On being Estonian

I’m not Estonian. Not at all.

Back in my DC days I would desperately try to avoid talking to getting fleeced by Greenpeace. Unfortunately, you can only stare at the ground for so long, and when you look up the guilt peddlers are there waiting, smiling their shark’s grin.

The fuckers.

I would attempt to get out of this by speaking Italian, but in the DCMA all this netted you was the little salesman using his two semesters of JMU Spanish to choppily say “¡Buen día señor!”. No matter how much I pleaded that Italian and Spanish were not actually the same language and that I didn’t really understand, these guys either didn’t give a fuck or didn’t understand me. I had screwed myself, and now I had to listen to this guy tell me that I had to save ‘Los Whaleos’. I had come to understand that Italian was no language to hide behind, at least not in the US.

I would later up my game after a year abroad in Greece, where I became singularly obsessed with learning the language (mostly to prove an asshole fellow student wrong after she told me that it could not be done). When I went back to live in Italy after my year in Greece I could add ‘Συγνώμη, αλλα δεν μιλησω Ιταλικα’ to my arsenal of ‘things I can say to the UNHCR fuckers trying to get my money’. It worked famously, because there are only about 13 million Greek speakers worldwide. In other words only roughly .17% of people in the world would have been able to call me out on my bullshit.

But I could go one better.

Two years in Estonia afforded me the opportunity to learn a language only spoken by a whooping .006% of people worldwide. The chances that in DC, Rome, or Hangzhou I would randomly encounter an Estonian speaker were considerably low.


As I mentioned before, I am not Estonian. Nor can I speak a damn lick of it. But in my brief time in that country I put together a couple of useful phrases;

Üks õlu, palun

Ei räägi inglise keelt

That second one being ‘I don’t speak English’. I had a chance to try it out in DC and Rome and it worked out well. No one had a reaction to it stronger than a polite wave and a quick side step out of my way.

So safe to say, it has been my go to excuse to get out of conversations I am completly uninterested in.

So when on the bus to work an old toothless man kept making eye contact with me, I readied the phrase. I was in no mood to have a conversation, as I was listening to a particularly good audiobook. More importantly, I was in no mood to have a slow strained conversation with a person who could barely speak my language. I was gearing up for work, where I was mean to have slow and strained conversations for the coming eight hours. And considering that my outlook on work is that of performing, who would want to burn themselves out before the show began?

He got up off his seat, lumbered over to my direction, leaned against the railing next to me, and said “Vere ah you vrom?”

I made a show of pulling out my phone, opening up my audiobook player, and pausing the app “Eh?” I said.

“Vere, ah, you, vrom?” he repeated, as if I was the one in err for not understanding this low-rent approximation of English.

“Ei räägi inglise keelt” I said. giving the man a friendly nod.

He repeated himself a third time, and I waved him off with a polite ‘Ei räägi’. Then I jammed my earbud back in a turned on my audiobook again. He made his way back to the seat, which had now been taken from him, and stood by some passengers with whom he had been speaking to previously.

This was terrible of me, but I was extremely self satisfied.

And then it happened again.

Same bus, same destination but a completly different person. I didn’t notice her because she was sitting next to me and I was looking forward, playing a game on my phone, minding my own business and listening to a podcast. Proximity may have given me away, as I am fairly sure I at some point muttered something to myself in English at some point on the journey. But what really damned me is when I caught her through my peripheral vision looking in my direction and mouthing something.

Same show of taking my phone out and pausing my podcast. “Eh?”

“Where are you from?” the young lady asked.

Too late for the throw away line. Let’s bank on her not being able to place Estonia.

“Estonia” I said, telegraphing my reluctance to speak.

“Oh wow” she said. “My brother is traveling all around northern Europe right now and…”

God damn it.

I politely nodded until the conversation faded.

I’m a terrible person.


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