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The remaining apple harvest, still on the trees, left for the animals, Vantaa, Finland

The snow during my first weeks in Helsinki turned the most exciting time into a pre-Christmas white dream. On the first weekend, I got to know the whole family and the small wooden chapel, which was a little further towards the village on the road. Small, red, with white gables and dark shutters, she thus corresponded to the Scandinavian style I expected in the north. It was a typical village church, with a small church choir. R., my hostess, accompanied it with her violin, and A., the eldest son read the Sunday passage. Immediately they assured me that this wouldn't repeat itself weekly. If I felt uncomfortable attending a service, I wouldn't have to come at all. We quickly found out that in many respects we came from quite similar households, and our attitude towards faith was more relaxed than doctrinal. The Scandinavian church songs had little in common with the Germans. It was, however, fun to imitate this foreign language. I felt so successful that the sceptical side looks from the children didn't throw me. High spirits have always been one of my strengths.

The local chappel, Vantaa, Finland

With the two boys, ten and six years of age, I came into contact quickly. The shyness at the beginning fell from them, after Rane, the dog, made me pet him extensively. The two cats, who lived parallel to the family in the house, I saw little of in the first weeks. Like the youngest, they were a bit shy. Brave and silent we stared at each other at the beginning. Direct communication was difficult with all three of them. I couldn't guess how good the kids could speak English. It was not until much later that I realised I could talk to them in German. Even if they didn't understand every word, they could almost always grasp the basic meaning. The communication with the parents was easy. R.'s German is almost perfect and B.s (the host dad) English excellent. Also, R. is a Project Manager, and thus her Google sheet game is on point. For the organisation of the family itinerary, she created a sheet that eliminated 50% of potential communication hiccups and uncertainties.

20 centimeters of snow in November, Vantaa, Finland

Before we threw ourselves into the first week, B. took a little time, and let me drive him around. He guided me through the chaos of almost white streets, past the kindergartens, schools, football pitches, and music schools. He showed me where I had to go during the next couple of days, and explained what to look for when driving in the snow. For the first time in my life, I drove a car with four-wheel drive and of course I had no problems in this white sledge. My daily trip from kindergarten to kindergarten, however, brought with it a few hurdles. I wouldn't be able to master the steep slope and a few sharp curves straight away without sliding a little in the red Ford (rear wheel drive).

The finnish family home with stables, Vantaa, Finland

The snow didn't stay long. It melted during the day, then froze in the night and became ice. At the end of the week, it snowed again, so the ice got covered under a blanket of snow. At home and under these circumstances, we would have taken out our old woollen socks and put them on our shoes to avoid slipping and falling on these icy streets. Not here. To make matters worse, you had to go down and up a hill to get to the main street from the yellow house. With enough speed, it's no problem, but the view over the main road is limited and to see anything on the left hand, I had to roll a little into the opposite lane. So you have to be fast enough to get over the hump and slow enough to be able to stop just at the right time. All this on a slippery surface was a bit much for my skill level. In the beginning, I simply hoped that no one would come towards me and gave gas. I was lucky, and nobody came. It took me a few days until I had the right feeling for this situation and was able to make it without risking the car and my life. The same was true of the slope, the curves and the roundabout, from which I exited extremely slowly or sliding slightly. In the end, when driving in snow there is not one magic trick, but a feeling for when you should give gas, when to steer against and when with the direction the car is sliding in. For me, the whole trip had paid off after these first weeks. Since then, my biggest problem when driving in the snow is to see the road.

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