Don’t call us Russians!
Narva (Estonia), August 13th 2013 

With both a bottle of vodka in one hand and a package of fruit juice in the other, they come and join us. Two men who need to share a single bottle of vodka is said to be saddest scene one can imagine, so they both bought some firewater to fuel this evening. While we drink a beer, they tell us how the Russians drink their vodka. Every shot of vodka is followed by a small snack or a sip of fruit juice. This helps against getting drunk, is their theory. As both men display exactly the same drinking habits, we assume that they are from Russia. When we ask them, they are clearly not amused: “No, we are Estonians!” They may have taken over the drinking culture from the Russians, but they are very proud on their own culture and their own land. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Estonia got independent in 1991 and the Estonians still like to complain about their former rulers.

“Estonians are more like the Scandinavians, the Germans or the Dutch” they explain. “We keep our promises and are hard working people. Our president is called by his first name and goes to his office on foot and without bodyguards. All his declarations are made public via the internet and his salary is fixed at 5 times the average income of Estonians.” With a big smile, they add: “Can you imagine Vladimir Putin earning only €5000 per month? He wouldn’t even get out of bed for that kind of money!”

It is clear by now, that those Estonians don’t like to be called Russians, but they make us curious about how they feel about the 26% ethnic Russians who call Estonia home. During the time of the Soviet Union, many Russians came to Estonia and their position in independent Estonia is difficult. Both men clearly have different thoughts about this subject. One calls all Russians sluggards who can’t be trusted. The other one paints a picture of a minority who has difficulties creating chances on the labour market, due to a lack of Estonian language skills. We wonder how it must have been for the Russians who came to Estonia with the idea that some day, this entire region would be as Russian as their own backyard. It must have been a tremendous shock when it became clear that after Estonia’s independence, they were the ones who had to adjust their language and culture to the majority.

To end the evening on a lighter note, we raise our glasses once again. Our Dutch “Proost!” (Cheers!) is answered with the Estonian equivalent “Tervisex!”. Our travel book tells us that this means that people toast on someone’s health, but many Estonians maintain that they wish everybody healthy sex!

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