teisipäev, veebruar 27, 2007

Amnesty Int'l: Scrap the Language Inspectorate

UPDATE: I have decided that what sort of stinks, for lack of better words, about these Amnesty Reports is the use of anecdotal evidence to make a point. I personally feel that it's easy for AI to pick and choose its argument based on what responses fall in line with its bias.

To that end, I offer the following solution: Tell Amnesty your stories. Give them anecdotal evidence from your perspective. Write to them and tell them about the language environment you have dealt with in Estonia. Here's the link to write to their International Secretariat. And if you are feeling really ballsy, write them in Estonian.

http://web.amnesty.org/contacts/contact_us/eng-000

Recently, Amnesty International, an international human rights watchdog, took an interest in Estonia, mainly via a scathing report released at the end of 2006 that criticized Estonia's language laws.

Today, Amnesty took aim again at Estonia's language laws, sending Prime Minister Andrus Ansip a letter deploring the recent strengthening of the language inspectorate's ability to penalize Estonian residents that fail to meet language requirements.


Amnesty International urges the Estonian government to re-consider the latest amendments to the Law on Language and consider more constructive approaches to linguistic integration, such as free or fully reimbursable Estonian language classes for all, rather than the repressive, punitive, and ultimately alienating measures used by the Language Inspectorate.
There are some flipsides to Amnesty International's argument that the government should not interfere at the level it does via the language inspectorate. For example, if I, as a person capable of conversing in Estonian, am unable to receive service from a company in Estonian, the language of the majority of the population, then haven't I been denied some fundamental right?

In some cases, you have the option of choosing another service -- going to a different grocery, for example. But in other cases, say taking public transport, there really are no other options for an Estonian speaker. If I ask the bus driver something, and I cannot get a reply in Estonian, what do I do? Walk?

But still, I don't think this is the job of the state. This is the job of the individual employers. It's up to consumers to complain to employers about poor service, such as the inability to converse in the majority language in basic service situations. Also, can anyone point out how the language inspectorate is worthy of its funding?

Scrapping the language inspectorate in favor of more funding for education in Estonian might actually be a good idea. Because of all of Estonia's language laws, this is really the only one that international organizations like Amnesty International can take issue with without opening up a whole can of worms.

For example, is Estonian unilingual language policy so controversial when weighed against language policy in France, where public schools in Breton-speaking regions are denied funding for teaching in Breton? Like Estonia, France's constitution states that the "language of France is French."

Can Estonian language tests for citizenship really be contested by Amnesty when Finland has the same provision for acquiring citizenship - that the applicants know Finnish or Swedish? Germany requires adequate knowledge of German language as well. It's the norm.

Amnesty knows that it cannot criticize Estonian language policy outside the language inspectorate because if it did, it would have to open up investigations on many states in Europe. But it has made a point of rallying against the language inspectorate because it, in all honesty, must show some return on its investment in monitoring Estonia. As much as its determinations can be questioned, I have to wonder if the language inspectorate is really worth it.

38 kommentaari:

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Just a memory from Tartu 1992. I asked the bus ticket clerk, a middle aged woman for a pilet to Tallinn, in Estonian. The Estonian I'd learned that far. Something of a request in Russian followed. I repeated a couple of times Tallinnasse. It did not work. The queue behind me become uneasy. Words in Russian, seemed to be the translation of my request, were thrown in from behind obvisiously from Estonians. I did not want to embarass the ticket retailer. But the whole situation was embarassing.

AR ütles ...

With a budget of 4 547 312 EEK it has definitiely a better ROI than AI trying to suck discrimination out of nowhere.

Giustino ütles ...

But the whole situation was embarassing.

I know the feeling well, but does the language help that situation or just exacerbate it?

Giustino ütles ...

With a budget of 4 547 312 EEK it has definitiely a better ROI than AI trying to suck discrimination out of nowhere.

Why do you think Amnesty has adopted Estonia as a pet cause?

stockholm slender ütles ...

But is Estonia such a pet cause? Finland finds annually that is hosts "prisoners of conscience" (the so called "totaalikieltäytyjät", pasifists that refuse doing even the non-military service). Surely, surely the Amnesty report for Russia is very long indeed. (A good retort would be, if and when, Russia tries to make hay out of these things, that "when you follow your recommendations, we'll follow ours"...)

martintg ütles ...

