neljapäev, mai 15, 2008

estonian air

Estonian Air. That about sums it up, doesn't it? Can all your expectations and all your disappointments in a country be gleaned from an airline? Perhaps.

The branding of Estonian Air, its color scheme, its outrageously blond flight attendants, the cool northern air that wrestles with your clothing all lead you to believe you are flying Finnair junior. And in some ways, you are. The food is semi-decent. The staff is accommodating, yet slightly clinical. The flight to our destination was smooth and on time.

But it was that troubled flight back that changed my impressions. The flight was scheduled for 4 pm, but then it was moved to around 7 pm, then 9 pm, and finally, we were told, it would be arriving at half past midnight. We were not alone, I might add. A group of statuesque blond females were similarly inquiring at the information booth about their flight to Oslo.

Could it be that when air carriers from northern Europe had to pick up travelers from southern Europe, they did it at a nice, relaxed southern European pace? We got vouchers for lunch and dinner, but all the chorizo sandwiches in Spain could not take away the pain of a delayed flight.

When they did arrive, I was just glad that the plane made it and still had two wings. There seemed to be an enormous grouping of Russophone males ahead of us, who I later learned belonged to Estonia's hockey team. We were seated in the back with them, although an Estophone member of the team let us know that we could have seats up front, if we wanted. we were too tired to move seats, so we stayed with the hockey guys.

Russophones have this funny idea that everyone, or at least everyone on an Estonian Air flight, is capable of speaking their language. Several times, conversations were started with me to which I just looked to Epp to translate. Russian is not like Spanish or French. There are fewer familiar-sounding words to work with. When Epp was a little girl, one of her best friends was of Ukrainian background. So Epp actually was exposed to Ukrainian before Russian, and her early Russian language teachers in school had to correct her "Ukrainian accent".

I have no idea how terrible my Russian accent is. But I tried out my few words. "Skaska," I said, pointing to my book. "Mujina", I said pointing at the very loud gentleman seated in front of us. There seemed to be some Estonian language comprehension on their part. When a young mother began yelling "tasa!" (shut up) at them, they got the point.

At one point there was a heated bilingual conversation between the flight attendant and my beer-supplier where she scolded him in Estonian and he answered back in Russian that the airline should refund our tickets for making us wait eight hours. For Estonians, such bilingual conversations are a part of life. It has happened to me too that I have had conversations where I spoke only in Estonian and the other person only in English.

Some guy violently sneezed three times. I decided that 'terviseks' would be the best thing to say, since I doubt he felt like being blessed by God in English or in German. "Pivo", I then said, pointing at the beer they had smuggled on board. "Do you want some," the guy next to me said in English. He assumed I was Spanish and started querying my Spanish vocabulary ("How do you say beautiful in Spanish?") until I let it known that I was from New York and my abikassa was from eesti. Another guy turned to me and gave me the thumbs up, a sign of his approval. Our conversations then proceeded in English.

I had a terrible flight back from the US last time and the associated bumpiness of flying over the Alps was making me tense. I drank two cups of beer. Then he brought out the whiskey. At that moment, I was really glad they sat us next to the Estonian hockey team. I downed a full cup of that stuff, while an Estonian father looked curiously at me from the seat ahead, as if I had broken one of the rules of fatherhood. Maybe our daughters would now grow up to drink whiskey with hockey players. And they could only say, "I learned it from watching you, issi!"

Anyway, the whiskey was great, and it allowed me to sleep all the way to Tallinn. It also allowed me to rid myself of any harsh feelings towards Estonian Air. The flight attendants were nice, and I got some free sandwiches and whiskey out of my dilemma.

While I was in Spain, I suffered from one might interpret as the common questions about Estonia's European identity. ICDS' Maria Mälksoo published a very insightful and readable article on this in February. Even though Estonians look like Europeans and call the Evangelical Lutheran church theirs, they still don't feel themselves to be as European as the French or the Spanish. "Where are the supermercados staffed by Turkish immigrants?" they ponder. "How come nobody knows who we are?" they opine. And, my absolute favorite, "How come our politicians are corrupt?"

Europe, after all, feels safe, right? Europe doesn't continuously fight over the past! Europe doesn't have recessions! Spend some time in Spain and try to figure out the inheritance of the Spanish Civil War, though, and I believe, you may begin to think you're back in Estonia. There are similar characters -- partisans, nationalists, communists, fascists. There are similar icky feelings that people would prefer you not dredge up. And there are similar instances of blatantly self-serving interpretations of history. It seems that Europe is actually quite complicated. And Estonia is definitely part of that Europe.

