On the word "Should", Estonia and the life in-between

"Should." How many times did I hear that word said to me in Estonia?

My God, I had forgotten about the social expectations of this little Nordic country - that is, until I came for a 2-week visit in May and, suddenly, it came flooding back to my why I didn't feel home there in the first place.

Should. Should. Should.

I feel anger over this word because, ever since I was little, it's been used routinely about my behaviour, implying that I was too this or that - too loud, too rambunctious, too unaccepting of authority, whatever - and it's clear I have an ongoing process of dealing with these implications, which I accept.

But I had forgotten how prevalent such a word was in Estonia - until I came for a visit and thought, "My God, I had forgotten about that."

Every day someone (sometimes even people I didn't know personally) said to me, "You should..."

The language of my kids especially. Man, I had not expected (of prepared for!) that.

I was standing outside the apartment block my mother lives in, and a man who lives in the next block over recognised me. "Masha!" he exclaimed. "Mashenka!" (Masha - it's a Russian diminutive of Maria.)

That man had not seen me in about 10 years, and even prior to that was never a friend to speak of - just a person our family knew who was living in the next block over. "Mashenka, it's so good to see you! I haven't seen you in such a long time! How are you!" (without waiting for me to answer) "Oh, and you have a daughter! How wonderful! Tell me, tell me! How are you! Mashenka!"

I started to answer in Russian but quickly The Girlie started to say something I needed to react to in English, and the man recoiled in horror. "What!? You're speaking to her in English!? Why!?!" (without waiting for me to answer) "But you should speak to her in Russian! Why would you speak to her in a language your family doesn't speak!? Mashenka, you need to teach your children Russian!"

And on it went.

And I understand, that was the most theatrical example of the lot, but... I got the "bilingual reaction" a lot in Estonia, from people I didn't expect, in forms I hadn't prepared myself for. I got told that speaking two languages is really good for children's brains, and why don't I know that it's an important thing I can do for their development. I got sincere surprises, borderline offended reactions, worry. And I understand - for the people (who had those reactions) the fact that I speak to my children in English only was a surprise, and they reacted out of those surprises.

But still - how many times did I hear that I should talk to my children in both languages? Rather than simply an inquisitive question as to why we're doing it? (Which, by the way, I quickly recognised I wasn't prepared to answer truthfully anyway because it involves a story I am not interested in sharing with people I don't trust. Towards the end I simply learned to reply with, "We decided that way. Several reasons.")

I got told that I should dress my children differently. That I should come to Estonia more often. That I should wear make-up a little. That I should moisturise.

And maybe the amount of "should"-s wasn't even that impressive to another person's perception - but to me, coming from an environment where I now feel an awful lot of freedom is allowed to my life, being faced with such an amount of "should"-s in places I didn't expect left me defensive and somewhat bruised.

Because the thing is... I remembered that. I remembered growing up in the environment where I quietly and constantly was reminded in the form of little "helpful" "instructions" that I didn't quite fit in and how I have always strived towards finding other, more suitable places instead.

I found them in the form of youth parliament movements, in friends who were more outspoken themselves, partners who saw me for the beauty of my character rather than its flaws, the rugged communities in Alaska and Svalbard and New Zealand, people who weren't necessarily politically correct, but who had a certain kind of integrity to them. I strived for an environment of acceptance, adamant that there was a place in the world I would feel home (there had to be!), so I ended up in New Zealand where I rarely hear the word "should" said to me in the form of "life instructions", with The Man, with a daughter who just like I pushed the buttons of people around me when I was growing up, is pushing my own buttons, and every day I am working on creating a feeling of acceptance around her, and a feeling of acceptance of her in me.

Which is hard work. Most things that are really important are hard.

You can bang your head a lot with these two but, in the end, you just need to let them go and let them do their own thing, because in the end that's what they'll do anyway, so you may as well save the effort and accept the bounciness, rather than complain of the angles of their elbows which they'll "knuckle" people with on the way to where they're going anyway.

At least that's what I tell myself a lot of the time as I learn to celebrate my daughter :).

I had forgotten about that. I had forgotten about a lot of things in Estonia.

