes creepy gargoyles and at the train station two giants tower either side as one enters and their size and power and stern expressions are awesome. And I really don’t mind about the doors too much, it’s just that I notice these things.
Your citizens drive on the right and I take my life into my hands every time I cross the road. My poor brain cannot adjust after 40 years of programmed looking to the left, so I pause and stop and look hesitantly both ways so many times that I feel embarrassed and only cross when it’s absolutely clear otherwise I worry I will get killed.
On footpaths too, your people politely walk on the right. Where I come from I know only a heaving chaos, a mass of pedestrians weaving and dodging. I like your sense of order but find it hard to abide. I am tired of staying on the right side. It is tiring staying on the right side.
Scandinavia, I have some more observations. Though you are made up of many countries and many kinds of people and I do not wish to generalise, I have observed the following:
You are home to showers that aren’t fully enclosed and which flood the floor and have big rubber squeegees in them that one must use to whisk said flood down the drain though I do wonder why no-one just puts in a door or a railing to keep the water in?
And you seem to have no baths and my body aches for one, and the taps are limited to a safe 38 degrees unless you know how to override them by pressing a button and talking about water and staying clean by golly the washing machines are fancy and they even wash at specific temperatures and they have so many different cycles and take a really long time to wash clothes and the doors lock and you have no way to stop them and part of me likes these sophisticated robots but part of me prefers my 1990s twin-tub that requires constant attention and manual input and is easy to use.
And Scandinavia — your food costs so very much. Eating at Burger King costs twice what it does back home and that kills me because I’m starving and while it’s overpriced I can’t afford the healthy food because what the hell would that cost? So my stomach churns and burns and I resent and resist even the cost of cheap junk that makes me sick and I walk around hungry and dazed.
Scandinavia: where a Danish isn’t called a Danish even though it looks like one and what the hell do they call them in Denmark?
And while we’re on the topic of food you have licorice in every form and it flavours almost every thing and I am looking forward to savouring the salty white chocolate licorice balls I have saved when I get home but I have written about them already so I hope I’m not boring you but they are delicious.
And your hotdogs are sophisticated and your 7-Eleven stores sell artisanal porridge in cups and stylish baguettes with prawns in them and chicken on sticks and they are nothing like the 7-Elevens back home but thank god for them because otherwise I might have starved by now.
Your public toilets are scarce and most that do exist cost money to enter and one never has the right coins or any money because one has just arrived and everyone uses a credit card for payments these days anyway and I have only paid once in 54 days because I am outraged that one must and so I sneak into toilets when I can or find the free ones or wait for hours and my god I get grumpy and people must feel so uncomfortable here or I guess they just pay and have the change because they accept it but wow I want to rally in the streets to get my toilet rights back and I can’t wait to get home to free toilets.
And speaking of rallies, I was very surprised and impressed to see a small gaggle of children protesting angrily in the streets of Stockholm waving placards about climate change above their heads and chanting in loud high-pitched voices and then congregating and rallying for their future.
Oh Scandinavia —
You are so very pretty and some of that prettiness is all random and ramshackle, like the medieval towns with leaning walls and sinking floors and sheer staircases made of wood and stone. So very pretty and in Australia such places would be on show only or torn down because some rich person would be afraid of getting sued if you slipped and fell but here one is free to roam and wander and climb like people did centuries ago and that is a magical embodied experience.
And speaking of ramshackle and old, you have cobblestones everywhere and some are big and round and randomly sized and uneven and some are flat and orderly and some are hard to walk on and can trip up or confuse the feet and rumble noisly under the wheels of a suitcase which embarrassed me a lot at first. They sure are pretty though, particularly when they radiate out in rainbow-like arcs and are little and flat and those stones aren’t too hard to walk on, so they look nice and are functional too.
And again I will say you are so pretty and I am seeing prettiness so much and almost everywhere that I am almost but not quite becoming complacent about prettiness. Though the soaring mountains of Norway jolted my system and made my jaw hang open and they were not pretty exactly but majestic and alien and huge and made me feel so tiny. And in the spring you are so floral and fragrant Scandinavia and there is fresh new growth everywhere and bulbs spring up in such quantities like I’ve never seen and people expose their skin to the air and the sun and sit outside and laugh and drink and I can understand why because only a month ago it was snowing and freezing cold.
And I have thawed out too, here in Scandinavia. I have found space and time and wonder and new experiences, which have reminded me of the vastness of the world whilst also feeling strangely at home. I do feel comfortable here and quite often safe too, so thank you for inviting me in and for being so easy to be in. I will say goodbye soon, Scandinavia.