I'm standing in the checkout line at Prisma, roughly equivalent to a Target. I'm here for some food, an umbrella, some scissors, that sort of stuff. It was cold and windy, so I wore my coat--unfortunately, the only coat I own is a massive, bulky snowboarding coat. I've only needed it when visiting Finland in the past, and I've only done that in the depths, of the many-degrees-below-zero winter. This means that once I enter the store, I'm roasting, and have to carry a coat that's too big to easily keep anywhere.
I have the coat draped over my left arm. My left arm is swimming in sweat. The cashier frowns at my card again and dials the second number from the list hanging next to the register. The line behind me has grown to such a length that I'm afraid to look back, or even move. This is the only checkout stand open on this floor.
The cashier doesn't get a response from this number either. "No niin," (Come on...) she sighs, and tries the next number down the list.
I made the mistake of trying to pay with an American Express card on a purchase over $50. As a foreign card, I guess Prisma requires ID on big enough purchases. I have my residence permit, but the cashier has never seen one before and isn't sure if it's sufficient identification.
The man behind me in line asks me if the card has a PIN. I say that it doesn't, but that I have a MasterCard that would probably work. He says that that should be okay, can I just use that? I tell him that I tried, but either the cashier didn't understand me, or didn't hear me.
The cashier finally gets off the phone and signals that everything is okay. At this point, the line behind me resembles nothing so much as an angry snake. I turn, shout "Anteeksi!" (Sorry!) to the line, then duck my head and pack my things in the grocery bag before fleeing. Total time I spent hogging the checkout line: about ten minutes.
Once I'm a safe distance from any of any of my fellow shoppers, I take the coat off my arm, and peel off my sweatshirt. The portion of my arm that my coat had been resting on is coated in a sheet of sweat. I take a moment to compose myself before donning my sweatshirt and coat again and making my retreat.
This is but one of the challenges I've encountered in moving to a new country. The moral of this particular story? Don't use American Express on purchases over 50€! That, or carry your passport, I guess.
The How-To List
Step 1: Fly To the Other Side of the World
Take off from LAX. Fly Turkish Air because they're cheap. Accept the upgrade to comfort class because bonus leg room on a ~10 hour flight is a really compelling sell.
Step 2: Arrive in Helsinki, sans luggage
Get off the plane, only to be told that your bags have been "left in Istanbul". Great. At this point, you've been awake 26 hours, so you discover it's hard to care too much. Shrug and give them your address.
Step 3: Receive your bags two days later
...only to discover that at some point, they'd been left in some water, and everything near the zippers is damp.
Step 4: Rage
Step 5: Move into new apartment
With a balcony and a lovely view of the nearby forest. Discover that the couch is dangerously excellent for napping on. Lose several hours to said nap-couch.
Step 6: Spend a really silly amount of money at IKEA
Seriously, beds and various bits of miscellany are expensive. At least the bed is comfortable!
Step 7: Start sweet new job
Seriously, look at what they gave me as a work machine:
Add to that the fact the work culture is enormously transparent and trusting, and the result is that I feel way more empowered than I have in previous jobs, and like I can actually get things done. I'm beginning to see the attraction in being a corporate shill =)
Step 8: Marvel at Helsinki
Just in general. It's a weird city, and it's in the midst of this huge growth boom right now. The whole city is creaking at the seams, metaphorically speaking. There are cranes dotting the skyline, and construction going on everywhere. (More on that later. Finnish construction is hardcore.)
From left to right: A nightmare dystopian toilet found in the Helsinki metro stations. There's even a little hole in wall where you can throw away needles. Then, a Bitcoin ATM. Finally, a LARGE statue on prominent display in front of the city's largest electronics store.
Step 9: Profit?
This blog post has been sort of on the negative side, and I think I need to explain that a little. The story in the opening has actually been the exception, rather than the rule. Most every person I've interacted with has been very patient and understanding of my limitations (i.e. I don't speak the damn language very well). The only parts so far that have sucked have been my experiences with larger businesses (banks, ISPs, airlines) and that's, well, universal.
It's just that embarrassing and frustrating stories like this are all too common when traveling or moving, and they're often far more fun to share than the time I managed to pick up an awfully sharp looking coat for a whopping 2€ from a nearby thrift-store equivalent.