Thursday, December 18, 2008

Midnight. Helsinki. I’m lovin’ it

White Nikes or Adidas, but some combat boots. I bite into my burger. More Nikes, all white versions of classic late 80s Air Jordans, hi-tops and lows. That’s three pairs now, clearly this season’s must-have. Queues are forming, the crew spin between tills and the burger bins - piling macs, large fries and drinks onto trays. Taking money, slapping down change. The first combats boots, a conscript, gets his burger meal and finds a seat to sit and eat. His combat trousers are the classic year round pattern, but his parka is the new camopixelated white, grey, browns and greens – the Finnish ministry of defence’s acceptance that global warming is happening and pure white will hide you no more in the winter forests of the south. The other combat boots are the security guard’s – he’s all in black, very SWAT team. His badge says "Securitas Events". Wednesday midnight in McDonalds is an event? The kid has an easy smile, he swiftly shakes or slaps hands with numerous presumably-regulars as they come in. He’s not wearing a stab-vest like the Securitas guys on the train platforms, nor has mace or a nightstick. I once taught English to the CFO of Securitas Finland – he had started as prison guard on night-shifts when an accountancy student. He told me the guys who carries sticks are the guys who need sticks. Our guys smiles and shakes hands, he’s at ease, he doesn’t need a stick. Effortlessly hip-hop generation.

The serving crew is two white girls and one Somali guy. More black kids are flipping burger in the back. Say what you want about McDonalds food but, like the bus companies, they are most obviously not racist employers in Finland. All the crew drop seamlessly between Finnish and English without missing a beat. “Salaam Alaykum. How you doin’ mate?” says a customer to the black guy. The customer has white Nikes, too much hair gel and the “mate” is affected in a – maybe – Francophone accent. He says something to white girl in Finnish that I miss, she smiles.The security guard is chatting in Finnish to one black guy - NY Yankees cap and (guess what) white Nikes - who has finished his food but like me doesn't seem in rush to go and stand outside at the bus station. Then the guard is speaking English to a bunch of East Asians - Chinese exchange students maybe? Or perhaps tourists from the hotel above looking for food they know. The guard is in charge of the tokens for using the toilets. He doles them out to the Chinese, still friendly and smiling - magnanimous in his power over the access to the conveniences. No trouble here.

The guy opposite me is speaking, I think, Arabic at his phone. Again - lots of hair gel, swept up into the centre, David Beckham circa 1998 style. He must be in rush because he has the loudspeaker on and has placed the phone on the table so he can continue his conversation with his heard but unseen friend whilst still using both hands to manipulate his McFeast, fries and Coke. He neatly stabs two fries at a time into the little paper cup of ketchup.

There are real queues now at the three open tills. Customers stare at the menu boards, or count coins from their pockets, nod to iPod, or laugh at their friends' lame jokes. Most people seem to be speaking English in an array of different accents. No one's from here yet everyone is. Like all capitals. Behind the counter, the crew artfully weave between each other, grabbing cokes and fries and burgers - stuffing them into McDonalds bags with the obligatory too many napkins and not enough ketchup sachets. The security guy keeps a watchful eye from the door that they hungry hordes don't get too boisterous as they queue, but he still smiles, nods or shakes hands as people leave.

I slurp the last of my Sprite, finish the Economist article that I was sort of reading, and bin my trash. The security guy holds open the door for me, I thank him pull my hood up and head out into the snow.

1 comment:

ed said...

starbucks has got free wifi too now... go there next.. and post some photos too!