Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tampere accent in the Parisian playground
Laura pulled me by the hand towards the playground behind Notre Dame. It was Saturday. Children of all nationalities ran wild while some of the small ones lost their patience in line waiting for their turn to ride the square’s one and only swing. Among the children’s voices I thought recognize my hometown’s familiar dialect. It was a hand clapping game that started “I went to a Chinese restaurant”. Then it went on as something like that “the waiter asked me what is my name” and, strange enough, was also talking about being on a frozen lake. No doubt, Tampere dialect and frozen lake there were Finns hanging around. But when I looked around I could see no pale looking compatriots, only exotic looking children and parents.
-             Laura, I think some kids are speaking Finnish here with a Tampere accent. Why don’t you find them and go to play with them, I said.
   Laura was already on her way to run around the playground in order to hear everybody. A few minutes later she was in the middle of a clapping game with five dark skinned black haired girls of all ages. Then she came back to the bench to fill me in about her discovery.
-             Mum, these girls are from Tampere but they say I speak Finnish with a funny accent, she said.
    -  They’re right. You speak fluent Finnish but it sounds like a foreigner speaking. Don’t worry, they can understand you. Go back and play, I replied.
   It was obvious that I couldn’t guess the parents either before one of the girls approached a couple on the bench at the other end of the playground. I decided to go and say hello.
-         Hi, I heard your children speaking Finnish in the Tampere dialect. I was born in Tampere, I said in Finnish.
      We live in a Tampere suburb. I am from Kosovo and my husband here is from Afghanistan, the dark haired lady said in perfect Finnish. Then she added quickly:
-         We can’t live in our countries right now because of the war but we will go back as soon as we can.
-         -I think it must be difficult to move suddenly to another place if your children speak only Finnish, I said. The woman looked at her shoes.
-         It is hard to build a life in a country, if you think you will be leaving. But it is that… she started, suddenly looking me in the eyes.

-         It is that people in Tampere always ask when you will return, I guessed and went on:
-          You know what, when I first came to France people kept on asking when I would go back to my country. But nobody asks that any more. I don’t know why. Maybe they finally got tired of asking, I said. She smiled.

Too many children
-          Nice daughters, I said.
-        Two of them are ours, the three others are cousins, she replied quickly. But she hadn’t noticed that one of the girls had come to pick up her bottle of water.
-          Mummy! Why do you say some of us are cousins? We are your very very very own daughters, the girl said pulling out bottle in her flowered Marimekko shoulder bag.
I was so surprised by her strong Tampere accent that I couldn’t help smiling. But the mother looked confused and so did the father who had followed the discussion. 
-         I guess that a big family like that brings attention in Finland, where most families have one or two children, I remarked. She nodded and said:
-          People don’t understand why we have so many.
The husband added with comprehensive but incorrect Finnish:
-          It is more difficult with alcohol in Tampere. We are Muslims and we don’t drink.
-         But we are lucky to have Laestadian friends who don’t drink alcohol either, the mother said.
-          And they have seven children as well, the husband added and smiled.

They had booked a Seine cruise and they had to leave. The mother was a translator and the father was involved in computer programming. They had only a short Paris holiday. Laura spoke with a strong Tampere accent for the next few days. Then she lost it.

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