pühapäev, detsember 13, 2009

christmas in tallinn

I would have walked right past him had two other people not stopped to help him up. And when I saw them stop, I knew they must be foreigners. Only foreigners would stop to help a disheveled drunk with a bleeding head wound in the frosty streets of Tallinn's Old Town.

"Are you ok? How can we help you?" said one foreigner, a man.

"Your head is bleeding! Do you need help? What happened?" said the second, a woman.

"I have a passport!" slurred the drunk. He looked to be about 50 years old, and the top of his shirt was unbuttoned. When he leaned forward, I saw the blood stains on the medieval stone wall.

I stood back, ready to assist. The man turned to me. "Can you speak Estonian?"

"Yeah," I said. "Kas ma saaksin teid aidata?" (Can I help you?) I addressed the drunk in Estonian, but knew it was no good.

"I have a passport!" he said again and reached towards his inner pocket.

"Oletko suomalainen?" (Are you Finnish?) I tried in my best Finnish accent.

"Yes, I am Finnish," he nodded. "I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm just," he paused to hiccup, "fine."

"Maybe you can call someone?" said the foreign man.

I went into a nearby shop and approached the clerk, a young, dark-haired woman who was texting a friend.

"There's a guy outside your window. His head is bleeding," I told her in Estonian.

"There's a guy outside my window," she murmured, still mesmerized by her mobile.

"Can you help at all? I mean do you have any tissues, paper towels?"

"Oh, ok." She finally put her phone in her pocket, and pulled on a jacket. "Where is he?" We went outside together with some tissues for the drunk's bleeding head.

"What am I supposed to do?" she panicked when she saw him.

"I don't know. Call the police?" I said.

"The police? I don't know." She looked around and accosted a round, bearded man in the street and they began to speak in Russian. The man called to someone while the foreigners helped the distressed Finnish drunk up.

"I'll just go back to my hotel," he said, staggering towards the street. "I'm fine, I have a passport," he lunged towards me.

"I have one, too. Are you going to be ok? It's cold. Kylmä," I said.

"Yes, yes," he buttoned his top button. "Fine, just fine, just."

The burly Russian man hung up his phone. "Is everything going to be ok?" I asked him, this time in English.

"Yeah, he'll be alright" he said and walked away. The clerk also returned to her shop and beloved mobile phone.

"Are you sure you'll be ok?" asked the foreign woman.

"Yes, I have a passport, I am going to my hotel," the drunken Finn slurred and limped towards the Town Hall Square.

On the way up the street the foreigners introduced themselves: two tourists, a husband and wife from Oslo. Oslo: I had been there before. I recalled there were drunks and junkies aplenty lining the streets from Prince Haakon's doorstep straight down to the train terminal. And yet these two cared enough to help some stranger in a foreign city. Were the Norwegians just the penultimate specimens of human dignity, or was it just by luck that these two kind ones had passed the drunken Finn, Tallinn's own Little Match Girl?

I bid the Norwegians God Jul and felt ashamed for not having stopped by myself to help a fellow human in distress. Had it not been for the Norwegians, I would have stepped over him like a crumpled, day's old copy of Postimees. Was that the spirit of Tallinn in me, or the spirit of New York, or just the plain old mean-spirited spirit of indifference?

41 kommentaari:

stockholm slender ütles ...

I think it was pretty much the spirit of reasonableness, sorry to spoil your Ebenezer moment... I guess I'm pretty much out of charity when it comes to my senselessly drunken compatriots on the streets of Tallinn. No doubt the majority are ok, but that is no cross section of the Finnish society that I would regocnize. Only in Tallinn.

Rainer ütles ...

I have to agree with Stockholm Slender. Let's face it - those people (not necesserily Finns at all) allow this to happen to themselves, so they are hardly innocent vitims to whose rescue everyone should run.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Some people are just victims of a long line of drunken genes (like the Irish) that make them who they are...The endless dark and drizzle can't help much either..
If I had to live there I be sitting on the street next to him.
You are a very hardy people to live with that horrible weather from October to May..
It's raining here in New York today..we are such a whining and intolerant group here. One day of rain and people are saying this is disgusting ..will it be gone by tomorrow...It was very cold for 3 days ..they asked what happened it was 60 * last week? (Hey, it's winter)
Coming up to the shortest day of the year here ..the sun is up at 7am and setting about 4:45.
This is so nasty they all say..we're New Yorkers ..we complain.
I think a trip to Estonia in the winter ..might put things in perspective for them.
I totally understand the drunk Finn...perhaps he came because he thought thatTallinn had better weather.. : )

Rainer ütles ...

