We have an issue: we are running out of soap. After "checking in" to our hostel (a key is left in our room because the staff does not work past 4 pm), we set out to make a purchase and are met with confusion at a store that seems like it would sell soap. This store, called Apotek (I looked it up; it loosely translates to "illusion of a drug store wherein requests for basic toiletries and other dispensary staples are treated with a combination of amusement and disdain by the staff"), has bags of bulk tampons and a small section of face cream, but little else.
We are dangerously dirty at this point, and everything is closing. Nobody seems to want to work around here. Even the rain is lazy; a wimpy, misty dribble hangs around instead of actual drops.
Luckily, our hostel is a bastion of discomfort. If the two dudes occupying the lobby 24/7 staring at everyone who enters or the windowless rooms weren't enough, we are lucky to be joined by two families of 3-4 children each (we can't tell), whose only source of entertainment is slamming doors and running through the halls at 6 am. The phenomenon of taking your children everywhere and seeing what transpires upon setting them loose is fascinating. Except, it's not.
So, we head out of town to a sauna on an island and do the rounds of jumping into the lake. We are recovered.
The next night, the families are replaced by parents with a very tiny baby whose mealtime is 3 am. We wonder: who is benefitting from child vacation? The parents? The kids? Anyone?
I digress. I forgot to update you on the soap situation. After visiting several shops, we come across a bar soap "display" (3 kinds) in a grocery superstore. This calls for a conference. We figure out the unit price on the options, debate a five-pack ("you're going to run out next week again"), and leave with a twin set. Surely there will be proper drugstores in Helsinki or Oslo. Yes?*
Still nobody seems to be working. We hit the Glenn Miller Jazz Cafe and the first band checks their watches during the three-song set. 15 minutes in, they're taking a break. Turns out even the beer isn't working that hard: the bar doesn't have a license for regular-alcohol beer, so listeners and musicians get breaks in between sets to run across the street and have a proper drink at a different bar.
The work ethic here is astounding. This, people, is socialism. You can't even get a good jazz set in this town. And lord knows all jazz musicians want to do is keep noodling away until you want the melody to please resolve. Can you just stop.
After a couple of work-to-rule nights at the cafe, we opt for Konono No. 1 at the Fasching club. It is here, finally, and at the sauna the next day, that I figure the Swedes out. Without goals and reasons to work hard, these people fumble around with a lot of misdirected energy. You see it everywhere: they walk higgeldy piggeldy all over, mowing you down, unable to choose a direction. If you stand on a path by the water, you'll have, on average, 10-15 "serious jogging Swedes" run by you in 30 seconds. Instead of nice walks in the park, mothers challenge their 7-year-old daughters to fitness competitions. In the sauna, a group of women got right down to be business of getting naked, and having a solid afternoon of dry heat. And at Konono No. 1, as soon as the music started, the entire crowd got up from the tables - even those old folks! - and danced for the whole concert.
The upshot? If you don't give people work to do, they won't know what their purpose is. And they might have fun in very odd ways. This was made clearer when we landed at a folk music gathering on our last day, took dance lessons in Swedish, were fed homemade soup, and everybody in every room made themselves look busy and important by playing fiddles.
*No. No, there are not.