laupäev, juuni 23, 2012

saksamaal

Who's the boss?
The historical amnesia is stunning. This morning, buying a sandwich on a sunny square in Nuremberg, I had a dialogue with a friendly baker who told me that everything I knew about Estland was wrong. This started when I announced that I lived in Estland, although I am a New Yorker, expecting some kind of European comradery, and instead was met with big eyes and "Strasvoitye" or however the hell this well-known Russian greeting is rendered in the Latin alphabet.

"No, no. That's Russland," I told the baker, "not Estland." "Yes, but they are all speaking Russian in Estland," she told me. "No, they speak Estonian in Estland. It's like Finnish." "Oh, yes, they spoke that long ago, but now everybody speaks Russian," she answered. "No, I live there, trust me, most people speak Estonian," I continued. "Well," the baker harrumphed and put her hands on her hips. "That's not what I learned in school. I learned that they all speak Russian." "But they don't. They actually have a lot of German words in Estonian, kviitung, kassa, treppe ..."  "That's not what my teacher told me," the baker fired back. "Kuulge, kui te tahate ma võiks rääkida teiega eesti keeles," I shouted over the counter. That really frightened her and she sort of waved me away back out into the square.

It's funny because the Rathausplatz in Nuremberg looks a lot like the Raekoja plats in Tallinn. Here, I am reminded of the anecdote about the German who booked his flight to Estonia in anticipation of visiting some kind of little Russia and was disappointed upon landing to find himself still in Germany. But the Germans don't seem to know these things, and this begs the question, who wrote the post-war history books in Germany? In an effort to expunge all imperial urges from the German national character, were all mentions of the German people's historical legacy in the east cleansed from local memory?

Modern Germans may not know a lot about Estland, but they seem to know a lot about football. Last night's football/soccer game -- Germany versus Greece -- had the aura of some ancient war. The national anthems were played and the cameras slowly panned across the faces of the brave warriors who had come to battle over national pride by kicking a ball around on a field. The squares of Nuremberg were thronged by people wearing patriotic garb watching screens positioned outside of every bar, including a large screen in one particular square where tents were set up to provide the masses with their choice of alcoholic beverage. Each time the ball came close to the Greeks' goal, the crowd gasped and some even began to cry, only to let out a disappointing sigh when the ball was kicked beyond the goal into the crowds.

This reminded me of the time I fell asleep watching Italy play Brazil in the summer of 1995 and woke up an hour later and the score was still 0-0. An exciting game that was. Yet, eventually Germany did score, and then Greece scored, and it was a game. "There's a political element to this game," a friend yelled in my ear. "The Germans are pissed at the Greeks because of the crisis, and the Greeks are pissed at the Germans because of the terms of the bailout," he said. "But the Greeks are a bunch of lazy pieces of shit," he went on. "They sit around and smoke and eat stuffed grape leaves and then expect to retire at fifty with a nice fat pension. Well, that's not going to happen anymore ..."

I'm not sure if the rest of the Germans on the square felt the same way, but there was no shortage of national pride each time they scored. My God. The close ups on the sweaty faces of the players, the hair in their eyes, like Henry V's bloodied men at Agincourt. And then there was that woman dancing around on the sidelines who I was convinced was an impersonator of Angela Merkel until my friend informed me that it was actually the Chancellor. She was in on it too, every dance another thousand votes locked up for the next election. Look at Angie go!

This is it how Germans do nationalism these days. They are too busy winning football matches to worry about who speaks what language in Estland. If their high school teacher told them that everyone in Estland speaks Russian in 1988, well, it must be so, actual person who lives in Estland telling them otherwise right in front of their face in 2012 be damned. And there is a sort of unquestioning rigidness in the German character that perplexes me, this odd tick that makes them believe their teacher over the man in the store, or follow rules simply because they are rules. But who is making these rules, eh? Is it the same chap who's been writing these history books? Tell me please, oh Nuremberg baker woman. Who is this faceless Saxon pied piper that so many so enthusiastically follow?

