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A scene from Tallinn - Off in the distance
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May 2016
 

The Bellinghman
Date: 2008-09-23 12:06
Subject: A scene from Tallinn
Security: Public
There we were, sitting in the Café Mademoiselle in Tallinn Old Town, drinking our coffees and browsing the web, when we noted a couple attempting to order. Since pretty much everyone working in the Old Town speaks English (Estonian is a nice language, most closely related to Finnish, but the number of fluent speakers worldwide is probably less than two million), that is what this couple was doing. However, they were obviously having a vocabulary problem of some form.

And then the waitress switched language.

To Russian.

Suddenly everything went much better, since the couple was Russian, and the waitress, an Estonian of an age to have been educated while Estonia was still part of the USSR, sounded pretty much as fluent in it as they were.

I did find it interesting that the switch only occurred when the waitress had decided that English wasn't going to cut it, and that it was her rather than the Russians who did so. Given history, I can imagine that starting off in Russian in Estonia would invite a certain hostility.
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User: silly_swordsman
Date: 2008-09-23 11:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm impressed that the waitress knew languages from three families (Germanic, Slavic and Finn-Ugric). IME, it's a lot easier to learn a language from the same family as one you know already, since you can borrow a lot.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2008-09-23 13:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There's something to be said for that. On the other hand, having two languages from two different families right from the start perhaps exercises the linguistic centres more, so that other languages aren't such a problem.
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User: ext_39307
Date: 2008-09-23 12:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I observed something very similar in Hungary 10 years ago. There was a block of literature I needed to read that was only available in Russian. The museum curator I was working with finally looked over my shoulder and sight read/translated what I had been struggling with. Apparently everyone in the old Soviet block was forced to learn Russian at school, adn many of the lessons were nly given in Russian. They do not like to talk about this, and in general will deny that they know any Russian unless using it is the only option.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2008-09-23 15:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I suspected something along those lines.

There's also the way that Estonia had quite a lot of Russian immigration encouraged: many of those people are still there, and with some second generation by now, they won't want to 'go home'.
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User: vatine
Date: 2008-09-24 13:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I suspect the Swedish-speaking minority in Estonia is now down to about 0 (there was an island off the coast where they spoke Swedish as their native language, a fairly archaic dialect, with heavy Finn-Ugric influences).
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2008-09-24 14:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There were supposedly about 300 back in 2000, but yes, that's not many compared to the numbers supposedly there before WWII.

If I'd been an Estlandssvenskar when the Soviets took over, I too would have seriously considered emigrating to a country where they spoke (something pretty close to) my language instead of that weird Estonian, and which looked to be staying out of the conflict. And afterwards, I probably wouldn't have wanted to return just to live under Stalin.
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surliminal
User: surliminal
Date: 2008-09-23 17:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes - I've run into this in Hungary also and Czech rep, and Poland. No one thanked you for speaking Russian (I was accompanied by a Russian speaker in the first two.) think it's pretty universal for the old Soviet bloc except Russia itself..
Mind you trying German goes down equally well though many get it esp in Budapest which is not that far from the Austrian border:)
The new generation all speak completely fluent english of course.
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User: sshi
Date: 2008-09-23 13:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was once told by a Finnish friend to stick to the English when in Estonia and not to try and learn local phrases (please, thank you, etc.), as that would make people think I was Russian and treat me accordingly, as opposed to the glowing welcome given to English-speaking tourists (mostly of the 'hello lovely person, buy my amber/knitting/paintings/etc.' variety, but better than having people being rude to you).
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Colette
User: bellinghwoman
Date: 2008-09-23 15:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I had a similar experience in Finland last time I was there lo these many moons ago. I was speaking Swedish to someone (because I knew they would know Swedish and couldn't be sure if they would know any English) and was being given less than optimal service. Then I stumbled and had to switch into English and as soon as it became clear that I wasn't actually Swedish it was smiles all round and the level of service I received improved dramatically.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2008-09-23 15:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think the problem then may well have been that your accent when speaking Swedish was much closer to Stockholmer than to English - and the Finn would have believed you to be actually Swedish.

I strongly suspect that last Thursday, the waitress was able to detect the Russian accent when the customers were speaking English, just as you can detect a Göteborg accent in a Swede.
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surliminal
User: surliminal
Date: 2008-09-23 17:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
No, Finns really don't like Swedish-speaker Finns either! This was muchly impressed on me in Turku which is very near the swedish autonomous bit. My lodger had also mentioned it.

It also seems to be mutual - cf the Korean women married to a Swedish speaking Finn I met in Turku who'd done her PhD in japanese and spoke fluent English and Swedish but refused point blank to learn any Finnish!
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Megabitch
User: megabitch
Date: 2008-09-23 15:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am making mental notes of all the nice places you two visit. In 4 years D will be 18 and Korenwolf will be long finished with the immunisation therapy... I foresee short "getaways" on the horizon ;)
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2008-09-23 15:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Tallinn Old town is definitely nice. I can't speak for the rest of the city, since we didn't see it!

Just be very, very careful about the amber.
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