neljapäev, oktoober 27, 2011

the chosen people

How do I make myself clear without slipping into 19th century racial theory? Somebody in the Estonian woodpile had very high cheekbones.

I know the people of this land like to fancy themselves as northern Germanics, a sort of cross between Hans Brinker, Heidi and the von Trapp Family Singers, but when I look at my daughters, all three of them, I'm seeing Genghis Khan.

Not that they have mustaches. Or swords. But those impossibly high cheekbones! So high. We're talking K2, Mount Everest! Several people have commented already that the newest addition to our flock resembles a small Chinese girl. Väike hiinlane they call her. Which she doesn't at all, but for the eyes. The eyes, the eyes, it's all in the eyes. And if the Estonians are somewhere genetically between the Latvians and the Finns (like it should be), then where does the Mongolian aspect kick in?

Those are looks, but how about temperament? I've been back a week or so, and I've run into people in public who I have sworn to myself are distraught. Women who look like they are about to burst out into tears. Men who look like they've been constipated for ages. Children who look like they've been freed from the frozen carbonite on Jabba the Hutt's wall. But the thing is ... there's nothing actually wrong with them. They just happen to look miserable all the time. It doesn't mean that they are miserable.

That's a minority though. Most people have a sort of stern, business-like quality to them, and then there are even the few jolly old fellows with the mustaches who wear blue overalls every day of the week and cry out, "Tere!" at every opportunity. But, for the most part, smiling is not part of the average Estonian's repertoire of facial expressions. And so I have made it a point now of smiling in the direction of every miserable or stoic person I meet.

I'm like a miracle worker, I tell myself, a healer. I'm like a leather-jacket wearing Christ, the Joel Osteen of Estonia, except instead of turning water to wine, or making every day a Friday, I am making Estonian bank tellers smile. Incredible. All you have to do is make sure to be as pleasant as possible and show joy at every turn. "Ah, I have to sign my name here? How lovely." Maybe they are laughing at me, not with me, but at least they don't look like they're sitting on a spike anymore. Sooner or later they will all come around with a little sunshine. The country will fall to me, one by one, each miserable, mopey-faced Finno-Ugric is going to be a little happier if I have to slip something in their kama.

That's not everybody, of course, not at all. But most male conversations are as abrupt and monotone as possible. I walk around wondering, what happened to these guys? They seem so ... hopelessly lost. People famously complain about the stoic, quiet Estonians, and when they do, they are talking about the men,  and they are telling the truth. And does anybody have a real job here? Most of the guys I know are employed doing odd jobs. A little construction here, a little IT work there, plenty of time for home improvement here, some forestry there ... don't you have an office to go to, or some product to produce? You're putting me to shame by hammering stuff all the time. I can't keep up!

Basically, what I am getting at, is that I have decided not to integrate. You don't want to talk, that's too bad, because I want to talk. You want to spend your free time building another house in a land full of empty buildings, go ahead, but don't expect me to follow suit. You don't want to smile? Well, that's too bad too, because I am an American and I feel like having a nice day. It's my birthright. The descendants of prewar Estonian citizens get their passports and the Israelis get their Holy Land. I get my white t-shirt with an obscenely yellow happy face on it.

26 kommentaari:

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Funny, funny, funny ...

When I come to Estonia, I put on the serious face too. Serious bordering angry. That way you blend in and attract no trouble. One of which is envy. You do not want others to envy you.

I have no intentions to save anybody. If I make them smile like you chose to do, it is to cause them discomfort. Sometimes I do just that, because ... I am angry.

I am angry, jaded old guy.

The mongol gene ... is there any bloodline in your family tracing to the vastness of Russia? "Serche la femme" ... Chengiz Khan had more than thousand children ... or something like that.
He was therapist. The rapist, I mean.

Giustino ütles ...

My wife's great grandfather was from Marimaa. And I am carrying around some kind of Italian-Greek-Albanian heritage ...

Kristopher ütles ...

Smile away. We see how long we can last (not very long usually) and in the end our number gets called and half of us are saved. That's when we smile. If you know of a better game in town, let me know.

Kristopher ütles ...

I don't see the gloom or mopiness that much. The emphasis is more on stoic.

Estonian wisdom I just made up: Is the glass half empty or full? Beats me. One thing that's certain that it's not exactly half of anything, it's probably 49.9991% or something empty or full. Who's the idiot who came up with "half"?

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

I am trying to picture you (or any well meaning foreigner) on board of crowded public transport bus, constantly smiling at the smelly, angry, pushing pensioners and drunks ... going, oh, excuse me, I am so sorry, here you go, thank you sir, mam ... kindly trying to give way and being all sunny and polite ...

That would make a Mr. Bean like comedy bit.

In Moscow, I once turned around and hissed at the lady who was pushing my back and yelling at me ... I said, "I will bite you".

"Ja kusayu."

