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Friday, October 9, 2009

The player

His social network consists mainly of girls, females, non older than 30 though he is gearing up for his 41 birthday, the last party was a huge hit, with a cover band playing and guests sampling the food he decided to provide. The venue? A hip, if not the hippest place, in town. Out of the 150 party guests, 135 were female. The fourteen males that came, did so because they were there as their respective girlfriends' dates.

He prides himself on this fact, that women are naturally drawn to him, that he is able to openly sustain a relationship with at least three girlfriends and they're all okay with that. I am actually there to give open support to one of them, even though I don't approve of him, not because I think that having several partners when each is aware of the others' presence, is immoral but because I personally find the guy to be an incredible bore. He's a nice guy, I have to admit that, when I needed help moving, he was right there, even renting out a van and never charging me for that, but he only has one subject of conversation: how women are genetically preprogrammed to exploit men. There are of course theories to back this up, theories he not only sounds off on but also posts liberally on his social network connections. It is always women who are at the root of all evil. One failed marriage on his part and a pre-teen son can attest to that (it is of course totally beside the point that people in general (try and ) use each other that this happens whether you're male, female,working, retired, in a relationship or alone but let's not get too deeply into that for he is not overly intelligent and a thought process of that nature, would cause his poor addled brain to explode from going into overdrive).

He subscribes to the Player's Bible and everything that's in it, is holy. It is thanks to him that those interested in the subject matter (i.e. what is a player, what is a neg, what is the general idea behind this whole game) are actually well-informed for he will lend the book out if pressed or even just asked. While he does not actively operate the put down, he nevertheless engages in controversial conversation, the genetic predisposition of females being one of them, and in fact the only one of them. At present at least three girls find him attractive and there are always new ones. My friend, it pains me to say it, is one of them, having bonded with the other main girl in his life, after hating her, the two of them are now best friends and even share the same social crowd, a group largely comprised of the other girl's friends, each with their own agenda. They are happy together and anything else shouldn't really matter.

I can't help comparing him to another friend, one who only had to smile at a girl or even look at her and she'd melt like butter in the sun. This was actually a great friend of mine and it was fun watching him work his magic on a girl. This one didn't need a guide book to get what he wanted. And while with my friend's boyfriend, his attitude bothers me to no end, with my close friend, I found it more amusing than anything else. Recently I figured out why, with my friend it was just fun, I want someone for the night, you want someone, let's go. With this guy it's as though he is on a one-man mission to punish each and every female for the end of his marriage.

I'm not saying all players are like that. This is merely one of the many people I have encountered here in Helsinki, a type that can and does show up anywhere and is for all intents and purposes, another addition to the city.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Just for tonight?

A regular week night and the local meat market is in full swing. Disguised as a "get-together" for expats and locals alike, it is interesting to pick out the different groups, sub groups and below-par groups. This particular gathering - a gathering that has been going on for quite some time - draws an interesting crowd. There are the players, the (confirmed) Pickup Artists, clutching their Game bible figuratively underneath their arms, armed with insults and props, that are said to guarantee them if not an instant life partner, at least an adequate mate for the night.

Coupled with them, almost a perfect match, are their perfect matches of the opposite or same gender, waiting with baited breath. They, too, have come out to play, are keen to find a companion, though of course they are hoping it will be for more than one night. They dream of travel and exotic destination or at least a quick adventure to be able to brag about having been with a foreign gal / guy.

Over in the corner the alcohol is flowing and people are beginning to slowly pair off. There are those, for whom a quick display of non-verbal communication, a quick sweep of the eyes, will suffice, others, engage in conversation until it is time to part, move on to the next place, and the next one and who knows what will happen at the end of the night.

