First Day in Finland

When I first arrived in Finland a million years ago, “sauna” and “perkele” were the only words of Finnish that I knew. Of course everyone there speaks English, but that didn’t stop me from getting myself into embarrassing situations.

1st panel: Linguist heads to the bathroom. There are two doors, they are marked as "Miehet" and "Naiset". In the second panel, Linguist opens the door with the sign "Miehet". A man is using the pissoar and yells back. 3rd panel: Linguist says "It looks like Miehet might mean men".

Up until then, not knowing the local language hadn’t posed any problems in getting around Europe. I could always resort to the few Romance and Germanic languages that I already spoke to manage the situation. Lost in an Italian town? Mix Spanish and Latin. Interacting in Denmark or Sweden? Pull out German. To my surprise, the althochdeutsch literature courses I took in university really came in handy when deciphering the Morgunblaðið in Iceland.

Finnish however, belongs to the Finno-Ugric linguistic family, along with Estonian and Hungarian. How do you crack a language when there are no linguistic similarities to pull from? I knew all the letters, but their combinations didn’t make any sense to me. How do you navigate life when you can’t even read? I felt almost illiterate, but also genuinely intrigued by the Finno-Ugric enigma. And it was then, in a coffee shop in Turku, that I decided to learn Finnish, the beautiful language of the bazillion cases and insane grammar categories.

What about you? Why did you decide to learn a particular foreign language?