#42 story beside the road

042/365 story beside the road, originally uploaded by rosipaw.

I just had to create a story of these pictures today. I actually went out to take the Daily Shoot wide-angle picture, but then got interested in this boy waiting at the bus stop.

The pictures reminded me of how tough, and sometimes lonely, it is to be a kid in this country, where you are expected to be independent at a very young age. It is a valued national characteristic. This boy – no more than 8-9 years old – was going home from school, on public transport. This is nothing unusual, since working parents’ and their kids’ schedules don’t often coincide. My daughter had to do it, too, although I don’t like it, and I actually feel very sorry for these little commuters, especially on cold and pitch-dark winter mornings. I can imagine how, in some cultures, this might even be regarded as parental neglicence…

There is a special Finnish word, ‘reipas’, for this quality. It is an adjective often used to praise kids, but impossible to translate into English with just one word. The dictionary suggests translations, such as brisk, brave, cheery, breezy, alert, alive… Little children are good when they can demonstrate all these qualities, and not show any weakness, fear, timidity or hesitation. They have got to be especially ‘reipas’ to show off to relatives and friends. What a short carefree childhood they have!

2 Responses to “#42 story beside the road”

  1. February 12, 2010 at 05:39

    Isn’t it interesting how some words can’t be translated. I’ve come across similar words in Russian and German. I wonder how you have developed the distance to be able to analyse your ways of life? If it’s the way it is, how do you come to see it from an outsider’s perspective? I hope that doesn’t sound rude because it’s not meant to be.

    The pictures portray very clearly the loneliness and isolation of young children commuting alone. I suppose there are advantages and disadvantages in the kind of independence you speak of. Did you do this as a child? Would there perhaps be groups of children commuting more often than solo travellers?

  2. February 12, 2010 at 09:37

    Thank you Tania for raising some really good questions about my perception of life and perspectives. You really made me think about this this morning! You know, deep down, I feel slightly a marginal person in any culture these days. I am not your typical Finn any more, having lived in a bicultural family for so long. Through my husband’s eyes, I have come to look at my own culture from the outside. We also spent a year in the US when our daughter was 6, which gave us yet another new perspective to life and the organization of society.

    Inside my own culture, I have become ‘the square peg that doesn’t fit into a round hole’ in a way. I can’t help looking at customs and social realities from many different perspectives, which many of my fellow countrymen, in the Finnish consensus seeking, largely homogeneous culture, find hard to deal with. Similarly, in the English-dominated online networks, I often feel an urgent need to keep explaining where I’m coming from, not to be misunderstood. Hmmm, I don’t know if I’m making any sense to you?

    Studying intercultural communication theories for many years has taught me the idea of ‘the need for a third space’ to improve understanding between people. Both communication partners need to step out of their own cultural sphere to be able to understand each other’s mindsets better. I guess I’m somehow constantly lingering in that elusive third space…

    But, to come back to the expectations concerning children’s independence, of course, there are both pros and cons about it. In an ideal world I would strive for a system somewhere between the Finnish and the Anglo-American approach perhaps – and to some extent, that’s what we have managed to do with our daughter. My childhood was totally different, since I grew up in the countryside. I, too, had to go to school alone, but on foot, by bike, on skis in winter – not on public transport.

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