39 kommentaari:

Heli ütles ...

I agree. And all that reminded me one conversation this week when good friend of mine explained how he had explained a.10 years ago to his fellow swedes (he was working in Sweden)who could not understand why Estonia will not add russian as second state language- "imagine that you are going to whatever country as a foreigner and say- I am here now and you must talk to me in my language because of that". I actually find it just brilliant explanation how to describe majority russophone´s attitude towards Estonian Republic and language, isn´t it?

Andres ütles ...

heli, well a lot of Europe is actually moving in that direction. Germans want to teach their children Turkish etc. Taking it up the bum is becoming a part of "being European" and I'm afraid sometime in the future the Westeners will look angrily at our "virginity belts" asking "Hey, we took it up ours from the Arabs and Muslims, now it's your turn to take it from the Russians. Or don't you want to be real Europeans!?!?". That thought makes me uneasy at times.

Heli ütles ...

Andres, by me it´s still two different things, one thing is to go to other country and superciliously imply that everyone else in this country must talk to me in my native language and other thing when original inhabitants of that country want to learn themselves languages of other ethnic group of fellow countrymans. It´s the attitude thing for me and our russophone people seem to be masters in that.Not all, but deff. majority of them.

Giustino ütles ...

I think the official language debate is silly. Russians speak a world language, protected and disseminated by a neighboring country of 140 million people.

In Barcelona, you'd be hardpressed to find an Estonian language publication. But you could find a Russian newspaper on every stand.

That's why, by the way, I don't really think most Estonian Russians give a shit about "official languages" -- they have more media choices than Estonians will ever have, and they speak a world language.

I mean, imagine if they made English an "official language". As an English speaker, I wouldn't feel flattered or that I mattered. I'd see it as a dumb publicity stunt, which is exactly what it would be.

Third party observer ütles ...

"...lead you to believe you are flying Finnair junior."

Come on, be serious.

Third party observer ütles ...

"Russophones have this funny idea that everyone, or at least everyone on an Estonian Air flight, is capable of speaking their language"

Sorry but this statement coming from a native-English-speaking American is a prime example of the pot calling the kettle black.

Perhaps you are an exception but the statement you made there could very well apply to the overwhelming majority of your countrymen (and the Brits and Canadians et al).

Anonüümne ütles ...

- Sorry but this statement coming from a native-English-speaking American is a prime example of the pot calling the kettle black.

Especially since we've just read,

"Russians speak a world language,..."

and

"But you could find a Russian newspaper on every stand (in Barcelona).

plasma-jack ütles ...

the main difference between Russian and English is that most people actually CAN speak the latter

Anonüümne ütles ...

- Russophones have this funny idea that everyone, or at least everyone on an Estonian Air flight, is capable of speaking their language.

Maybe Estonian Air should stop using Russian:

http://www.estonian-air.ee/public/menyy_veebr_wrapUUS_2008.pdf

- I downed a full cup of that stuff, while an Estonian father looked curiously at me from the seat ahead, as if I had broken one of the rules of fatherhood.

Perhaps "Issikene" was more concerned that you had broken one of the rules of Estonian Air (if not the IATA) - the one about consuming "private" alcohol on board. Maybe you should have explained to him what a nervous flyer you are - he may have bought you a drink.

Giustino ütles ...

Perhaps you are an exception but the statement you made there could very well apply to the overwhelming majority of your countrymen (and the Brits and Canadians et al).

Listen. I am not criticizing the hockey team. I liked them and they were very friendly. I am describing the linguistic situation because language is how people communicate.

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of English speakers. It annoys me too when they/we expect everyone knows our language.

Anonüümne ütles ...

- the main difference between Russian and English is that most people actually CAN speak the latter.

If you're speaking of the global population, Jack, substitute "more" for "most" and you're right. If you're talking about Estonian Air's customers, I have my doubts. I dare say that EA's motive is to make money - not to apply language policy. So if catering to Russian-speakers is in EA's interest, I'd say "Let the market powers be with you". Those who object can fly Finnair.

Giustino ütles ...

Maybe Estonian Air should stop using Russian:

How do you infer that from what I have written? "World languages" -- is a relative concept. I would also say that Portuguese and Spanish are also world languages. If someone started speaking Spanish to me on a flight to Nueva York, I'd probably feel the same way.

