I think we started off on the wrong foot. This was a long, long time ago and I’ve held onto my first impression of you relentlessly, not wanting to give you a second chance. But I now apologize if I seem to take you for granted. Deep down, I don’t. I really am very appreciative of all the good things you’ve offered me along the years: safety, clean air and food, a good level of education, laws that protect me.
Like that one time when I was renting an apartment in Paris, you would never had let me get deceived in the way that I was. A normal-looking apartment turned out to be visibly moldy on one entire wall, which had been covered by book shelfs during the viewing. That wouldn’t fly in your court. Consumers have rights and real estate agents aren’t crooked. In Paris, I was stuck with a binding three year rental agreement with no one to stand up for me but myself.
Let me explain what went wrong in our relationship. It was the little culture shocks. The tiny ones that I’m sure you don’t even notice you’re doing. I know, I know I’m being picky, everyone has their faults and I shouldn’t have judged you immediately. I know I’m not perfect, either. I probably do a lot of annoying things all the time. (Like complain about you.)
First of all, you have a tendency to come off a bit cold. I know you don’t do it intentionally, but maybe you should pay attention to it, it’s your biggest flaw. Have you noticed that the past four or five summers have had the temperatures of a mild winter? Please do something about that for next summer. Just saying.
Second, no offense but your cooking isn’t great. I appreciate that you have an advanced sense of hygiene when it comes to food, but that’s pretty much the limit to your cooking skills (and mine too, I will admit). You are way too into fast food and preserved ready-made meals.
I can’t remember the last time I actually ate the fruit I buy instead of throwing it straight into the trash can. I know the climate and the distance from the rest of the world make it hard to get fresh fruit here, and it’s also why you have to price it so high, but oh boy would I love to have some every now and then, if not daily. I’ve noticed that your friends don’t seem to mind though, they seem content with what you have to offer. So maybe I’m alone on this.
I still remember that day in the school cafeteria. I was just under 9 years old and I was so new here that I even still had a tan from my previous hometown. It was mid-winter. I had gone to a new school in a new country (your country) and could barely form sentences in your language. Everything was bewildering and I was already in shock. Snow, darkness, so many weird layers of winter clothes, those thin slippers all the kids wore indoors, the way things were handled that seemed obvious to everyone else.
A boy was sitting at a table with a plateful of something black. The free warm lunch your schools provided. When he realized I didn’t know what it was, he said to me, in a teasing voice, “These are pancakes made of pigs’ blood!” I didn’t know if I should believe him or not, but just to be on the safe side, I didn’t eat any. I later found out it was true.
Third, the other cultural misunderstandings. The worst was winter sports day in that first school, during the very first months. I wonder if you still remember it. That was where it all spiraled off in the wrong direction and our relationship never fully recovered.
The teacher was ill and there was a substitute. Only I didn’t know what a substitute was because I didn’t understand the word in your language. Have you ever realized that “sijainen” (substitute) sounds similar to “sian” (a conjugation of “pig”)? I thought all the other kids were openly calling the teacher a pig!!! No one thought to explain anything to me or to ask me if I even knew how to ski. I didn’t. We had bought the skis the previous evening and I had tried them on. That was all the experience I had.
It turned out, winter sports day meant having a cross-country skiing competition in a forest park area of sorts. It was a bit of a way from the school. As I couldn’t ski, I was obviously the last one. I got lost. My skiing shoe fell off and I was trying to walk in the snow with one foot on my ski and the other just clad in a woolen sock. At some point I noticed that everyone had left. No one waited for me! Not even the teacher! I would probably still be there if it wasn’t for a girl, one single girl, who noticed me and helped me. I didn’t even know the way back to school. We arrived several hours late and were told off. I guess no one told the substitute I had just arrived from the other side of the globe. Maybe they didn’t think it was important or maybe they just forgot me.
I never wanted to ski after that. Or do any other winter sports. Or have anything to do with winter or snow. I wasn’t impressed with your people’s compassion, empathy or helpfulness, either. Why didn’t you teach your children to reach out to one another when they needed help? Didn’t you think it was important?
You never seemed to understand where I was coming from (both literally and not). I wanted to leave you as soon as I grew up, and I did. I joined the airline business and flew away. I dumped you and never once looked back. But out of a spontaneous decision, I came back and here I am. A bit awkward, isn’t it? Trying to rekindle a flame that wasn’t really there to start with.
But I want you to know that I still do appreciate you. It’s not your fault that you don’t understand me. And it’s not my fault that I don’t understand you. Maybe we can still live together. Leave the past in the past and try to start anew.
What do you say, should we give it another shot? As long as I don’t have to ski.