Living in Europe has a lot of benefits, but one of the most under-rated has to be watching people from different cultures attempt to navigate each other. If you’ve never watched two Europeans have a contempt-off, you haven’t lived.
Presented here for your delectation is a scene I was lucky enough to witness in person 1, while waiting in line at the Helsinki Tourist Office.
Tell Me of These Rustications, A Play In One Act
(Scene: The Helsinki Tourist Office in late afternoon. THE WOMAN approaches the counter. She is wearing a purple and black Lycra biking unitard and speaks with a French accent so thick it may be termed “Fraunch.” She is sweaty and her short, curly bleach-blonde hair clings to her face. She is perhaps 40 years old, but sunscreen has never touched her body, not even once, and so she looks like an old satchel that’s been left in the rain.
She is met at the counter by THE MAN. THE MAN is in his mid-50s and has short gray hair and modest pair of man-boobs. He is wearing a red polo shirt that is one size too small for him. His accent is Finnish and lilting. He stands with his hands in front of him, palms down. His hands bob up and down as he speaks, but his wrists never move above his nipples or below his waist, as though he is playing an invisible pipe organ or attempting to high-five a ghost octopus.
WOMAN: (Not asking a question.) A room for 5 persons.
MAN: And what hotel have you booked?
WOMAN: (With great indignation.) There is no booking. Please. I am tired!
MAN: And you would like to be making a booking now?
WOMAN: 5 persons. And 5 bikes.
MAN: Well, it is Finland-Sweden games this weekend. It is very exciting.
MAN: Oh, yes! It is like Olympics! But just for us! And Sweden!
MAN: Oh there are no rooms. You see, because it is games.
WOMAN: Nowhere? Could you look for me?
MAN: Well, perhaps there are rooms in Jrjfljjkjlj 2, but not here.
WOMAN: And where is that?
MAN: Perhaps 50 kilometers south.
(At this, another man, LITTLE BUDDY, pops out from an office behind the counter, as if summoned by the mention of Jrjfljjkjlj. He is young, bearded and slight of frame. He is wearing a horizontally striped shirt and vertically striped trousers.)
LITTLE BUDDY: No, it is 60 kilometers east.
THE MAN: (Shrugs.) South-east. 55 kilometers.
WOMAN: But I am so tired! (She leans forward across the counter to show how tired she is.)
MAN: (Smiling.) Yes, but games. No rooms.
LITTLE BUDDY: What about the rustications?
WOMAN: (Looking up, with an edge of desperation.) Tell me of these rustications.
MAN: (To himself.) They are quite rustical.
LITTLE BUDDY: You have tents, yes? Tents go with bikes.
WOMAN: No tents. The rustications is outside?
LITTLE BUDDY: Yes, outside. Perhaps someone can rent something.
MAN: (As if making an innuendo) Or… to share?
WOMAN: (With great suspicion.) How far to these rustications?
LITTLE BUDDY: (Shrugs.) Perhaps 30 kilometers.
WOMAN: But I am tired!
LITTLE BUDDY: (Coming around the corner.) There is a bus. I will show you.
WOMAN: But bikes!
LITTLE BUDDY: Yes, bus for bikes too.
WOMAN: Five persons!
MAN: (Philosophically.) It is a big bus. And a big forest.
(LITTLE BUDDY puts his arm up around THE WOMAN’s shoulders, and manages to shepherd her around to the back office without actually touching her.)
JESSE: (clapping wildly) ENCORE!
If you’re a reality TV producer and you want to make a metric ton of cash with minimal effort, European travel offices are the place to be. I’d never watch a show about hillbillies who raise toddler beauty queens to repossess pawnshop storage lockers from ducks3 but I could watch Europeans make nonsensical passive-aggressive asides to each other all day long.
- I’m not making this up, except for my line at the end. I didn’t actually say anything. I just stood there with my mouth open, trying desperately to remember why I’d even come in there. ↩
- I can’t remember the name of the town he mentioned, but it had like 6 Js and no vowels in it. ↩
- Or whatever TLC is about these days. ↩