Perhaps your Canadian resident readers could begin a letter writing campaign to Amnesty International regarding the language discrimination English speakers suffer in Quebec. I would be interested to see if AI will take up the cause against Quebec.

Giustino ütles ...

Perhaps your Canadian resident readers could begin a letter writing campaign to Amnesty International regarding the language discrimination English speakers suffer in Quebec. I would be interested to see if AI will take up the cause against Quebec.

Like I said, Estonia's language laws are pretty uncontroversial when weighed against some other countries.

Only Russia makes a stink about it, but that is for Russia's benefit, not the actual minority's. Russia uses them as a bargaining chip with the EU.

However, does Quebec have a language inspectorate, capable of firing English-speaking cab drivers for not being proficient in French?

Anybody know?

Estonia in World Media ütles ...

I tend to agree. What we really need is an NGO facilitating complaints to the Consumer protection commission and to the courts

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

'Like I said, Estonia's language laws are pretty uncontroversial when weighed against some other countries.'

Excactly what I meant. There are Russian language schools and they will be there in the fututre. Many minorities in Europe wish to have their own. France would not accept this. French is the language, and they had a revolution, basta. If you ever enter France even you are from the Bretagne with its Celtic roots from 400 a.c., no chance.

Andres Sehr ütles ...

Quebec has "language police" or "The Tongue Troopers" which goes around fining people and firms for violating their language laws. It was deemed unconstitutional a while ago but Quebec invoked the "Notwithstanding Clause" which allows them to continue to do it for a number of years.

Most of the fines are about signs that violate the laws but the official working language in Quebec is French but employers cannot discriminate against you if you are unable or unwilling to speak French.

Some links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_of_the_French_Language
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_qu%C3%A9b%C3%A9cois_de_la_langue_fran%C3%A7aise

oliver ütles ...

Amnesty knows that it cannot criticize Estonian language policy outside the language inspectorate because if it did, it would have to open up investigations on many states in Europe.

Hmm... You can't actually separate the two of them.
According to its bylaws, the Language Inspectorate is a governmental institution under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, which carries out state supervision and applies state authority as foreseen by the law. The primary task, therefore, of the Inspectorate is to ensure that the Language Act and other legal acts regulating language use are observed.

Traffic Police ~ Environmental Inspectorate ~ Health Protection Inspectorate ~ Marine Inspectorate ~ Language Inspectorate... They are simply tools to make sure the laws are obeyed. So "the problem" is still the policy itself?

Is the main principle of our language policy (simply put: Estonia should be that one small place in the whole world where you'd get by by using Estonian) really that crazy?
Unfortunately we need some help by the law to make it happen. The simple "supply and demand" rule doesn't do the trick.
We didn't need/have those kind of rules before 1940... Then why today?
Let's imagine that mm.. let's say Italy would one day find 12 million immigrants within its borders. Their Italian skill and knowledge of local culture is close to zero. What would happen?
That was the situation in Estonia at the beginning of the nineties. Where approximately 18% of the residents of Estonia know NOTHING about Estonia(n). +20% whose native language was also Russian (and knowledge of Estonian mostly minimal). + large majority of ethnic Estonians fluent in Russian. What makes it even more strange - almost everyone had the opportunity (10-20-30 years, their whole life?) to learn the language of the "aborigines" (street, workplace, media), only if they wanted to...

...
This is the place where we just can't give any more ground. I'm sure almost every Estonian feels the same way. If anything - they should double their budget...

...
Let me make it extra clear: no one gets sacked/not hired because they're Russians/speak Russian (or any other language for that matter). In fact, knowledge of Russian is a clear and strong advantage on the job market (and probably stay one forever). There are simply some areas where the knowledge of official language (Estonian) is required. And then there's Language Inspectorate to make sure that these requirements are met. It's as simple as that.

martintg ütles ...

However, does Quebec have a language inspectorate, capable of firing English-speaking cab drivers for not being proficient in French?
How did this person get a Taxi licence in the first place, if proficiency in Estonian is a requirement. It's unfair on customers or other Taxi drivers if some people fraudulantly obtain a Taxi licences.

Giustino ütles ...

How did this person get a Taxi licence in the first place, if proficiency in Estonian is a requirement. It's unfair on customers or other Taxi drivers if some people fraudulantly obtain a Taxi licences.