"I totally understand the drunk Finn...perhaps he came because he thought thatTallinn had better weather.."

I'm pretty sure he came mostly for the cheaper booze.

Адам ütles ...

It's the dullness that overtakes you - a couple strides through Baltijaam or a cautious perch on a tram on its way to Kopli and you're more callous than you care to admit.

I live in Lasnamäe (and as I repeat often enough - it's not 100 percent the slum everyone makes it out to be; 1/3 of Tallinn make their home here) and I've had some adverse experiences from charity. Once while waiting for a bus, I did my best to ignore the drunken 60-year old holding himself as 90-degrees as he could while sitting and pretending to talk on his mobile phone in Russian.. I'm still not sure why, though I assume it was to cover up embarassment of being hung up on earlier by a woman he was pleading with. The pauses he took in coversation to mumble an unintelligible comment or two at me were watered down from flask sips. Before the bus made its way to the stop, he decided to rear himself up and head towards - wherever. Gravity didn't quite agree. He fell against a metal post and straight to the crumpled Soviet asphalt. While trying to help him up, the bus I was waiting for made its way to the stop. I was able to get him on his feet, confirm with him that the life force had not yet escaped and he still had enough energy for another pull or two from the plastic vodka bottle, and walk the five steps towards the curb before the bus came to a full stop. Apparently, the driver thought I was some anti-social en league with the poor alcoholic and, despite the fact that I stood in front of the door without swaying and ran after it, pounding on the side as it departed, drove off without me.

A house-bumping Russian speaker in a black Mercedes SUV happened to be driving past and stopped to bring me on board (also a good chance for me to practice my less-TV-appropriate Russian vocabulary). He sped up, overpassed the bus and dropped me at the next stop in front of it.

TAK: 0 .. Black SUV (fully equipped with dashboard Russian flag, regretfully): 1 .. Drunken lonely man: Not on the board.

Lingüista ütles ...

Since I love to nit-pick (but I'm not 100% sure; my Finnish is nearly non-existent), isn't it "Oletko suomalainen"?

Brüno ütles ...

Adam's story is funny. Life can take absurd turns in that constant gray drizzle. Everyone is a bit off their rocker most of the time. Life in Estonia is like sleepwalking. Nobody wants to wake up and really face the horror.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Yeah, "oletko suomalainen" is correct - but really, he was drunk, he was walking and talking: I would think that was about how he planned the evening so I think Giustino's worry is slightly misplaced...

Rainer ütles ...

"Life in Estonia is like sleepwalking. Nobody wants to wake up and really face the horror."

What horror?

Giustino ütles ...

I have no idea how to write in Finnish, guys. I just learned it from watching YLE.

Lingüista ütles ...

I haven't ever really tried to learn Finnish either (except by a few visits to a couple of Finnish-for-foreigners websites), and now that I'm trying to get my Estonian under control, I'm actually avoiding Finnish -- it's not going to help me now.

Адам and Giustino make me think that Christmas in Tallinn is a drab, drunken time. Isn't there a lighter side? Don't people get some sort of Christmas spirit at some point, and start being nice to each other?

Martin-Éric ütles ...

Giustino: if I ever make it south of Tallinn ever again, I'll drop by and walk you through the basics of eesti-soome conversion. :)

Giustino ütles ...

Адам and Giustino make me think that Christmas in Tallinn is a drab, drunken time. Isn't there a lighter side? Don't people get some sort of Christmas spirit at some point, and start being nice to each other?

It's not drab at all. Tallinn looks beautiful. The Old Town is packed with tourists, gingerbread, and mulled wine. It's just that some of the tourists don't know their limits.

Brüno ütles ...

Rainer, may the rest of your life continue so that you can always innocently wonder - "What horror?"

Rainer ütles ...

Brüno, you sound like a two-bit hotel-room journalist assigned to describe Estonia as hell on earth, so that his readers could feel better about themselves. Good luck existing in the inferno of your own design.

viimneliivlane ütles ...

Reminds me of the time in NY coming out of Hurleys with a bunch of friends and seeing a man in front of us drop to the sidewalk. Someone trained in first aid emerged from those who crowded around, so I didn't feel guilty that my first inclination was to make sure that none of the assembled strangers were going to steal the man's wallet...but that's NY.

