Jetting here and there
By Anna-Stina Nykänen
I'm preparing myself mentally for a week's trip to China. This is a demanding exercise, because China is one of those places where you have to keep your cool. No going and throwing a wobbler in public. No shouting permitted.
How the devil am I going to manage that? A whole week without raising my voice.
I'm trying now to develop a beatific smile when I get pissed off at something. I'm experimenting with how it feels to speak calmly and note sweetly for the tenth time that that porridge has to be eaten up pronto so that we can make it to pre-school on time.
Husband and son are giggling with delight at my obvious discomfort.
These days people seem to be on the move all the time. When Finnair went on strike a few weeks back, I was sitting at the lunch table at work, where five colleagues were growling about their upcoming weekend getaways. One was going to Brussels, others were off to London or Barcelona.
People nowadays are hopping off on a regular basis for short breaks outside of the actual holiday seasons. They stake out the Net for absurdly cheap deals on flights and then flit off for a couple of days somewhere if they happen to feel in the mood.
One of my colleagues is forever getting airline special offers in his e-mail. He can go the impulse-buy route whenever the fancy takes him.
You don't need to be well-heeled or well-connected to cruise around like this; even the hoi polloi are doing it.
Everyone has enough by way of language skills and experience to dare to plunge into a new culture. And there's enough information to help out, too: pictures of hotel lobbies, maps, bus timetables, and the like can all be checked out in advance from home off the PC, if you like.
And even if security arrangements have been tightened up, they don't seem to be putting much of a brake on the enthusiasm.
It is not just a question of loose money. Attitudes have changed. Gadding off has become increasingly easy to do.
One friend of mine was grumbling the other day that she no longer feels like asking old mates how they are getting on. They are always just coming back from Malaysia or somewhere.
It used to be that these same people would tell you normal stuff like mother-in-law is still being a pain in the neck, and we've bought a new car, and the wife is planning on doing up the kitchen.
There is one retired friend of hers whom she no longer even bothers to call, because whenever she did the woman was always away on some last-minute-cancellation getaway break.
Others at this time of year are just coming back from some early-season skiing in Levi and are packing for a few days in the sunny south. Even those ones from whom you'd like to hear something of how the kids are doing now talk about nothing else except the wonderful month they spent in Provence or the Ardèche last summer.
First you check off all those places that have to be seen once in your life. The next step is either adventure-seeking or easy enjoyment. One of my acquaintances is dead keen to go to Canada now. Düsseldorf and even Oslo would do. He believes that boring-sounding places could spring a surprise.
What does puzzle me somewhat is why anyone should be so hot-to-trot on very short trips to long-haul destinations.
I mean, going off on a four-day shopping binge to Singapore, what's that all about?
It costs plenty, you sit for hours on end in a cramped plane, and you suffer the jet-lag, all for a couple of days at the other end.
Is this somebody's idea of luxury? Are there people out there with metabolisms that are not affected by long flights? Or is it some kind of obsession: must - get - far - away, even if it is only for 24 hours?
One friend of mine calculated somewhat sheepishly that he had been abroad seven times in the past year. One trip took in Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and Italy. Another one was to Rome. A third combined Iceland and California. Then there were a couple of hops over the water to Tallinn, and... yes, business trips came on top of all this toing and froing.
He is rather old-fashioned, in that he is actually embarrassed by this heavy travelling regimen. Then again, he also received some additional vacation this year in the form of the "dumb donkey holiday allowance", which is given to those who have not had the wit and wisdom to change their place of work for thirty years. The kids have fled the nest, and the mortgage is all paid off, so why not travel a bit, eh?
He nevertheless believes that this cannot last much longer. The world is becoming a more dangerous place, and before long people will not dare to travel. Besides, airline ticket prices cannot remain so low indefinitely. And travelling by air is hardly conducive to stemming the tide of climate change.
He is travelling while he can. Racking up his air-miles while the going is still good.
Finns as tourists are right now like young foals being released into the paddock: full of enthusiasm and with no qualms about what might be out there.
Even diffident me, I pluck up the courage these days to book my trips myself off the Net.
I booked my next hotel from a firm with a very reassuring tone. The confirmation screen read: "Congratulations. Have no fear, your reservation will have certainly got through." I don't believe it for a minute, but it felt nice that there is someone out there who understands our feelings.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print in the Nyt weekly supplement of 8.12.2006
ANNA-STINA NYKÄNEN / Helsingin Sanomat