BLOG Christopher Meredith

NWR Issue 98

Finns are Very Polite People

Eastern shore of Jyväsjärvi lake

Finns are very polite people. My host Vesa found me putting toast in the oven to grill it.

‘Hope this is okay,’ I said. ‘There’s no toaster here.’

A couple of hours later a new toaster had materialised in the kitchen. It looked expensive. I daren’t mention the iron and ironing-board.

 The other day I met Tero, the poet who’s been moved out of his room in the Kirjailijatalo – the Writers’ House – for a month to make space for me. I apologised for this and for reading his English-language books before he had.

‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘And help yourself to my green tea from the cupboard.’

In a bread shop, I asked the young woman on the counter if she could speak English.
 She said,

‘A little.’

I asked her to tell me about the different kinds of bread.

‘What kind of grain is this?’ I asked.

She said, ‘It’s....’ Then she said, ‘I’m sorry. It’s....’ She rubbed her fingertips together to conjure the word. ‘I’m so sorry. In Finnish I know this,’ she reddened.

‘It’s not rye, is it?’ I said.

She said, ‘It’s not rye. Oh! I’m so sorry!’ She did the fingers again and did a little jump to loosen the word from her brain. ‘It’s... oh!’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said.

‘I’m very sorry,’ she said.

‘It’s okay don’t worry.’

‘I know it in Finnish.’

‘Honestly, it’s fine.’

‘I can find this out for you.’

'No don’t worry.’


‘It’s okay. I’ll take it.’

She worked the till, her face twisted in pain. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she said.
 If I go back, I’m wearing a hat as a disguise and pretending to be a deaf-mute. 

I’m going to give up offering people strong black tea from the pot I’ve always just made because I can’t bear the look of anxiety that comes into their faces when they wonder how they can find a way to refuse. They look desperately at the wall. One person muttered, ‘Maybe later’ in a hoarse whisper. But I’ll go on offering it to Vesa, who likes my strong black tea. Or is he just saying that?

 When I asked Tero and his partner Anna (you pronounce both 'n's) if there was anything they thought I really must not miss seeing while I’m staying in Jyväskylä, they exchanged a look. There was a pause and Anna said, ‘Is it all right if I say “no”?’

Christopher Meredith is the translator of the Welsh-language novel Melog (Mihangel Morgan). His own latest novel is The Book of Idiots, and his forthcoming poetry collection, Air Histories, will be published by Seren this spring. His poem from that collection, ‘Twobeat Deathsong’ will appear in NWR 99 (spring 2013, published on 1 March).

This piece was first published online at Wales Literature Exchange and is published with the kind permission of Wales Literature Exchange.


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