But is that the state's job, or the job of private employers? For example, is it the state's responsibility that everyone in Falck speaks Estonian, or is it Falck's responsibility?

Furthermore, does the state only fine the individuals, or does it also fine employers?

One last question, do you think current language integration measures could be made better/easier/more fair - or are you all going to tell me that everything is working just fine?

martintg ütles ...

But is that the state's job, or the job of private employers? For example, is it the state's responsibility that everyone in Falck speaks Estonian, or is it Falck's responsibility?

Taxi licencing is necessarily the state's function. If someone obtains a licence fraudulantly, say by bribing the licence examiner to pass them on the language test, well they don't have my sympathy if they subsequently get caught out.

One last question, do you think current language integration measures could be made better/easier/more fair - or are you all going to tell me that everything is working just fine?

In my view the state ought to take language training seriously. I would be prepared to pay an additional one percent tax to assist people obtain the language skills expected by us all.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Jens-Olaf ütles ...

There will be never a final solution about the language situation in Estonia. This is for sure, for me. No place for illusions. Why? Let's take the example of one of the richest and most homogeneous nations in Europe - Norway.
There is a wikipedia article about the 'Norvegian language struggle', never heard? But it is a complex matter. It starts like this:
'The Norwegian language struggle (språkstriden) is an ongoing controversy within Norwegian culture and politics related to spoken and written Norwegian. It is rooted in nationalism and the language situation following the end (in 1814) of 400 years of Danish rule of Norway. Important underlying dichotomies in the language struggle have been:

* Norwegian vs. Danish
* Dano-Norwegian vs. Danish
* Norwegian vs. Dano-Norwegian
* dialect vs. standard language
* reform vs. stability
* compromise vs. struggle
* phonemic vs. etymologic orthography
* populism vs. elitism
* periphery vs. center

plasma-jack ütles ...

a remarque: the language inspection actually found one taxi driver from Tallinn who was not able to speak Estonian nor Russian. He was fired, obviously. Was he equally being discriminated?

rakamon ütles ...

From AI press release:
A resident of Tallinn recently e-mailed Amnesty International:
"I used to work as a taxi driver but lost my job thanks to the Language Inspectorate. They call you to the transport commission for the slightest infraction of the high way code where the ladies from the Language Inspectorate are waiting for you. Everything is well planned. They call only the Russian speakers. They can sack you not because you are a bad worker, not because passengers have been complaining but because you don't know Estonian well. I have three children, a mortgage and an alcoholic husband but nobody cares. I have to pay for language courses and they are not cheap -- two or three monthly salaries. I don't have a job and I cannot pay for the Estonian language courses. How am I going to live? Isn't this discrimination?"


Go on AI, getting much more anecdotal evidence should not be very difficult!

Flasher T ütles ...

But still, I don't think this is the job of the state. This is the job of the individual employers.

Hah. If individual employers do this, they get Klenski picketing outside their office screaming bloody discrimination.

AI's entire claim is a fallacy: for many years, the PHARE program reimbursed people for Estonian courses once they successfully completed them, and even today such programs are run in problem areas like Ida-Virumaa. All highschool students, even in Russian schools (which is a concept of rather exceptional tolerance in the EU - primary education in a non-state language!) are obliged to take an exit exam in Estonian, which gives them a certificate of proficiency by default.

The language inspectorate is there as a consequence of the fact that Estonia's minority is unswayed by logic and common sense, such as the notion that they are not owed anything by the native population.

Is the main principle of our language policy (simply put: Estonia should be that one small place in the whole world where you'd get by by using Estonian) really that crazy?

No, and I'll tell you something else: there is a cornerstone of EU legislation, whereby an EU citizen will always have the right to petition the EU government in his national language, and receive a response in the same language. And Russian is not an EU language.

But is that the state's job, or the job of private employers?

It is the state's job, same as it is the state's job to make sure the cabbie's meter is running correctly.

Furthermore, does the state only fine the individuals, or does it also fine employers?

AFAIK it fines the employers. I.e., it is the job of the employers to maintain the policy and the job of the state to enforce it.

One last question, do you think current language integration measures could be made better/easier/more fair

Probably, but I can't really come up with a plan right now.

Giustino ütles ...

In my view the state ought to take language training seriously. I would be prepared to pay an additional one percent tax to assist people obtain the language skills expected by us all.

