neljapäev, juuni 26, 2008

can you manage?

On Jaanipäev, we went to visit Tiina and Mart, some friends who were back in Estonia, but actually live elsewhere in the European Union.

As our conversation wound its way around various topics, Tiina asked me about my experiences living in Estonia as a foreigner. Up until this point, the conversation had progressed in Estonian, but then things got complicated.

"Kas sa saad hakkama*?" she asked.

"Mida?" I responded.

"Kas sa saad hakkama?" she asked again.

"Mis hakkama?" I said.

"I am sorry," I continued in English. "Can I start what?"

"Can you manage?" she asked again in English.


The verb hakkama means "to start" in Estonian. When used with saada in a question form, it usually translates as "can you do x?" For instance, kas sa saad mängida? translates as "can you play?" while kas sa saad aidata? translates as "can you help?" But not kas sa saad hakkama? That somehow translates as, "can you manage?"

This reminds me of the time we were at Pille's and I rose to get some more food. Pille brought the plate to me and ordered me to tõsta ise. "Raise it up by myself?" I asked, somewhat foolishly. In English we would have said "help yourself," but in Estonian, apparently, one uses the fork to literally "raise" or "lift" or tõsta the food on to their plate.

But back to managing. That was an interesting question indeed. I gather from reading some of the comments on this blog that some people simply cannot manage dealing with the rednecks of Paide, and have opted to deal with the earthquakes and mudslides of California instead. But, I feel that given enough time, I could learn "to manage" anywhere.

Occassionally, I get a weird feeling when I am driving through the environs of Tartu, looking over magnificent, sprawling fields and endless blue skies, with the radio on playing some accordion-backed Estonian classic. I feel that this place is very special and endearing. And yet, at the same time, I know in my bones that I am not of this place, nor will ever be of this place. I am a foreigner.

Fortunately for me, Estonia is an anonymous, northern European country, where nobody really cares where you come from, or at least they won't tell you they care to your face. All social interaction is conducted at arms length, and so it is easier to manage here than, say, in Germany or France or even the UK, where one might feel they are stuck in cultural quicksand, sinking into an abyss of foreignness.

In the UK, one might feel that they are being suffocated by Britishness. I recall sitting next to a drunk Briton on a bus in Kidlington as he explained to me how Portuguese football coach José Mourinho's managerial skills left much to be desired -- as if I knew what he was talking about, or could bring my own anglo slang to the party. Thankfully, nothing like that would happen to you in Estonia, as people don't speak to each other on public transport.

So, yes, I can manage. It was nice of Tiina to ask that -- to imagine that I might too have feelings and sentiments about my own life. Honestly, I am so immersed in my daily routines, that these larger existencial questions often pass me by. But can some people not manage? And why? Those are interesting questions.

* This post has been updated to correct a spelling error. I originally wrote hakkada instead of hakkama. The Estonian language takes two verb endings -ta/da and -ma. I have generally learned the distinction of when to use them by ear. I have also learned to spell some words by ear. It should be hakata, rather than hakkada. Why does hakkama have two 'k's while hakata only has one 'k'? I don't know.

27 kommentaari:

Indrek ütles ...

I bet she actually asked
"Kas sa saad hakkama?"

Oliver ütles ...

Kas sa saad hakkama?=can you manage/do you get by?

Kas sa saad hakkada?- well, hakkada means nothing.

Kas sa saad hakata ...?=Can you start ...(doing smth.)?, e.g. Kas sa saad hakata pesu pesema?=Can you start doing the laundry.

Kristopher ütles ...

Saad kohe noomida, so I might as well -- it's hakkama in this case.

Estonians may be low-key, but I find Estonian grammarians to be highly vigilant.

Giustino ütles ...

It was hakkama, but I thought I misheard her because I had learned that 'saada' required the -ta/-da form.

I have rarely used the ta/da infinitive for hakkama/hakata. Thanks for the corrections.

Rainer ütles ...

Giustino,
there's also such thing as "hakkaja", which can be: 1) a noun (a go-getter, eager beaver, happy camper, etc),
2) an adjective, such as "hakkaja türduk" (an eager, zealous, perky etc. girl), or
3) a surname: Sven Hakkaja, Ethel Hakkaja, and so on.