I said to my brother that, looking at the cars parked around the apartment blocks in a town where I grew up - a relatively poor region - it fascinated me that the cars were really... nice. I mean, there were no trashed-in Fiats to speak of. I was looking around and I was sure there were more old, banged-up cars on the street where I lived in Invercargill, than in this poor region of Estonia. My brother then reminded me that, there, a car was a status symbol. A cultural Soviet relic so to speak.

I had forgotten how difficult it was to use the toilet in public in Estonia. I am so used to plentiful public toilets in New Zealand, most of them free of charge, that I was left dumb-founded in a large shopping centre in Estonia where I headed for the toilet sign and realised, you have to pay to enter. I mean... I honestly cannot remember the last time I used a toilet I had to pay for. Standing there in Estonia, with no cash and not even a credit card on me, I was looking at the sign and thinking, "Bloody hell, they still have those." Walking in the Old Town the other evening, same thing - public toilets, but pay-to-enter gates out front. Jesus.

It astounded me how difficult good children's playgrounds were to find. Young and childless, I had never paid attention to such stuff before, but now travelling and with two kids, I was suddenly thinking, "Is that it? There has to be more, surely. Where do people take their kids?"

There were good things, too. Public transport. Food. (Food!)

And please understand that I understand the cultural history of Estonia (which is very different from New Zealand!) and the importance of social cohesion in a country which shares land-borders with nations who are hungry, hungry! for more, more power. I understand that, but it nevertheless struck me how much cultural expectations there is around norms - norms I'm not used to. Norms different from what I'm used to - because New Zealand has cultural norms, too.

And I understand my grandmother, too, who would grab her chest and exclaim, "Child, you're going to drive me to my grave!" I understand my grandfather who had to repair the glasshouse after I had broken the glass pane. I understand - old shed roofs are not really meant to hold the weight of a climbing 9-year-old. I even understand the teacher who called my mother to complain about the fact that I spoke up against her authority in class.

I understand, I do.

But I don't agree with them.

The feeling of relief I experienced when the plane approached New Zealand, the weight I felt lifted off me when I saw the first towns of Northland appear in the night below us and I burst out crying on the plane, thankful to be home...

It was good to be away, but it's good to be back, too.


  1. I think this more typical for small european countries but yes in Estonia is it holy sacrilege if you don't teach estonian to you children of at least pretend to reach it. But I understand you reasons very well and it nobodys business.

  2. Oh, I know what you mean and I have grown thick skin by now. My children are teenagers now and yes, they can't speak Estonian. Past ten or more years I felt crap, when I had to justify, why I didn't teach my kids speak Estonian. I didn't decide it, just life happened. and it's not anybody's business.

  3. Well.. in Estonia, in my opinion, the toilets are not free of charge just to filter out people who shouldn´t be there (ie homeless people etc who would go there and sleep or do something woese) and mostly in "very public places" (I assume you are talking about Viru Keskus) Usually the cost is 20 cents, so it´s more of a formality. In Germany there are old/tired/ women sitting in front of every public toilet, including the ones in the restaurants that you are having dinner in. That is just WTF in my books. I am not sure if they kick you out if you don´t pay or not but I don´t have the stomach to walk by them.. I guess it´s a "social job" but I would take the anonymous gates every day.. The cost is usually between 0,5-1€ which is also readiculous. I just got so tired of that!! For playground info you SHOULD have asked :) :p

    1. So, those old ladies in Germany sitting in front of toilets - I don't quite understand, are they collecting money from people who need to use the toilets? Or they're just, you know, hanging out? (And if they're just hanging out, why in front of toilets?)

      I keep reading this comment, and I don't get it :)

  4. Teie pere inglise keele "eelistus" on mulle selge, aga tahaks väga, et lapselapsed saaksid aru, ei ole tähtis, et kõneleksid!!!

  5. Arvatavasti olid inimesed, kes ütlesid Sulle, et "Sa pead", kuid see inimene ei olnud mina, mina küsisin pigem "miks..."

  6. Oh, Maria, vähe on blogimaastikul postitusi, millega olen sellisel määral samastuda saanud. Justnimelt, see neetud „sa peaksid“. Tihedamini Eestis käima. Abikaasale eesti keelt õpetama. Ja nii edasi.

