As the rain beats some of the recent weeks’ snow into submission and horrible slush, life retreats indoors. Some feel that’s where Finns should stay anyway if they can’t have a whole forest or lake to themselves. So slowly are we still learning to live shoulder-to-shoulder in the (relatively) busy city.
There’s a very old story about the Finn in a busy street (or was it railway station) in Australia (or was it London) who, from the bottom of his (for he surely was a man) backwoods Finnish heart said:
“sori mitä sorit mutta älä törki perkele”
“you can say sorry all you like but don’t bloody push me”
You may also have experienced some of what remains of this legacy of expansive personal space. Have you ever held doors open in Helsinki shops? Does anyone ever thank you for it? Has anyone ever held a door open for you? (When yours truly notes with horror that she has failed to keep to civilized urban rules of mutual negotiation of space … she comforts herself by recalling that she is, after all, a Finn, only just getting to grips with etiquette as a major lubricant of social interaction.)
Two news items in today’s issue of The Usual touch on the theme. In the first Anna-Sofia Berner takes a tongue-in-cheek perspective on the impact on pedestrian etiquette of the abundant snow. As it piles up everywhere, and as pavements turn into single-file gulleys with ankle or knee-deep snow either side, the Helsinki pedestrian can no longer proceed as usual:
Siis kiireisin askelin, vastaantulijoita sulavasti väistäen, suupielet vaakatasossa ja katse jossain kaukaisuudessa.
So writes Berner. The conundrum of who give way to whom isn’t just nice fodder for the Sunday paper. In times like these it is a real drain on Helsinkians minds.
Elsewhere tempers are being tested to media-worthy effect. In that most civil of Helsinki’s civil neighbourhoods, on the beautiful Merikatu itself, which parked cars and snow have reduced to one-way traffic only, a mutually agreeable, not to mention amicable, resolution to the who-gives-way-to-whom conundrum failed to materialise. But we are not talking pedestrians. After screaming at each other for some time on the roadway, the drivers of a car and a lorry ratcheted the squabble up to motorised proportions. The lorry driver (on snow-removal duty) got back up into his vehicle and simply rammed the smaller of the protagonists out of its way. According to today’s HS (as revealed to them by the local police) neither party “saw it as their place to reverse out of the other’s way”.
(Not nice from either of them – personally I’d have thought the private car should make way for the public service vehicle. But then that’s a JHJ leaning that may be out of date and out of touch.)