Rara Avis illustrates an entry on the former hierarchy of languages in Finland with this photo of a trilingual street sign, which reminds me of my only visit to Helsinki, back in 1971. At that time nobody in the city seemed to speak English, and I spoke no Finnish or Swedish, so the only common language available was Russian—except that nobody in Finland wanted to speak Russian (except for the aged caretaker of the Russian Orthodox cathedral), so I was effectively cut off from verbal communication. A very strange experience. (When I say I spoke no Finnish, by the way, I exaggerate slightly. I had painstakingly taught myself one Finnish sentence, which still rolls easily off my tongue over 30 years later: Puhutteko
englantilainen englantia? Do you speak English? [Thanks for the correction, Dmitri!] Alas, the response to my fluently produced query was invariably a flood of incomprehensible Finnish. Belatedly, it dawned on me that the only useful sentence in that context is “Do you speak English?” In English. Live and learn.)
In an entry today, incidentally, Rara refers to the Academic Bookstore, which is apparently the Foyles of Helsinki; I suspect it’s the huge bookstore where I found all the Russian books I’d been unable to find in Russia itself (these were the days when the only books available in Soviet bookstores were the complete works of Lenin and whatever books had just been published that week—unless they were of any interest, in which case they had vanished within minutes). Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Rara!