There are a few things that get lost in translation as I make my way through life in Finland. Like when I greet people in the street with, ‘Hey, how you going?’ and they think I say ‘Where are you going?’ which makes them uncomfortable as it is quite a nosy question and they start to explain, ‘Well, first I’m going to the post office and then….’
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I signed up for Adults Beginners Skating Lessons to find that actually, I had signed up for Adults Beginners Figure Skating Lessons. Because even though I emailed first and said I was an absolute beginner, there is no such thing as an absolute beginner on ice in Finland. Only one who hasn’t yet mastered the art of jumps and spins.
I went and bought a pair of skates before my first lesson because people don’t rent them here. In New Zealand it’s a bit like ten-pin bowling shoes – you go to the ice rink and hire a pair there. The first shop I went to had some lovely skates for beginners but unfortunately not in my size (big).
So I headed north to another skate shop where a lovely woman helped me find a pair that fit. Although they are not for absolute beginners, she explained, but for slightly advanced beginners. “Like for when you do jumps,” she said.
She showed me how to lace them up, which is quite a skill in itself, and then took my skates out the back to sharpen the blades. She also kitted me out with blade guards that I wear while making my way from the changing room to the ice and soft, furry covers to put on the blades after class to protect them and prevent rust.
It was immediately evident at my first lesson that I was way out of my depth. The only time I have been ice skating in my life was when I was 14 and a 17-year old guy from the butcher shop took me on a date to Paradice Ice Rink. We skated around holding hands to Thunderstruck by ACDC and for some reason I just haven’t recreated the scene since.
I am determined however to not sit at home all winter and read that there will be open-air ice skating rinks in Helsinki, including a big one near Rautatieasema (Central Station). One helpful comment on Trip Advisor was to remember that there are no sides – which for me means nothing to hold on to or to use to stop.
So while two groups of skaters move around me at class, skating backwards and pirouetting, I stick close to the wall and just aim to stand up and move forward. I am so out of my comfort zone. I’m quite tall and have never worn high-heels so balancing on two thin blades is really hard for me.
People glide by with encouraging smiles and give me thumbs up, much like you would if you saw a person of very limited mental capacity riding a bike for the first time. A few different people approached me after my first lesson with kind words and advice (get knee pads) and all of them asked me, with faces full of curiosity, “So, um, where are you from?”
The hardest part for me is managing my ego – it is so embarrassing to be so very bad at something while all around you people are doing it with ease. My main supporter, a man from India in the class, assures me that once I get the knack it will be just like moving over butter. Which would be great as I’m sure it would make for much softer landings.
In the meantime I just have to focus, manage my pride and stop myself from turning up to class in a t-shirt that says “I’m actually very good at swimming!”