For the past three months I have been living in and loving the Baltic country of Estonia. While I think I’ve learned a lot about life here, deep down I know that I barely scratched the surface. What little surface I did scratch ended up on the official blog of the British Council Estonia. Here are a collection of pieces I hope will give a little bit of insight into one of my favourite places. Just click each headline to be transported…
“When readers of The New Yorker magazine get their Thanksgiving issue this week, they’ll see the cover image of an illustrated turkey carved into sections representing all of the strange people one might find at a Thanksgiving dinner. Tucked just under the neck (for some, the most coveted dark meat on the bird) are the words:
Monosyllabic Estonian Exchange Student
…whatever their motives, it is indicative of the American habit of using ‘Estonian’ and ‘Estonia’ as a by-word for something strange, distant and unverifiable. It is much the same as the way the word, ‘accountant’ is a by-word for nerd, or boring.”
“It examines how television broadcasts from nearby Finland exposed the residents of Tallinn to the vagaries of capitalist culture during communist times. The television show Dallas, with it’s millionaires and manicures, gets a lot of attention as a cultural product espousing values that couldn’t have been further from what residents in this country were experiencing. It is a highly personal story about how residents from the south of the country would drive north to the capital, where reception was strongest, just to follow the fates of JR and crew.”
“With a mere 900,000 people living in 45,000 km2 and pressed up against some of history’s most notoriously beligerent countries it’s hard to believe Estonia actually exists. How, over centuries, did this tiny country not get tramppled on, snuffed out or swallowed up by any of the bigger fish in Europe’s ever-choppy pond? Conversely, why aren’t there more countries like Estonia? …There is an old Hungarian joke that all Finno-Ugric people were once one people wandering Europe. One day they arrived at a crossroads with a sign stating one direction would lead south to sunny weather and flat bountiful lands. The other direction led north where it is frozen and dark. The truly clever literate people followed the directions south — to Hungary. The illiterate rabble moved north to Estonia and Finland.
“Patrons brought in images of their pets to decorate the walls, and occasional poetry nights were hosted where owners could recite verse dedicated to their furry friends. Basilio’s definition of pet is equitably broad. While most people bring their dogs, cats are welcome and guinea pigs, ferrets and even rats have made appearances. There are separate menus for the animals to enjoy and assurances are given as to the cleanliness of the bar. There are separate dinnerware sets for all species.
There are also strict rules for the animals themselves…”
“Thanks to several office casualties resulting from cold and flu season I was given the chance to represent the Birtish Council Estonia at the Annual Study Tour arranged by the Ministry of Education and Research (MoER) here in Estonia. …When we rolled out of Tallinn in our bus at 7:30am the weather was hurricane-y and awful, it was dark and most of us were half asleep. Thankfully the driver was awake, otherwise Estonia would have lost half its much of its diplomatic corps and given CNN international a story to trump those Chilean miners. …Narva was selected for this particular tour because as Estonia’s third largest city with close to 70,000 people it has a population that is 96% Russian speaking. This is pretty much Estonia’s elephant in the room.
“A Japanese friend once explained to me the idea that all people have a God presiding over certain aspects of their lives. Some people have a God of work, meaning that they always manage to find a good job even in tough times. Some have a God of love blessing them with an unending stream of compatible lovers. You get the picture.
Before this weekend I was convinced I had a God of shelter. …That all ended Thursday night.
His name was Oliver and he greeted me at his door with a hearty handshake and a smile. He sported bullet-repelant glasses and maybe 100 extra pounds (45.359237 kg) wrapped around his squat shirtless trunk of a torso. His entire body, from his close-cropped blonde hair down to his Crocs®, was soaking wet. He had a towel wrapped around his waist. He pulled me into his rainforest of a room. Boxes, clothes and knick-knacks were strewn everywhere. The heat was cranked up high and lush plants hung from every wall. The wet slick on his round body was most likely sweat.”
They say that politics and religion make for impolite dinner conversation. In tight-knit Estonia talking politics is more like a serious family meeting. Talking religion is fare game as well. Estonia is the least religious country in Europe and there simply isn’t much religion to get huffy about. But mention Russian/Estonian integration in any context and the sparks fly. I wrote this post a while back and it was promptly deleted from history. Maybe it was for the best. Absolutely EVERYONE (Russian and Estonian speaking) who read this disagreed with my point of view. Whatever… here it is anyway. My censored post on language immersion education in Estonia.
Read it below…