It happened to me several times

Perhaps "Issikene" was more concerned that you had broken one of the rules of Estonian Air (if not the IATA) - the one about consuming "private" alcohol on board. Maybe you should have explained to him what a nervous flyer you are - he may have bought you a drink.

I had no idea.

Anonüümne ütles ...

- How do you infer that from what I have written?

I guess it came from your

"Russophones have this funny idea that everyone, or at least everyone on an Estonian Air flight, is capable of speaking their language."

and that the Estonian Air menu is also in Russian. I would think that if the menu were in Spanish, passengers might "have this funny idea" that "everyone on an Estonian Air flight is capable of speaking" Spanish.

- I had no idea.

You should listen to the pre-flight announcements. They are made for your benefit and safety.

third party observer ütles ...

What I want to know is how the team were able to smuggle beer and whisky onto the plane. Those scanners pick up everything, and I've seen many people's luggage hauled off the x-ray machine rollers because they're carrying a negligible amount of liquid or paste.

Giustino ütles ...

and that the Estonian Air menu is also in Russian. I would think that if the menu were in Spanish, passengers might "have this funny idea" that "everyone on an Estonian Air flight is capable of speaking" Spanish.

Right, so because a menu is printed in a language, that infers that every person on board that flight can speak that language.

Hey look, part of the Tallinn city website is available in Swedish. Remind me to say tack så mycket the next time I buy something in Old Town.

You should listen to the pre-flight announcements. They are made for your benefit and safety.

The PA system on the plane wasn't very good. Maybe 'issikene' was just wondering if we'd share some whiskey with him.

Anonüümne ütles ...

It likely wasn't smuggled - it was probably bought inside the secured zone of the airport (at the now more-or-less defunct "Duty-free shops"). Nonetheless, products bought at these shops are forbidden from consumption on board.

Giustino ütles ...

I love how this has devolved into a conversation based on my comment that I found it funny, or perhaps, curious some guys assumed Russian fluency on my part on a flight to Estonia.

As for the comment about the Spanish Civil War or European identity, well, nobody wants to talk about that. They just want to jerk themselves off about the 'vene küsimus.'

Then, of course, there's the issue that Estonian Air was late. Again.

Anonüümne ütles ...

- Right, so because a menu is printed in a language, that infers that every person on board that flight can speak that language.

I would think it would indicate that his language is "welcome". I doubt the left-winger threw you an elbow because you couldn't speak Russian.


(Man, you're touchy.)

nipi ütles ...

In being late the EA situation is far from unique. Finnair and other finnish flying companies have similar problems - besides to technical issues also that pilots demand more money and refused to fly overtime. Still our problems are more of the airplanes - lack of reserve planes to replace ones in the service for technical problems.
Is the issue of aging planes? Can't blame actually the service staff as all service issues are strictly prescribed and well monitored (i hope).

third party observer ütles ...

"They just want to jerk themselves off about the 'vene küsimus."

Not a nice way to talk about your readers really, is it? And a bit vulgar, to be honest.

As far as disapproving of what people have chosen to discuss, well that's free speech.

Seems to me an attitude of, "Well what you SHOULD be discussing is this..." is quite reminiscent of the Soviet Union at its finest.

Anonüümne ütles ...

- "They just want to jerk themselves off about the 'vene küsimus."

Yes, indeed - especially when you post

"I love how this has devolved into a conversation based on my comment that I found it funny, or perhaps, curious some guys assumed Russian fluency on my part on a flight to Estonia."

in light of your original post,

"Russophones have this funny idea that everyone, or at least everyone on an Estonian Air flight, is capable of speaking their language."

Guess you don't see a difference here.

Giustino ütles ...

I doubt the left-winger threw you an elbow because you couldn't speak Russian.

Of course not. They were nice guys. I have no negative opinion of their language skills. I do not expect them to be fluent in Estonian. Why do you presume that I do? They were probably tired and assumed that I spoke their language.

Usually, when I am in an "international" environment, I ask people if they can speak English first, before unloading my thoughts on them in my slurred and lazy New York language.

(Man, you're touchy.)

You'd be frustrated too if you tried to use your mother tongue to tell a story and people still didn't understand.

I guess it's my fault as the story teller. But in general, my feelings about my experience were positive, minus the eight hour delay.

Anonüümne ütles ...

I would say you're guilty of nothing more than showing your bias.

No big deal.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Anonüümne ütles...