Doesn't the state have a sizeable surplus already? Would it be too un-Milton Friedman of me to suggest spending more on language training?

Anyway I appreciate your responses. This blog is a learning mechanism. Not a pulpit. Except when it comes to Sergei Lavrov ;)

notsu ütles ...

One possibility would be to submit Language Inspectorate to Consumer Protection - so, they would react to real complaints from consumers.

Giustino ütles ...

Hey, I've got an idea. Why not write Amnesty and send your own personal 'nightmare' language stories, about all the times you tried to use Estonian, but were rebuffed.

Here's the link. Maybe they'll get lucky and use your thoughts as anecdotal evidence in their next report:

http://web.amnesty.org/contacts/contact_us/eng-000

space_maze ütles ...

I followed giustino's recommendation/example. Here's the letter I sent in:
----------
I am writing to you in regard to the recent article about the Estonian language enviroment, employing anecdotal evidence illustrating the discrimination of the Russian minority in Estonia. I am an American, who grew up in Europe, and spent some time in Tallinn, Estonia over the recent years - a total of maybe 4 months. I speak a moderate level of Estonian, but no Russian at all.

I have, in this time, quite clearly perceived problems in the Estonian language enviroment which do, indeed, need working on. I must, however, say that the idea that Estonia simply dropping its language laws would solve the problem seems quite naive - it seems to be based on the false assumption that the linguistic problems of the Estonian nation are a product of the last two decades, and not of the decades of "demographic revisionism" by the Soviet Union, in which a horrendous amount of foreigners were brought into the country while utterly discouraging integration. I firmly believe that these relics of Soviet thinking must be overcome to create a working language enviroment, similar to that in neihgbouring Finland.

ANECDOTE 1:
I was arriving in Tallinn, at the harbour, around midnight, and got on a bus. I was a student at the University of Helsinki, at the time, and thus wanted to buy a student ticket on the bus. What I didn't know is that you can only buy regular tickets on the bus, student tickets are only avaliable at kiosks.

The dialogue went something like this:

Me: "Tere. Üks õpilase pilet, palun." ("Hello. One student ticket, please." - EST)
Bus driver: "govorite po chelovecheski." ("speak human language" - RUS. I did not know what the words meant at the time, but I got a translation later)
Me: "Vabandust, ma ei räägi vene keelt." ("I'm sorry, I do not speak Russian.")
Bus driver(after some clearly displeased sniveling): .. "sõita tasuta, minu kallis sõber" ("drive for free, my dear friend" - dripping with sarcasm. Apparently he knew a few words of Estonian after all, though, in any case. It just seemed to be insulting that I had approached him in Estonian.)


ANECDOTE 2:
I was on a bus, in Tallinn, middle of the day, packed bus. Tallinn busses have the "stop" buttons they leave the factory with, though they aren't used during the day time - the busses stop at all stops. Someone in the bus pushed the button though anyways - which, for some reason, angered the bus driver.

So he slams on the breaks and opens the doors, and makes an announcement to the bus - in Russian.

"Who was that? Get off the bus."

"Don't you get me? Are you deaf or stupid or something? Get off the bus!"

The message was quite clearly that if you do not understand Russian, you are deaf or stupid.

ANECDOTE 3:
Central Tallinn, alley close to a bus stop. I was running for a bus, in a street leading up to the bus stop, with a little bag around my shoulder. A man in his 40s jumps in my way, holds me, starts tugging on the bag, and saying something in Russian. To which I said - not being prepared for this situation - "Ma ei aru saa" - "I don't understand" (EST). To which he, clearly enraged, started saying something repeating something with "nyet Ruskie", over and over again. I used this chance to escape, and run away.

He was angrier about the fact that I didn't understand Russian than about the fact that he didn't get my bag.

---------------------------------

I understand that these are only personal experience. However, it was your report that based its case on Estonia on personal experiences, I thought it could not harm to contribute.

My personal experiences show that it is very difficult for an Estonian to live in Tallinn without adequate command of Russian, which frankly, makes very little sense to me. I cannot see how it is discrimination for it to be required to speak the national language of a country to hold a position in which customer contact is necessary. As in this case, if Russians are not able to communicate in Estonian, Estonians must communicate in Russian - which is no less discriminatory, while abiding a lot less to common sense.

In my opinion, you should be concentrating on MISUSE of these institutions, which I am sure happens.