She stopped. That was after I had asked one man standing in front of me if he was about to get off at the next station, I addressed him Mister (Gospodin). He blurted angrily at me, "Sam ty gospodin". You yourself are a mister.

So I stopped being myself, and began doing as Romans do. Fast and even better.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

to Kris

Esonians' general preference of brevity combined with the woeful lack of verbal dexterity is easier to chalk off into the more positive category as "stoic" rahter than negative - "poor communicator".

I should know, to this day I confound my colleagues with non-sequitors and flat short utterances that could be interpreted either as questions or statements, sometimes leaving pregnant pauses on telephone calls after I've spoken.

I am working hard on it, but the "maamees" in me is right there, just scratch.

Or maybe I am just losing my mind ... Hard to self-diagnose.

Spawnie ütles ...

I should know, to this day I confound my colleagues with non-sequitors and flat short utterances that could be interpreted either as questions or statements, sometimes leaving pregnant pauses on telephone calls after I've spoken.

Yup, that captures the 'Estonian spirit', or whatever you want to call it, quite well.
However, I have to disagree with you when it comes to public transport. Tallinn is not Moscow.
I have been spending on average an hour a day, hoping on and off public transport here, for the past 4 months and I haven't seen any pushing or shoving. The drunks spilling beer from open bottles in their backpacks, yes.
But overall people are really polite albeit quite reserved, but I prefer that to the loud and annoying 'friendliness' of south-europeans.
When you come from a country where gossip is the number one national pastime, sullen Estonians are quite refreshing!

Kristopher ütles ...

"I should know, to this day I confound my colleagues with non-sequitors and flat short utterances that could be interpreted either as questions or statements, sometimes leaving pregnant pauses on telephone calls after I've spoken."

Ha!

Christine ütles ...

Question:
Why is it that you are trying to make some case for Mongolia when we here all have very high cheekbones?
If your daughter Anna looks just like you as a child (photos will prove me right)then why the Asia reference?
Marta she is a combo as well and how does a baby with huge round eyes appear asian to people there.
... And even your children don't often smile in photos taken there.

I admire your american "take that" spirit I wish you luck (really) changing Estonia one grumpy face at a time.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Another unsolicited confession from me, promted by Christine wishing Giustino good luck. I've been a fan of his blog for many, many years now and continue to be for as long he is in Estonia. My primary interest is to learn what good can be found in a place that I've forsaken for, oh for how many offenses, real and imagined, personal and general. As I was getting out, he was getting in. Of course I am interested what good is there that I did not notice. So he serves as a some sort of war reporter to me. Some kinda reverse V6sareporter (for those of you who know what that is. If not, think poor man's Jerry Springer show)

I admire his relentless guest for goodness. He never seems to get angry. I mean, Estonian kind of angry. Like me. Fundamentally and overwhelmingly, unforgivingly angry. I think this is his main strength aside from his intellect. I admire and enjoy it all. And wish him great luck. he is one of the kind.

Thank you.

Joshua ütles ...

"I know the people of this land like to fancy themselves as northern Germanics, a sort of cross between Hans Brinker, Heidi and the von Trapp Family Singers, but when I look at my daughters, all three of them, I'm seeing Genghis Khan."

I love it when you talk like this! Keep the finnmongol flag flying high! Finnmongol pride forever!

Here's a music video celebrating the theme - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkijlDlu6Xo

Them hungarians don't seem to be ashamed of their dubious asiatic connections. Why should we?

I was in Komi Respublika this summer, and while at first they seemed more jovial than estonians, a few days later I discovered that they too are made of absolute finnic despair and desolation. Made me proud and feel just like at home.

You know the despair I'm talking about - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjN64hvjM_4

Puts the pain of arctic into your soul and freezes your heart with the fear of dark and cold, amirite? :D That's a vepsian song, so it's baltic finnic, but it's the same cold despair with us all.

Komi Respublika is pretty autonomous, there are finnic shamanistic symbols everywhere and the official policy is very supporting and protective of komi identity. I guess it's kinda like Estonia, if the finno-ugric enthusiasts would be in power in Estonia. Opening the parliament sitting with a little joik, for example. I wouldn't mind.

But in some other finno-ugric republics like Udmurtia for example, this kind of nationalistic behavior is rather oppressed. And quite violently. Often by the finnic natives themselves. Udmurtia has oil too.

Oh, some komi are reindeer herders too. In the north. And there are nenets there too in north Komi. And then that Nenets Autonomous Region is pretty fucking close to Finland if you look it on the map.

But I was in the agricultural-urban Komi. Which is basically like us. Komi used to qualify as Siberia once I guess.

Eestlasi küüditati sinna ju. I mean, estonians were deported there. I even drove past... it was a field, and there was a little obelisk there. A memorial. There used to be a concentration camp there.

I want to go to the other side of Urals next. Visit the khanty or the nenets perhaps.

Joshua ütles ...

