Sunday, 9 May 2010

“Anyone seen a blue-eyed Dane around here?”

I hesitated for a few minutes before pressing “SEND”. The chances that my message would be misunderstood were high.

Those of you who have read
my recap of the recent trip to Iceland may remember a parallel storyline there – the one dedicated to a certain “cute Dane with blue eyes”. The Dane I never got a chance of speaking properly to, for reasons unknown or soon forgotten. Yet the Dane whose image fell deep into my mind and refused to let go. After my return to London, I spent a few days dissecting the sequence of the trip in my head and trying to imagine what would have happened if things had turned out differently. Or if something had preceded something else. Or if I had dared trying and doing something instead. In short, I was getting a little obsessed there – and needed a release. The only way to re-gain some peace of mind was to contact the Dane in question immediately.

But there was a major problem there. All I knew about my Dane was his nationality. And that he had spent the past weekend in Iceland. And that he took part in the same two tours in Iceland as I did. That was it – I didn’t know his name, his profession or where he was living. I didn’t know the airline which took him to Iceland. I hadn’t even asked for a single piece of contact. Therefore, I was doomed to suffer until the end of my days trying to guess what I had missed – or gained – by not being more talkative on that darn tourist bus. The situation was hopeless.

Or was it? Perhaps there was a way of tracking the handsome Dane down, after all. I put my fingers on the keyboard and typed “cute Dane with blue eyes who visited Iceland” into Google. I re-read what I had typed – and shut down my browser. Google was clearly not the right medium here. I didn’t even bother checking the search results.

Elementary, my dear Watson

And then I suddenly began seeing the light. There was in fact ONE source which had both the name and the contacts of my Danish crush. He was the only person other than me who took part in exactly the same tours, on the same days, with the very same Icelandic tour organiser. Of course! The Icelandic tour organiser itself. That’s whom I should have been writing to.

Excited beyond words, I had typed up the quickest email of my life. About how I had met this person whose contacts (and even name, dumb Latvian woman) I had failed to record. About how I was dreaming of getting back in touch. About how his name would be the only one, other than mine, repeated on both tours. About how I understood my request was a rather non-conventional one.

I stopped for a second there. The request was, in fact, ABSOLUTELY non-conventional – and I was dealing with a Nordic country there. Nine out of 10 tour agents in that part of the world would surely ignore my email; the tenth one would respond with a convoluted message musing over being “committed to protecting the customers’ privacy”, or something. I had lived there before. I knew the lot.

Then I remembered a similar situation. About how I spent a few weeks in 2006 begging my property manager in Finland to provide me with the name and an email address of one – just one – resident of the flat I had by then moved out of. Only because my Finnish ID number was due to arrive at my old address – and, remembering the fate of letters in my old flat addressed to absentees, I feared that mine would be binned at receipt. I had a strong case there – sadly though, not strong enough for the Finnish student property people. They could not imagine sharing an email address – or even a name, for that matter – of any residents, irrespective of whether they were living in the property I had previously occupied or not. In the end, I was left without a Finnish ID – and, consequently, without my student discount for public transport. All for some darn privacy concerns we care nothing about where I come from.

All this ran through my mind in a flash. After week-long humiliation four years ago with the Finns, I’d hate for another such situation to happen. My email to the Icelanders needed certain softening. “Please don’t get this request the wrong way”, I added. “Is there any chance in the world... you may send me just the name – nothing more” – no, let’s put “first and last name” – “of the only other person who took part in the same tours as myself?”

I hesitated for a few minutes before pressing “SEND”. After which I did. Whatever – I had nothing to lose.

Less than an hour later, I found myself in front of the computer, reluctant to open a fresh email sitting in my mailbox. A response from the Icelandic tour organiser, which had arrived surprisingly quickly. Surely I knew what it would be saying. I tried to guess in how many words it would refute my request. Then I imagined the exact wording of the refusal. There was no way anyone would consider me sane for requesting the full Christian name of a stranger under the disguise – that’s what everyone would be thinking, right? – of simply wanting to get back in touch with them. It was all hopeless. I bit my lip as I opened the email. I generally dislike being turned down – and that was what was going to happen.

Browsing mania

Ten minutes later, I found myself still dancing energetically around the computer. “Hi anjči”, the email read. “I have checked for you, and believe you are asking about XXX. His email address is XXX @something.dk. Good luck getting back in contact”. May Icelanders be blessed forever! Perhaps being part of a small nation teaches one to be helpful. Perhaps also Icelanders are different from the rest of the Nordic crowd I think I know. Or maybe the person who responded to me was new at the job. The important thing is that I now knew not only who my Dane was – but also his email address.

One hour and a few cups of camomile tea later, I had finally calmed down enough to get seriously on the case. I first typed XXX's name into Google. Bless the amount of private data we so happily share on the Internet these days! XXX was on Facebook. Yes, I would not mistake those blue eyes for any other. He was on LinkedIn, Skype, Flickr and a few other networking sites, too.

Within minutes, I knew more about XXX than about some of my existing acquaintances. I could easily see where XXX had studied and was living. The name of the company where he was working was clearly indicated on LinkedIn. Searching further, I came across some of XXX’s queries on various computer geek websites. He was an IT developer, so I could already make certain conclusions about his lifestyle.

From XXX’s self-description on LinkedIn moreover, I had figured out the level of his written English. From his Skype profile, I discovered his full date of birth and, as little belief I put into all that zodiac nonsense, couldn’t help drawing some inferences about XXX’s character. Finally, the Dane seemed to fill his Flickr account with nothing more than the photos of hand-made stereo systems. Hand-building wooden cases for various amplifiers and speakers couldn’t have been anything but XXX’s biggest hobby.

And now what?

The picture was looking fuller and fuller by minute. I was accomplished. I may have failed to talk properly to my Dane – but was persistent enough to have tracked those blue eyes down in the end. Viva Internet!

It would all be perfect – with one small remark. Now that I have all the details I’d need to contact XXX, I seem to have lost the interest. It was perhaps the inability to make contact – and the endless “what would have happened if...” speculation – that was bugging me so much. I am therefore not sure I will actually put to use the contacts I have worked so hard to get. Time will only show.

One thing for sure though. The amount of private information we feed into the Internet is truly impressive.

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