A Cultural Communication Discovery

by Kenneth Rayman on June 29, 2018
Tallinn has exposed me to culture from even before I got to the “Mindvalley Hub.” When I arrived at Tallinn, my baggage was delayed, when I went to lost luggage desk I was initially shocked that the guy at the desk seemed to ignore me and was uncaring in his attitude, yet I then reminded myself of the difference in culture that I’d previously experienced last year in Russia, Finland, and Norway; not everyone is as forward as Americans with their emotional communication.

As I stood there a bit miffed (I hadn’t been able to relax and sleep on the plane) after being awake for 24 straight hours and jet lagged, I immediately reset saying to myself, “Americans wear their emotions on their sleeves. This could be why we are sometimes deemed arrogant and overbearing as tourists. Americans say the same thing about my favorite culture, Russia.” I noticed the immediate flash “assumption” that it was the same here. Estonians, like the Russians, don’t show emotion like we do but they don’t not have emotions. It just doesn’t rule their makeup but to the American eye it can determined as “arrogant, aloof, uncaring” and in the case of the Russians, “mean and/or suspicious.” But they do care!

In today’s Estonia culture day at MVU it was discussed a little more. The example that was given was the answer to “how is your day going?” is “normal.” But to an Estonian saying “normal” means their day is going “fantastic” but means also that nothing more needs to be said unless asked.

I can almost count on a question at my presentations of “how was I received as an American?” My last presentation on Russia afforded me the opportunity to elaborate a little more than previously. I mention the previous history of outsider involvement in their country, which coincidentally so does Estonia. I illustrate how after a day or two of polite and mutually balanced conversation people can open up.

It seems to be the same with Estonia, the most recent example being the Singing Revolution. The Singing Revolution is a point of pride that they showed individuality and, to a point, defiance during the mandated uniformity of the Soviet apparatus in the Cold War, that then led to singing arm and arm preventing Soviet tanks from entering the parliament in 1991. But also the German WW2 ravaging of the Baltic states as they moved to conquer Europe and invade the Russian territory.

The Estonians take pride in their efficiency, and it’s evident in their technological development, you just need to be open to what the culture values without rushing to snap judgments.