"Komi Respublika is pretty autonomous, there are finnic shamanistic symbols everywhere and the official policy is very supporting and protective of komi identity. I guess it's kinda like Estonia, if the finno-ugric enthusiasts would be in power in Estonia."

I guess, it might be because like estonians, the komi aren't finns in their heads anymore. Whatever finn there is, it's basically decorative elements that the few finno-ugric enthusiasts are desperately trying to make matter again. The difference is that there the finnic enthusiasts are in power.

But I guess that's why Russia allows it. Komi nationalism doesn't pose a danger because it isn't perceived to be strong.

And Komi doesn't have so many resources too. So it's allowed to have it's little finnic game.

One other thing I noticed. The orthodox churches were in ruins there and one monastery I visited, our guide complained how the government doesn't finance their restoration efforts.

However the Komi government immediately found money for a Huge Big Giant Finno-Ugric Centre building they were building there.

And since the orthodox church is the second head of Russia... I just guess Komi isn't that important to Russia to keep it on a tight leash.

Flasher T ütles ...

I suppose if you want to get really unnecessarily detailed about it, the Finno-Ugric tribes did originate in Asia and arrived in their present location without intermingling with other Europeans too much on the way. Also, you want to see real oddly-Asian-looking people? Find a picture of a true, blonde, blue-eyed Sami or Lappi girl.

Flasher T ütles ...

"And does anybody have a real job here?"

...says the writer. [grin, duck, run]

Flasher T ütles ...

"I mean, Estonian kind of angry. Like me. Fundamentally and overwhelmingly, unforgivingly angry."

There's a dynamic balance at work; that kind of anger is compensated by nobody else actually taking it seriously. (Also see: Estonian politics.)

Allan ütles ...

I could agree with Flasher T.

More or less ...

I once came across an article in which a chinese linguist pointed out great similarites between Chinese (probably Mandarin) and Estonian. And the theory that went with it was that part of the ancestors of Estonians came from Europe and part from China and they intermingled here. It probably happened with other finno-ugic nations as well. The more eastward you look the more ''chinese'' the local people in Russia are (minus the russians).

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

"There's a dynamic balance at work; that kind of anger is compensated by nobody else actually taking it seriously."

good point. This is where you fill the gap with high suicide rate. Maybe?

Joshua ütles ...

"Find a picture of a true, blonde, blue-eyed Sami or Lappi girl."

Sofia Jannok :D

http://www.nll.se/upload/IB/ku/nbmuk/NBM%202009/Sofia_Jannok_hu.jpg

A lot of finno-ugric girls in Russia look similar.

ingvar ütles ...

"Find a picture of a true, blonde, blue-eyed Sami or Lappi girl."

For us older folks, there is Joni Mitchell. She always struck me as very Saami looking.

notsu ütles ...

About high cheekbones and almond eyes - I once read a study on correlation between pigmentation and racial characteristic indexes in Finnic people and there was a very curious correlation: while everywhere else in Eurasia, the thumb rule is that the more Caucasoid people are, the less pigmentation they have, statistically speaking; but in Finland, Estonia and in their neighbourhood, it's vice versa: so the blondest people you an meet here have probably the highest cheekbones (I have a lot of those fair Mongols in my family tree), and darker people (think of Saaremaa) look more like your typical European. I remember two hypothesis trying to explain this anomaly: 1) it is a mysterious protorace, from the time where racial characteristics weren't fully developed yet; 2) it is a result of lack of vitamin D in the diet of first Finnic inhabitants, so their skin colour adapted to the lack of sun; darker Indo-European types (they came from south, after all) arrived later and plunged into the gene pool, so nowadays the genetic diversity is amazingly great for such a small territory.

Mardus ütles ...

@Liivimaa parim ratsutaja:
A "господин" can be construed as "nobleman", so beware.

A "товарищ" (comrade) might pass better, but I don't know... Depends on who you talk to, and with.

Mardus ütles ...

What with the autumn's gloom here in Estonia, the thing is that the Summer (and the holiday season) is over and people aren't drunk (and mostly happy) anymore, because of men @work.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

One of the problems people have is equaling "drunk" with "happy".

In Viljandi there was a big fight recently where a merry crew of "happy" late night revelers viciously attacked the police and the neighbors.

Mardus ütles ...

@Liivimaa parim ratsutaja:

It was allegedly not alcohol that they were drunk of.

EESTI ütles ...

I am sure only about a thing. Estonians are not Germans.
There mustn't be any similarity between some persons who call "Western Sea" (=Läänemeri) the same sea that the others call "Eastern Sea" (=Ostsee).
All good wishes!

Rainer ütles ...

"I am sure only about a thing. Estonians are not Germans.
There mustn't be any similarity between some persons who call "Western Sea" (=Läänemeri) the same sea that the others call "Eastern Sea" (=Ostsee).
All good wishes!"

Whoa. The depth...