Once again I have another long day at home while my wife is at work wearing the trousers and earning the money to pay our bills. What am I doing? Well, there is the washing up from the meal I cooked last night and if my day gets too exciting I can always wash some laundry. Did I really study at university for three years to become a househusband?
It has been two years since I emigrated to Finland to start a new life, learn the language and find some employment, but instead I am trying to work out from the Finnish cooking instructions whether the fish we are eating tonight needs to defrosted or cooked from frozen. You never realise how much you take the everyday things for granted when you can understand everything, but until you buy a microwave lasagne and cook it in the oven till the smoke alarm goes off or stand in front of a cash machine unsure which button to press it suddenly becomes crystal clear.
Living in Finland has been a real test to my masculinity. Not only am I doing the domestic chores, but I am unable to pay many of the bills due to lack of money, I can’t understand any official paperwork that arrives through our letterbox, I need Päivi to make doctor’s appointments for me, and asking for some housekeeping money from my wife can be hard for your self-respect. Dressed in my home pants, wearing old t-shirts and leaving off my make-up – ok, not shaving – also have had a negative effect upon my self-esteem and manhood, but I try to make an effort each morning and get out of bed before lunch.
Thankfully, I have yet to buy my own apron or own some monogrammed washing up gloves, I have not filled my weekdays with baking pulla and biscuits, plus I refuse to beat a rug. There is an ever-present danger that one day I will wax my legs, paint my nails and spend the day gossiping over coffee outside the laundry room, although I hope Päivi will get me some professional help – a therapist not a housekeeper – if that ever happens.
To her credit she has helped me with a number of little things such as a pocket guide to using the cash machine: “Ahh, so Settillot doesn’t mean empty my account!” and has produced an emergency numbers fact sheet because one of my nightmares was phoning for an ambulance but reaching a plumber. In addition to her sweet moments she can be quite cheeky, one night I asked what was on TV and she replied, “Dust!” I sulked for an hour until she came and apologised for her insensitive remarks and told me that she loved me, then asked if it was that time of the month – only joking!
When I have finished the laundry, cooking, shopping and clearing the hair from the plughole, I occasionally like to do the ironing while watching some daytime television. But why is it so rubbish? You get to choose from text chat, text games, or teletext news; where are the Jerry Springer and Ricky Lake discussion shows, the cooking and gardening programmes, the brainless cartoons, and what about a repeat of Kotikatu with English subtitles?
On days when I was really bored I liked to look through the paper recycling bins to check whether any interesting magazines had been thrown away, although strangely that also began to have an impact upon my self-esteem and I soon stopped. No decent television programmes, no recycled magazines, no housework to do, I couldn’t spend the housekeeping money at the cinema or pub, so for a brief time I became a hypochondriac. I worried about every ache, pain, twinge and scratch until the only symptoms I felt were those from anxiety.
Today I have sorted myself out and am waiting to hear whether I can start a full-time job next week, but before that I should do the washing-up because it has attracted the attention of our pet ants.
Written in November 2004
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