Bitte schön.

51 kommentaari:

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

I actually enjoy the fact that most people don't know about or recognize Estonian.

It gives me a sense of unbearable lighntess and even a feeling of supriority being able to communicate in elfish.

Morlocks of the world won't ever understand any of that.

Marko ütles ...

It actually reminds me of my visit to my local WHo Smith. They had this really thick encyclopedia on sale for less then a fiver and as I do not posses many reference books here in the UK I was just about to get it. But what I often do with that sort of books, I tend to check up the subject I'm actually familiar with. In this case I checked up Estonia. And it was shocking. According to that book Estonia was once populated by finnic tribes but referred to as if they were long gone (it was printed in 2010). Dominant culture in the country was apparently Slavic. The whole thing just made me so sad. I was like - but I'm here, still finnic and under 30, still breathing and collecting my thoughts in that strange language, but according to that book I did not exist. Made me feel like shit for the rest of the day, mind you....

Syntax ütles ...

I do the same Marko. You wouldn't believe the crap that is written in British encyclopedias about Ireland. We have loads of books in my school library about Britain. All of them talk of Ireland as if it were a part of greater Britain. It used to make me annoyed. Now I just ignore them.

On the matter of Estonians speaking Estonian. When abroad people think I am being smart when I answer "What's the language of Estonia?" with "Estonian". I have had French people tell me Breton is a dialect of French. People argue you that you're wrong about lots of things, even stuff you KNOW. What can you do but laugh on the outside and cry on the inside and when you turn the corner get sick in your hat.

karLcx ütles ...

i always thought of europe in the same way i see my own apartment building. a lot of little apartments populated by people who seem to pride themselves on how little they know about their neighbours, and anyway probably prefer the rumour to actually knowing the guy upstairs who they can hear peeing every morning. it's easier to deal with an uncomfortable proximity and ethnocentrism at home when you don't know who it is upstairs peeing.

C. ütles ...

Who wrote the post-war history books in Germany? – Americans. In their effort for denazification they looked closely at what was in written in the textbooks (which was a good thing in the case fascism). However, with the Cold War, a good deal of propaganda and ignorance against the Russian-dominated Eastbloc was mixed into it too, just like anywhere else in Western Europe. For Eastern Germany the story is vice versa: The Estonian SSR was part of the great and wonderful USSR, hence they speak Russian, end of the story.

This persistent thinking across (Western) Europe of an entirely Russian-speaking Estonia is pretty much a legacy of the past. It will take another generation until it disappears.

C. ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Rainer ütles ...

I can take it up a notch. I'm sure you've seen a TV series Ehh, uhhuduur http://www.tellimine.ee/raamatud/ehh-uhhuduur , or read the book. Basically, a bunch of guys riding therir bicycles around the world. There was this episode, where they met a Turkish man, who asked them, where were they from. After their reply his face lit up and he said something in Russian. "Actually, we speak Estonian", Hannes Hanso then said.
"Estonian does not exist. People speak Russian in Estonia", the Turk said, already annoyed. Then Hanso said something in Estonian, and the man went ballistic, yelling and stomping his feet: "I have lived in Estonia! There is no such language!!!", and then basically covered his ears and went "Lalalalala". Go figure. Kind of reminds me of our "friend" m....ort, who claims to have lived in Estonia, but describes Elbonia.

Kristopher ütles ...

That's why I liked Malta so much.... Not only did people tend to know what the EST on the car license plates was but they also didn't make any Slavic or Balkan assumptions.

Rainer ütles ...

I bet it has something to do with the Eurovision song contest.

ontheway ütles ...

""Well," the baker harrumphed and put her hands on her hips. "That's not what I learned in school. I learned that they all speak Russian.""

Next time don't argue for so long. Simply tell the ignorant person, "With all due respect sir/mam, get your mind out of the gutter!!!"

Rainer ütles ...

Or: "Stop flaunting your ignorance like it's something to be proud of".