And yet others are merely there to sample the promises of that weekday night, a promise of action and happiness and not being alone in a hotel room, watching TV until well after midnight. It is the same scene every Wednesday, the same scene for everyone, everyone who came out that night.

survival 101 - things to do in order to be happy in a new destination

1. Do accept that whatever you've been used to so far should be left at home. Things change with every region, so moving countries naturally calls for even more drastic changes. By all means, bring your culture with you, but don't expect people to change, you'd be surprised at how many people don't get this and expect everything abroad to be the same.
2. Accept the changes no matter how hard, bizarre, strange and so on they are or may be. You've come here for a reason, think of how you would feel if someone else was to mindlessly criticize everything in your country.
3. Things work differently in your new country, doesn't mean they're better or worse necessarily, just different. Case in point, the girl behind the Subway counter, may not smile and banter invitingly, but she will patiently tell you about all they have, without rushing you and will equally patiently wait until you have somehow managed to make up your mind, despite the line forming behind you. And yes, those people are waiting there patiently.
4. Silence and not talking does not mean that you are not accepted, it just means that there is silence, literally.
5. Choose your social network wisely, some are there to enhance your experience, others are there because they want your hard earnings and your soul.
6. Don't jump down people's throats because they go out of their way to speak your language. Yes, you are here to (hopefully) some day speak their language but they are also happy at being able to practice a language they like and speaking your language, is more than just common courtesy, it really is saying, we're making the extra effort to make you feel welcome.
7. Don't pretend to survive on all the clichés, yes, it gets dark early during the winter, yes people love their sausages and beer and sauna. There's more to life than just mindlessly repeating and regurgitating common clichés, as if wanting to say, I can use them, I am now an accepted member of whatever community it is that you intend to be an accepted member of.
8. Don't fall into the trap of hanging only with people from your country. Yes, it's daunting and hard to make friends, and seemingly impossible but can be done.
9. If and when you do, don't resort to "them" being the locals and "us" meaning you and your expatriate friends. It is of course nice to be able to share but mind the pitfalls, don't let this be your only network, which results in host country bashing, fun, therapeutic and cathartic as that may be.
10. Don't take this list seriously, it was merely a joke created to avoid getting some much needed rest.

Paris, Sacré Coeur

I love it here because I live close by and I can use the quiet streets to jog there and then relax, just hang around. When I was still living there instead of visiting family on a regular basis, I used to go there with my favorite music playing if and when I needed time to think. The music was there because it reminded me of what I was thinking of in the first place, why I was so attached to the whole matter (usually, if not exclusively, people related) and the walking and jogging . . . well, regular, repetitive exercise always exerted a calm, soothing effect, not to mention, most of the time, if I didn't exactly get the solution, I at least started feeling marginally better. There's always something that puts things in perspective, some passer-by, something that happens to catch your eye, even some random stranger coming out of the bakery.

They tell you that tourist places, like crowded city trains, attract unwanted attention. While my dad, when he was alive, staunchly maintained that if he hadn't made it clear on that day in Manhattan that I was with him, the pimp next to me would have taken me, here, the worst that can happen is a pickpocket or some unwanted attention from someone, who, on the spur of the moment, decides that you're just his type and will follow you home (anywhere between 16-35 will usually do, which isn't to say the Northern side at the end of the spectrum doesn't get its fair share but at that age, they still seem willing and naive, then again, they really do target all ages). It should be mentioned here that my dad wasn't saying it to scare me in any way, he knew I was interested in the darker side of human relations and merely wanted to share his observations. I knew better than to talk to strangers, already at that age and after what my dad told me, I felt intrigued, more than scared. I wanted to see the man but he'd already gone, reason for my dad telling me what he'd been thinking in the first place. But back to Sacré Coeur.

People from their respective countries (and various regions) and the various demographics are highly visible, when you know what you're searching for. Their behavior reflects the cultural clichés they have been taught or are trying to implement. The group of young twenty-somethings, mostly students, gathering on the steps around a singer with a guitar, humming along, while those who know the lyrics pick up the melody. The group of small town retired Germans, stomping their way to the top, barging into people and then complaining loudly when people dare to actually reprimand them. The Polish believers, who want to see this church of churches, and meet their friends, the painters a few feet away, looking for people they can scam. The group of American ladies, also of retirement age, from another small town, who almost gets a heart attack when someone addresses her, asking what time it is. Until it turns out that the person asking is also American, which immediately evokes a sense of trust. These are all clichés of course, one in a million and (probably) therefore all the more fun when they do come true, though it is true, there is a large abundance of youngsters sitting on the steps and even some middle-aged couples, happily singing.