    Ning WCde teema tekitas minus täieliku deja vu. Ma reeglina ei lingi omaenda blogipostitustele, aga seesinane läheb sinu kirjeldatuga liig hästi kokku, et linkimata jätta. http://viistuhatviissada.blogspot.com/2013/09/mul-polnud-senini-ettekujutust-tallinna.html

    1. Lugesin läbi ja noogutan kaasa. Ja tahan küsida: kas sul on ka vahel kurb meel, kui sa Eesti kohta negatiivselt kirjutad?

      Sest mul on vahel kurb meel / süütunne küll, kui selliseid postitusi kirjutan. Alati on paar inimest, kes loevad ja pahaseks saavad, vahel käiakse kommentaariumis sõrmega viibutamas, et näed, ise kolis Uus-Meremaale, aga nüüd kirjutab pahasid asju Eesti kohta tagantjärele.

      Minu jaoks see on see... tasakaalu küsimus. Eestis on hunnik asju, mis on paremad, kui mujal - ma olen Uus-Meremaal inimestele rääkinud küll asjade kohta, mida see pisike põhjamaa teeb hoopis paremini, kui teised. Aga on asju, milles Eesti ei ole parem - ja see postitus oli üks nendest.

  7. Oi, kuidas mulle see postitus meeldis! Pani mõtlema ja enda asju peas klaarima ja üldse ... Aga kõige rohkem meeldis mulle see mõte, et selle asemel, et öelda, kuidas keegi teine PEAKS toimima, võiks hoopis küsida, et miks niiviisi. (isegi, kui sa sellele küsimusele vastata poleks tahtnud ;-) Aga siis üldisemas plaanis, selle asemel, et hukka mõista, epistlit lugema hakata, tasuks uudishimulik ja avatud olla. Proovida mõista enne kui hakata hukka mõistma.

    1. "Aga siis üldisemas plaanis, selle asemel, et hukka mõista, epistlit lugema hakata, tasuks uudishimulik ja avatud olla. Proovida mõista enne kui hakata hukka mõistma." Sobib võrdselt mõlemale "osapoolele" mu meelest.

  8. Ma mõtlesin ikka väga pikalt, et kas ma kirjutan siia kommentaari. Kustutasin ja kirjutasin ikka mitu korda.

    Mina olen just see eestlane, kes elab Eestis, kel pole kakskeelseid lapsi ja kes eesti keelt üsna oluliseks peab. Ma arvan, et meie keel on hindamatu väärtusega, mis siis, et pisikene ja maailmas mastaabis arvatavasti üsna väike ning küllap nii mõnegi arvates mõttetu könnike. Ma arvan, et kui vähegi võimalik, siis peaks iga eestlasest lapsevanem tegema mis nende võimuses, et nende lapsed - siin, seal, välismaal - eesti keelt õpiks vähemalt aru saama, veel parem kui rääkima.

    Ent selle kõige juures tahan ma siiski rõhutada, et mu oma arvamus eesti keele omandamisest välismaal ja eriti lastel, kelle tulevik pole seotud Eestiga (ja küllap ei saa ka olema), käib väga tihti ühest seinast teise. Jah, ma olen oma keele patrioot, aga ma ei häbene ka tunnistada, et ma suhtlen igapäevaselt inglise keeles, loen tihti eestikeelsete tõlgete asemel hoopis inglisekeelseid raamatuid, tarbin hea meelega pigem UK-s tehtud seriaale või dokumentaalfilme ning segan oma keelt inglisekeelsete väljenditega - hea keelekaitsja küll, eksole? Ja ma näen seda väga palju ka enda ümber - keel mugandub ja muutub. Erinevalt Soomest, kus üritatakse siiski igale välismaisele väljendile leida omakeelne vaste, minnakse Eestis tihti kergema vastupanu teed - kas mugavusest või siis lihtsalt seetõttu, et inimesed ei kasuta omakeelset vastet. Näiteks brokoli ehk spargelkapsas - kes kutsub seda spargelkapsaks? Pea kõik kutsuvad seda brokkoliks (just, kahe kk-ga, mis on otsene mugandus inglise keelest), mitte spargelkapsaks või brokoliks. Ja selliste muganduste valguses tundub kahepalgeline see hüsteeriline reaktsioon, et appi meie keel sureb välja kui välismaal elavad eestlased oma lapsi ei õpeta - me suudame siin Eestis, nüüd ja praegu, ise ka selle suundusega hakkama saada.