I keep wondering if Tallinn's fallen Finn in this case has previous experience with the police as he kept insisting he had a passport.

Kristopher ütles ...

Are Bruno and Rainer the same person (like Puu and Hirnu)? With repartee this good they almost have to be. What is this, a David Mamet play or sth? Anyway, keep it up. I trust you will.

If there is horror in Estonia, then it's something Bergmanesque, or Kafkaesque.

I spent my first winter here (of Act II that is) feeling phantom mobile phone vibrations in my leg...the mobile phone was in my other pocket and not ringing... A couple years later, the SAD caught up. Now I play it a little smarter and get a week of light in late November or so...seems to stave off the worst of it. I didn't grow up here, so not used to the light deprivation.

And I do suspect the Estonians who say "oh, yeah, kamos, everyone has that this time of year," are in fact immune to it. If you have a bad case of SAD, you wouldn't be able to get a complete sentence out.

I was just in Helsinki, got back late in the night. There's something ethereally wild and pure about the nightlife there. Like a really expensive pure shot of vodka. Estonian atmosphere is hazier, beerier, foggier. I imagine maybe the Finns just can't handle the congeners.

Rainer ütles ...

"Are Bruno and Rainer the same person (like Puu and Hirnu)? With repartee this good they almost have to be."

Alas, no.

Piret ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
miladawley ütles ...

純推一個..................................................

Brüno ütles ...

Kris gets it. Longer life experience. Nothing against Rainer. One day he'll remember this little back and forth and realize what was meant here.

I miss Poo too.

Rainer ütles ...

Asa much as I feel tempted to continue our "meaningful dialogue" with Brüno, I'd rather revert to the original commentaries by Stockholm Slender and myself.
It seems both Estonians and Finns share a certain (Lutheran?) concept of personal responsibility, they don't absolve people easily. In brief - if you wind up in the shithouse, it's probably (mostly) your own fault and you should at least try to get out of there by your own devices. Only then can you count on outside help

Miks ütles ...

Don't feel too bad, Justin. A guy in Liepaja was left overnight in the snow for 15 hours this week by numerous non-Samaritans when he collapsed outside an apartment block. Health problems rather than booze.

Brüno ütles ...

This week in Estonia in the news. People did not pull over to offer help.

Lutheran (not soviet?) self-help, cry-me-a-river attitude in practice.

http://www.reporter.ee/2009/12/17/veokiga-kokku-porganud-soiduautosse-poles-sisse-kaks-inimest/

Rainer ütles ...

Actually, Brüno, I agree with you on this one. "Dont get involved lest you end up in hot water yourself"- attitude is largely Soviet legacy. Not solely, but largely.

Brüno ütles ...

I must admit - in the late 80s, I recall, I kept on going after seeing the tail-lights glowing from the ditch in the forest and I recognized the the Zhiguli that 5 minutes earlier had tried madly to overtake me in these really hazardous, slippery and snowy conditions. I don't recall if I was motivated by my lutherism or communist youth league membership. I was just being simply estonian I guess. I was kinda happy, I confess. Particular kind of angry-happy, if you know what I mean. Self-righteous, I-told-you-so kinda happy. So, I think I do understand all those who did not stop. Would you have stopped? Would Giustino have stopped?

Vello ütles ...

Aдam's story about the Mercedes saloon whisking him ahead of the bus to the next stop is a winner--a song should be written about that driver.

I've often thought there should be prizes we can all carry to hand out to people like Aдam's Mercedes driver. We're soon to enter the riigiorden season, where all sorts of preeners not half as deserving as that driver will collect shiny objects to pin to their chests (and will eat salami on toothpicks at the taxpayers' expense).

Anyone care to suggest a prize we might carry in our pocket that some good samaritan might actually be pleased to receive and display?

Rainer ütles ...

OMG, Giustino, were you in that accident?? http://www.postimees.ee/?id=203094

I hope everyone is alright.

Rainer ütles ...

Sheesh... As it turned out, it wasn't.

Giustino ütles ...

No, it wasn't me. I was glad to see the other Justin made it out ok. For the record, we have two kids, not three.

Justin ütles ...

No, it wasn't me. I was glad to see the other Justin made it out ok.

Wow, it appears there's a third American Justin in Estonia. That wasn't me either.

Andres ütles ...

Lutheran (not soviet?) self-help, cry-me-a-river attitude in practice.

