my favourite cafe comes with its own small children! they arrived out the front yelling “moi äiti, moikka äiti!” (hi mum, hello mum!) before getting into the cafe bike trailer to fetch some milk with their isä (dad). I, having just had coffee and not yet immune to the cuteness of small children in snowsuits, got a little bit overexcited and whispered “Q! THE CAFE PEOPLE HAVE CHILDREN!” (Which is not a very profound statement, really.) This caused approximately 100% of the people in the cafe to laugh at me, but the power of caffeine over my ability to calm down is absolute. So I bounced and apologised to the cafe owner for being exciteable and explained that I had small siblings at home that I missed very much. She laughed at me.
At this point I should probably explain some key differences in Finnish (Estonian and Latvian also) and Australian culture, as far as I have experienced (epic generalisations ahead). The Eastern Europeans are reserved, disinclined to talk unless they have something useful to say. Australians, not so much. Australian tourists*, even less so. I would like to say that I am not as obnoxiously overbearing as your average Australian traveller, but I still have that OMG-I’M-TRAVELLING-AND-NOT-IN-AUSTRALIA-AND-EVERYTHING-IS-EXCITING tendency, which I manage to keep under control most of the time. Clearly it gets through occasionally.
I witnessed an absolutely fantastic display of culture clash while in a bar in Tallinn, capital of Estonia. We were with some Europeans we had met that day, and some Australians and Americans arrived, friends of our couchsurfing host. Instantly, the noise level rose dramatically. These were the first Australians I had met while being in Europe, as far as I know. I tried to be objective, but I’m fairly sure these peeps were the loudest in the bar. Anyway, they’re chattering away, loud as, Q and I are doing our best to look unAustralian and trying to think of a way to apologise. But then, in a moment when everyone else was distracted, something ridiculously amazing happened. One of the Australians was talking almost without taking a breath about who knows what, and an Estonian leant over and quietly said:
– Why do you talk so much?
I almost died from not laughing out loud. But it got better. In a spectacular display of not picking up on cultural norms, the Australian responded:
– Because otherwise I would just be the person who said “Hey” and sat down and didn’t say anything else. I wouldn’t want to do that. No one likes that person.
To be fair, the cultural misunderstanding probably went both ways, and in Australia it is probably not such a nice thing to question behaviour like that, but Estonian is not my culture, and so I don’t have as much fun laughing at it, my humour being the self-deprecating kind.
But I recounted the antics of my Australian tourist to some Finnish friends who agreed that Australians and Americans are always yelling about something. The Finns did a lovely impression of an Australian tourist getting way too excited:
– I’m not in Australia! WOOHOO! This glass isn’t my usual glass! WOOHOO! The beer is different! WOOHOO! Everyone is speaking a different language! WOOHOO!
Which is all very hilarious until I think about my reactions to my new environment:
– It snowed last night! WOOHOO! I went tobogganing! WOOHOO! I’m learning about the Finnish education system! WOOHOO! There is a husky on the tram! WOOHOO! THE CAFE PEOPLE HAVE SMALL CHILDREN! WOO-!
*In this context, I’m talking about the young Australian tourist who can afford to go on that ‘character-building’ year overseas. I’m one of them, I realise that, and very grateful for the opportunity.