    Muidugi pean ma keeleoskust tähtsaks. Mulle tundub, et eestlaste jaoks on keel selline püha graal - kui oskad, siis oled oma; kui ei - olgu sul kasvõi pass - aga sa pole oma. Nende võõraste naabrimeeste reaktsiooon (minu arust on tähelepanuväärne, et nii eestlased kui venelased reageerisid üsna sarnaselt - vähemalt selline mulje jäi)läheb nimelt sinna kategooriasse, kus hakatakse arvama, et see laps pole "oma". Muidugi võib küsida, et kelle asi see üldse on, aga ka siin kirjutises tuleb välja, et Eesti ühiskond on nagu väike... küla või kogukond - kõik arvavad, et nende ninal on õigus teiste asjades olla - sealt ka see "miks su laps ei räägi vene/eesti/suahiili keelt!!??". Ka see "peaks" suhtumine väljendab minu arust meie külakeskset suhtumist või siis tuleneb see sellest, et meid on nii vähe, et inimesed arvavad, et nende asi on "hüva nõu nimel teistele juhiseid jagada".

    Pika kommentaari lõpetuseks - teoorias on lihtne öelda, et miks ei õpeta ja kuidas ei õpeta ning "should" ja "could" igasuguseid asju tegema. Lõppeks teab iga lapsevanem siiski ise paremini ja kui meie keelele on ette nähtud nii minema, siis see läheb niikuinii. Mitte keegi, peale nende inimeste endi, kel on sellega kogemus, ei tea, kui raske on õpetada keelt lapsele, kes elab täielikult teises kultuurikeskkonnas ja keda ümbritseb mingi muu keel. See on see teadmine, mille mina olen viimase aasta-pooleteise jooksul ise omandanud, olles lastetu ja elades Eestis, ja ükskõik kui kurvaks see mind ka ei tee, siis mina annan endale aru, et see pole minu asi, mida teevad teised inimesed. Jah, arvamust võib ju avaldada, aga kui need arvamused baseeruvad teoorial (nagu minu puhul), mitte praktikal, siis on nendel arvamustel tegelikult sama palju kaalu kui õhul.

    1. Sa kirjutasid neljandas lõigus hästi selle "oma" kohta - et Eesti kogukond on nagu küla, kus on "omad" ja "mitte omad". Minu arust see omanditunne ongi sõna "peaksid" taga: kui kellelgi on teise inimese kohta tunne, et tolle teise inimese teod on nagu "meie kõigi asi ju", siis tulebki see sõna, "peaksid" sisse.

      Uus-Meremaal on hoopis suurem... individualism - Eestiga võrreldes. Et igaüks nagu ajab oma asja, ja see on rohkem tema enda asi, mis ta teeb ja kuidas ta teeb. Mitte kõigis elu valdkondades, loomulikult, sest erinevaid asju tehakse erinevalt, eks - aga niimoodi, üldiselt rääkides.

      Ja see ei ole tingimata ei parem ega halvem, et niimoodi on - lihtsalt erinev. On plussid, ja on miinused.

      Pluss on see, et mulle sobib selline suhtumine rohkem - mina sobin siia paremini, mulle tundub. Mulle meeldib, et mind ei kamandata siin.

      Miinus on see, et sellist "oma küla" tunnet on vaja tükk aega taga ajada, ja kui kellelgi on tunne, et talle just oleks rohkem vaja sellist "me teeme asju koos" suhtumist, siis tal võib seda siin puudu jääda.

  9. Ohh, see WC-värk. Kord rongiga Tallinna sõites, tekkis ka tahtmine kasutada ühte ja Balti jaamas on selline päevinäinud WC koos raha nõudva naisterahvaga, kelle käes oli vähemalt tol korral ka wc-paber. Ning äkki lausa 40 senti oli see lõbu. Teretulemast Tallinnasse rongireisija! Edaspidi õppisin, et Balti jaama turul on täiesti korralikud kaasaegsed vetsud täiesti tasuta:-).

    1. Huvitav oleks järele vaadata, tegelikult, kas netis on nüüd selliseid turistidele mõeldud veebikaarte, kus WC-de asukohad peal on.