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

From my school experience in Germany, the language thing is not a topic. But in the atlas, used in geography, there are always these languages maps. Since I know them, since the 70ies, they all acknowledged that in Estonia there is a finno-ugric language.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

From my school experience in Germany, the language thing is not a topic. But in the atlas, used in geography, there are always these languages maps. Since I know them, since the 70ies, they all acknowledged that in Estonia there is a finno-ugric language.

joekisama ütles ...

Yeah, no one speaks Russian in Estonia. And finno-ugric tribes are very much alive, living their semi-nomadic ways. And Finno-ugric culture has nothing to do with any mixture of German, Polish, Swedish and Russian culture. Because we all know better, Estonia is a big finno-ugric world that got stuck in 450 anno domini. Let's just skip over some centuries, it's not like they matter.

Rainer ütles ...

What is the point of your passive-aggressive rant?

Marko ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Rainer ütles ...

1. I agree 100%
2. Ourselves? I beg to differ. It's usually the foreigner who lump us together with Russia, "the East", because it is easier that way. Maybe some unscrupulous Estonians as well, but mostly not.

Rainer ütles ...

Sometimes, when I see in Tallinn one of those theme tours a la "relive the Soviet times" with their KGB parafanalia and what not, I would like to shoot the organisers, those soulless whores to the face at point blank range. I'm not a violent man, but there, I said it.

Säss ütles ...

I had a fun conversation with a German in Australia a few months back:
Me: "I'm learning German and Estonian"
Her: "What?"
Me: "Estnisch"
Her: "What?"
Me: "From Estonia"
Her: "What?"
Me: "Estland"
Her: "Iceland?"
Me: "No, Estland"
Her: "Where is that?"
Me: "Kind of between Finland and Russia."
Her: Looks blank
Me: "Have you heard of Latvia?"
Her: "Yeah."
Me: "It's on top of that one."
Her: "Ah." Still looks blank.
Me: "Germany occupied it on and off for a while."
Her: "Really? Hunh."

I guess I can't really comment. I've lived in a Pacific country all my life, but I can't say I know which of the other islands are their own countries and which "belong" to someone else...

Giustino ütles ...

Yeah, no one speaks Russian in Estonia. And finno-ugric tribes are very much alive, living their semi-nomadic ways. And Finno-ugric culture has nothing to do with any mixture of German, Polish, Swedish and Russian culture. Because we all know better, Estonia is a big finno-ugric world that got stuck in 450 anno domini. Let's just skip over some centuries, it's not like they matter.

Well, it's obvious to see the German influence on the Estonian language. Everywhere I turn, I am confronted with a familiar word. :)

Yes, the Soviet population transfers remain extremely controversial, because they remind us of the Third Reich's plans for settling their annexed territories.

It was Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov who told Vincas Mickevičius in 1940 that:

"You must take a good look at reality and understand that in the future small nations will have to disappear. Your Lithuania along with the other Baltic nations, including Finland, will have to join the glorious family of the Soviet Union. Therefore you should begin now to initiate your people into the Soviet system which in the future shall reign everywhere, throughout all Europe, put into practice earlier in some places, as in the Baltic nations, later in others."

Pretty chilling stuff. We forget that Molotov was not merely a Peter the Great-invoking Russian nationalist (as are more common in these days) but political extremist serving a murderous regime, one bent on forcing Stalinism on any country it could. We shouldn't forget about Stalinism. It is too easy these days, when few expound it as an ideology, to forget what ideologies were in conflict in the mid 20th century, and boil it all down to Russians and Estonians and Germans ...

vd07 ütles ...

Säss's conversation is exactly the same I've heard here in Sweden. Iceland is the first choise if they don't understand. Not always our 'new countrymen', even Sweds don't know much. And of course, we all are talking in Russian...

Martin-Éric ütles ...

The most ridiculous case of such "I know better than you, lalala" I ever got was when I needed to get my name fixed in the Soome population registry:

For many years, my name appeared there without the hyphen and without the accent. After asking enough people, I finally learned which agency to ask for a correction.

