Takaisin

I’m back!

I’m sort of settled for the moment at a friend’s place and hopefully getting my own apartment in a little over a week. My luggage was left in Stockholm but arrived a day later, I have office space and should be getting a key next week. I have a residence permit application appointment, and I already had a bank account, which is now fully stocked with grant money, and a travel card (which has recently been topped up). I’ve met up with a few friends, and making plans to see everyone else as soon as possible.

I have (now slightly less than) 700g of mämmi and trying to convince myself not to eat the whole thing in one go.

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I felt very weird for a week or so before traveling, and I thought it might be because I’ve never actually been this prepared for the move before. And I thought it would be weird to be back, or at least a little nostalgic because that’s how I felt seeing pictures and reading about what was going on in Finland while I was gone. It was slightly weird at first to notice little things that had changed, but overall I feel weirder about the fact that I don’t feel weird about it.

I expected to feel nostalgic about the things that I missed the most: mämmi and rye bread, the university, cobbled streets, pulla and karjalanpiirakka, markets, Moomins and window shopping.

But I didn’t feel nostalgic about anything, even the mämmi. It just feels familiar, in a quiet, no-big-deal sort off way. It feels normal. Which disturbed me at first, because maybe it means I built everything up in my head, maybe I’ve been obsessing about a fantasy.

But then I realized that at the heart of nostalgia is a thing that hasn’t changed. It’s hard to be nostalgic about something that is organic and evolving. It doesn’t feel nostalgic because things haven’t stood still while I was gone. Life has kept moving.

The city is grittier than I remembered, which may be due to the darkness and the literal grit that hasn’t yet been washed off the sidewalks from the winter.  There are new shops, and old shops have disappeared.  Unicafe put in a new coffee machine.  Some shops have changed their layout, and I have to re-learn which trams are useful.  I didn’t miss dodging spitballs on the street, or the drunken carousers on the weekends.  I didn’t miss the anxiety of everyday interactions, being told repeatedly “you don’t speak Finnish” when it takes me a moment to understand what is said to me.  I didn’t miss the biting cold or the thrashing wind.

I did miss the sea and the forest, design shops and cafes, the Finns’ brusque sense of efficiency and practicality.  Mostly, I missed my friends and the casual meetups and being part of each others’ lives that happens when you live in the same city.  Friends on the beaches, on the terraces, in the cafes, picnics in the forest.  I expected to come back and for it to be a non-event, just because it was always the plan to return, and because I tend to make friends with people who move around a lot, for whom changing environments and people is normal.  And I wasn’t sure what to expect.  For the past few years I’ve been going back and forth from the U.S. to Europe, each time not really knowing when I’ll be moving again, or for how long.  At first I thought it would be, if not a huge event, at least a bigger deal than a move across town.  But I slowly realized that it doesn’t matter how far away you move.  The people who care will stay in touch, and the people who don’t, won’t.  Distance is just an illusion.  So I’ve been pleasantly surprised to be inundated with messages and meetups, catching up and hanging out.  That’s really the best way to make someone feel loved: just spend time with them.

Some things are the same, and some things are different, but I don’t feel foreign and confused. Well, at least no more than usual. That’s the thing: I feel usual. Normal. Like I have a little niche in society where I can sit and eat my mämmi, content for the moment, to just be.

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