Column: Splendidly Above Zero

By Tiina Holm
Special to U-WIRE

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND — “Mom, I don’t want to go to England, I don’t want to hear the word ‘splendid’.”

These are the opening lyrics of a song by a popular Finnish band, called “The Absolute Zero.” The song is clearly meant to be cynical, but I still think it tells a lot about the Finnish mentality: don’t try anything new, be safe at all times, avoid everything unfamiliar. And I can clearly see why the modest, reserved and introvert Finn might find the word ‘splendid’ a bit too expressive and overwhelming.

But I don’t agree. I didn’t agree. That’s why I’m now living and studying in Manchester, England. Things are never as simple as they seem in our own idyllic dreams, however. I spent the last few weeks at home finishing some final assignments for my home University, working,
going through the bureaucratic baloney for a term abroad, and getting used to the idea that I was actually leaving the country.

The first tasks were far easier than the second. It certainly didn’t help that on my last evening before the flight, a friend called and told me that the Finnish airport workers were about to go on strike for 24 hours. Starting immediately. What are the chances of a 24-hour-strike eight hours before your flight takes off? Fortunately, the flight left on time and there were no problems – but the pre-flight tension certainly succeeded in making this 22-year-old first time flyer nervous.

The flight took three hours. It included two stopovers, three entertaining safety demonstrations, four cups of coffee, a meal-wannabe, a few completely unnecessary bumps and a Finnish girl terrified of heights.
I wonder if the flight attendants can tell how experienced a traveler, you are from your facial expressions just before take off and just before landing. I must have been a sure bet.

The welcome at the airport was very warm. Representatives from the school’s International Society greeted newcomers and took them to their halls of residence, which must have been a great service had I been a part of it.

Unfortunately, no accommodation had been provided for me. When I sat down in the waiting hall of Student Accommodation Office (hoping to find an amiable landlord who would rent only a few months to a poor student) my luggage around me, feeling very homeless, tired, hungry and lonely, it finally hit me: I am not at home. However, being a language fanatic, I was almost able to forget all my problems just by listening to the ‘Mancunian’ accent.

It’s absolutely mesmerizing. These people don’t use any vowels – they’ve only got the hick-ups. I’m a fourth-year English major in Finland, and I’m spending half of my time here trying to guess which letters to fill in. I came here to improve my English, but apparently, I have come to the wrong place. Mancunian is as close to English as Finnish is.

After meeting with several confused accommodation officers, weeks of living out of an oversized backpack, and going through more than my share of mix-ups, I was finally placed in a comfortable student residence. There I sat on my bed – cold, tired, hungry and extremely happy.

Listening to The Absolute Zero, still not agreeing, just minutes away from meeting my first friend in England. And already finding England absolutely splendid.

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