Bringing my passport, birth certificate and other relevant documents, I asked them to fix an obvious mistake. The old lady wouldn't budge. She said that if it appears this way, then it must be the correct official spelling so, if I want to indulge into arbitrarily re-inventing myself, I must pay for that and properly justify my request.

After I perstered her long enough, she decided to call the person who made the original entry in another city. Turns out that particular person somehow decided that she has a better knowledge of French than my fellow countrymen and, birth certificates be damned, she's just gonna input my name without the hyphen and without the accent.

Having clarified this, the old lady perstered me back and repeatedly asked if I was really, totally and adamantly certain that it is how my name is written and if this really is so important as to require performing a correction in the national population's registry. After I outright yelled at her, loud enough for the whole city to hear, that (tõesti soome keeles) "One would think that I must know how my own goddamn name is spelled, wouldn't it?" she got scared enough to fix it and produce written proof that a change of name had taken place in the registry, adding in a very embarrassed tone that, since this was an obvious mistake, let's say that they're not gonna bill me for performing a name change.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

What I have learned from 1988-1991: Estonia is not the issue. Everybody has an opinion about nationalism, Russia, Europe, minorities. Estonia was just a name to discuss that, without knowing the real thing. I felt hurt, I was angry, I was getting really angry. But then. Over. Everything happened without the comments of any random German. Ignorance is the rule. Who knows about Tunesia, Libya, Syria? The the same procedure as usual. But it will happen again.

Marko ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Rainer ütles ...

"what are we going to do about it?"

To stick around. The best srategy.

Marko ütles ...
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Rainer ütles ...

Marko, what I meant was sticking around, being persistent and making yourselves known: Here we are and we're not going away. Not this time.
Actually I am proud of T.H. Ilves of speaking out on Estonia's behalf and attacking "Western" ignorance, prejudice and sterotypes. He may have gone overboard on Twitter, but he and Estonia got noticed and recieved overall good press.

Rainer ütles ...

The gist of my reply is that every Estonian must act as an ambassador of his/her country and disseminate accurate information about it.

Marko ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Rainer ütles ...

Well, my point may have been subjective, but what do you expect me to say? To lay down a plan for Estonia's national image rescue? If I knew how to do that, I would have launced it already, without engaging in blog commentaries.

Marko ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Rainer ütles ...

After taking a bike ride and clearing my head I realised that the Internet has probably been the best thing that has happened to Estonia in recent past. It is a tremendeous equaliser. There are no great or small in the Web. We can't change erroneous articles in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but we can challenge the online news of the RT, which is not very hard since the ones calumnising Estonia are so preposterous and outlandish in their lies. But the problem is with the people who WANT to believe lies, because they "know better" - that is a viscious circle hard to break. I guess the only way is to give them time to realise, that by buying into such propaganda the joke will eventually be on them.

Marko ütles ...
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Temesta ütles ...

What is the problem actually? Estonia doesn't have a bad image internationally (and who cares about RT?), the problem is more one of ignorance (but that's typical for many small countries).
I don't understand at what/whom you are so angry.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

I travel quite a bit inside the US and every hotel I stay in has RT as part of the free channels on TV. Looks like Russia is pushing hard to have its propaganda heard.

Ironically, if you want news about Russia itself, this is not the channel to watch. They focus on America and the rest of the world. If there is anything about Russia at all, it is all good news. Watch RT long enough and you would want to emigrate to Russia, a land of milk and honey.

karLcx ütles ...

if eesti is seen in any negative light abroad it's demographically. estonians need to make babies, and lots of them. have at least four, and make sure at least one of them marries a russian. problem solved! :)

Marko ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Rainer ütles ...

Marko, it seems to me your negative experience in the UK has embittered you beyond measure. I know Brits are an exreme example of ignorance and arrogance combined, but all the world beyond their former empire is beyond their competence and comprehension, so this is by no means a distinctly Estonian or even East European issue. So please try to simmer down, OK? You'll only upset yourself further.

Marko ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Marko ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Rainer ütles ...

Hm... Talk about a vanishing act.

