The first Finnish word that I’ve learned, was the name of a bird. I had just moved to a student apartment in Otaniemi and did my first load of washing in the laundry room. Looking out of the launderette’s rear window I could see nothing but nature: skinny birch trees, pines and sprouts followed by a field of reeds on the shore of the seawater bay. While waiting for the dryer to finish I decided to step outside to enjoy the last rays of sunshine on this late autumn afternoon. Just as I closed the door behind me, I noticed a subtle movement, and there it was, right at my feet: a tiny light brown bird with a string of black feathers and yellow spots on its wings.
The closeness to nature was one of the main reasons for me to move to Finland. Yet I was amazed that even in the middle of Helsinki you can find yourself smitten with a feeling of wilderness. Not just a random green patch or neatly arranged flower beds but real trees, crooked and twisted in the city’s huge parks and recreational areas. And at the central square at the harbor, you can sense the raw vastness of the baltic sea, its ever-changing rhythm of waves and the soothing quietness that comes with it. How much quietness in general is valued in Finland is unique to me. Not just in nature but also in everyday life. Here the silence between two thoughts has a space on its own and there’s no need to fill it with empty words. For someone who always felt clumsy and slightly uncomfortable with small talk, I came to quickly appreciate the honesty of conversations with Finns. However, some traits in the cultural differences were rather unexpected. In the first few days of living at my new place, I was eager to make a good impression. So whenever I met someone on the staircase I would smile right at them, and every time they would just walk past by, starring at some distant point behind me. I was so confused that no one at my residential block seemed to acknowledge my presence that at times I considered the possibility that I’ve ended up in some weird Sixth Sense crossover. It’s not like in Germany, my home country, we would greet everyone with joy – god forbid – we tend to hate our neighbors passionately, but still, we look each other in the eyes, give them a grumpy nod and move on. Therefore it felt somehow peculiar that people around me acted like I was invisible. It took me several weeks and the insights of the course ‘Get to know Finland’ to learn that the Finnish way of ignoring each other has little to do with resentment. Now I consider it as a form of respect. You do not just acknowledge the existence of somebody you also recognize each other’s personal space. And after a long day at Uni or when you simply feel overwhelmed again by the trivialities of life, it is nice to know that you won’t be bothered with chitchat and that people will grant you the freedom of a solitary space, a status quo exile. This sheltered bubble however carries sometimes its own pitfall, as it is a fertile ground for loneliness and might explain the melancholy and solitude that seems to be rooted so deeply in this country. And although I’ve never asked for it, Finland greeted me with a personal lesson for somberness – the sole reason that the first Finnish word that I’ve learned was the name of a bird.
The small chaffinch that was sitting so calmly in front of me on my washing day, had hit the reflecting windowpane of the launderette. As I came forward, the little bird made two short leaps, flapped her wings but bounced back to the ground moving her tiny head in confusion and then kept still between the green leaves of grass. I laid her in a cardboard box with newspaper and brought her to my room where I called different vets in Espoo who didn’t quite understand what I was talking about. So I looked up the Finnish name of the bird before I finally found out about the Wild Animal Hospital at the Helsinki Zoo. They were exceptionally friendly and told me I should come right away. At that moment I didn’t know yet that the injuries were too severe and that my black-winged foundling would never make it through the night. But after the call, I just felt so obliviously hopeful and lucky to be in a country where people take care of animals, injured or orphaned and no matter how small they are. So I rushed to the metro station, sat down on the next train towards East Helsinki with my hands locked tight around the box, ignoring every other passenger, trapped in my own thoughts for I couldn’t lift my eyes from the sloppy holes I had cut into the cardboard. I got out at Kalasatama Station, walked the bridge over to Korkeassari and carefully placed the cardboard box on the counter of the zoo reception. They gave me a form that asked for the type of animal and so I wrote down the only Finnish word I knew back then, the name and the bird that I will never forget: Peippo.
What to do when you find an injured bird and how to identify if they need help: https://ny.audubon.org/birds-0birdsways-help/what-do-injured-or-orphaned-bird
Rescue numbers if you find an injured animal in Helsinki or Espoo: