Sad Thoughts upon my Return

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Sun setting behind a rocky ridge somewhere near the border between Espoo and Helsinki in Finland.
Image: GrrlScientist, 18 November 2008 [larger view].

The flight back to NYC from Helsinki was fine; long, but uneventful. The crew were great and the plane wasn’t as jam-packed as the flight leaving NYC was .. I wonder why? Perhaps the children of Finnish immigrants are doing the same thing as the children of Polish and Indian immigrants are reportedly doing: leaving this country and going to their ancestral homes because the economic opportunities are somewhere close to nonexistent in America. Not that I blame them and in fact, I would eagerly do the same if I could.


Our airplane was flying into a headwind, so the flight, which left forty minutes late, took eight and a half hours, as compared to flying from NYC to Helsinki, where we had a strong tailwind that made the flight two hours faster. I’ll bet you can’t guess which direction I prefer to fly?
After my eight-and-a-half hour flight and two-hour subway ride, I finally stumbled into my apartment, thinking I would have a hot shower before vampire-izing my neighbor’s open wifi connection, only to find that my apartment didn’t have any hot water and the neighbor’s open wifi connection had disappeared. To add insult to injury (or perhaps in this case, injury to insult), the first thing I noticed upon entering my apartment was the disgusting aroma of .. a dead mouse that was decaying somewhere nearby.
Lovely. There’s nothing like a dead mouse festering in one’s apartment to remind an unemployable nobody like me about my true place in this country. Unfortunately, I’ve always felt like a stranger in the United States because my financial status, political beliefs and scientific interests have never been shared (and usually, not even appreciated) by my peers, and traveling has always underlined my suspicion that I’ve never belonged in America (although, sadly, I doubt that I “belong” anywhere else, either).
Adding to my feelings of alienation is the fact that, for the first time in my life, I did not feel I was being stared at when I was in Helsinki. The odd thing was that I had grown so familiar with being stared at in a negative, judgmental way that I forgot this is the typical situation for me in the States. Was this because there are so many tall blondes in Helsinki? Was it because being blonde is not automatically interpreted by the Finns as having a strong negative correlation with one’s intellectual capabilities?
Nonetheless, for the first time in my life, I did not feel I was being prejudged in a strongly negative way, and because I did not have a conversation with most of the Finns I saw in Helsinki (a logistical problem in itself since I do not know Finnish!), I can only attribute this to my morphological similarity to the natives.
After visiting Helsinki, I am determined to return for another visit and I am also determined to learn to speak Finnish!

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About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Sad Thoughts upon my Return

  1. oscarzoalaster says:

    Finland is a wonderful country. My condolences about the mouse. I enjoy reading your writing despite, and perhaps because of, your “financial status, political beliefs and scientific interests”, even though it turns out that you are a “tall blonde”. But then I am also a poor lefty science geek, so what is my opinion worth?

  2. in america, it is wrong to be well-educated (and it is elitist to be a scholar); it is wrong to have scientific interests (and it is elitist to be a scientist); and it is both wrong and elitist to be “lefty” because all good americans know this country was built on the backs of hardworking right-wing religious people and we all know that educated free-thinking liberals have never worked a day in their lives!

  3. Jeff Knapp says:

    I had a very similar experience after I visited Norway some nine years ago. I fell in love with the country. In many ways I felt more at home in Norway than I did here in the states. I seriously investigated moving there, even went as far as to look for work in either Trondheim or Levanger up in mid-Norway. In the end, because of family issues, I was not able to make the move.
    I agree with you, my political beliefs, my interests, my autistic traits, all conspire to really make me feel alien here in this country. I don’t get the sense of being stared at like you do – though I used to as a kid. I do still feel very awkward out in public sometimes. I didn’t feel nearly as much that way in Norway. There just seemed to be a more accepting attitude there.
    I realize I probably will never be able to move there but, I sure do want to visit again. One of my real dreams to spend something like three months traveling the country and filming the natural beauty of the country. Someday, my wife and I will be able to do that. Someday…

  4. Jeff Knapp says:

    BTW, I love tall blonds – all tallies for that matter. I am 6’4″ myself, my wife is 6′ (5’11 1/2″ but who’s quibbling) so of course I would appreciate a tall woman. If I were to see you in public and found myself staring at you, it would be out of delight and appreciation for your beauty and height, not out of any disapproval or displeasure. And, to my point, it is very likely I am not the only one out there like me.

  5. For what it’s worth, even though I was born and have lived all my life thus far in the U.S., I have never felt at home here either. It is a strange country in its psychotic desire that everyone be both rebels and conform rigorously to the lowest common denominator. Eat your McDonald’s hamburgers, drink HFCS-laden soda pop, drive American cars (regardless of how low quality they are), watch the dreck on television, and for god’s sake go to church whether you beleive any of what is being preached or not. No one stares at me because at 250 pounds, wearing a western hat and sporting a big red and grey beard, I look like the quintesential redneck, bearing no visible sign of my two graduate degrees. That’s why I love the Internet – it allows me to connect, at least virtually, with like-minded souls. Hang in there and know you are most certainly not alone.

  6. Bob O'H says:

    Was this because there are so many tall blondes in Helsinki?

    No, it’s because they’re so used to seeing beautiful women here.

  7. someone (not naming any names) needs his eyeglasses prescription adjusted.

  8. David Harmon says:

    Or maybe someone else needs their own prescription adjusted? I’ve only seen your interview photo, but even that makes it clear you’re pretty good-looking.

  9. EyeNoU says:

    I guess a lot of us feel out of place. I live in Texas, but I tend to be to the left of center politically. I work in the oilfield, and it seems almost everyone but me is a wingnut. I agree with BABW above, the internet helps you connect with like minded folk and keep your sanity. Oh, and I agree with Bob and David, from what I have seen you are indeed quite good-looking.

  10. Katharine says:

    Regarding the stupidity of most Americans, I keep saying an effective solution would be tax incentives for voluntary sterilization of anyone who has an IQ under 100, regardless of class status (a stupid person born into money would probably take the money and sterilization, but an intelligent postdoc living on enough money to eat pizza for dinner would probably not get a tax incentive if they chose sterilization). They would be too stupid to put their reproductive ability before their finances.
    I absolutely hate this country, and after I finish my postdoc, I am relocating to the UK.

  11. windy says:

    Adding to my feelings of alienation is the fact that, for the first time in my life, I did not feel I was being stared at when I was in Helsinki. The odd thing was that I had grown so familiar with being stared at in a negative, judgmental way that I forgot this is the typical situation for me in the States. (…) I can only attribute this to my morphological similarity to the natives.

    Or maybe it’s just because Finns don’t like to stare at people 🙂
    What was that joke again… how do you know when a Finn is hitting on you? He is looking at your shoes, instead of his own.