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If you get a chance to live or work in Estonia, you'll probably quickly discover that family is the central focus for most people. Although not every family in this Eastern European country maintains close "extended family" ties, you'll almost always find that at least the nuclear family members are quite close. For most Estonians, family ties and religion are two of the most important influences in their life, which is likely to be very evident to you even if you spend only a short time in this country. If you're planning to visit Estonia in the not-too-distant future, here are a few facts that can help increase your understanding of its citizens.
The Important Role of Family Life in Estonia
Family ties tend to be quite strong in Estonia. As a result, elderly family members are frequently cared for in the home by younger family members, and newly married couples often live with parents until they become more established financially. Age is respected in Estonia, which means that elderly family members are honored and revered. As a result, it's not nearly as common for elders to end up in nursing homes as compared to many other countries, including the United States. Although families are generally quite close, you might not pick up on this closeness immediately because of the rather reserved demeanor demonstrated by most people. You'll find that most Estonians have very good manners, and place a great deal of value on their personal and family reputations. There is also a lot of pride in the Estonian culture. In fact, you'll find that most people in this country are very dedicated to preserving traditions, customs, and anything else that they find important to their culture and overall country identity.
Visiting an Estonian Home
If you are lucky enough to be invited into the home of an Estonian family, it's nice to bring a small gift with you. Don't be surprised if your host or hostess opens your gift immediately, since that tends to be the custom. If you're invited to dinner, make sure you do not arrive late. It's considered good manners to offer your assistance to the host or hostess, although your help will probably be politely declined. In order to be polite, don't sit down at the dinner table until your host or hostess invites you to do so. It's also common in most Estonian households for someone to say "head isu" before the dinner begins, which means "good appetite."
Even if you know your host or hostess in a business context, resist the temptation to discuss business during dinner. If you're accustomed to a lot of conversation at dinner, you might find yourself feeling a little uncomfortable with more silence than you're used to during the meal, as well as during the rest of your visit. It's important to understand that this is just the normal demeanor for people who live in Estonia, and it should not be misinterpreted as unfriendliness or coldness. However, you'll probably find that the conversation will loosen up a little as your visit goes on.