Author Archive

Time to squeeze out the sponges

Time to squeeze out the sponges

“It’s complicated being an ametnik. They have so much responsibility.” I paraphrase Tea Varrak on the April 5th television broadcast of Vabariigikodanik, defending state-sector salaries against criticism leveled by journalist Vallo Toomet. Toomet pointed out in a recent Eestipäevaleht column that state sector salaries are, on average, one-third higher than private sector salaries, and that […]

I think I’m fluent enough… or not

I think I’m fluent enough… or not

“He is having an operation in your leg,” said Andrei’s wife in English. She was explaining why Andrei hadn’t been by to pick up the New Yorker magazines which I save for him. She spoke a mix of Russian and English, and I tried to respond by doing the same. “Potom kogda ja dayu zhurnali […]

Sometimes it’s easier to be a bastard

Sometimes it’s easier to be a bastard

“This has no apostille!” So said the lady at the registry of births who examined my marriage certificate. I was trying to register my newborn son with the state, but it seemed the officials weren’t going to have it. “Sure it does,” I said. “Look right there.” I pointed to the embossed gold stick-on seal […]

What to say when you become a father?

What to say when you become a father?

“Lance Armstrong, how does it feel to win the Tour de France?” How do you answer that? I’ve never been satisfied with the answers athletes give, and so I found myself stumped when friends began calling to ask, “How does it feel to be a father?” I answered like a professional athlete (“Great!”), but I […]

Longing through line: drawing back to home

Longing through line: drawing back to home

TALLINN — The Estonia shown to foreigners — or, more accurately, the side of itself Estonia chooses to show — has never struck me as the real Estonia. Brochures with strings of suspicious superlatives about the most meteor craters per square kilometer of island, Laetalu’s record 70 plant species per square meter, or even the […]

Estonia’s deep in the “Info Hole”

Estonia’s deep in the “Info Hole”

“The United States dollar will be worth nothing by the end of next week,” declared my friend Tanel only two weeks ago. Tanel is a very smart, highly-educated Estonian man who loves conspiracy theories. He’s so good with Google that he can uproot the most obscure websites run by paranoid crackpots living with their heaviest […]

“What a bardakk”

“What a bardakk”

Ivan Ivanovich was everywhere. In the parking lot of Pae High School he had parked four deep amongst a sea of taxis, drivers abandoning their cars in the middle of the parking lot, perhaps assuming that everyone else was here for the same reason. A few of the drivers, boxed in and going nowhere, shouted […]

British English better?

British English better?

“We speak British English,” proclaimed Vesta, an Estonian woman, aged 60, with whom I was trying to have a discussion about an essay I’d written for her firm’s corporate magazine. She refused to speak Estonian and insisted on English, though the whole process would have gone faster had she deigned to suffer my thickly-accented Estonian. […]

Not about folk dancing

Not about folk dancing

“How can you write that crap?” The man was seated next to me on an Estonian Air flight to Copenhagen. He thought we’d been double seated, asked to see my boarding pass, and identified me as Vikerkaar. “I’m a Canadian-Estonian, too, you know,” he said, “and I’ve never heard of anyone with a name as […]

Breaking the Eesti code

Breaking the Eesti code

“Sometimes I feel like I’m writing the same column over and over again,” I said to my wife, Liina. “Like I made the movie ‘101 Dalmatians,’ got good reviews, and so decided to remake the film using labrador retrievers.” Liina just stared at me. “You know, when I write about Estonian consumers allowing themselves to […]

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