I would say you're guilty of nothing more than showing your bias.

I am amazed at how many comments this topic drew.
I think we should do what most people do in the these circumstances.
Blame the parents for the son's short comings.
I know I am getting into this way deep but let me explain.
I am the reason that he, Justin is naive about this.
It's all my fault because he was raised in a diverse country in a community that is situated in a town with a huge university that attracts students from all over the globe.
Since he was in pre school he was in classes with children from all over the globe.
He attended a Washington DC very diverse University
I think he finds as do I, other languages to just part of everyday life.
Perhaps it is good to be from a country that is large melting pot of cultures .
Then you don't arrive in someone
else's country with a bad attitude and a language bias....

third party observer ütles ...

"It likely wasn't smuggled - it was probably bought inside the secured zone of the airport"

Good God, Poirot, I do believe you're right!

Anonüümne ütles ...

- I think we should do what most people do in the these circumstances.
Blame the parents for the son's short comings.

Why?

- It's all my fault because he was raised in a diverse country in a community that is situated in a town with a huge university that attracts students from all over the globe.

- Since he was in pre school he was in classes with children from all over the globe.
- He attended a Washington DC very diverse University
- I think he finds as do I, other languages to just part of everyday life.
- Perhaps it is good to be from a country that is large melting pot of cultures.

This is leading somewhere...

- Then you don't arrive in someone
else's country with a bad attitude and a language bias....

Perhaps it's developed after arrival...

Frankly, I think "third party observer" raised good points...

Anonüümne ütles ...

- Good God, Poirot, I do believe you're right!

Eef ah could do ah Belgzien axchant, Hastings, ah shood be humbled...

sunus ütles ...

Can I ej..interject something, too?

Perhaps the language the hockey players were speaking was actually one of those Slavic-sounding Iberian languages, and not Russian.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Anonüümne ütles...
*****************************
This is leading somewhere...

Yes it was leading somewhere..it was a brief explaination of why
some of us feel that everyone should be able to speak whatever language they want and not be
subjected to the standards or expectations of others.
I grew up in a bilingual home
so I guess I am not mired down
in some nationalistic bog.


- Then you don't arrive in someone
else's country with a bad attitude and a language bias....

Perhaps it's developed after arrival...

I seriously doubt it.

Giustino ütles ...

When we got our cab at the airport, our driver was of Caucasian background.

When he said "ok" to me, one of the hockey players (standing nearby) mocked him by saying "chhhhh - ok" (clearing throat in imitation of Arabic).

I felt genuinely bad for that guy, but he ignored it and was very nice. I am sure he gets that kind of shit everyday.

I am biased. I assume most people in this country to speak Estonian because I live in Tartu, where most people, regardless of origin, do speak it. It's not an issue here. Tartu, along with Viljandimaa, is my "Estonia". If I lived in Narva, my perceptions would be different.

The second part of my bias -- the puzzlement at thinking everyone on an Estonian Air flight would be fluent in Russian, comes from personal experience.

I doubt most of my wife's younger relatives are that fluent in Russian. I don't think her sister can speak it, I know her younger brother can't.

So I live in a world where the Estonian language is something you are expected to know. That's my bubble. My sister-in-law never spoke to me in English. Nor did my father-in-law. I was expected to learn. I am still trying. That's my biased world.

My wife is from a different world, the world of most of the adults on that plane.

They learned Russian as school kids in the Soviet Union. They still think of themselves as a linguistic minority that must defer to the linguistic majority in multilingual situations.

Her perceptions, and the perceptions of others on the flight, would be probably different, because it's totally normal to them that flight attendants speak to a passenger in one language and he answers back in another and they have a whole dialog that way.

To me, it's very interesting. Usually in these situations, one person switches to the others' language. That's why I noticed it.

Colm ütles ...

I hope you enjoyed your trip and thanks for the humorous blogpost!

My kallis and I take to the air with the Estonian carrier exactly an hour short of two weeks. The only thing I used to like about the 3hr 20min flight to Dublin was the free Batlic Times which sadly they no longer have on board. I guess I will have to amuse myself with the inflight mag, which to be honest isn't too bad, but is hardly a replacement for whiskey.

Doris ütles ...

Hey, Justin, you have trolls here!

as for EA, I don't know, I havent' relly flown with them so much. I have flown EasyJet (but that can be rather inconvenient with long lines an horrible service. On the other hand, it's cheap... meh). And lately I stick to KLM/AirFrance when flying to-from Estonia. It says on the board that it's also Estonian Air but it's not. The planes are all KLM and the staff is all KLM so it's KLM.

