I sat in a poorly air-conditioned airport waiting-lounge. Well, to say “poorly” was to give praise where it wasn't due, seeing as the air-conditioning was in fact nonexistent. Truthfully to even call it a lounge would be extremely gracious. Lounges are large, well-lit spaces where one sits on a chic black leather couch, sips on complementary champagne and waits to be practically carried onto the aircraft. Oh no, this lounge was nothing but a small room with a low ceiling and rows of tiny peephole windows that colored the world a depressing shade of brown. So, to rephrase, I sat in a small, hot room that was quickly filling up with fellow Finnish holidaymakers. It didn’t take long for the space to resemble a life-sized sardine can. As people crammed in with over-sized hand luggage, sunhats that could conveniently serve as umbrellas for a family of four and other important holiday gear, I pondered whether severe collective claustrophobia was to be our fate. It just so happened that my departure to Marseille coincided with that one odd day in a Finnish summer when the temperature makes a heroic climb past the 25-degree mark and the whole country is in a state of frenzy. Partly to distract myself from the physical discomfort and partly to find the person most likely to crack first, I started peering around the room full of strangers. With one hand a mother was soothing her crying baby, vigorously rocking him back and forth while passing a piece of gum to her ambitious toddler with the other. Her limbs moved quickly and her eyes even quicker as she cared for two very active and visibly agitated children. I watched in amused amazement as she managed to catch the toddler right before he tripped over a gigantic suitcase whilst wiping the baby’s nose. Her adventurous children were out to give her a hard time, but little did they know she was always one thought ahead of them, making mothering an art form.
Beside her an elderly woman in a long tie dyed dress and faded leather sandals, sat sketching something in her notebook. She wore her abundant silvery gray hair in a long braid. She looked like a lady with a suitcase full of stories and had I been braver I would have asked her to share one or two. She must have been an adventurer, a vagabond, in her youth; the spark in her eyes gave it away.
A few seats behind her, four boys, barely past their teenage years, sat boisterously laughing and slapping each other on the back for no apparent reason. Their boyish confidence and nonchalance was a poor disguise for their nervousness. Muffled fits of panicked giggles were a clear sight they were about to board a plane for the first time in their lives.
My eyes wandered from one face to the next as I played my favorite game: “If this group of people survived the apocalypse, who’d I continue the human race with?” After a quick scan around the room I concluded that none of the over 40-year old, balding family men tickled my fancy, hence I would have to find other ways to contribute to the survival of the human race in a post-apocalyptic world. (The tribe medicine woman and the tribe troubadour sounded equally fascinating but with a brain at the boiling point, I never was able to make up my mind.)
A few sour faces and unsatisfied grumbles caught my attention, but considering the circumstances my fellow Finns and I were handling this trying situation quite heroically. No one seemed to be at the brink of a breakdown, even though we are vigorous protectors of our private space and notoriously a nation of excellent complainers. Give us a subject and we will poke around it until we find something dissatisfactory about it. Yet here I was--to my surprise--witnessing a large group of Finns in a small, hot room (that wasn’t a sauna) and hearing hardly a single complaint. I felt a sense of pride in witnessing that national stereotypes can on occasion be proven wrong.
The loudspeakers broke their silence, informing the now clearly agitated crowd that boarding was about to start. As soon as the sound waves hit ears and brains processed them into meaningful words, reason left the room and temporary insanity took dominion. With catlike reflexes the crowd grabbed their oversized bags and hats, their crying infants and passive teens, and shoved for the gate. Somehow the request to “make a line” was loosely translated to “ huddle up, push, shove, bite if you have to, but get on that plane because it will leave without you.”
I lost sight of Supermom and her children, but judging by her prior demonstration, I trusted she would carry her babes gracefully, without struggle, through the once civilized crowd of Finns. Not daring to enter the ocean of potentially smelly armpits, heavy suitcases and pointy heels, I decided to wait on the outskirts of insanity. Numerous trips in Turkish buses during rush hour had taught me to avoid crowds whenever I could. The airline’s decision to leave without me was a risk I was willing to take. I noticed that the hippie lady had chosen to take the same risk. She’d probably been at Woodstock and had her share of smelly armpit exposure. At least that’s the feeling I got from amused expression in her eyes and the little half smile she gave me as we stood at a safe distance from the madness. Unsurprisingly even the very last person was greeted with a polite smile and a cheerful “bonjour” as they entered the aircraft.
My previous pride in Finns had been dampened, but I resolved to thinking that there was a limit to the amount of heat and lack of personal space a Finn could handle and that the announcement had been like an oasis in the wilderness to all who heard it.
With the engines running and flight attendants making final checks, I assessed the damages of the boarding process. No severed ears, black eyes or blood gushing noses in sight, only the excited faces of vacationers already dreaming of fine wines and delicious cheeses they were soon to enjoy. I sat in a well air-conditioned aircraft, right next to a window that didn’t color the world brown and concluded that it was the little things in life that brought immense satisfaction and that we Finns were strange but wonderful creatures.