We’ve now been in Estonia for 2 months and I am at the point where I have a bunch of random thoughts that don’t really belong anywhere so I’ve just made a list of them. This will probably be very amusing to me once I’ve been here, say two years but now I’m settling in to that period between “everything is new and shiny” and “oh, this? psh, whatever”. I try my best not to generalize and these are only based on my experience and my point of view. These are a Tallinn-focused experience and may not apply to the rest of the country as well. It’s important to take that in to account and remember that there isn’t one specific experience in a country!
Though it’s 100% true that Estonians love vodka and rye bread 😉If I could only describe the weather in Tallinn one way, it would be “colder Seattle”. The darkness that permeates here is probably unbearable for a lot of people but after Seattle, it really just feels like home to me.
I saw fog in the morning a few times and there was a thunderstorm with lightning once and I realized I hadn’t really seen either of those in 8 years. I wonder if they get thundersnow here.
On any given day it’s almost impossible not to hear at least 4 languages (Estonian, Russian, English, Finnish). On a good day you could hear way more.
Tallinn is such an international city that I see as many non-Estonian flags as I see Estonian ones. Can you imagine seeing Canadian flags in America every day?
I’ve had two awkward conversations in Japanese here. Both with tourists.
I am halfway through my Estonian online course and I don’t actually feel like I can speak any Estonian even though now I understand what people say to me sometimes and I am starting to be able to understand billboards.
I thought that I would have more culture shock but Tallinn is honestly even less shocking than Frankfurt, Germany was. If anything, Frankfurt was 100% more foreign (to an American) than Tallinn could ever hope to be in a lot little ways that are hard to quantify.
While I can see the rhythm everyone else is moving at easily now, I am still out of sync with it. At first I thought this was because I wasn’t Estonian and then I took a spill on the tram and hit my head on the door and now I think it’s just clumsiness.
There are very few visible homeless. The homeless I do see seem to live mostly outside the city limits, the opposite of the US.
As far as I can tell, Finnish people are always drunk and Russians are always loud. That’s not to say that’s ACTUALLY how people are but you only notice people doing things they shouldn’t be doing….
Everyone in Estonia understands there is a bubble around you which cannot be touched at any costs. I’ve had people swing bags over my head, push themselves in to walls, and sit in clearly uncomfortable positions to make sure that there was no chance we would ever touch.
Estonians don’t seem very interested in smiling. It takes a lot of goading to get strangers to smile at you (a pass time of mine).
Children as young as 5 ride public transport alone. A lady left her baby two aisles over in the supermarket. I saw a baby in the mall that was 8 weeks old (overhead conversation). I’ve seen a lot of “parenting” that would get you arrested in the US. Also a record number of men with babies and small children mid-day.
Jobs are less gendered here. Cashiers, waiters, postal workers, police, and construction workers have all been a healthy mix of women and men.
Estonians are not religious. Nothing public is particularly religious. Religious things are kept private as far as I can tell. Most graves were not marked with religious symbols, people do not wear crosses, and I haven’t seen a single Jesus candle or picture.
People who own dogs are rich. I haven’t seen a non-pedigree dog yet.
Almost everyone here is 5’11” as far as I can tell. One woman had legs has high as my chest. Needless to say, there’s no petite section in most stores 🙁
People here are thin on average. In the US and Germany I would have said I was average but here, by comparison, I actually feel very large.
Because of the height thing, nothing is designed for me, even more so than in the US. In the US things seemed to be designed for the 5’5″-5’6″ range and here’s it’s closer to 5’8″-5’9″ range. I can’t reach the upper handles on the bus. I can’t. reach. them. at. all.
About 1 in 3 people are rebels and don’t swipe their card on transit which is TECHNICALLY okay since it’s free for citizens and residents anyway. I am not a rebel. I would like the transit department to have good ridership data.
I thought there were a lot of tourists downtown because a lot of people have suitcases, after a while I realized many of those people are using them to carry groceries around.
