Today's missionaries called to Finland are lucky. They arrive in Finland having the benefit of intensive language training at the MTC. That hasn't always been the case. There once was a time when missionaries arrived in Finland having never heard a Finnish word before, and being completely helpless as far as the language was concerned. The only resources for learning the language were 1) the printed language lessons, 2) your red pocket dictionary, and 3) your companion. That sometimes lead to some interesting situations. Read on...
My first companion, Elder Zundel, was anxious to help me learn the language. One suggestion he made was that whenever I needed a Finnish word, rather than simply asking him, I should look it up in my dictionary. The logic was that by seeing the word, along with its spelling, usages and meanings, I would better remember it, which was true.
I usually did this, but sometimes I wasn't that diligent. One afternoon, while eating our dinner meal at our favorite Joensuu baari, I needed a spoon in order to eat my dessert. Instead of turning to my dictionary, I turned to Elder Zundel and asked, "What's the Finnish word for spoon?"--and he told me, I thought. But instead of giving me the word "lusikka" (spoon) he said, "suudelma" (kiss).
Accordingly, I walked up to the attractive young waitress at the counter and said in my best Finnish, "Saanko suudelma?" (May I have a kiss?) She looked at me, laughed, and replied, "Mitä?" (What?). Once again I repeated, "Saanko suudelma?", with the same result. After doing this about three times I finally walked around the counter, picked up a spoon, held it up and loudly said "suudelma!" and walked back to the table.
It was a couple of days before Elder Zundel confessed what he had done, so I was spared any immediate embarrassment. However, now that years have passed and I have thought about it more, and knowing how innocent I was, I am kind of sorry she pretended not to understand me...!
Contributed by Brent Halls -- 8/67-8/69
Back to the story index