Doris ütles ...

well... the first 5 months I was in Holland were indeed very hard to manage. I didn't speak ANY Dutch and while the people herewill gladly converse to you in english, I still felt handicapped most of the time. I couldn't get a job mainly because of the old work regulations (read: restrictions for "new EU members"), and therefore spent most of my days at home... And when I did venture out, I promptly got lost - Amsterdam is a city with very confusing planning, it takes a while to get the hang of it.

It' not like I couldn't get ANY work... I could have gotten a job as a hotel maid and by the end I was seriously starting to consider it. After all, I've worked with cleaning ladies with a Higher Maths Master's degree (no, she was not an alcoholic, she was a pensioner, back in Estonia)... Swallow the pride, pucker up and just do it.

So, yes, it is possible to not manage.

But conditions change, or perhaps you change if the conditions do not, and after a while you learn to manage. It's sink or swim all the way, baby!



don't you hear the difference in hakkama/hakata? Hakkama k is about 3 times longer than the hakata k... Also "ma panen supi hakkama" - I'll set the soup to boil. But at the same time "hakkama panema" colloquially means a light form of to steal - "poiss pani saiap2tsi hakkama" the boy pinched a loaf of bread. - or to use up "hobune pani lilled hakkama" - the horse ate the flowers.

my point was going to be that hakkama is used more in expressions with other words, whereas hakata always means to begin.

Giustino ütles ...

don't you hear the difference in hakkama/hakata?

No.

You know, when we first lived in Tallinn, it was a bit tough. Life seemed a bit anemic: the silence was deafening.

But when we moved to Kalamaja and met some other Estonian heads who lived in old wooden houses, things improved.

Andrew ütles ...

Good post. I'd like to see more grammer/language tid bits. Possibly there could be a book after enough posts!

stockholm slender ütles ...

Oh, yes those -ta and -ma infinitives - I must confess that I still don't really understand them. I guess we don't have the distinction in Finnish in any form, though mennä/menemään structure kind of resembles it, in some way. Well, I'm quite muddled about grammar anyway as this comment no doubt shows. I have been explained the meaning (hmm, several times) but have not really gotten much wiser. Estonian is such a strange language!

Andres ütles ...

Well, we just took the best parts of Finnish and mixed them with the best parts of other languages and added some of our own crazyness :D

karLos ütles ...

i think i just felt my eesti keel prospects fall a little further into the impossible... lol

Kristopher ütles ...

Sinust hakkab saama hakkamasaaja.

(I may have missed a space but even some Estonians don't always know when words should be joined and when not)

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

What are you gonna reply when somebody is going to ask you how is the hand walking?

Kuidas käsi käib?

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

In fact, maybe you should collect your own list of esto idioms and coloqialisms. Hey, maybe there a dictionary in existence already? Probably not. Not enough demand from foreigners and eestlastel on savi of course.

Estonia in general is one self referential inside joke.

Anyway, if you bither to memorize some käibefraasid you can rest assured to risk less chance to tuksi keerama your next small talk.

Sven ütles ...

"Hakkada" and "hakama" sound cabalistic. Makes me think of words like Habakkuk and Hurghada. Estonian is a lilting mellifluous tongue so I don't know whose idea it was to introduce such devilish Saracen words.

Mardus ütles ...

"Kuidas käsi käib?" basically means "How are you doing?".

"Käekäik" is the state of how one fares;

"Tema käekäik on hea" means that s/he is doing fine.

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

That feeling "you are not of this place" is a very good and useful thing (unless of course it leads to depression and suicide). I'd call it having a third eye or something. It's like being able to levitate or smth. To see and experience things mortals around you have no idea of.

Trust me, you do not want to become of any place. That be the end of you.

Like I always say, a man is an island. Everything else is an illusion.

martintg ütles ...

giustino ütles...
And yet, at the same time, I know in my bones that I am not of this place, nor will ever be of this place. I am a foreigner.


Given that it is said that some 98% of atoms in your body are replaced within a year by the air you breath and food you eat, you are more Estonian than you think.

BTW, did your Italian ancestors ever have the feeling of not being of the USA, being foreigners, when they immigrated to the USA?

