Monday, June 01, 2020

We're All Estonians Now

As we are officially  allowed to socialise again within certain restrictions, I've already exchanged lots of distant air kisses with friends and family and managed to avoid handshakes with strangers who I have been introduced to. It's absolutely manageable and I don't really struggle with it at all. It has made me realise that this virus is a cultural equaliser of sorts, actually. No more awkward decisions whether you are supposed to kiss people on the cheek when meeting them for the first time, exchange handshakes or bow to a certain degree, depending on the other person's social status (this one still remains tricky...), but a perfunctory nod or "namaste" is suddenly universally understood. 
A few years ago, when I was on a "lecture tour" or rather gave product trainings in the Balkans and Baltics, I noticed a very distinct difference in audience engagement depending on the country I was in. From friendly, chatty Bulgarians who would come and ask me personal questions in the breaks and tell me that Vienna was by far their favourite city to Estonians who would sit through my half-day trainings without a smile or raised hand. At the beginning, I found this rather unsettling and could not help but wonder if I was in particularly bad form that day and about to put them all to sleep. I ended up asking an Estonian partner and she told me not to worry because "deep inside they are very happy. They just don't show it." Now that hugs and kisses are reserved for the people who live in your household, we're all restrained Estonians in a way.

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