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Eestimaa Estonia! – Weekly #9

April 14, 2010

This week, we were tasked with getting out of the US and exploring blogs from across the globe. In my research, I fortuitously stumbled across a wonderful Estonian blog, Itching for Eestimaa, written by editor and ex-pat Giustino Patrone. Giustino is an Irish-Italian American living in Estonia. His wife is Estonian – which begs the question, was he swept off his feet by her Estonian beauty?  They live in Tartu, Estonia and are raising their family of two daughters living a traditional Estonian life. In his witty and well-written posts, Giustino chronicles his life in Estonia and tackles some broad social topics affecting Estonians.

Some of the most interesting points on this blog are the details about what makes Estonian life special – from the food (jams and jellied meats!), to the unique Estonian coffee, to the language itself.

Giustino spends some time unpacking Estonian figures of speech. Often, these expressions shed light into the nature and identity of a culture – a demonstration of the power of discourse (how we use language to talk about things).

For example, the US, people will say, “She passed the test with flying colors.” This expression would not make sense if you looked up every word in a dictionary and just put the definitions together. It is an idiomatic phrase that only makes sense in the context of US culture – and, its military and competitive epistemology  (the “colors” of the flags) speaks to the nature of our culture.

In Estonian, these idiomatic sayings are called kõnekäänud.  Giustino notes that in Estonia, many of these expressions have to do with nature and animals.

One phrase that I found particularly interesting, and that perhaps we need a homologue for here in the States, is Nokk kinni, saba lahti. This translates literally to “Beak to tail off.” But what does this mean?  “Imagine you are a bird,” says a native Estonian. “You are pecking away with your beak, your nokk, but if you peck too hard, then, your beak gets stuck and your tail, your saba, is lahti, exposed.” But it doesn’t end there. “Then the bird struggles to get free,” she leans in to demonstrate, “and it pulls and pulls and pulls, and then, bang!,” she tosses her head back, “the bird loses its balance – It’s like you try to fix one problem, and you just wind up with another problem.” Does this idea of making problems from trying to solve other problems sound familiar? (Here’s looking at you Timothy Geithner).

Estonian Men… And their American Brethren

In his latest entry, välismaa mees, which translates to “foreign men,” Giustino discusses the issues around foreign men marrying Estonian women, and the view of men in Estonian culture at large. This piece is particularly interesting as it challenges Estonian men with many of the same issues facing American men: a stripping away of their masculinity, being compared to “pigs,” problems with substance abuse – particularly alcohol.

In the blog, Giustino writes of how many Estonians compare themselves to foreigners, and are driven to improve by measuring themselves against a yardstick of European or American values that emphasize a healthy diet and smoking cessation.

These incentives got me thinking about the state of the American male: where does he go for such inspiration? It does not seem common here for American men to compare themselves longingly to foreign counterparts. Yet, many American and European males struggle with things like diet, or feelings of inadequacy do to height. In his post, Giustino recommends that Estonian women seek outside their borders to find men suitable for marriage, and that Estonian men look to the rest of the world for inspiration  to improve. In a lively discussion typical of this blog’s community, many commentators have agreed with this advice.

Estonia is a small country, and there are many easily accessible “foreign” countries close by, as seen on the map above. Moreover, taking the lower smoking rates of Americans and the better eating habits of Europeans as inspiration seems like the best of both worlds. But where does all this leave the single beauties of the good old U.S. of A? America is not such a small place, and for many women, especially those not living on the coasts, American men are the only fish in the sea. Additionally, those men don’t seem to have the mindset of seeking out international role models for improvement. I can’t help but to think of the plight of the single ladies stateside and hope American males will be as willing and open to improvement.

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