Marko ütles ...

Just not worth it, mate. We can agree to disagree on this one and no harm done.

Got too emotional over it anyway, and theres no need for that.

It is hard to live abroad yet stay true to who you are and where you come from. It is even harder to prove to people, in real terms - day in and out, year after year, we, Estonians, are not like them, the East. It does restrict you great deal and puts great pressures on your mental well-being. Thus occasionally, you snap, and then you collect yourself and keep calm and smile and carry on.

You mentioned ambassadors earlier, you should also give them some credit - it aint easy, and people do it out of selfless need to do some greater good.

Temesta ütles ...

It is even harder to prove to people, in real terms - day in and out, year after year, we, Estonians, are not like them, the East.

It depends what you mean with the East. I have met Poles, Slovaks,... who are just as offended as Estonians when people refer to their countries as 'Eastern Europe'. But at the same time I know Estonians who wear this label as a badge of pride, to distinguish themselves from the 'spoiled West'.
Estonians can also be ignorant about other post-communist countries. Recently one commentator on this blog placed Poland together with Romania in terms of economic development, while it has reached the same level as Estonia.

Meelis ütles ...

"we, Estonians, are not like them, the East."
May be better variant is: "we, Estonians, are not like them, Russia"

lohekala ütles ...

Next time, having a similar discussion, if you really want to shock the person you are having a conversation with, tell him/her that actually English/German/French/Italian etc are more closely related to Russian than Estonian is. Indo-European language tree vs Finno-Ugric.

lohekala ütles ...

Forgot to mention the most important thing, why I even logged in to comment in the first place - I supposed you were watching the football match between Italy and Brazil in 1994 (World Cup final), not in 1995. The devil is in the details... :)

Rainer ütles ...

"...if you really want to shock the person you are having a conversation with, tell him/her that actually English/German/French/Italian etc are more closely related to Russian than Estonian is. Indo-European language tree vs Finno-Ugric."
Yes, if you want to alienate them and drive them to the "Russians arms".

Asehpe ütles ...

Some small countries (Switzerland, the Netherlands) are better known than others (Estonia, Albania). Still, the amount of ignorance that most people in Europe have, even about their nearest neighbors, is staggering. ('Switzerland? That's where Hitler was born, right?' 'The Netherlands, ah yes! That's where the Vikings came from.')

I suppose it's more frequent in Germany that you find those people-who-repeat-what-their-teachers-said-as-the-holy-writ or people-who-follow-rules-just-because-they're-rules, but it can happen pretty much anywhere. Some day I should tell you about the Brazilian guy who told me he knew Miami was the capital of Florida -- because he had supposedly been there and seen the state capitol...

Asehpe ütles ...

Some small countries (Switzerland, the Netherlands) are better known than others (Estonia, Albania). Still, the amount of ignorance that most people in Europe have, even about their nearest neighbors, is staggering. ('Switzerland? That's where Hitler was born, right?' 'The Netherlands, ah yes! That's where the Vikings came from.')

I suppose it's more frequent in Germany that you find those people-who-repeat-what-their-teachers-said-as-the-holy-writ or people-who-follow-rules-just-because-they're-rules, but it can happen pretty much anywhere. Some day I should tell you about the Brazilian guy who told me he knew Miami was the capital of Florida -- because he had supposedly been there and seen the state capitol...

ijcannon ütles ...

Encourage people to give friends the book "Carrying Linda's Stones". From it, Germans and others would get a clear picture from the first person accounts of what happened in Estonia during World War II and the occupations, and no longer would they think Russian is spoken in the country.

Gio Ve (Riigipiirid) ütles ...

German people of current time are forgetting a lot of thing. They don't remember that the origin of "Prussia" is the same of "Russia", they don't remember that the suffyx "-lin" in Berlin (Fortress of the Bear) is the same of Tallinn (Fortress of the Danes) and they don't remember that Ms. Angela Merkel is an "Ossie".
God save Germany, the only muslim country in the world which never declared war agaist Israel...