We used to sit on the steps as well, when we were tired or lazy, or when we just felt like it, usually with a coffee, and always with cigarettes. Not because we were trying to live up to or create an image but because we felt that this moment without coffee and cigarettes was just not a moment, was not even worthy of being taken in. I liked that I had basically grown up there, that despite all the moving and traveling, this was my Zen place, the place I could come to, the place I could relax in, the place I knew would always be there, even if we were, once again, far away. Some of my friends had little trees that they hid by, secret little caves, others made caves out of mattresses in their homes, found secret hiding places. Me, then as now, I lose myself in the crowd, weaving in and out of various groups and gatherings, blending in, losing myself in them because I can look like them, I speak their language. There's a Hungarian saying that you have as many souls as you speak languages, and I can see how that came to be by, almost without noticing, adapting a new persona, another personality.

And when I am ready to come out of hiding, I leave my little spot on the hill and on the way down, stop by at a café, where I know I can chat to the owner or at the very least, run into a friend.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

the music fan

She lives in a two bedroom apartment in the suburbs, not too far away from her place of work but not within walking distance of it either. The reason for her choice of location quickly becomes clear after an idle look at her CD and DVD collection. All the country's bands in alphabetical order, lined up next to the concert DVDs and the books on local sights and music. She is a music fanatic, who came here for the music and moved heaven and earth to have a job lined up. In fact the reason she has chosen that tiny apartment, distant from every conceivable hangout as it is, lives about 30 minutes down the road: her favorite singer, the one because of whom she came here so many times before, the one because of whom she decided to stay.

When she is out and about in town, she will pick places where he is said to be or have been, places that attract many of her ilk and where the minute you step through the door, the back biting and back stabbing begins. Everyone wants a shot at meeting their idol and providing that friendships are made at all, they will just as quickly disband the minute said idol walks through the door and casts his eye on one of them.

Her claim to fame among her small group of friends is such that she has seen him in concert several times (more times than many of the others) and has even once, in a desperate attempt at bravery, gone straight into his garden. Asked whether she at least said hello when she claimed to have seen him, she shakes her head and claims that all she wanted to do was see his living quarters, from the outside because of their "architectural value" they represent.

Well, mazel tov to her and many happy returns. If she survives the conditions she is living in presently and the harsh realities, she will at least have stories to tell when her grandchildren gather around her, spinning their own dreams of meeting their present-day idol.

The Social Networker I

Ryan is a charismatic young man, having worked long enough to know what is what but not quite so long that he is already tired of it all. In short, he is still able to enjoy life. So that when he is fired from his job (the reason for this never really being disclosed and since this is long before the recession, company policy is not a possibility), he does not despair. Ryan decides to create a social network to "make the city Vibrant". Vibrant (always spelled with a V) is the operative word in everything Ryan does. And Ryan does a lot. Armed with business knowledge (The Evil Negotiator, anyone?) and a need to make money, he quickly comes up with a scheme in which he ropes in eager young souls new to the city and so grateful for this new network, they will do anything to make it work, soliciting new members on the streets and in public places for a pay so meager, they are never able to buy the drinks at the Vibrant events they are advertising. Part of it is of course due to Ryan's charm, a gung-ho personality that radiates enthusiasm wherever he goes. The other part is his philosophy of making people fight for his friendship and attention, not bringing in a sufficient amount of people, will result in the person being shunned, spurring them on to reach for the stars.

And yet the network is thriving and well, perhaps due to a lack of other activities but also because drinking networks tend to attract a certain type of personality, the drinker, who after a few drinks won't care all too much about the company anyway and if he gets to go home with someone else, so much the better. Which isn't to say that all social networks operate the same way, there are many that bring people together without asking for their soul in return. Ryan's network merely holds a special place among a host of similar organizations, giving rise to a parade of very interesting personalities, all there for a variety of even more interesting reasons.