Looking at the video, the ditch was pretty steep, so it is possible passers-by didn't see the car there and thought some lunatic was waving at them.

And well, when I had my first aid training @ traffic school, the teacher, himself a paramedic, told us that if a car catches fire, it's pretty hopeless to extinguish it with regular equipment you have in your car. Then the wisest thing to do is to turn around and cover your ears so you won't get nightmares from the cries of the burning people.

Jim Hass ütles ...

I am proud to report that Google now lists "for Eestimaa" as on of the few suggestions after typing "Itching for"

Brüno ütles ...

How is Christmas in countryside? Can more love and caring be found there? You be the judge.

http://www.reporter.ee/2009/12/22/lehmapidamine-louna-eesti-moodi-loomad-elutoas/

bunsen_lamp ütles ...

Here's an appropriate comic strip to illustrate this thread, from Helsingin Sanomat, few days ago:

http://www.hs.fi/kuvat/iso_webkuva/1135251614611.gif

Tymen Ferron ütles ...

Last summer I was walking with my girlfriend at night on Narva maantee in Tallinn. A man was lying on the street. People just ignored him. As we came closer it appeared to be a drunken bum, his shirt full of blood. We couldn´t stand the sight and I asked my girlfriend to call the emergency services. They promised to send an ambulance. In the mean time some local youth started a conversation with the man. We walked on with a good conscience.

stockholm slender ütles ...

I made a - relatively sober and bloodless - raid to Tallinn harbour to do some Christmas shopping, and got your book as a present for my wife. Now she is giggling with her nose in the book, and absolutely recommends it to me (must get it in English to appreciate it fully). I guess more a comedy then than a tragedy? Anyway, congratulations - to be an author is something seriously to be respected!

Inge ütles ...

It certainly comforts the wife who has just ran out of her precious a le coq kali...

Reelika ütles ...

I experienced something similar yesterday in Hanover, Germany, where I am currently residing. I had just got back after two christmasy weeks with my family and friends in Tallinn, Järvamaa and Ida-Virumaa, and secretly walking around, listing the similarites and the differences in my head between the two countries that I love, and their residents. (For the record: I´ve been living, studying and working in Hanover for over 10 months, and I visit Estonia every two-three months or so.)
It was snowing really heavily in Hanover and I stood at the S-bahn stop with a lot of other peole. Suddenly, a drunken old man, about 5 meters away from me, fell down on the sidewalk, and couldn´t get up on his own. Instantly, people were concerned about him, dispite his drunkedness and his rather disgusting appearance. They tried to help him up at first, but he was too heavy and too drunk for it, a young woman immediately dialed 110 (for police in Germany as well in Estonia) and explained the situation. A young man gave his own jacket to cover him up while waiting. I stood there, watching and thinking that this would most likely not be the case in Tallinn. The drunk would have to get up on his own and nobody would bother to call the police for him or cover him up so that he doesn´t get cold. And, what strikes me the most: I myself think and act differently: in Germany, it is almost always my first reaction to help as well, or offer help when somebody seems to be needing it, whereas in Estonia, I notice that I am much more hesitating towards offering help, maybe even indifferent... I still haven´t figured out why, or when exactly does this change occur- the minute I land at Tallinn airport?

PS: Your book is great. I bought it in English for my German boyfriend and ended up reading it myself at first and laughing all the way through. There have been many misunderstandings in our relationship as well, which I´ve been trying to exlain as "but that´s the way it is in Estonia, honey", so maybe your book will enlighten him a bit more. Can´t wait for part 2!

Tymen Ferron ütles ...

Maybe after fifty years of forced 'solidarity' now you have it the other way: being extremely insensitive to other peoples problems and suffering. Give it some time and maybe there will be a healthy equilibrium again.

Mishka ütles ...

I live in Canberra Australia a city of relative affluence and freedom to put it conservatively. I have seen a person on crutches thrown 10 metres into a glass window as the public bus braked hard and nobody moved to offer assistance. The man was bleeding profusely from the head and very distressed.No-one moved. A full bus of people and they were worried about was apparently being for work. A friend of mine after dental surgery had an adverse reaction to the anaesthetic used and collapsed in the street and no-one offered her any assistance. She basically staggered her way to the car. Don't think Tallinn or Estonians are unique in their response. I could give you 10 examples at least - Is it sad ?- yes - Do we expect or hope for better ?-yes. It is a worldwide phenomena . Sad but true. Don't be too harsh on the Estonians.