It’s not unusual to get on the train and someone is carrying corn in their hands. Or watermelon. Usually fruit and vegetables. Bags cost (about .05-.15 cents) but people don’t actually seem to use reusable bags and instead shove things in their purse or hold them?
If you want to save money just buy Polish or Russian goods. Due to a variety of factors including economy, politics, optics, and trade agreements – the Polish and Russian version of anything is almost always the cheapest.
Day to day living is cheap, everything else is expensive. Healthcare, education, food at the market, and rent are all very reasonable but most other things are quite steep considering the low income here.
You have a 50/50 shot that someone speaks English, this seems to go up to about 90% when you’re dealing with customer service.
This city has some very strange cultural issues going on between Estonians and Russians. I might never understand all of it but I want to read a lot of books and papers on it.
Estonians think that “Jewish” is a country of origin.
The longest I have had to wait for a bus was 10 minutes. Technically once we waited 15 minutes but we found out later that bus line wasn’t running that day [due to a race].
All packaging in Germany was in German only, packaging here is sometimes not even in Estonian. The cat food we have is only in German, the goat cheese is in Polish, and I had a box of Couscous only in English and Italian. On the other hands, some things are labeled in up to 12 languages. I had trouble looking for spices in the store at first because I didn’t realize the package was in Finnish so none of the words I had looked up matched.
Government folks don’t like their jobs here either.
The Estonian military appears much more free than the US one. I’ve seen military folks casually about with colored hair, strange hair styles, and non standard uniform changes.
The man bun and the man bun for women is super popular here. As well as red or purple hair.
Women and men wear very very basic makeup. Anything more than just a light touch of blush and foundation and maybe a colored gloss seems to make people stare at you.
No one wears high heels. I think I have seen high heels a dozen times in the past two months, almost always on tourists. Not even people in service positions wear them. Flats and sneakers only.
Nearly everyone takes public transit. Because of that, there is almost no traffic.
Many of the major companies here are headed in other countries which means a lot of their branding/marketing is done in English for ease of reach.
Estonians love rye bread (must leib actually, a specific type of black rye made with black treacle) and there’s even chip versions of it available but I think it’s too sweet.
It’s not unusual to see someone buy 4+ bottles of vodka at a time. Vodka costs about 14€/L, about half the cost of other liquors.
Wine is relatively expensive, especially compared to Germany, about 10€ for a mid-shelf bottle and the bottom barrel is even 5€ (in Germany bottom shelf was 3€, mid shelf was around 7-8€ but the average monthly wage in Germany is 2.5x Estonia).
No one rushes except to catch the bus.
There’s a lot of fairly old people here prattling about. I’ve seen more 70-90 year old folks here than any other city I’ve lived in. They regularly take transit, shop for themselves, and run errands.
Everyone here always wears a jacket, like it will suddenly drop to freezing. This is really reasonable in October. This was really ridiculous in August during a heatwave.
Scarves are non-gendered here. Most clothing is. Gender roles are visibly much laxer. A man was literally in a group of all men and had the same purse as me.
I use my transit card an average of 4 times a day which works out to about 19 cents a ride to buy the monthly pass.
Heating is on a public grid. It didn’t turn on for our building until October 4th and we can’t control it now that it’s on. It seems to just go up when it gets colder. It keeps the house around 65F, comfortable enough but not too warm.
Internet and phones are very cheap here. The networks are faster and better and cheaper. It is also everywhere. Including in the middle of forests. Outside of Tallinn. By 80km.
You have to have patience here. Often shops are slightly understaffed and waits are much longer than anywhere in the US. Service is also very matter of fact instead of “warm”.
Estonians love music. There is often free music in the parks. There are random pop up concerts. We went to a 1 euro flea market and they had 6 bands playing and 2 DJs during it. On music day there were bands in the buses, It’s serious business.
Estonians drink a massive amount of coffee but in tiny little portions. In Germany you got a mix of large/small sizes. The “large” in most coffee shops isn’t even a “medium” in the US.
Those are some of my thoughts so far, hopefully some of them were interesting!