Best regards,
xxx

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

'As in this case, if Russians are not able to communicate in Estonian, Estonians must communicate in Russian - which is no less discriminatory, while abiding a lot less to common sense.'
spaze_maze
It seems this all happened only recently. Then nothing much has changed since the end of 91. I was on the way with Tarmo, age 35, to the Tallinn station. We wanted to go by train to a small village, direction Paldiski. Entering the station hall it was grey as it was outside, it was December. Tarmo aked for the tickets and very important the time we could travel back the same day. There was no way back scedule available in the station. So we had to asked her, again a middle aged woman. The tickets we got but asking for the departure time for the return she became harsh, "what the f..k should I know the time scedule, that's not of my business". That conservation was all done in Russian. But Tarmo a dry and sceptical Estonian became emotional. In Russian he started shouting in the hall: "This is my country, I have to talk in Russian to you, and what do I get from it, you are treating me like ...+#%!!!"

space_maze ütles ...

I do think things have changed, though I can't say for sure, not having been to Estonia before 2003. But all the characters I've had such experiences with were relatively old guys - guys that still grew up in the Soviet Union.

I've generally had much better experiences with younger Russians, that already grew up in the Republic of Estonia.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

spaze_maze,I would emphazize too that the young (russian speaking) generation is different, but I do not know many of them.

Giustino ütles ...

I would like to emphasize that if you've had no problems getting by in Estonian in Estonia, please send your comments too.

Unlike a lot of people, I'm not particularly "outraged" by Amnesty's report. But I do think it would help them if more people, rather than just those complaining about Estonian language laws, contacted them to share anecdotal evidence.

It seems that they base their findings on this kind of stuff, and because their word has such power, it is important that they hear as many voices as possible from Estonia.

Anonüümne ütles ...

So typical from American to attack Amnesty International.

space_maze ütles ...

If you mean me .. sorry, I'm a member. That's just WHY I want them to do their job right, actually.

Giustino ütles ...

So typical from American to attack Amnesty International.

If you read my post, you'd see me trying to hold a discussion on the merits of the report.

My update is a response to the widespread criticism of anecdotal evidence.

My point is simple. If you feel inclined, share your experiences with Amnesty. They obviously use them in making their determinations.

It's more likely that someone who feels that their rights have been violated would contact Amnesty. So perhaps the side they're missing is the everyday experiences of those that are not inclined to contact Amnesty.

Now more people have that opportunity. All power to the people ;-)

Giustino ütles ...

PS: Yes, Amnesty in this case has a bias. Amnesty does not speak for all people as Amnesty is comprised of select individuals that speak for themselves. Amnesty is not God, it's word is subject to criticism, as it should be in the democratic world.

Likewise the Estonian government is not God. It is not all knowing. It's policies are based on the perceptions and opinions of individuals.

If criticizing NGOs and governments is an American attribute, then I am flattered that we, today, are the same pains in the ass we were back in 1773. Disputing the authority of pretenders is in our blood. We've all got a little Sam Adams in us (one way or the other).

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Now I got angry, my grandmother who I know best had Russian as her mother tongue. Kind of survival kit, after the Soviets arrived. I am very well remembering her unusual use of German language. Blaming Giustino who are an italian American with an Estonian wife makes me wondering if you ever read his posts?

Estonia visitor ütles ...

No offence, Giustino, but I think that comment is more a reflection of how America is, unfortunately, seen these days than a personal attack on you.

If you took a snap survey worldwide I'd imagine Russia would come down lower on the list of perceived threats than the US. Frankly, as long as this situation continues, good luck trying to get people to listen about Russia - they're too worried about what George W is going to do next, to care about Vladimir. I think that could go a long way to explaining world apathy towards the Russian posturing.

Just my two kroon...

As far as the Language Inspectorate... is it just me or is the idea a little sinister? It seems a little too "Soviet", an institution that's main job is to survey and report on people not meeting the criteria of speaking the language of the State - you must be reported, citizen! I know they have something very similar in France, and for example laws have been passed that not more than 50% of French radio music can be in an foreign language (ie English). I find this kind of thing very uncomfortable.

