Weeks Eighteen, Nineteen, and Twenty: Coffee, Falling, and Hyvää Joulua!!
The first weekend in December I went to Helsinki and met up with some of the other exchange students. It was a really fun day filled with shopping, discussions of Christmas, and firsts. One of the other students had never been to Starbucks before, so we met there and had Christmas flavored coffee to start off our day. We spent the day shopping and enjoying each others’ company. We went to lunch and one of my friends ordered a burger and commented on how very “American” that was. When we got our food, the burger turned out to be extremely huge and she was questioning how she could possibly eat it. It seems that, often, when the exchange students get together, we discuss the stereotypes that exist about our countries and discuss if there is any truth to them and we then make light hearted jokes about them. We decided that if she managed to eat it, she would have truly learned what it was to be American, and, now, she has, in fact, learned how to be “American”.
The Thursday before last I had a really unique experience. We had something called Night School wherein all of the lukio students came so school at 8:00 in the evening and stayed until the wee hours of the morning. It was a really fun evening. There were a few activities that were planned for participation between all of the students including a team trivia thing where I don’t know if I really helped my team much at all and then we had “night buddies” where we were all assigned a student at random and ask them questions to get to know them better. There were also games organized including a game of hide and seek that I’m pretty sure I lost almost immediately after it started. I also had a lot of coffee and therefore didn’t even feel tired when I was walking home in the snow at 6:30 in the morning.
In Finland, there is a store called S Market. To me, due to the Finnish pronunciation of the letter “S” it sounds like people are saying “ass market”. A little while ago I discussed this with my host family. In the car on the way to visit extended family last weekend, my little brother said something about the store and my host mom asked me if it still sounded like “ass market” and I said yeah. She then explained what it meant to the little brothers who then proceeded to chant “ass ass ass ass ass” for a significant part of the car trip. It began snowing while we were driving and snowed for the better part of the weekend and I believe it was the most snow I’d seen since I was about five years old and moved out of the North. I am really horrible at estimating things so I am not sure really how much snow there was, but I’m pretty sure it was between four inches and a foot. Maybe. It was a really fun weekend, spending time with extended family and I got to meet several new people.
Along with the snow came ice. Ice that covers the roads and is difficult to walk on and causes me to slip and fall more often than I would like to admit. On Sunday I had my dance performance and did not fall on the ice at all when walking to the train from my home or from the train to the place we were performing. I did, however, fall multiple times once I got inside. The first time I fell was while we were rehearsing before the show. There was one corner of the stage that was particularly slippery and I was not the only one to figure that out the hard way. The last time I fell was about ten minutes before the performance started. I was walking down some stairs (mind you: these stairs were inside and therefore not covered in ice like the ones I fell down at my school a few days prior) and about two steps from the bottom, I fell. I’m not really sure how, but it happened and hurt myself somewhat before having to go on in a few moments to perform. Other than mildly injuring myself right before performing, the performance went well.
For the past few weeks, it has become obvious that Christmas is coming. Preparations are being made and the excitement for the season is heightening. At school, we have been singing Christmas songs in music class to get ready for the Christmas concert we had this past week. In my class we were singing songs in both Finnish and English—there was even a song we sang partially in each language! Also at school one day this week we had traditional Christmas foods for lunch, which I, for the most part, liked. At home, we have been making gingerbread cookies and have prepared the casseroles for the Christmas dinner. This past weekend my host father and I were attempting to build a gingerbread tractor which I got a cookie cutter for in the advent calendar. Throughout the month of December, we have had an advent calendar for me and my two little host brothers. It is great to have younger siblings at Christmas time and to see their excitement for everything. Every time it is my turn for the advent calendar, they remind me numerous times to make sure that I’ve opened it and every time it is one of their turns, it is the first thing they do in the morning.
I plan to spend Christmas at home with my host family. We have some extended family coming in to celebrate with us as well. On Christmas Eve, Joulupukki will be visiting our house and bringing presents. One big difference between Christmas celebrations here and what I’ve grown up doing in the United States is that the presents are opened in the evening on Christmas Eve here rather than in the morning on Christmas day. Here, Christmas Eve is celebrated more than Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve we will be eating the Christmas rice porridge for breakfast and then going to sauna before getting dressed nicely for the day and getting the food ready for the Christmas dinner. Yesterday we went to the forest and got our Christmas tree, which was also a new experience for me as I have always gone to a tree farm to get a Christmas tree. Our tree is not inside yet as it is still defrosting in the garage. We will be decorating it on Jouluaatonaatto, the 23rd of December, with baubles, candles, and gingerbread. I am very excited to experience these new traditions and to celebrate Christmas with my host family.