What visitors say
Estonia is far from being a hotspot tourist destination but many people who get here for the first time are surprised by what they find. I am talking to foreign visitors today about how they ended up in Estonia and what they think of the country.
Ren? (30, photo) came to Estonia from Germany. He is working here as an architect, but not really an everyday one. Together with a local business partner, he works on environmentally friendly constructions that use wood and straw as main resources. `On the Estonian countryside, there is a huge demand for conscious buildings. We don`t need to chase people to sell our work - they find us instead.` Regulations are favourable, unlike in Germany where many rules make working like this a very time-consuming business, just for the legal part of it alone. `Our constructions are at least as safe as ordinary ones, but in Germany nobody sees the point of it.` Nonetheless, it is Ren?`s ambition to eventually sell his designs all over Europe.
`There is a huge demand for eco-friendly housing on the Estonian countryside`
Edith (20) and Sophie (20) are Erasmus exchange students from Saint Etienne (France). Neither of them really chose to come to Estonia. Like Sophie puts it: `Japan was very popular and it was hard to get a place there. Same thing for Canada, for which you need to pass an official language test before you can go. I was not confident I would be able to pass that. Then Estonia came up as an alternative and I thought - why not`.
After little over a month, both think that Estonia is `class`. Before coming to Tartu, where they study social science and history, they first spent three weeks in Tallinn and were surprised by how beautiful they found it. While there, they had an casual meeting with the prime minister, something they say would be impossible in France. At Tartu University, their teachers are very open to students` suggestions and even schedule changes are easily discussable. Also a massive change from their native country, where university students are supposed to attend their lectures and hand in their assignments in time and that`s it.
Beside these practical findings, Edith and Sophie are first of all surprised about how popular singing is. It is used in many areas of life, even to learn foreign languages. This method is apparently very effective, say Edith and Sophie, because many young Estonians have a very good command of English.
Estonians also have some particularities that are not commonly appreciated by foreigners. They are not very abundant in greetings or excuses and are not likely to get out of the way for anybody. Saying cheers when people sneeze is not often done. But overall, the situation is not as bad as most people expect. Ann (32) from New Zealand expected to see lots of poverty, grey buildings and unhappy people when she came over from London for a week. She was happily surprised by colourful buildings and a people who are sensitive about the environment. As a whole, the country does not much like the Ukraine that she had visited on earlier trips and served as the only real comparison before really arriving here. Again, the fact that many people turn out to speak English is of great help in discovering the country.
Raimond (21) and Miri (20) from Germany are cycling from Tallinn back home. They initially wanted to start off in Saint Petersburg but had some visa trouble and chose Tallinn instead. Raimond flew into Tallinn while Miri got there by ferry after having spent 6 months of voluntary work in Finland. The number of tourists in the Old Town of Tallinn struck them, especially compared to the almost empty streets of the other neighbourhoods of Tallinn. Those places did not give them a very welcoming and lively impression and the people they did walk in to did not look like as if they wanted to be talked to. Miri compares Estonia to Finland when saying that people are quite rigid here. `You constantly need to stay motivated if you want to meet people`, she says, adding that Estonians are a tiny bit more open than the Finnish. She would have hoped for some more smiling people and a little more spontaneity.
The emotionless appearance that Estonians display may be offset by some positive sides to the country that people keep mentioning over and over again: nature, music and omnipresent. And for getting into contact with Estonians, you just need to find an excuse to talk to them and, every now and then, give them some time to think about what they will reply.
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