I guess I'm biased because every time I saw the LI at work on TV, they always seemed to be some arrogant official harrassing some poor witless market trader who looked like she would have a hard time stringing together a sentence in Russian, never mind Estonian. And, as someone who can understand a little bit of Estonian, these guys are not speaking slowly and clearly, they're just machine-gunning their demands in Estonian! VERY hard to understand if you're not very good with the language.

Frankly, I don't know why people just don't vote with their feet. Your cab firm keeps sending you Russian-only-speaking drivers? Change firms! The shop you go to only has Russian speaking staff? Walk the extra 5 minutes and go to an Estonian-speaking shop! When you have a situation where you can't choose - say the telephone man Elion sends - then call up the company and complain! Believe me, this would have a substantial effect. THIS is the way it should be in the free world, not some government organisation charged with spying and entrapping people.

Giustino ütles ...

As far as the Language Inspectorate... is it just me or is the idea a little sinister? It seems a little too "Soviet", an institution that's main job is to survey and report on people not meeting the criteria of speaking the language of the State - you must be reported, citizen! I know they have something very similar in France, and for example laws have been passed that not more than 50% of French radio music can be in an foreign language (ie English). I find this kind of thing very uncomfortable.

Estonian government is very rooted in the German-based school system it inherited from its previous landlords. Things are very, "Mis Juku ei õpi, Juhan ei tea." [What little Juku doesn't study, big Juhan doesn't know].

The Language Inspectorate is perhaps an outgrowth of this attitude - the belief that employing very strict rules creates a desired results. I see it as Germanic, as opposed to Soviet.

"Soviet" is walking into a corner shop and standing at the counter waiting for the clerk to finish reading her newspaper before she decides she *feels* like helping you.

I sort of don't mind these laws for preserving cultural integrity. I was very glad, for example, in France, that I had to speak French. To me, that is what being a tourist is all about.

The world shouldn't be like Epcot Center where everyone is willing to serve you and national identities are just folk costumes and delicacies.

The best "cultural preservation" laws though are in Canada, where a certain percentage of all music on the radio must be Canadian produced. Hence, during the 1970s and 80s, Canadians listened to a lot of The Guess Who, Bachman Turner Overdrive, and Rush :)

Giustino ütles ...

No offence, Giustino, but I think that comment is more a reflection of how America is, unfortunately, seen these days than a personal attack on you.

George Bush is a gift in disguise for America. For decades to come, Americans will now know what *not* to do in any given situation. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before getting back up.

Think of George Bush as some sort of heroin withdrawal for America. Once it's over, we'll be "clean".

notsu ütles ...

In general I agree with Estonia Visitor's comment, but from what I've read about Tallinn taxi situation, the taxi companies (and drivers) are the rulers. Client is nothing. If you complain once, they will not give you the taxi next time. And it often happens that only one company taxis are available at the moment when you need one.
Read this:
http://mapoleturist.blogspot.com/2007/01/takso-orjuses.html
(if the link doesn't appear properly, just google "klient on tropp".)

That's why I think that Consumer Protection Agency should be involved.

space_maze ütles ...

Oh yes .. Tallinn taxis. I'd have some experiences to share there too, but they wouldn't have anything to do with this topic anymore :D

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

This is one of the better debates I've seen on this issue -- congrats, Giustino!

On the remarks by "estonia visitor" re voting with one's feet -- my late mother believed in that, but everybody patiently explained to her that the cost and convenience of the yaitso is rather more important to most people then whether the shopgirl calls it an ola.

In a so-called free market, minor languages can die quite fast -- look around. At last count, more people knew Russian in Latvia than knew Latvian, as a first or second language. Asymmetrical bilingualism is and was the problem, and this is less grave a problem now -- the language laws had a lot to do with that.

Personally, I shop in Russian -- not because I am desperate for a cheaper egg, but because I do not want to ruin my day. The few times that I've pursued a complaint, having been called a fascist (and worse) for my very bad Russian ("it was like in the war"), it was somewhat unpleasant -- I don't want to hear from a shopgirl's husband about how I will starve her children, etc., simply because she was a rude and monolingual creature and the disagreement was too complex for me, and so I suggested she face the music.

I would prefer to look to the state to solve this problem because it does not bother me to learn enough to shop. It does seem to bother some of the shopgirls, however -- at the corner store once, when a bit provoked (I was asked whether I knew what they were celebrating, which was Occupation Day), I asked whether they ever planned to learn some Latvian. "No, that would be diskriminatsiya."