Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ten Things

So it is bidding season, and I am thankfully not a participant. Even so, people are already inquiring about my job (stop it! I have TWO YEARS left and you are going to have to pry me out of my office when the time comes). And since Sunny over at Fabling has created, maybe without trying, an FS blogger meme, I figured I would play along and come up with ten things I love and ten things I don’t love about Estonia.

Ten Things I Love:

My Job: This section is the perfect size. I am supervising an American and six local staff. We are a busy section, with an Ambassador who really gets Public Diplomacy. Were the section much larger, I would either not be running it (at least not yet) or I would not get to do any of the cool stuff. PAOs in really large section often have to do all the paperwork/budget stuff with no time for the engagement stuff. I get to do both.

The City: Tallinn is beautiful. The Old City is charming and the newer areas nicely developed. You can walk most anywhere in the city, especially if you live downtown. And there are tons of things to see and do and yummy restaurants to eat in.

My apartment: Which is downtown…see above. I love to walk my dog around the Old City (added bonus, the vendors leave you alone when you have a dog because they don’t assume you are tourist). Plus, I have beautiful views.

The Summer: The weather is gorgeous! The temps are a little cooler than I prefer…I find myself in a light jacket most days, especially in the shade. But compared with the 115 degree heat index I hear the East Coast is dealing with, I will add this under things I love.

The Light: The days will only start getting shorter from here but boy do we have a ways to go! I woke up this morning at about 1 am and it was still light outside. And the sun comes up at 4 am. You wouldn’t believe how much energy you have!

The Language: Estonian is easily one of the hardest languages on the planet. It is also one of the most beautiful. It sounds like it was designed for singing and it might have been. I am glad I learned it.

The People: I heard a lot of nonsense before I got here about how Estonians are “cold.” They can be reserved when you first meet them, but I have found that they warm up quickly, especially if you have attempted their language. And I like too, that despite what I was told, people WILL speak to you in Estonian. They don’t “ALL speak English” (a lot do, but a fair number don’t). But even those who do will speak to you in Estonian if you speak Estonian to them. And another cool thing about Estonians...they have maintained their identity and language despite spending most of the last 800 YEARS being occupied. Pretty damned impressive.

The Countryside: Estonia is amazingly beautiful. Particularly in the summer, it is green and sparsely populated. And the air here is ranked as the world’s cleanest. So getting out into nature won’t leave you with an asthma attack!

The Culture: Many people have the profoundly mistaken notion that Estonian culture is a remnant of Soviet culture. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Estonians are far more Nordic and European than they are Eastern and “former Soviet.” This is a fully developed democracy among a people who respect the rule of law. I love that they are orderly and punctual while still being incredibly smart and innovative.

The Interwebs: And speaking of smart and innovative, you know they call it E-stonia, right? That they invented Skype? That by 2015 they are slated to have broadband access to EVERY building and home IN THE COUNTRY, at speeds faster than we have in the U.S.? That they can vote, pay taxes (in five minutes…seriously), register their child’s name and a variety of other government services, all online? Yeah, they are way ahead of us on this whole internet thing…and I LOVE it!

Ten Things I Don’t Love (Because Hate is too strong a word)

The Winter: It is really frickin’ cold. Like take the coldest you have been and multiply it kind of cold. Like I now know where Celsius and Fahrenheit converge kind of cold (-40 if you are curious…we hit -25F this year).

The Dark: And when it is cold, it is also dark. The days get super short in the winter, and the daily change is noticeable. In winter, you lose about 6 minutes of light per day. The sun doesn’t rise before about 10 and sets by about 3. It is really dark. I never thought I would have said this, but the snow actually makes it better…at least it is a little lighter then.

The Ice: There is just nothing to like about ice unless it is in a glass chilling a tasty beverage in the heat of an east coast summer. I took a nice fall on cobblestones during my language immersion, and this past winter, while getting out of the embassy’s Tahoe, I hit a patch of ice and fell backwards, cracking my head against the vehicles step. It hurt…a lot. And I was one of the lucky ones. One person at the embassy broke his ankle.

The Way They Shovel the Sidewalks: Basically they remove the top coat of snow, otherwise known as the only thing that gives you any traction, from the layer of ice below. And see above for what I think of ice.

The Mosquitoes : Holy crap, they are like small birds! Swarms of small birds! I have spend a fair amount of time in the swamps of SC, where I ran across what I *thought* were big mosquitoes. But no, they were tiny by comparison. These are the biggest I have ever seen, and when they bite, they really HURT!

Drunk Tourists: Particularly in summer, there are lots of tourists in the Old City, and lot of them are drunk because alcohol is cheaper here than in some nearby places. I am only thankful that the most obnoxious drunk tourists tend not to be English speakers. And even the most obnoxious English speakers tend not to be Americans. I like it when we are not the most obnoxious tourists around!

The Sushi: Or lack thereof. There is sushi here, but not like at home. And really, sushi doesn’t need mayo. At all. Ever. The same goes for Mexican food (not the mayo part, the lack part).

Hmmm…out out of things I don’t like…and I could have kept going on the things I liked….I guess that is a pretty telling sign.

But don’t bid on my job…because if there are no bidders, they have to let me stay, right?


Chelsea said...

I love that you say Estonian is beautiful like it was made for singing.

The Spouse said...

We ferried over from Helsinki to Estonia last November while we were visiting friends who serve in Finland. I loved it. You have now confirmed my thoughts that "this is a city I could live in." Thanks for the insider description. We still have 3 yrs before we bid and wouldn't be bidding on your job, so don't worry!
p.s. I agree with Chelsea about your comment that Estonian was made for singing. Apt description. I wrote something about learning languages and connected it to music and dance on my blog. If you get a chance, you might want to check it out, "My head is full of glue." Like your blog!