When I arrived in Finland, my beautiful future wife was waiting for me outside the airport. Unfortunately, the saddle on her polar bear was only big enough for one, so I had to ski alongside them. I hastily tied my luggage to my waist, glanced at my Donald Duck compass, and kicked off. Soon I was gliding across the infinite whiteness while my typewriter bounced along behind me, making autonomous clacking sounds. Everything smelled like frozen cookie dough and pine. I was home.
Between sips of warm lingonberry juice, my wife Raisa asked how my flight had been. I told her it had been uneventful until I stepped off the plane. I wasn’t prepared for the weather, and was wearing only a thin sweatshirt and some socks with embroidered American flags (my pants had been stolen while I slept). I was then greeted by the Finnish Welcoming Committee, which consisted of a black lab in an orange vest and a stout frowning woman with a large gun.
“Hey poochie,” I had said as the little guy assessed my aura (and studied my socks). Seconds later I was escorted to the customs office and told to explain my existence, and then my reason for visiting Finland, in that order.
Fumbling, I changed the subject to hockey, which I heard that Finnish people love about as much as they hate smiling. While one customs guard went through my belongings, the other helped me into my spare pants. He then wrapped a scarf around my face, leaving only a narrow opening through which I could watch as his comrade sniff-tested each Pez dispenser and typewriter ribbon. Turns out that these guards preferred American football over hockey, so they were done with me. They secured my luggage shut with glue made from reindeer spit, handed me a sack full of Nokia cell phones, and told me not to sit in the sauna for more than six hours at a time.
Thus I stepped out of the airport and began the stage of my life known as “illegal alien.”
My wife and I had agreed via lengthy typewritten letters that if I moved to Finland she’d give me a year to figure out my shit. To her that meant I’d learn Finland’s impossibly frustrating language, file for residency via their ludicrously complicated immigration system, and search for a nonexistent job. To me that meant I should write a novel, keep the bed warm while she was at work, and grind each coffee bean by hand with an icicle.
It was a tough year. Especially when I had to leave the country for fear of being arrested. Seems that my paperwork had been lost in their system of vacuum tubes, which the rest of the world phased out around 1985. Or perhaps I’d never filed the papers at all. Regardless, everything was rectified when Raisa popped into the U.S. for a visit and we got hitched. I was allowed to return to Finland a couple months later . Once I finished my novel and got an agent, my wife and I celebrated by attending the World Air Guitar Championships in northern Finland. It was fun until a reindeer dove off the stage and gored a few audience members with his antlers.
But now my wife says I have to get out of the house and make some friends before the next snow, which is scheduled for fifteen minutes from now. Since she owns the house and I don’t pay rent, I don’t really have a choice.
I do think she’s right that I need someone else to talk to. though Often when she arrives home from her job at the factory where the Northern Lights are manufactured (which is owned by Santa Claus, or as he’s known in Finnish, “Yule Goat”), she finds me in the same fetal position in which she left me early that morning.
It’s not entirely my fault though. Because Finland is the third-most sparsely populated country in Europe, you can do all of your shopping, dining, and socializing without even seeing another person. It truly is the ideal place for an introverted writer such as myself. If J.D. Salinger wanted to be left alone, he should have come to Finland, a place where eccentric and angry people are not only welcome, but invited.
So, I asked Raisa, how does one meet people here? She said I should join a club or take up a sport. Turns out Finland has a competitive activity for nearly everyone: the World Milking Stool Throwing Championships, the World Cell Phone Throwing Championships, and the World Wife-Carrying Championships (the Wife-Tossing Championships ended in 1999). But these are very exclusive clubs, and Americans are always chosen last (since we tend to sort of take things over).
My applications are pending. In the meantime, I’ve got to go clean out the polar bear’s stall. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds, but at least it’s not mating season. That’s next week.