I like the bus drivers in Estonia much better than bus drivers elsewhere though. Which is strange if you consider the traffic culture in Estonia.

There, does this make the topic go back on track?

egan ütles ...

Have you read Homage to Catalonia, Justin? One of the first books I was ever 'told' to read, and one of the reasons I probably have very different perceptions of words like 'communist', 'red', 'socialist' and 'anarchist' to many people who read this blog. I also recommend Beevor and Preston.

Giustino ütles ...

Have you read Homage to Catalonia, Justin? One of the first books I was ever 'told' to read, and one of the reasons I probably have very different perceptions of words like 'communist', 'red', 'socialist' and 'anarchist' to many people who read this blog. I also recommend Beevor and Preston.

I will put that on my {ever growing} list of things to read.

Jonas ütles ...

Finnair recently announced (within the last 3 months or so) that it would no longer be requiring its cabin crew to be able to speak Swedish (citing the requirement to being a hindrance to recruitment). Which is sad. Although after the negative press reports this generated, they defended themselves as a Swedish speaking company quite robustly and said that Swedish service was never going to disappear and that they were the world's oldest Swedish-speaking airline... etc etc. (Marketing dept on overdrive).

I still think they are the best in this region for flying. With their onboard service (meal, drinks) still included. SAS has gone down hill badly and is now in serious economic problems (mainly because they seem to be almost always on strike in one of the 3 member countries) - although Blue1 is an exception to the rule. There was even an article in Svenska Dagbladet that suggested things would be better if Finnair owned the controlling interest in SAS. Although, I personally wouldn't be surprised if we see Lufthansa taking over.

Finnair has had negative publicity surrounding punctuality issues, but this is confined to the Asian traffic, which still relies on tight use of the mainly MD11 fleet (which is being phased out now and replaced with modern Airbuses). So, things should improve. European traffic is very punctual.

Ruth ütles ...

wow, what happened? i read your blog and for the most part, it was right on.

"Russophones have this funny idea that everyone, or at least everyone on an Estonian Air flight, is capable of speaking their language."

- i don't understand what is so wrong with that statement. i would say it is very true, based on MY experiences as well. and just like you, i don't mean it as criticism. it's more like an observation, even though it can be frustrating at times.
and same goes for english speakers, they ALWAYS assume you speak english, no matter where you are.

and lastly, i don't get why someone would call you touchy, when in reality they are the ones going out of their way to make their opinion heard on someone else's personal blog (my american boyfriend finds this very entertaining and somewhat strange). ironic, huh?

egan ütles ...

It's well worth it, and as it's Orwell you can finish it quite quickly. Beevor is very strong on the Russian involvement and individual commanders who then went on to 1) Siberia, 2) being garroted with piano wire, or 3) a 'glorious' series of victories in WW2.

The SCW is absolutely fascinating, and has occupied far too much of my reading time.

Giustino ütles ...

Finnair recently announced (within the last 3 months or so) that it would no longer be requiring its cabin crew to be able to speak Swedish (citing the requirement to being a hindrance to recruitment). Which is sad.

They should just make sure they have one Swedish-speaking crew member on board who can handle those customers. Sort of like how they make sure the vegetarian meal gets to you, they can make sure the Swedish-speaking crew member deals with you.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Now I've read the article written by Mälksoo.
Western Europe is described there as an monolith. Mabye in the future the EU could be one, maybe not. I grew up in Western Europe:
Germany. The FRG could not unify herself with the Eastern part cause until 1989 I did not know that the FRG was not really a sovereign state. Others had to agree with the unification. The Soviet Union too. Now it is understandable why Germany was not very open for the disintigration process in the SU. I spend most of the summers in the 80s in Norway. Norway did not join the EU after two referendums. Ones German language was quite influencial, after WWI they changed to English as foreign language.
Reading French magazines was always a strange thing for Western Germans, I guess, a lot of coverage of countries that were former colonies. It makes one feel that France was looking much more to the South, Africa, Arabic countries than Germany. England shows always that it not really like the integration of Europe done by France and Germany. England (UK) is special case. Spain developed slowly into a democracy. What a change from the 70s. Greece: very different Europe.The Netherlands, are they the Europe we are talking about? Belgium? Who ist the most Western European state, what defines it?