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

I know of an 80 year old Italian (Silvio) who immigrated into the US as a child. He tells us that he feels not of this place. All these years. All his life.

Go figure about these atoms and stuff. Maybe it's a layer deeper than atoms?

martintg ütles ...

I guess you mileage can vary. My father didn't want to return to Estonia either, for fear of some Soviet red neck stomping on his face, on account he served in the German army during the war. He never expressed to me if he felt like an alien living in Australia, but in the end I think he was happy enough, drinking with his circle of buddies, bashing around the outback in his pickup truck shooting kangaroos and wild pigs, so I kind of think he was in his element. I could never figure out why my sister hated his guts, in many ways Puu reminds me of her. I guess home is were the heart is.

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

Child abuse? Dark family secrets nobody talks about? You never know with these things.

It can really mess people up.

Giustino ütles ...

BTW, did your Italian ancestors ever have the feeling of not being of the USA, being foreigners, when they immigrated to the USA?

I get the sense that there was a lack of permanence to it. Italians first went to New York looking for work. They often went back to Italy and then returned again.

Some, it seems, just got stranded in the US, or locked into its opportunities. They got a job, got married, had children, and that was that. But I think for their generation, the possibility of "going back" existed for some time, at least before the war.

You can imagine that many of them were glad not to be in Italy in the 1920s through 40s, and were perhaps ashamed of Mr. Mussolini.

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

G this sounds so familiar. Silvio is planning to return to Italy. I think he plans to die there. He just sent his treasure, a 1957 white convertible Mercedes Benz back to Italy. Like he is going to drive it there. The car has not been driven for the last 20 years. He gave the reigns of his company to his son, is considering to get rid of his lakeside propery in the horse country, and move back to Italy for good. Yet ... and this is the best part ... he is not too sure he'll like Italy.

And I know so well what hs is talking about. He does not even finish his sentences. I'll be like him one day. In fact, I am like this already. Suspended between two countries and multiple indenties. Belonging everywhere and nowhere in particular. Liking it all and criticizing everything. Living a life of an insufferable grump and of an eternal optimist at the same time. Bipolar? You bet.

Life is a strange thing. Eh?

martintg ütles ...

Veebikolumnist Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles...
Child abuse? Dark family secrets nobody talks about? You never know with these things.


If only it was that simple. I'd say more likely an absent father in the formative years and a mother who desperately missed Estonia and longed to return and visit family but was denied by a reluctant husband.

Yet ... and this is the best part ... he is not too sure he'll like Italy.

Quite understandable, given that Silvio arrived in the USA as a child. As an 80 year old, what would he remember of Italy?

In NY state ütles ...

When I was doing some sociological research on Puerto Ricans in junior high school, I came across an article stating that it takes about three generations to fully integrate into America. That moment was a personal epiphany. As a member of the second generation, that information truly explained my feelings of anomie in America.

It is interesting in reading this blog to compare my experience with Estonia with Giustino's. Essentially, I have spent all of 6 weeks in Estonia in all my 50 years.

And yet my formative years in an Estonian household in the USA are so strong that Estonia immediately felt like home, and in the US I feel much like Giustino: I will never be of this place.

Interestingly, when I was a child everyone in the neighborhood knew that my parents were "furriners." Nowadays I "pass" as an American, unless I mention that my first language was not English.

And even though I am now much more proficient in English than Estonian, it is still "minu kodukeel."

Puu ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Puu ütles ...

I think that at its heart Hirnu's antagonism toward me and the concerted effort he puts into making a fool of me has to with power. A basic power struggle in Estonia over the past two decades has been between the Estonians who escaped the country and constituted the independent government ( and were nice normal things like school school teachers) and those that stayed behind, and if they succeeded on any level acquisted to the mafia and survival of the fittest nature of life in the Soviet Union ( and maybe this is American propaganda, but that's another debate)... though they are to a large extent beneficiaries of the actions of the valiseestalsed their main goal is often to milk as much profit from them as a possible.. and then when there is no profit to be found destroy the valiseestlased in order to gain greater favor with people they see as representing the international, American Centric community, like Guistino. This sort of behavior is a kissing cousin to members of the Soviet elite who pillage pensions while sending their kids to private school in Switzerland.