little egg, little home
Sometimes people seem to have the misconception that the life of an expat is exciting and adventurous, full of bright lights, big cities, fast paced travel, exotic locations, perfection around every turn.
And there are moments of perfection, for sure. But what people often don’t realize is that these moments of perfection happen to everyone, and ours, like yours, are blended into the fabric of an otherwise mundane life.
This week, for example. I had tons of errands to run to set up my new apartment. It’s a beautiful 1913 building, a wide staircase inlaid with oak and white and green tile leading up to oak paneled doors. My flat has high ceilings, a large south-facing window and dark chocolate-brown wood floors. Not hardwood, some kind of imitation inlay, but I can pretend. It’s been renovated recently and the effect is nice. My new floor lamp is one of those with the rice paper shade like you see at IKEA, and it casts a really warm, friendly homey sort of glow that I really like.
But the preparation is awful. I got denied an internet contract for being a foreigner (and found another from a different provider). I had a meeting at my bank to set up a security deposit account, I got a local SIM (finally). I bought some bedclothes and a towel and enough things to cook with, and had an awkward moment with a customer service man in the shop. I was staring at the blankets, a little horrified as how expensive they were, and he pointed out one I really liked that happened to be on sale. The thing is, when you’re mentally exhausted and in a country where the main language isn’t your own, sometimes people talk to you and you just nod and smile, hoping you don’t have to have that awkward mini conversation about how you don’t really speak Finnish, especially as you’d just been nodding and smiling along as if you’d understood everything. I got caught, and then felt like I needed to explain why I was buying all these pillows and towels and blankets. He was very nice about it, which is really the best case scenario for that kind of thing.
I finally made two trips to the new flat, fighting through sleet and two inches of slush on the ground and then dragged myself back out to the shop to buy a pizza and rush to the alko shop to get a bottle of wine for a friend (and to grab a beer for myself), only to realize when I got back that there was electricity but no overhead light fixtures. There was a light above the stove and one in the bathroom, and I spent the rest of the evening trying to make frozen pizza in my little countertop oven, and drinking my hoppy porter in the dark, rewatching the first season of Sex and the City, arranging my new blanket and pillow and fantasizing about decorating these high ceilinged white walls with soft neutral fairy lights and pictures of the sea.
The last few days I’ve been trying to ease back to work while making this place livable, frantically finding a lamp and things to cook with, basic groceries, spices. Curtains. And today, attempting to buy a curtain rod. I thought it would take five minutes, I knew the size and where to get one. I wanted a tension rod because I didn’t see the need to drill into these thick old walls and risk destroying the windowframe and my chance at getting my 1400 euro deposit back. And in any case, the high ceilings made this window both awkwardly high and awkwardly wide, and set deep into the wall right above the radiator. A tension rod would sit within the alcove, adjustable, no drilling, and no fire hazard. It made sense.
But I couldn’t find them. I managed to find the one customer service person in the city centre who doesn’t speak English and spent five minutes saying “ei!” pointing to the screws and miming an extendable rod. Because of course I don’t know the word for “tension curtain rod” in Finnish. Finally the cashier explained to me that in Finland, we do not hang our curtains on extendable rods. Those are only for the shower. So, suddenly feeling very tacky, I bought a tension rod from the bathroom department. And of course when I got home, I realized that I had accidentally measured the window in inches instead of centimetres. Of course.
This week has been exhausting, stressful, expensive, awkward. Cold, tired, hungry. Started in a dark, empty apartment alone, now slightly brighter, less empty.
I have some new rustic ceramic bowls and a warm yellow blanket. And a little chocolate egg from my favorite chocolate shop. The cashiers at Kodin 1 may think I’m tacky and too foreign, or just plain stupid. But the owner of the chocolate shop recognizes me and asks how I am. I know my way around and that summer will come eventually. My friends want to see me.
And I’m looking out the window into the courtyard, warm streetlights glowing a soft yellow and illuminating these old buildings I love. There’s something old-world and special about these buildings, dark brown roofs and trimmings, thin metal terraces and fire escape ladders, textured butter-yellow walls, some windows still softly lit by night owls burning the midnight oil. It feels like home, and it feels like me.