Thursday, April 12, 2007

Estonian, Not German

And What I Think About It...

As we did some sightseeing over the weekend, we found ourselves standing in line near a couple with two cute blonde children. They were speaking another language and a man nearby apparently thought it was German.

He asked the little girl, "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" Her father answered in English, rather cooly, "She speaks Estonian."

The lesson to this little story is that if you must know what language people are speaking, it would be better to ask forthrightly than to guess wrongly.

German lords (the Teutonic Order, their descendents, and other German settlers) were the land-owning class in Estonia for centuries. Estonia finally achieved real independence from the Germans, Swedes, Russians, etc. in 1920, but the nation was taken over by the Russians, then the Germans, and then the Russians again in World War II. Thus, Estonians could definitely have some animosity against Germans.

On the other hand, Germany is allied with Estonia nowadays for defense and as a trading partner, so maybe the bad old days have been forgotten.

Here's the important thing though -- irregardless of past history or current events, no one wants to hear their native tongue called something wrong. Please take my advice and try not to do that to people, OK?

Map of Estonia courtesy of the CIA.

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Mark said...

I suspect that grudges of that sort take a long, long time to die. I had some Chinese friends in graduate school. They hated the Japanese because of what Japan had done to the Chinese during WW II.

Genevieve said...

I think you're right about the grudges, Mark.

And probably your Chinese friends wouldn't have appreciated being asked if they were speaking Japanese.

Amish America said...

Hey Genevieve, I was happy to see your post on Estonia.

I agree with the point on not making assumptions, it kind of reflects back on you a bit when you guess.

At the same time, the cool reaction might have just been due to the fact that the guy was Estonian. I've got a lot of Estonian friends and they even joke amongst themselves of the stereotype of the 'emotionless robotic Estonian'. Though I know quite a handful that break that stereotype by far.

I've had the good fortune to visit Estonia about a half-dozen times and have to say it is a beautiful place. Besides the lovely capital Tallinn and a couple other noteworthy cities, it has a very low population density and wonderful nature. It seems Estonian culture contains an inherent appreciation for this natural beauty.

Genevieve said...

In the CIA report, I read that they are making a lot of improvement in air quality and pollution. I saw some of East Germany's pollution, and I hope that Estonia didn't have messes like that left to them when they came out of Soviet control.

I think it's impressive that despite enduring centuries of serfdom and occupation, the Estonians have retained a unique language and mythology.

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